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An Expansive Forge (Celestial Forge V3/The Expanse.)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Reece, Dec 10, 2021.

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    Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    One, versus nought point three. It sounds like a small difference, point seven. You’d think that anything above zero would be pretty much the same as everything about zero when it came to gravity. I disagree, I heavily, heavily disagree. When I woke up on Ceres – inside a stuffy rock walled apartment, with a dim light shining down on my tiny little wireframe bed – I’d nearly smashed my head off of the ceiling literally jumping out of bed. The five days I’d been here since then hadn’t improved my gait all that much; only magnetic boots set to as high as possible had stopped me continuously flying up into things. Something that I’m sure all the Belters around me would be more than amused to witness. Most don’t like my ‘inner’ way of speaking.

    Suddenly waking up in space was weird, being subjected to space racism was kind of weirder. But I like to think that I adapted well to it. I hadn’t been murdered yet, or fallen into a drug habit despite the stuff being sold on every corner for cheaper than food. I was even out engaging in entrepreneurship on the bustling side streets of Ceres station. I was looking for one of the few ‘Inner friendly’ pawnshops in the slum area to offload some – potentially – valuable goods for some more cash. Turns out I have bills to pay even in the glorious future of the twenty three hundreds. When I found it, I strongly considered losing it again.

    The shop had a hologram of a neon sign above it; reading: “Nicaro’s Salvage and Sales.”. It was one of the few on the level that I hadn’t visited as of yet. The outside didn’t inspire confidence, aside from the grammar error in the sign, there was what looked like a passed out drug addict casually propped against the wall leading into it. Whatever cash he’d made from trading here spent on dope the second he was outside. I briefly considered rifling through his pockets for something to sell, but then decided not to bother. Even if he didn’t wake up and attack me in a drug fuelled rage, he was clearly not the sort of man to carry much disposable income, or valuable items on his person. Not if they could be traded for dope anyway.

    I moved past him, keeping a wary eye fixed on his catatonic form. I’d seen a junkie I could have sworn wasn’t even breathing, leap up and attack one of the stations cops just yesterday. His bone limbs swinging like crazy, breaking against the cops helmet. He ignored the pain he must have been in to try and instead bite his way through the officers sleeve. It had taken two other officers beating him with taser rods to get him to finally detach; even when he did so, it wasn’t to fall over. Instead he’d run away cackling and screaming like mad until one of the officers hit him in the back with a taser pistol. Finally shutting him up.

    Never could tell with junkies. I only stopped watching him when I got past the purple curtains that served as the front door to the pawn shop. Inside, the bustle of the tunnels was muted; partly from the thick rock walls, and partly from the static sounding noise barrier the owner had set up at the entrance. It looked it had once been a side room of a mining tunnel. Low ceilings, with three long ‘aisles’ that housed various small pieces of salvage. Each one was locked underneath a plastic cage; most it was probably worthless anyway, a smart man wouldn’t keep anything worth stealing so close to the front door. Otherwise you’d get arseholes doing smash and grabs every other day.

    The owner himself was leaning on his elbows on a desk at the back of the shop. He was a typical enough looking Belter. Long thin limbs stuffed into a grubby looking set of overalls. Half the top was undone – most likely to show off the array of tattoos that the Belters adorned themselves with. He had a short shock of dyed red hair styled into a thin Mohawk on top of his head. His features were unremarkable save for the milky white film coating his left eye. There wasn’t a scar to go with it, so I assumed it was either a chemical he got in there, or something he had from being born on Ceres. Either from low oxygen, low gravity, or a combination of the two as a child. I wasted little time, ignoring the knick knacks for sale I walked straight up to him.

    “Nice to meet you mate.”

    “Oye, Inyalowda. To pochuye belta ke?”

    I nearly turned around and left there and then. I could parse my way through the thick accent of some of the Belters; but the creole itself? Not a chance, it was some bastard mix of English, Russian, Chinese, French and German; with a few Indian words tossed in to spice things up. The thing that stopped me from leaving was the frightful need of income I was burdened with. So I had to at least try and communicate with the man, even if that meant getting out my pad and opening a translator app on it.

    “I er, I don’t know what you just said. Sorry; how’s your English?”

    “Better than your Belta. Inya.” Thank god, was he condescending? Sure, but not outright hostile, I could work with that. I opened my pack and – after doing a quick check over my shoulder – pulled out a roll of thick cabling. Both ends cut. I didn’t have a clue how good the stuff was, or what the market value was; but two days ago the guy next door got busted for stealing it out of the walls, and I managed to swipe a coil of it when the police hauled him out of his apartment.

    He looked behind me briefly, then back down to the cabling. “How long this?”

    “Eight metres.” I assumed he meant the length of the cable, not the age.

    “That not a lot, ship cabling normally go in fifty metre bundle. I maybe do sixteen hundred yen? Two hundred for each meter?” I had no idea if that was a good or a bad deal. There was no pricing guide on black market cable sales. Sixteen hundred was enough to buy some decent food for a day, or some not so decent food for a few. Rent wasn’t due for another month so I could afford to maybe save? But I also wasn’t sure if I would get something like this again.

    “Sure.” I said after a few moments thinking; the money up front was better than wasting the energy trying to find a deal somewhere else. He tapped his pad against mine and the deal was done. The cash was transferred to the account that was linked with ‘my’ ID. The one that had been pre-made for me, already loaded into the pad when I’d arrived.

    “You gonna get more of this?” He asked, the sharp way he spoke turned the ‘this’ into a ‘dis’.

    “Not sure.” I shrugged. Police didn’t seem to like it when you stole high load power cables from the walls, and I hadn’t seen nor heard from my neighbour since he was taken – granted I didn’t look very hard – which implied that maybe it was best to not go looking for the stuff.

    “Shame, shame. Could have been good business for me.” He trailed off, looking down at his pad, then back up to me after a while. I was quietly examining some of the things he had for sale, mostly decorative; but there were a few computers and old machine parts dotting the behind the counter section.

    “You from Earth or Mars, Inner?” He asked. He had a softer accent than most other Belters. But still fused the ‘th’ on the end Earth, turning into a guttural sounding ‘Urt’. It reminded me of a mix between South African and Creole. I’d never minded strange accents before, but being surrounded by them, and constantly being insulted in them was definitely making me dislike the Belter one. Still, no reason to piss the guy off.

    “Earth. UK.” He laughed, and took a sip from his hip flask. Whatever he was drinking smelled like pipe cleaner from back home. I imagined it tasted even worse.

    “I am good, Inner. You speak Belter bad though. Maybe stick to Tumang ke?”

    “I wasn’t asking if you were okay, I was saying I am from the UK. It’s a country on Earth.” I explained, probably a bit more slowly than I needed to.

    “Ahhh.You ever hear of Thebe?”

    “No?”

    “I no hear of UK either. I betting neither of us care from where each other come from, except it be from Earth or the Belt ke?”

    I couldn’t help but sigh. I was from a fairly nice area, and culturally it was just polite to engage in a little small talk when people prompted you. I really wasn’t used to dealing with people like Belters. They were a lot rougher than even the poor parts of where I’d grew up.

    “Yeah, I’d probably say that’s a safe bet.”

    “Thought so. I ask because I see you before; you bounce off of ceiling that one time. You grew up in one gee?”

    I wondered where was he going with this? Did the Belter want me to put on a show for him? I wasn’t desperate enough to be a literal dancing monkey for these leering tossers to laugh at.

    “’Cause if you grew up at one gee you probably strong ke? Strong enough to make a lot of Belters very unhappy to get in your way?”

    On Earth, being tall and broad was a sure fire way of telling when someone could kick your arse. A man a foot taller and a foot wider than you was probably not the best guy to get into a fist fight with. But out on the Belt, it was different. Nearly every Belter I met that had eaten well during childhood – which wasn’t very many – was at least a foot taller than I was. Unlike on Earth, the taller you were out in the Belt, the weaker you were going to be in a fight. Long limbs granted greater reach, and a taller frame typically meant more mass to overwhelm someone with but against a beef fed, home-grown Earther? Those long graceful limbs, and tall frame just meant I could more easily grab you. Human bones – when properly grown in one gee with good nutrition, are about 4 times stronger than concrete. A lifetime of microgravity turned those strong bones into little more than paper mache. It was one of the only reasons I’d not been casually beaten to death in the rough part of the station I lived on; a dozen Belters could try and take me on, and a dozen Belters would die the second I punched each of them, or tossed them into the ceiling. Guns weren’t common this close to the docks, no one wanted to risk a depressurisation. So all I got were dirty looks and insults. It seemed the Belter I was talking with needed some Earther muscle?

    “As long as they don’t have guns, I can deal with as many Belters as can fit in a corridor.” I responded as nonchalantly as possible. I’d not been in an actual life or death fight ever, and not been in a scrap since I was fifteen.

    “Tut, you tumang not know how many Beltalowda fit in a corridor.” From my short time on Ceres Station I’d learned how the Belters talked – or at least how they talked to me. - they asked for something, put up this condescending front, insulted me for being from Earth, then typically told me to fuck off. Right now we appeared to be in stage two of the conversational pattern. I was hoping that instead of telling me to fuck off, this one might give me a job. I was burning through my meagre cash at a slow but steady rate. A few more weeks of living like I have been would see me effectively homeless and starving.

    “Anyway, I got some people not paying yen when it owed. Maybe they pay with a big scary Earther at their door ke-sa?

    Debt collection? Not my favourite thing, and it definitely wouldn’t inspire the local Belters to be any nicer to me. I could maybe find other work? A lot of companies offered apprenticeships on Ceres, I could try for a naval rating as an electrician, navigator, engineer; or any other sort of always in demand job role. Only problem was, I didn’t have any actual qualifications; without even a basic slip of education I’d be hard pressed to find any serious outfit that would be willing to take me. I could try and bluff my way through; say I know more about engineering and electrical principles than actually did. That presented its own problems though; I was in fact almost entirely ignorant of how ‘modern’ technology worked. Waking up three hundred and twenty years in the future sort of put a damper on how useful my already meagre engineering skills were. There was that other thing of course. But I wasn’t entirely sure how that even worked, or how helpful it was. I knew I’d somehow woken up in The Expanse, I didn’t know how that other thing tied into it.

    “How much?”

    “How much they owe?”

    “No, how much do you pay.”

    “I don’t pay anything Earther. You get the Yen from them, you take ten percent. Sound good?”

    “How about fifteen percent?” I tried, I doubted that any of the Belters that needed to borrow cash from a side-street pawnbroker would have much actual cash for me to take. Nicaro was having none of it though.

    “How about no job?” He countered, crossing his stick thin arms, and adopting a cocky smirk.

    I mulled it over in my head, take my chances that another Belter is going to want to hire an Earther known around the area for hurting kids; try and lie my way through a sci-fi entrance exam to get onto an apprenticeship program, or take my chances and become a debt collectors muscle for as long as I could stand. Worst comes to worst I could just up and leave the job the second I didn’t like how it was going. It was a pretty cut and cry decision really.

    “Alright.” I shrugged. “Do you have a list of people you want me to talk with, or are we doing this on a case by case basis?”

    “I not know if you any good yet. Come back tomorrow Earther.

    “Sure. By the way, It’s Liam; not ‘Earther’ if we’re working together.”

    “It Earther to me. Earther.” He flashed a weird hand gesture, then shooed me away with a flick of his finger. Already, things were not looking to be a fun time for me working here. Unfortunate. I tapped my pad against his, sending him contact details, then I left without looking back.

    Once outside I paused for a moment. The dope head was still there? I poked him with my foot, he didn’t move, at all. I looked around, no one was paying attention to me or him. No one cared, which means that what I suspected was probably true. I leant down and pressed my fingers against the cold flesh of his neck. No pulse. I pushed on his forehead with the back of my hand; pushing his limp head against the tunnel wall. When I did so his mouth lolled open, I was too close to avoid the smell of acrid vomit. Thankfully I wasn’t close enough to get splashed by the sudden flood of bile that dribbled down his front, small mercies for me, not so great for him. The guy was stone dead, probably had been for a while now. Shamefully, the impulse to go through his pockets crept its way back into my mind. I bit down on it, hard. I wasn’t that desperate. Yet.

    I tapped pinged my location on the pad, listed him as having died of overdose on the report function; then guiltily walked away. Aside from telling the cops there was a body that needed recycling, I couldn’t do anything for the guy, hell I couldn’t do much for me right now. We were both in the shit of it, he was just a little further along than I was. I didn’t consider myself a weak willed person, but I reckoned if I was homeless on Ceres, I’d probably want to be high most of the time. With my meagre skill, keeping myself out of that situation was the only way I was going to stay alive on Ceres. Anything beyond that could wait until I wasn’t facing down the possibility of eviction, starvation and death.

    I was undisturbed on my walk home, which is exactly how I liked it. During my short stay on Ceres I was growing more and more annoyed with the Belters I’d been around. Most of them had it shit, sure. But they were spiteful, ignorant, arrogant and petty towards me. Purely because of my frame and accent. Comments about ‘heavy bones’, ‘Inner scum’ and ‘Oppressor’ came at me pretty much every day now. I was getting sick and tired of the shitty way I was being talked to by people who could barely even string a sentence together in English. People who were proud of being in space for so long that their children were being born blind from the low gravity, and mocked me for having enough muscle mass that I wouldn’t die if I set foot on Earth. It was pointless dwelling on it though, so I put it out of my mind with a shake of my head as I got into my box ‘apartment’. Once I was inside, I took my shitty wireframe bed and pushed it against the door. It wouldn’t stop anyone getting inside, but might slow them down and make enough noise where I could leave my own private little world.

    “Key.” I muttered to the pad. The interface changed to a stylised key symbol; one that I knew for a fact only I could see. I’d left the pad in key mode on day two when I’d gone out to buy food from a market. A kid barely older than ten had brushed against me. In the split second he’d moved past, I felt my cash and my pad get lifted. Good for me I was paranoid, bad for him that I was also fast and strong. I don’t think I’ll forget the sound of a child's wrist breaking like a stick of chalk for as long as I’ll live. The Ceres rent-a-cops hauled me in, warned me about excessive force, then let me off with a warning. They’d had my pad out on the desk when they shouted at me, and every time one of them went to look at it, their eyes had simply glossed over the object. One of them even got caught in a loop where he’d start talking about downloading a booklet on Belter living to my pad, look down for it, freeze up and then start talking about downloading the booklet again. It’d taken fifteen minutes before I’d eventually said ‘Key off’ and let the poor bastard download the booklet. Not a particularly good read, honestly.

    I closed my closet door, tapped the pad against the handle and opened it again. Instead of the small collection of clothes on hangers, the closet now opened into a five by five white featureless room. I’d dragged a bedside cabinet and a desk chair into it when I had first found the room. The remains of my last meal were still sitting on the cabinet, along with a spare pad I’d ‘found’ when out walking through the station. At the end of the room was another steel door with a frosted glass porthole set into it. I had – so far – found very little use for the small workshop that was past that door. All the tools in it were barely even up to scratch for the 21st century, let alone the 23rd. When I’d first entered the room I’d found a supply cabinet filled with common resources.

    They all restocked themselves after forty eight hours – so far, I hadn’t been here long enough to push that to the test – and so of course I’d tried selling the supplies. The thin strips of gold, iridium and palladium material had sold fairly well, but after I’d moved a handful of it, the local security came and shook me down for the rest. Some Belter probably sold me out for that info. ‘De Urter be carryin Gold!’ Or some other tortured sentence in the ears of bent cops, and they got a share of whatever I was carrying. The electronic parts got me laughed out of the pawn shops I’d tried to sell them in, same with the mechanical parts. About the only thing I could actually sell without getting shaken down, or laughed at, were the ingots of cheaper metals. Iron, copper, tin. After a whole day of haggling over the price. I sold the lot for the princely sum of four hundred Ceres Yen, which was exactly enough for me to walk outside the pawn shop, go up to a food vendor and dispense myself a bottle of Mountain Dew, and a soy meat substitute hamburger. So in theory I could make just enough money to eat one thousand and forty five calories every two days.

    So even though the room was a magical hammer-space storage unit, it was proving to be almost entirely useless. I’m sure a criminal of some kind would be able to find a use for a space that the police cannot ever access, but the crime of theft carried a pretty harsh punishment on Ceres. A lynch mob of Belters beating you with pipes isn’t a pleasant way to die, and the cops wouldn’t bother lifting a finger to help you if it didn’t directly benefit them. It was saved from being entirely useless by one particular feature though.

    “Ahhh, there we go.” I sighed as I stepped through the threshold, feeling my clothes become heavier, and my bones creak slightly as gravity took a firmer hold on them.

    The entrance hall and the workshop were both a comfortable, strength promoting one gee. I’d spent at least an hour tossing paper balls through the entryway, watching them sail gently through the air, then halfway through become seized by gravity and get yanked down to the floor. I could probably make some money charging people to sit in the room at one gee to make medical treatment easier. That had the problem of trying to explain how it worked though, which was something I wasn’t able to do. Odds are word would get out, and I’d just be booted from my room, or abducted, or attacked. I really hated Ceres, scum of the universe lived out here and I was stuck without a way back to Earth with them. I’d just have to keep using the room as a way of making sure I stayed fit and strong, same as I would have been back home.

    I sat down in the office chair, and began finishing off the food from the cabinet. Like most of the food on Ceres it wasn't 'rea'. It was a mix of dried down reconstituted mushroom protein, blended with soy, and flavoured with cheap stock chemicals to give it the flavour of whatever fake meat - chicken in this case - that it was meant to be imitating. Compared to the 'good quality' food you could get out in the belt, it wasn't great. But it was only about as bad tasting as a microwave meal back home. Texture was the main problem. It was during my rumination on the intricacies of what I was eating, that my head lit up like someone had just brained me with a spanner. I could feel myself falling, my eyes clouding up with blurry tears.

    "Ohhh fooook. ayy tink stroke?" I mumbled as my vision of the room faded; then became something else.

    It was like I was suddenly staring up at a galaxy thirty eight constellations spinning around a central glowing blue light. I tried blinking it away, but I found that I couldn’t even do that. All I could do was watch as the constellation rushed towards me. As it did a single star from one of the nearest constellations broke away and rushed towards the central blue light. As we both approached, the light from the star behind me seemed to dim the light from ahead of me. The blue faded away to reveal a colossal ring, with what looked like a rippling puddle in the centre of it. At the middle of that blue puddle I could make out something writhing and twisting. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I didn’t want to reach it. I knew it with the same certainty that I knew what up and down, left and right, alive and dead were. I knew that if I reached the middle of that puddle I wouldn’t be getting away from it.

    Thankfully, before passed through the ring, the star that was behind me rushed ahead and struck the threshold of the puddle. The second that happened the light from inside came back even brighter than before; a searing lance of it shot out and struck me head on. I was catapulted back into my chair, falling straight out of it and landing in a heap on the floor of my entry hall.

    In the back of my workshop, past all the neatly lined up tools and cabinets there was now metal pillar, topped with a red velvet cushion. On that cushion sat a small silver hourglass, filled with a deep crimson sand that glittered under the spotlight above it. As I approached, I could feel my head being filled with some pretty esoteric knowledge, I knew what solvents could be used to turn the inert sand into a literal elixir of life. With it I could create a potion that would extend the drinkers lifespan by fifteen years with each imbibition. I knew that normally this small hourglass would hold enough sand to make ten potions, adding one hundred and fifteen years onto my already expected lifespan. But I also knew that my workshop would keep restoring the sand every time it was used up, every forty eight hours.

    I gingerly picked up the hourglass, knowing even as I did so, that if I were to accidentally drop it and smash it, there would be another one waiting for me in forty eight hours. What I was holding was – without hyperbole – probably the single most valuable thing in existence right now. I could grant any number of people literal immortality with the sand in this hourglass. Instant healing, rejuvenation from ageing, the destruction of all diseases that a person was carrying. Objectively my workshop and the entry hall was pretty magical, it could generate gravity without spin or mass; and could teleport the entrance to wherever I tapped my ‘key’ on a door. But the philosophers sand was somehow more concrete. For one it was actually part of a magical system, one that I know knew some pretty in depth theory about – granted mostly about preparing the solvents needed to create the elixir of life – and secondly because I could take the sand out of the workshop. It wouldn’t do much beyond work as a potent blood clotting and healing agent for wounds, but it was still something concrete as far as first aid went.

    “I think there’s some bags around here.” I muttered to myself; I’d need something to store the sand in if I wanted to take it out with me. Keeping it in a silver hourglass on my person would just lead to far too many questions. Before I could even start to look for a bag though, something else hit me. Not another star, or a vision, but a memory?

    My entire train of thought shuddered to a stop. The ring, the lights, Ceres Station! The Protomolecule! It was all coming back to me now. It was like I was sleepwalking through the last week before now. The light-show in my head, and the arrival of the Philosophers Sand had unblocked, or unlocked my recollection of the future based off of the show. I’d somehow forgotten about the system shaking events that would be happening over the next few years. Events that I was going to be slap bang in the middle of. I needed to … do … something? What could I do? If I tried leaking that Mao was working with the Protomolecule then no one would believe me. If they did believe me then I’d get a Protogen wet-work team black bagging me with no one the wiser. Mars and Earth were going to do to war soon enough; but that was pretty much unavoidable.

    The schism between Mars and Earth was over a hundred years old, and just as deep. It was a festering wound that helped turn Mars into a quasi-fascistic Prussian style military superpower geared towards the single minded goal of becoming the dominant power in the system; it was why both Earth and the Martians heavily exploited the Belt and why military spending was so dammed high for both nations. The Expanse was a show with realistic, grounded and human characters. Which meant that no one was an insanely evil lunatic, no one was a cackling villain and no one man was responsible for all the worlds woes. That was great for building a realistic science fiction world with an engaging story, but really not great for me. There was no one single fault line I could consider working at to try and stop the hell that was going to consume the entire solar system. Since I now lived in the solar system, I was very much not looking forward to that. Plus, even if I could magically fix everything, would I even want to? The Canterbury lead to the Donnager, the Donnager to Eros, Eros to Venus. During that Mars and Earth got into war over the hybrids; but the hybrids were the only way to triangulate Protomolecule. Venus had to happen for the Sol ring to form, which was the only viable method of FTL travel that humanity was ever going to get. Without that we were trapped in a slowly boiling kettle.

    If I somehow managed to stop Eros, would that also cause us humans to just drive ourselves extinct from intraspecies war? Could I maybe just find and dump the Protomolecule into Venus directly? No, it needed a ‘seed’ didn’t it? Some start biomass to work with before it could build solid structures. How much was needed? Was it just Julie Mao or did it need to be the thousands on Eros? An ideal solution would be to just dump Julie onto Venus after she got infected, let her make the Sol Ring, and save everyone on Eros.

    But, without Eros the belt is going to go ballistic, since they have no leverage and no seat at the table. That could be the tipping point where the various Belter factions – that I currently knew nothing about – all went mad bomber on the Inner planets. They lacked the quality of ships sure, but they probably made up for that in sheer numbers. All of that was of course secondary to the main issue of me being completely broke, a nobody new starter muscle for a pawnbroker and a literal alien to this universe. Planning to try and stop Protogen wasn’t even putting the cart before the horse, it was trying to put a cart in front of a wild horse, before the invention of the fucking wheel.

    “I need to think this over.” I said lowly. There was no use ruminating on the issue, going over and over it in my head, when I needed food, sleep and a clear head to think on. I didn’t even know when exactly the events of the series took place. First thing first I needed to look up the Canterbury ice hauler and see if she’s still alive. Her being dead put me already into the main events of the show, and her being alive put me before them. One granted me significantly more time to play with than the other.,

    I put the hourglass back on its cushioned plinth, then walked back into the entrance hall. The pad on the table was going to serve a purpose other than decoration. I hadn’t bothered with it before since it was almost entirely wiped of anything I could have used to make some money. It still had a few basic functions that would be useful now though, like a notepad. I sat down on the chair, activated the voice to text program and began to not down exactly what I could not recall about what was going to happen.

    “Okay, so first off. Protogen has the stealth ships Anubis, er, Thoth? No that’s the station, fuck...” It carried on like that for a while.

    It was early when I finally fell asleep; I barely slept, which made the message from Nicaro even more unpleasant. He was a man of few words – and fewer kind ones to an Earther like me – which, when combined with his crude way of speaking, made deciphering what the hell he was talking about an exercise in frustration. After a long swig of coffee flavoured, synthetic sugar syrup enhanced water, I finally understood what he was on about.

    “Meet me at shop in one hour. Dress scary, bring a weapon.”

    Bring a weapon? He couldn’t mean a gun did he? because if I got caught with a firearm so close to the outer edges of the dock, near all the windows and fragile systems, I’d be going out the fucking airlock soon after. I went looking through the workshop for something that could reasonably be called a weapon. After a few minutes of debating over taking a thin, long blade used for wood carving or a sharp headed texturing hammer; I decided on taking the hammer. I reasoned that if I was going to rely on using my strength to bully Belters, a hammer was the best way to exert that strength. It had sharp enough tips that it could gouge and cut people, and a hefty enough swing that I could easily crush bones with it. If anyone caught me with it I could … probably not get away with saying it was for work actually; because no one in the future uses something as primitive as a wood handled steel headed hammer. Actually, I considered the handle for a moment. Real wood was pricey; I flipped it up to see the grain on the unpainted base, to try and guess what type it was, maybe I could make quick cash off of selling the handle? To my displeasure it had a plastic label on the bottom that read ‘Made with 100% synthetic imitation fibre”. Which meant it was probably worth jack shit. Shame.

    I secured it in the inside pocket of a black jacket from my – now normal – closet, checked my hair in the mirror, I needed a shave, and soon! Then locked up and made my way to Nicaro’s pawn shop. Once I was done with whatever work he had planned for me, I’d go back ‘home’ and go over my notes. See if I remembered anything new that I missed from last night. On the way there I tried working on my ‘scary’ face. A deep scowl that turned my heavyset brow into an imposing shelf to keep my eyes partly shadowed under the tunnel strip light. My chin up, shoulders back.

    When I got to the shop, there were two other men waiting inside with Nicaro. One of them was a muscled Belter with a completely black lower jaw – courtesy of his tattoo – and the other was a long boned Belter with a nest of wires hanging out of his overalls. Both of them looked surprised to see a man so obviously from the inner planets showing up to their meeting with the ‘Bossmang’. Nicaro himself was again leaning against the countertop. I shot him my best attempt at a ‘Thug scowl’.

    “You ‘kay tumang? You look like you need to shit?” He asked in a bemused tone. The other two let out barks of laughter and began conversing in Belter creole with him. I let out a deep sigh, I had a feeling that this job was going to be deeply stressful if I had to spent an extended period of time with Nicaro. Deeply, deeply unpleasant.

    E-=-X
    I'm using the 'gradual' setting, So every two thousand words take 100 points; and make a roll. Then if that roll is too much, bank the points.

    Workshop (Personal Reality) 100:
    Each purchase of this adds to your Personal Reality Workshop needed to perform specific type of craft, which is to be specified when purchase is made. It comes with a basic set of tools and supplies. Good for fixing or creating all sorts of things, although any complex parts or nonstandard supplies will have to be brought in from outside. Additional purchases can add different types of Workshops to your Personal Reality or expand existing ones. Anything built in one of those workshops is fiat backed to be restored to its original condition within 48 hours if damaged or destroyed.

    Access Key (Personal Reality) Free:
    This is a special key which lets you access your Personal Reality and its contents.
    When inserted into any lock on any door, the door opens to reveal a gateway into your Reality at a predetermined location within it. You are the only person who can take the key from the lock, the gateway remains open as long as the key is in the lock, and if key is ever lost or stolen you will find it in your pocket a few minutes later. You cannot close the door as long as you are inside the Personal Reality.

    Entrance Hall (Personal Reality) Free:
    This is the room your Access Key opens a door to. It starts off as a 5 meter cube with blank white walls, floor, and ceiling, as some doors, one leading to the current Host Reality, the other into your Cosmic Warehouse, with additional doors leading to other extensions as these get added to your Personal Reality. Feel free to customize this Entrance Hall as you see fit. Additional Halls can, at your discretion, be linked only to certain keys or only to certain extensions. This allows you to have an entry hall just for skiing if you want.
    Philosopher's Sand (100CP)
    used by Mr. Black, this item comes in the shape of a silver hourglass filled with blood red powder of the philosopher's stone, which can be used to create the Elixir of Life, capable of granting anyone up to 15 years of life.


    Rolled, but not purchased this chapter.​
    -Prototyper (The Polity) (600CP)

    You're more than capable of inventing new and novel systems that integrate existing technologies in startlingly effective ways. Any fool can make a laser or a missile bigger; what you do is combine different technologies in new and inventive ways ; they thought Tenkian was a genius? Well he's got nothing on you. Whoever thought putting a shear-field on a missile was going to work? Here, you'll find inspiration for combining the Polity's technologies in new ways hardfields, antimatter devices, artificial gravity, AI subminds, Under-space tech, all the neat stuff even Pradortech. The technology of the Jain, Csorians and Atheter are still beyond you, however. After this jump, your inspiration works to combine different technologies from completely different origins into new devices, and removes the restriction on Jain/Csorian/Atheter tech.



    Banked points this chapter: 100

    EDIT: Cleaned up some sections, added a new bit in the middle. General housekeeping editing.​
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2021
  2. Index: CF perk list.
    Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    Earned perks in order
    CHAPTER 1
    Workshop (Personal Reality) 100:
    Each purchase of this adds to your Personal Reality Workshop needed to perform specific type of craft, which is to be specified when purchase is made. It comes with a basic set of tools and supplies. Good for fixing or creating all sorts of things, although any complex parts or nonstandard supplies will have to be brought in from outside. Additional purchases can add different types of Workshops to your Personal Reality or expand existing ones. Anything built in one of those workshops is fiat backed to be restored to its original condition within 48 hours if damaged or destroyed.

    Access Key (Personal Reality) Free:
    This is a special key which lets you access your Personal Reality and its contents.
    When inserted into any lock on any door, the door opens to reveal a gateway into your Reality at a predetermined location within it. You are the only person who can take the key from the lock, the gateway remains open as long as the key is in the lock, and if key is ever lost or stolen you will find it in your pocket a few minutes later. You cannot close the door as long as you are inside the Personal Reality.

    Entrance Hall (Personal Reality) Free:
    This is the room your Access Key opens a door to. It starts off as a 5 meter cube with blank white walls, floor, and ceiling, as some doors, one leading to the current Host Reality, the other into your Cosmic Warehouse, with additional doors leading to other extensions as these get added to your Personal Reality. Feel free to customize this Entrance Hall as you see fit. Additional Halls can, at your discretion, be linked only to certain keys or only to certain extensions. This allows you to have an entry hall just for skiing if you want.
    Philosopher's Sand (100CP)
    used by Mr. Black, this item comes in the shape of a silver hourglass filled with blood red powder of the philosopher's stone, which can be used to create the Elixir of Life, capable of granting anyone up to 15 years of life.


    CHAPTER 2
    -Plowshares from Swords from Plowshares (Warhammer 40k - Squats) (100CP)

    You might have noticed most of the best Squat vehicles and weapons are repurposed mining and industrial equipment. This is no accident, for not only do such things have to be tough, they are intimately familiar to operators and engineers alike. You have a particular genius for weaponizing civilian technology, and finding constructive industrial uses for weapons.

    -Carving kit (Diablo 1&2) (100CP)

    The tools within this leather satchel are of exceptional quality and have been ritually prepared for work with delicate magical reagents. Having these will make Gemcutting and runecarving much easier. A sheaf of paper in a waterproof scroll case notes useful details on several basic runes and the most common semi-precious gems, but it lacks details on multi-rune sequences and the rarest stones. Still, the papers make a good reference, and they will automatically update themselves when you discover new information through experimentation or research. If lost or destroyed, the kit will reappear in your possession the next day

    CHAPTER 3
    -Simple (100CP)
    You understand the connections between parts. You can make large alchemy circles far more easily and far less complex than others. You can combine this with Advanced Formulae for multipurpose combat alchemy.
    -Advanced (100CP)
    Alchemy comes to you as easily as breathing does. Your greater understanding allows you to perform more complex alchemy. You can combine this with Simplified Formulae for multipurpose combat alchemy.
    -Engineer (Megas XLR) (100CP)
    You're a talented and knowledgeable multi discipline engineer, particularly skilled in everything you could ever need to maintain Megas and similar war machines
    -Tower of Sorcerae | Floating Isle | Moving Locations | Arcane | Sorcerae | A Memory Of The Face Of Creation (Lords of the Night - Liches) (300CP)

    Tower of Sorcerae (100CP)

    You have a tower dreamt into reality. Maybe by you, maybe by someone else, but it was never made a concrete and defined thing. It starts out a thing the size of a city block, and thirty stories high. It can be something of stone, or glass, or crystal, or wood. When no one is watching it, it can change its outer facade. Inside it has a basic layout, though you can change that layout whenever it is unobserved by people other than you. Both the inside and out will repair themselves over time, and the tower may slowly shift itself, faster if unobserved, though still slowly.
    The tower echoes any crafting perks you possess, gaining technologies and magics in keeping with the secrets and arts you've seized. You may feed the tower vast quantities of Arcane over time to make it grow. You may make it grow in luxury, making everything inside the tower higher quality over time and more comfortable and beautiful. You may make it grow in utility causing it to grow embedded magical items, and if you have the perks, technological ones. You may make it grow in size, becoming broader or taller or both, or even make it grow inside without growing outside, though that's even more expensive.
    If you make the Tower a bound artifact, all those functions will be enhanced. You can also have it already on legs, or other appropriate mechanisms, so that it can move about. You may import an existing property as your Tower, though if that combination would be especially powerful you must pay an extra 100cp for the privilege.
    Floating Isle (100CP)

    Your Tower flies, and so does a modest amount of land around it. Enough for a small family farm though like with the rest of the tower it's possible to expand this. The weather's always pleasant - the air elementals bound to moving it make sure. They're quick to defend the tower if need be, and there are many permanent unseen servants to invisibly serve guests and do work about the place. And the elementals can push the tower at a decent pace.
    You get about a dozen elder air elemental servants. If killed, they will come back in a day and a night. They can't leave the premise, but otherwise faithfully obey you. They're also surprisingly bright, for elemental at least. You know methods of binding more with the same properties should you require them, though it is neither a fast nor easy process.

    Gourmet Cells (Toriko) (100CP)

    You acquire either 3 Injections of Gourmet Cells capable of granting Gourmet Cells in a matter of hours or enough Gourmet Pills to grant 3 people Gourmet Cells over the course of a 5 year period through daily ingestion. Injections are a quick way to power up but very few survive the process while Pills have a significantly higher success rate but take time. Acquiring either grants you the ability to harvest Gourmet Cells and create your own Injections and Pills with trial and error. Plants and animals can both be injected or given pills so you may attempt to gather more cells at a later date

    Chapter 5

    -Engine-sister (Warhammer 40k - Adeptus Mechanicus) (100CP)

    Voluminous red robes cannot hide the curves beneath, to this woman's eternal embarrassment. Friendly and perky in conversation to both man and machine, she is torn between her desire to be closer to the machine and her attachment to humanity. The possibility of a harmonious union between the two has inspired her to follow you. She has all 100, 200, and 400cp enginseer perks. She also has 'subtle bionics' 'artisan' and one pick of 'magos designation.'

    -Peak ADVENT Technology (XCOM 2) (200CP)

    Before you defected you were working in some of the most top secret black projects any human had access to. You have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all ADVENT technology, minus some of the genetic manipulation techniques and basically anything that would give away ADVENTs dark secrets.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2022
  3. O’Brien

    O’Brien Not too sore, are you?

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    This is going to be cool. Don't know much about the Expanse universe, but celestial forge is a universal yes for me.

    And I feel like with the gravity difference, our protag can have some super great mobility if he untoggles and toggles his magnetic boots.
     
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  4. ryune

    ryune Versed in the lewd.

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    Hmmm, it might be a good idea to ditch the words for rolls rules. The Expanse is a very... Expansive setting with lots of downtime. And while the usual rules are decent enough, they also lend to both word bloat and a much faster paced story than is going to be present without in system FTL...
     
    ALCHON and Reece like this.
  5. Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    I'm hoping that the word for rolls might help with avoiding keeping the pace too fast. If it gets out of hand I'll probably drop the words for rolls, and maybe start doing it segmentally to try and break it u.
     
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  6. Jenuwine

    Jenuwine Making the rounds.

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    Really enjoying the setting and story so far. I appreciate the word for rolls b/c I've seen too many go off the rails pacing wise. Hope to read another chapter soon!
     
  7. James Wilt

    James Wilt Making the rounds.

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    The Celestial Forge in The Expanse? Talk about a game changer, especially when access to other forms of FTL aside from the Rings becomes available to the Protagonist. Not to mention better forms of Artificial Gravity..

    Edit: The Forge has the Star Trek Techbase included, so the SI will definitely be getting alternate FTL methods at some point.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2021
  8. Saeviom

    Saeviom Getting some practice in, huh?

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    Watched so fucking hard. Thank you. And beautifully written too. What a treat.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2021
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  9. Zerak

    Zerak Versed in the lewd.

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    My advice is don’t mention which perks you don’t roll due to lack of points, unless it was something really special and you wanted the readers to know how close it was.

    I say this since in other Celestial Forge stories, some went with the method of actually saying each roll even if it missed and it did just ended up being a sore point for the readers who were looking forward to the perk. The is even more of an issue if you are using V3 since there is a decent chance a perk might never roll again before the fic ends.
     
  10. Threadmarks: 2
    Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    "This be Earther, Lie man or something." Nicaro introduced me dismissively.

    "Liam." I responded with a nod to the other two. Neither returned it.

    "Like I said, or something." Nicaro rolled his eyes. He gestured to the long boned Belter bedecked with wires dangling from his overalls. The Belter easily had a foot and half on me, with grotesquely huge arm and leg bones. His skin was pale and drawn, looking like it was stretched too thin over his large bones. I could see the individual bones that made up his face through the thin skin, and his eyes were a dark brown, unnaturally large in his sockets.

    "This techie is Mansa Nelson; he going to be very important for this job ke-sa?" He looked at me specifically when he asked, as if I would question his choice in men, for a work roster that he was putting together. I crossed my arms and shrugged. Nicaro nodded his head to the black jawed brute.

    "This be Solomon." 'Solomon cocked an eyebrow at the name, but after a moment nodded back. Unlike his more mutated counterpart, Solomon was slightly shorter than me, with thick bulging muscles, and a seemingly non existent neck. Though his most unusual feature, was the collection of dull grey studs barely visible on his shoulders. I could make out four - two on each side - but they vanished under his tank top, so they could stretch all the way across his back, or even down his spine. I had no idea if they were decorative or served some sort of purpose.

    "For sure bossmang, Solomon my name." He had the voice of a smoker; on Earth I'd have pegged him as the man who smoke a pack a day - at least! However, I'd seen the cost of smoking out here on the belt. Real cigarettes cost about two thousand yen per stick; I'd seen vape pods filled with god knows what chemicals go for as cheap as fifty yen a pop, but you didn't seem to get the rough sounding throat from them. So that meant the guy I was talking to was one of the richest men I'd ever met, or he'd somehow got some nasty chemical burns all down his throat. Considering the situation we all found ourselves in I was betting that chemical burns were the most likely culprit.

    I joined them at the counter. Nicaro looked behind me, then - apparently satisfied that the shop was empty - reached underneath the counter and pushed a button. A shutter quietly covered the entrance to the shop. Once it finished rolling into place, he pulled out a pad and held it up. On it was a pimply faced youngish looking man, with dark frizzy hair and a scowl.

    "This be Niki Jacosie. He used to owe money to me. Last month he pay off his debt in full. But now I hear he steal Owkwa from Greigas. Silly, silly." He and Solomon chuckled at that. Nicaro then tapped the pad again, showing a few snapshots of Niki walking away from the camera with barrels of water underneath his arm.

    "The Owkwa is already gone, no getting that back unless you want to drink piss. But he made scrip from it; so we get that."

    "So ... we're essentially just shaking the guy down?" I asked after Nicaro turned his pad off.

    "You got a problem with the job?" Solomon growled out, looking at me like I'd just insulted his mother. Nicaro didn't look particularly pleased with the question either. Whether it was from me butting in, or me potentially welching on the job I couldn't tell.

    "Hey, so long as we all get paid, right?" My arms were still crossed, so I raised the fingers on the top hand as I spoke.

    Solomon sucked on his teeth, then looked back down at the table display. Not sure if they bought my 'tough guy' act. But as long as they paid me my cut after we shook down the poor bastard I wasn't too concerned with their opinion of me. After my question, Nicaro brought out another pad, this one with a hologram emitter attached to it; he tapped the screen a few times and the emitter shone a holographic map of our area of the Ceres docks. We were all lit up in his shops as four red dots, across the docks - maybe half a mile or so - a blue dot gently pulsed. That was, I assumed, our target. Nicaro pointed to the blue dot.

    "This is Niki; his favorite girl at the rosse buurt put a dotter on him when he was, heh, busy." I actually almost felt bad for the poor guy. We were going to track him through the station like he was some sort of an animal. I didn't doubt that the guy was probably just as much a piece of shit as the three Belter criminals I was now working with; but tracking a fellow human down like this definitely felt pretty messed up to my twenty first century morals. Still, money was money, and without it I was on my arse come the end of the month.

    "He normally go up to pomang embassy; got himself a techie job up there. He come back down after a few hours, and we snatch him then. Follow him when he get off the tram, find him on his way home, then ..." He slapped the back of one hand against the palm of the other, clicking his tongue as he did so. Solomon grinned at that.

    "Get him somewhere quiet, get his pad. Mansa gonna hack it then ke? Niki normally take a side path home, Mansa gonna go ahead and wait for you in there." He jutted his chin at Mansa, who nodded slowly. Every movement the man made was actually pretty slow now that I really paid attention, he was languid in drinking from his flask, slow when he scratched his head. He even blinked slowly. It made sense; he was probably pretty fragile, so moving too quickly might earn him a broken bone via bashing it off the walls, or a counter-top like we were next to.

    "You understand that Earther?" Solomon barked at me, eyeing me like I was about to just up and walk out. I nodded at him.

    "Yeah, I understand the plan. We follow Niki back home, I follow him down the side path, you cut him off and Mansa hacks his pad. Then we all get paid."

    "Good, not sure if you were paying attention." He grunted, then turned back to the counter top, taking a swig from a hip flask. I'd noticed that actually, most of the Belters I've seen roaming around the place all carried their own personal flasks. I'd not asked about it out of politeness. I assumed it was one of those other cultural differences that kept cropping up. I considered getting my own once I had some decent cash built up - If I got some decent cash built up. Once Nicaro confirmed we all understood the plan, he told us the running tactic. He'd be back here tracking us via the hologram pad, Solomon would be waiting in a side tunnel for when Mansa and I spotted him. Solomon's tattoo's made him far too visible; if the target spotted him during the job then he'd definitely bolt, and some Ceres slum rat knew how to dodge getting caught, and how to avoid chasers far better than I knew how to track him through the tunnels. Even with the tracking device active, there was too much of a risk that he'd be able to outrun us and make a clean break if he suspected he was being followed. We all left the shop and made our way to the concourse, I checked my pad time on the way. Niki's shift should be over in about five minutes, with another five for him to get out the office and then walk down the hall to the tram station. He should be nearby within the next half an hour. If we missed our window then Nicaro would update us about where he was on the tracker.

    It was when we reached the main intersection that Niki was supposed to be walking through, that my eyes suddenly throbbed as the headache from waking up too early flared to life again. I winced at the sudden flash of light that seemed to shoot towards me from nowhere, then fade away rapidly. The pain died down into a dull throb again, as if the incident almost didn't happen. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed my sudden strange actions. Thankfully they hadn't, far too busy with the business of looking as inconspicuous as possible. Solomon vanished away into the crowd, likely to scout out the side tunnel he'd be hiding in. I picked up the pace slightly and moved to lean against the wall near Mansa, who was casually tapping away at his pad; playing some sort of strategy game from the looks of it. I nudged him with my elbow and he looked up at me, blinking slowly.

    "So...Mansa? Interesting name. Any meaning behind it?" I tried striking up some casual conversation; I'm not a fan of just standing in silence, and I always got chatty when I was nervous. It was a trait I'd picked up in the forces back on Earth. I'd never seen any real combat - just service work, but the habit hadn't ever gone away after I left.

    Mansa reached into his pocket and withdrew a small silver button, about the size of a British penny, then pressed it onto the side of his neck and breathed out slowly. He evidently had something wrong with his throat as well. It may even be congential, out in the Belt it was common for third generation and young Belters to be born with defects like blindness, or anosmia. It was just the bones that changed when you spent too much time in zero g; it was the blood vessels as well. The small, delicate capillaries that threaded through the eyes, nose and throat didn't cope well without gravity to help blood flow.

    "I was named for two great men." He took a drawn out breathe in before continuing. "Mansa Musa, Admiral Nelson."

    "Ah, parents had high hopes for their kid?" I'd met a guy called Prince William before; pretty sure the same sort of logic had applied there as it did here. Name the child something grand, and hopefully he'd live up to it. The guy I'd met was a fry cook though, so not sure if it worked.

    He shook his head and grinned, showing off grey, pitted teeth. Then began to speak, every three or four words he'd stop and take in a deep breathe before continuing again. I wondered idly why he didn't just use a speech to text app on his pad, or something similar. I'd seen adverts for something that resembled a google glass contact lens for fairly cheap. A good techie could definitely afford that.

    "I was a ward of the station. I think the administrator who looked after me thought he was funny." And that was that. I didn't know how to respond because if he wasn't joking, then that was genuinely heart breaking. We waited in silence after that; though thankfully not for long. Out target was making his way out of the tram from the Medina. Mansa hadn't seen him yet, so I nudged his side and nodded towards where the guy was walking from.

    "It's him." I muttered as lowly as I could get away with. Mansa looked over, then nodded back to me. I walked off to tail the guy while Mansa messaged Solomon.

    Moving through the crowd was a simple affair, I was broader and stronger than everyone else around me. Which was a mixed blessing really; it made navigating a crowd easy, but also made me stand out like a sore thumb. I kept my 'thug' scowl firmly fixed on my face and no one bothered me as I followed after Niki. He was ahead of me by about five metres or so, which sounds far smaller in theory than it actually was in practise. Ceres did have sections of wide open spaces - the governors office, and the embassy sections for example - but the dock areas consisted of tight, cramped tunnels. They wound around each other and often loops back in on themselves, forming what can charitably be called a 'maze like' network; and what could be uncharitably called a fucking mess. A mess that helped hide the fact I was following the guy around.

    He stopped by a water hawker, and I was forced to side-track to a food stand across from him. I was still outside his direct line of sight, but brought a cheap protein 'burger' in case he turned around and spotted me just awkwardly standing there. It was pretty dire tasting, but it felt like chewing actual meat. Which was weird; after a few contemplative chews I swallowed down the chunk of fried meat. I kept taking smaller bites as I watched Niki negotiate with the water hawker. His prices weren't too bad actually; a single bottle was cheap enough, and you could buy chemical flavour sachets to mix into it as well to change the taste. Most of it looked pretty standard, fruit flavors and the like; but there was also something called 'Martian starburst' and 'Ganymede flare' available to buy. Eventually I turned back towards the food vendor - keeping a careful eye on Niki as I did so - and asked him:

    "Hey mate, what's in these burgers?"

    "Huh?" He asked, cupping an ear and gesturing with his hand at me. A lot of Belter 'language' involved hand gestures, afterall, most of them spent their lives in pressure suits where a radio wasn't always guaranteed.

    "What's in the burgers?" I asked again, louder this time to carry my voice over the clamour of market hawkers, and the sound of oil fryers running. Pointing at my food for emphasis. He must have understood what I was asking, because he nodded his head and smiled.

    "Whiskers." Then he made an odd cheeping noise with his tongue.

    "Whiskers?"

    "Yeh, little whiskers." Wait. Did he mean...

    I leant back away from the stand, looking up at the sign I'd previously dismissed without a thought, Niki all but forgotten in my mind. There was the name of the stand in Chinese characters - 毛茸茸的朋友汉堡!- underneath which were three small stylized animals. A grinning rat, a dancing animated ferret, and a mink in a chefs hat.

    "This is rat?"

    He nodded happily, then turned away to serve up another burger to a Belter. I was tempted, oh so very tempted to reach over and punch the man that had not only just fed me vermin, but had the gall to charge me for it. But I knew that it was probably just a cultural difference, I should have checked; I should have asked what was in the burger. Or I should have just gone with fried mushroom vegetarian option; would have been cheaper as well. Just as I was going to lose my shit and toss the burger back in the vendors face he - and me most likely - was saved from a beating by Niki thanking the hawker and walking off with a pair of lime flavored water bottles.

    Unfortunately for Mr. Niki, I was now in an even worse mood, with a building headache, the after taste of rat on my tongue and a mighty need to get some shut eye. All of which was going to get combined, and remake into being a very bad day for him. I tossed my burger into a station recycler and slipped into following him again. Even more unfortunately for him, he decided to take a turn down a side alley; the shortcut home for him. I reached into my coat pocket and tapped my pad, sending a pre-written message to Solomon to cut him off. Then I ducked into the alley after Niki.

    "Hey!" I called out to him, the lanky Belter looked over his shoulder at me but didn't stop walking.

    "Hey, you dropped this!" I called out again, pulling a pre-paid Yen slip out my coat pocket and waving it in the air between two fingers. Still he didn't stop, he just looked forward and shouted back at me.

    "No, Tumong; it not mine!" He was picking up the pace now, so I matched it. He looked behind him and saw me match speed. I actually felt a little bad for the guy from the sheer look of terror on his face, he knew I was after him. He broke into a straight run, but before he even made the end of the service corridor he was intercepted. Solomon came out of a side door and shouldered him into a wall, the guy hit the floor with a grunt.

    "Oh. You think you run from Griegas? Eh? You go fongi fode? Huh Jemang?" He kicked him in the side; with Ceres's low gravity, the crack of the boot lifted him into the air and knocked him against the wall again. I jogged up to him as Solomon rolled him into his back and hauled him to his feet by his shirt. He threw the babbling guy into my arms and jerked his head to the side door. Niki wasn't resisting - too busy mumbling at me in Belter creole to properly fight back, not that it would have helped him even if he had. I was much stronger than him by far; he barely weight more than my desk chair, and I could clearly see the outline of his bones through his skin.

    When we entered the side door, it turned out to lead to a small storage room. There were empty metal crates propped against the side, a dangling strip light embedded in the ceiling, and all manner of loose pipes, sacks of bolts and coils of wire dangling off of clips anchored to the walls. Mansa was also there as well, awkwardly bending over in the far end of the room, setting up his pad on a nest of wires and interface modules. There had been a small green electronic lock on the door, which explained why the room had yet to be looted, but Mansa had likely hacked through that before hand. I deposited Niki in the middle of the room, then went to cover the door. While I walked away, he must have realised I couldn't understand a word I was saying because he switched to - stilted - English.

    "Tumong, maybe you and I talk yeah? I pay you - No, wait!" Solomon stalked over to him.

    "No, no, no." Solomon leant down and slapped Niki, the harsh 'thwack' followed by the low groan of it echoed around the enclosed storage room. I peeked my head out into the side corridor again, checking that no had gotten inquisitive. The rest of Ceres walked on by without paying us any attention; one of the benefits of living in a shithole I suppose. I looked back in to see Solomon hand off Niki's pad to Mansa, the lanky Belter got to work hacking into it while Solomon kept speaking.

    "You dumb fuck! You think you steal from Griegas and get away huh?" He slapped him again, bouncing the groaning Belter against the loamy asteroid floor. "Copeng, you try pashang us? No. Fucking. Good!" Each word was punctuated with a harsh slap; by the third one, Niki was lolling in the muscled Belters grip. After a moment Solomon looked him over, sucked his teeth then pushed him back down to the floor. He looked up to me and asked. "Anyone coming?"

    "No, we're good."

    "We're good? Tut, what sabe?" He muttered.

    "I don't speak Belter." I enunciated slowly, ducking back inside the storage room. Mansa briefly looked up from the pad, then stepped further back into the room.

    "I know, tumang. Kewe to pensa ere beltalowda?" He spread his arms out and jerked his chin at me. I felt that this was one of those 'Show how tough you are.' moments that popular culture always showed gang-bangers doing. If this were a film me and him would have a quick throw down; then we'd go off each respecting the other. But I got the feeling that if I did that, and even if I won, I'd still lose in the long term. Solomon didn't like me, it wasn't the same low level hostility that the public showed me either; there was something nasty in the mans eyes as he slowly walked towards me. Without even thinking my fists clenched down by my side; he looked down slightly and grinned when he saw that.

    "Oye?" He reached out slowly and tapped my temple. "Oye!" He tapped again. I swatted his hand away and stepped back.

    "Fuck. off."

    "Oh, you got a pair then tumang." He taunted, grinning at me.

    "Oh, you can speak like a human then, Belta."I mocked his accent, annunciating the T in the final word to mimic his guttural way of speaking. I shouldn't have said it. I should have just tried ignoring the prick until Mansa did his job. Solomon's grin dropped off his face, he cocked one side of his head towards me, cupped his ear with a hand and gestured at me with the other. But I was too far gone now, I was letting out my frustration with the way the Belters of the station had been looking at me, on the one person in the room who'd probably try and kill me for doing it.

    "We playing charades now? I know yo-" Solomon interrupted me with a wild haymaker. It hit me hard in the head, not as hard as man on Earth of his size would have managed; but the difference was negligible. I reeled back from it, banging my head against the door. My own fist snapped out wildly, missing him by a mile but forcing him to jump back. In that free moment I reached into my coat with my other hand and withdrew my hammer, I brandished it between us like it was a shield. Shaking my head to try and clear the dancing lights from my eyes.

    "Come on then!" My hands were up, one holding the hammer; the other clenched to a fist still. Solomon bounced slightly on the balls of his feet; his eyes were locked on my hammer and there was a cocky grin on his face. He was loose, bouncy and confident. I could physically feel the muscles in my neck tense so hard I was worried they were going to rip. The man across from me was used to this, used to fighting. We were both in an enclosed space. I had my hammer, but there were loose bits of piping all around us. He could grab a weapon in a short enough time to make us equal in terms of weapons. We both knew no one would be coming if they heard anything either.

    "Heh, Tumang. Maybe my cut be bigger than yours? Maybe I get your cut?" He whispered menacingly, rolling his shoulders easily. I had to hit him first otherwise he was going to dominate this fight; and I was going to get beaten down - I couldn't even think about dying here or I'd lose my nerve and bolt - by this arsehole. Before it came to that though; Mansa interrupted our fight.

    "Hey!" We both ignored him, still staring each other down. Me with a clenched snarl, and him with an easy grin on his face. Mansa got between us, staring Solomon down.

    "Hey, it done!" He held up the now unlocked pad. Solomon looked around his taller friend at me, then shrugged. Mansa walked off to the side again, tapping away at the pad. He was likely copying down all the details we needed to clean out Niki's accounts. Solomon clapped his hands together and let out a throaty chuckle.

    "Look at that Tumang. All done, all er... good? Ke?" He held out his open palm and nodded to my own still clenched fists. "Shake and relax, like you Earthers do?"

    I looked at his hand for a long moment. He clearly wasn't actually good with me, nor did I doubt that given the chance he wouldn't hesitate to immediately stab me in the back. Hell, he'd probably stab me right in the chest, and laugh in my face about it while he rooted through my pockets. Our little scuffle before wasn't even close to being resolved; not if we were going to work together again. There was no way he and I would be getting on after this incident, I mean, I don't think he was going to get along with me anyway; but now? Now he definitely wanted to stab me in some dark alley and leave me for dead. Still; I reached out and shook his hand briefly. He grinned back at me.

    "See, no problem. Mansa, what you got?" He turned his back on me to look over the pad.

    "Everything bossmang. We got accounts, messages, replies, whatever we need."

    "Good work, beratna." He gently patted the fragile Belter on the shoulder, then looked over his own at me.

    "We go back to the bossmang now. You deal with him, ke?" He jerked his head at the unconscious Niki. He didn't mean?...

    "Deal with? You want me to kill him?"

    "No! When he wake up, make sure he know not to fuck with us again ke? You tumang so bloodthirsty." He had the gall to actually look offended at my question; as though it wasn't implied that I should be killing him when he told me to 'take care' of the unconscious man we'd just beaten the shit out of. I didn't want to kill the guy, hell if he had insisted and told me to kill him I'd have probably refused. I wasn't some murderous lunatic. As they all moved to leave, I leant against the inner wall of the room; letting both of them pass me by. Solomon went first, shooting me a smirk as he shouldered past me. Mansa went after him, he pressed his speaker to his throat again as he did so.

    "I tell bossmang you here doing this, he send your cut later, ke?"

    "When will he send it? I don't want to get screwed on this." Mansa grimaced at my question, then raised a hand, doing a so-so gesture with it. I politely ignored staring at his fingers while waiting for his response, each bone on there was nearly as long as one of my entire digits by itself.

    "I say maybe two hour? Three max."

    "Okay." I sighed through my nose, then sat down on a storage bin against the wall. Mansa bobbed his head and left, closing the door behind him.

    While I was waiting for Niki to wake up, my headache started to ache in a truly monumental way; when the day had started it was a dull throbbing; now it was an outright pounding. I had a growing feeling of dread that I knew exactly what was going to happen. It was the same growing pattern of pain. It seemed earlier when my eyes lit up, I was just dodging a bullet, and now it was going to come back around and hit me again. Like before, I was flying towards the ring in the middle of a constellation, and just like before a star had detached from the constellation and was shooting past me. Unlike before, I didn't even have time to see the middle of the ring, or the things that were moving around inside it. The star didn't take up place behind me, instead it shot straight ahead of me without slowing. Maybe my brain was adapting to whatever this whole 'star system' thing was. I was still knocked clean on my arse though. I must have hit my head on a pipe though, because when I eventually regained my senses, the lights inside the room had dimmed to simulate nighttime. I'd been out cold for a good few hours?

    Fighting against the still present headache, I sat up, groaning at the sharp pain in my eyes that the movement prompted. Niki was gone from the floor, there were a fresh set of footprints pressed into the asteroid loam leading out the door. That meant he'd walked away, so at least he was alive. I patted myself down as gently as I could to avoid sparking more head pain, all my gear was still on me, even the few slips of prepaid Yen credits I'd stuffed in my pocket. Niki didn't rob me while I was out cold? Maybe he thought I was just sleeping, and didn't want to risk me waking up and attacking him while he tried leaving. I withdrew my pad and turned it on, there were three new messages that I'd gotten in the last hour.

    '18'000 Ceres Yen has been deposited in your account.' Nice to see I actually got paid then. I didn't know if that was a fair cut or what, but money was money. Eighteen thousand wasn't a bad bit of change to have.

    'You got paid.' Yeah, thanks for that one Nicaro.

    'I call you tomorrow maybe. Might have more work.' Not a bad concept. I wasn't looking forward to the idea of working with Solomon again, especially since he seemed so dammed volatile. On the other hand I did want more money, and - passing out aside - it had been a nice and easy job. Kicking in criminals wasn't particularly morally objectionable to me at the moment. But, I wasn't too focused on any of that right now. Because just like the first star, this second one had deposited something new in my 'workshop'. I pulled myself to my feet, and very delicately walked back home to inspect it. On the way back I had another 'attack'.

    It followed the same pattern; again though, it was much shorter than the last, and shorter still than the first. I didn't even hit the ground this time. I still had to cling to the tunnel wall though. Unlike the other two, it didn't herald anything arriving in my workshop, but instead felt like I'd been granted knowledge. Hard to describe really, like I'd learnt something and for ages I'd simply forgotten I'd known, but then the star had reminded me of how it worked. It was to do with mining. No, turning mining equipment into weapons? That was ... worrying. I'd barely even seen any of the mining gear that they used on Ceres; but know I knew exactly how to convert one of the handheld plasma torches into a reliable and potent flamethrower. Same with turning the crates of blasting charges into directed, armour piercing explosives. Was this constellation system trying to prepare me for something? It didn't matter now, I couldn't stop these 'attacks' from happening, best thing to do was get home and inspect what the previous star had left in the workshop for me.

    It turned out to be a leather satchel containing tools. Very dammed sharp tools. They were stored in an ornately patterned leather roll up inside the satchel, next to which was a small sack of semi-precious gems which I tossed in my storage bin. All together I could use what the star had provided to make some very nice looking jewelry - if I had the talent, which I didn't. What turned it away from being an interesting if mundane little collection of gear was the final item stored in the satchel. It was a waterproof tube, inside which were sheets of parchment covered in hand written notes on 'rune crafting.' Which after read the papers, turned out to be essentially magic; even more so than the philosophers sand had been.

    Each small gemstone could contain within it a spell. That spell could be a curse, or an explosion, or something that enhances the person wearing the rune. If it was integrated into a piece of clothing or a weapon, it would then pass on the enhancement or curse to the person struck or wearing the armour. I knew all that from the notes that came with the gem-cutting kit; it even covered some of the more basic runic languages and symbols I could integrate into precious stones. Strength enhancement seemed to be the simplest - and easiest - with other things like intelligence, dexterity, and charisma enhancement being harder than that. Which made sense I supposed, making someone stronger was probably easier than buffing more abstract things like charisma. Directly casting a spell with a rune was the hardest of it all though; the notes contained information explaining how to insert simple spells like 'fireball' and 'frost nova' into runes. When I first read over it I had hoped it might be able to make something like an actual wand; unfortunately that wasn't the case.

    They turned the gems into more of a single use grenade, that when thrown at something, or someone, would cast the spell on whatever it hit. Which meant that I'd need to either be fairly close to someone, or I'd need to use them as a trap to get the most effect out any runes I made for offensive purposes. There were also references to more advanced forms of runes that I could learn to make as well, possibly formed by combining several runes together like a sentence. The papers warned that this was much harder than simply putting them next to each other though, and warned that it would take a lot of research and practice to achieve. This was of course, all in theory. Theoretically runes I carved would have all these effects. The other option was that I had somehow had a break down since that sideroom with Mansa and Solomon. I'd woken up with Niki gone, which could mean I got lucky and he'd woken up and run away without shanking me or taking my stuff. Or I could still be completely unconscious right now, passed out in the storage room waiting to be shaken awake by a stranger.

    Of course, thinking that way wouldn't get me anywhere, so instead of ruminating on it, I took out a small gemstone from one of the storage bins that the workshop had provided. Semi-precious stones were a dime a dozen on Ceres; in some places you could even pull them right out of the walls. Mostly just discolored or misshapen peridots. They weren't valuable in the slightest; I'd tried selling my own collection when I'd arrived, and a man had offered to take them off my hands if I paid him, rather than he pay me. But for rune carving they were supposed to be good enough. With that in mind I sat down, unfurled the toolkit and began following the instructions on the paper.

    An hour later I was done; I'd shaved away half the mass of the peridot - and in doing so caught the edge of my thumb, leaving a nasty gash - carving the 'Tal' rune into it, then fitted it onto my hammer. Each rune would have a different effect when it was fitted to clothing, a weapon, or a shield. I didn't have a shield, and bejazzling my clothes wasn't a fashion statement I really wanted to make, so weapon rune it was. I'd considered attaching the rune with a drop of resin at first; but my knowledge of weaponizing civilian tools had nixed that idea. Instead I'd drilled out a small crevice on the head of the hammer and inserted it. Then, just for the hell of it I'd re-enforced the handle. It wasn't much to look at - just a thin layer of wrapping and two support struts - but now when I hit something with it, none of the force bounced back into my hand.

    I hefted my hammer overhead, bringing it down on the workshop anvil with a sharp 'clang' that echoed around the room. I lifted the hammer back up again and checked where I'd hit, there was the expected small dent in it - that would be fixed in forty eight hours - but as well as that, there was also a very small smear of bright green fluid left behind. It soon sizzled away to nothing but rapidly fading green fumes when I moved the hammerhead away. It proved that the rune magic actually worked; I wasn't going crazy - or if I was, then it was a much deeper psychosis than I was willing to contemplate. Not just because I could see the effect, but because I could feel the effect. Just holding the hammer gave me an electricity-like thrum running up my arm; an tingling sensation that seemed to anchor me in reality far more than anything else did. When I put it down I could evens still feel it on the table, the notes did mention that could happen, that the runes could be linked to people on a personal level. I guess this is what they meant.

    "So, if it works on my hammer. How about everything else?" I mused, drawing out a handful of various semi-precious stones. Purple amethysts, green peridots and bunt orange citrines. I had enough to carve runes for my current wardrobe; with enough left over to even make a couple of 'trap' runes to take with me in case of another potential fight. Though it was getting late, and my head was still pounding - a combination of lack of sleep and being punched earlier - so I was tempted to just crawl into bed and try sleeping it off.

    "Hmmm." I decided to just wing it, I'd make as many runes as I could actually stay awake for, then hit the hay. I wasn't needed anywhere urgent tomorrow as far as I knew. If Nicaro wanted me tomorrow, then he could call me after I'd woken up.

    E-=-X
    I'm torn on dialogue. Belters have a thick accent, and I'm unsure if I should just keep writing them normally, or try and write their words phonetically. Such as 'this' becoming 'dis' and 'something' becoming 'someting.' It might get really old, really fast. Also, at an average of three rolls a chapter, I may need to dump the rolls for words system as ryune suggested. Otherwise I may end up snowballing like crazy before I get a decent story going.

    -Plowshares from Swords from Plowshares (Warhammer 40k - Squats) (100CP)

    You might have noticed most of the best Squat vehicles and weapons are repurposed mining and industrial equipment. This is no accident, for not only do such things have to be tough, they are intimately familiar to operators and engineers alike. You have a particular genius for weaponizing civilian technology, and finding constructive industrial uses for weapons.

    -Carving kit (Diablo 1&2) (100CP)

    The tools within this leather satchel are of exceptional quality and have been ritually prepared for work with delicate magical reagents. Having these will make Gemcutting and runecarving much easier. A sheaf of paper in a waterproof scroll case notes useful details on several basic runes and the most common semi-precious gems, but it lacks details on multi-rune sequences and the rarest stones. Still, the papers make a good reference, and they will automatically update themselves when you discover new information through experimentation or research. If lost or destroyed, the kit will reappear in your possession the next day


    Points banked this chapter: 100 (Overall points 200)
     
  11. EntropyEnginear

    EntropyEnginear Experienced.

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    Yeah it might be a good idea to shelve the point per wordage for redesign. Of course the main contributing factor for a lot of celestial snow balling is the words from item descriptions causing run off reactions. Of course said descriptions is one of the good things about celestial forge fics even if they cause issues. Maybe making it require many many more words for each point distribution? Or even have each point rewards require more and more words to do?
     
  12. Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    I'm going to try two chapters as is to see how it goes. Part of the fun of writing a CF fix is randomnes and snowballing. But if it gets too absurd it might become tedious to write/read.
     
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  13. Evillevi

    Evillevi Shadow Pika!

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    Honestly my preference is to ignore any part of the forge that doesn't involve crafting, but ya the CF is a bit too random and powerful
     
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  14. Slayer 10321

    Slayer 10321 Versed in the lewd.

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    But that's over half the fun of the Celestial Forge. That and the perk interactions along with the sheer Hope that the MC can bring to the setting once they get rolling with the synergies and freebies.
     
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  15. O’Brien

    O’Brien Not too sore, are you?

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    The two perks seem to be good. Since you mentioned that the gem cutting tools were sharp, maybe he could use the tools as some kind of shiv in case he loses his hammer?

    Can we slot any rune gems into the hourglass to make it more powerful or faster? Is there a way for the protag to build something with the tools he has right using the new Civ equipement into weapons perk?

    Anyhow, I like snowballing as long as it doesn't just make previous perks irrelevant. Most of the time these CF fics will jump from using one perk to another as they come in, never really delving deep into the potential of one. Thats my main gripe with CF fics, that and the minion perks.
     
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  16. hyperspacewizard

    hyperspacewizard Versed in the lewd.

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    Am always in favor of the author writing clearly and then using descriptive word about the accent it takes me out of the story if I have to work through the phonetic spelling. In movies having captions on is what I do in such situations but I don’t know how you would do that in writing except writing in brackets or numbering it and placing the regular writing at the bottom of the page maybe?

    on the points thing instead of changing the word count for points maybe add a cool down word count depending on how big of a power was hustled rolled before starting gaining points again?
     
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  17. ryune

    ryune Versed in the lewd.

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    A person who has read a lot of HP fanfic, I can easily say that accented language is one of the most annoying things I have come across in otherwise competently written fics. This is one of the cases where telling rather than showing is preferable simply because it makes it harder to read. Just make sure to remind us every now and then that their accents exist and are thick... Preferably in a different way that can give us an idea of what the accent is...
    On this front, now that he has some actual crafting perks that he can use... it might be a good idea to implement some sort of XP system for things he's made. One of the things that has always gotten my goat when it comes to CF fics is the "new perk psychic nosebleed." Liam has it particularly bad and I don't see how it won't get him killed soon if he gets a perk while on a job.

    On to things that he should probably consider for his enchanting, Constitution boosts are almost a must here. He is dealing with a situation where proper nutrition is going to be extremely difficult to come by and the headaches from his power don't help in that regard. So Con and Regen are probably the best first enchantments for him to work up.
     
  18. tizian.s

    tizian.s Making the rounds.

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    I think you concentrated too much on the weaponizing civilian technology part, you did not even touch on finding constructive industrial uses for weapons part of the perk, I would have thought that would at least activate when he used his is enchanted hammer, because that is without question a weapon.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2021
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  19. Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    Vat do you meen? Ze french occent iz perfect for Fleur? Iz Jus' 'ow zey speak, no?

    The headaches and backlash from getting a new perk will fade. Pretty quickly. The cause of them will eventually - in theory depending on how batshit some the next two chapters rolls will be - plot relevant.

    My current plan for it, is to write the next two chapters as is; if they go a bit batshit I'll then try a system where each successfull roll adds a cost times ten word count to see if that can offset it. So if I rolled and got a six hundred perk, then the next roll is in 6000 words rather than 2000. I'll see how it goes. Unsuccessful rolls will just be banked as normal, and no cooldown applied.

    Turning it into a weapon was part of the plows into weapons part. It was already a hammer for fine detailing work rather than being an actual weapon. The actual modifications - sans the poison effect - don't really change the hammers function all that much, and it would work find as a normal hammer as it is if he removed the runestone.
     
  20. Knived

    Knived Making the rounds.

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    Damn i love this. The belter language even in the series had me scratching my head and wondering if idiocracy was right "But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valley girl, inner city slang, and various grunts."

    Hope you continue this
     
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  21. Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    Thanks.

    I assumed that Belter creole was a mix of South African, russian, indian and various nordic languages. But the show did make me sort of double take when half the cast were doing east london afro Caribbean accents.
     
  22. James Wilt

    James Wilt Making the rounds.

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    This is what The Expanse Wiki has to say on the subject:

    As a creole language, Lang Belta is primarily derived from English, with influences and contributions from languages of many different families, such as Germanic, Chinese, Romance, Indic, Slavic, and Niger-Congo.

    Though that's not taking into Accents, which like in Real Life, varies by region. Which means that the Ceres Accent seems to be closer to what you'd expect from speakers of Haitian Creole more or less.
     
  23. Crazy Kangaroo

    Crazy Kangaroo Completely bonkers.

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    This is great. Expanse fiction is really hard to come by, specially with "outside context problems".

    Regarding the non-crafting stuff from the forge, I think you can filter the most powerful stuff if you feel that it might ruin the story. It would be like a ROB moderating the forge or something for amusement.

    Liam could sell the elixir to fix belter health problems. Does it fix the low gravity problems?
    Mind you, he would have to do it in a really sneaky way to avoid being gang pressed.
     
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  24. kongarthur

    kongarthur Know what you're doing yet?

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    I really enjoyed the chapters and am looking forward to him getting some of the quality or time perks
     
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  25. Threadmarks: 3 - Main/Anderson Dawes
    Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    Lift, hold, clench, drop.

    "22."

    Lift, hold, clench, drop.

    "23."

    Lift, hold, clench, drop.

    "24"

    Lift, hold, clench, drop.

    "25!"

    The home made weights - thank you workshop - hit the white floor of the entrance hall. It was official; I was a magical bodybuilder now. Well, not to be too dramatic, I could now bench one hundred and twenty five percent of my previous best. I'd carved out five 'Fal' runes, and attached them to my clothes. Each piece of 'standard' clothing could take exactly one of the runes onto them. I could physically attach more than one to the clothes just fine, but at best they'd simply not work and at worst one runestone would flare up like a flashbulb and turn to ash. Why? Not sure, the notes about rune carving mentioned that each rune was technically part of a complete sentence, so in theory combining them wrong would mess up the 'syntax' and cause some magical backlash. The notes mentioned that they would 'self update' whenever I discovered something new, and that promise held true. The notes had gained a new sheaf of paper, simply entitled 'Failure'. It had written on it the two runes - 'Fal' and 'Amn' - and the word 'Meltdown' next to it. That implied the existence of other failure states, possibly more dangerous ones; so I'd shelved the immediate experimentation of rune mixing for now. Aside from adding the runes to clothes, I'd also tried my hand at making a simple ring from the iron wiring in the workshop. The runes should be attachable to rings as well, but unfortunately they were very dammed selective in what counted as a 'ring'. My half baked attempts clearly didn't count, the runes attached fine, but there was no magical effect.

    I'd actually managed a good nights sleep after the shakedown job. The yen in my account had lulled me off far better than any hot cup of milk, or soothing music could. The day after, I'd even splurged out and brought real food. Five hundred grams of rabbit leg meat. You'd be amazed how just how good, real meat tastes once you've been denied it. Slow baked rabbit thigh, with hydroponically grown shelf potato all stewed in noodles sounds like it would be a bland meal. It was, but it was absolutely orgasmic at the same time. About the only thing that tasted better was the proto-Elixir of life that I made the day after the job. That tasted like ... nothing I'd ever tasted before actually; it was spicy, and sweet and energizing all at the same time. I had no idea if it worked or not in terms of enhancing my lifespan. The small amount of very specialized knowledge that had come with the hourglass only covered the making of the elixir, with specific 'magical' solvents. The only thing I had on hand that wasn't literally poison was water. Drinking it had made me feel spry and much more awake; but I had no real way of telling if that was physical or psychosomatic.

    I'd tested it out by trying to use the cheap beers that they sold around the station halls; and that had gleaned the same result as water did. I'd then moved up to a small glass of vodka mixed in with a teaspoon worth of the sand, that had nearly blown my head off with the flavour; it wasn't particularly pleasant; mostly extremely sweet and extremely spicy. From my limited understanding of potion solvency I think I knew what was happening; potion creation was close to alchemy in function. It was based around the refinement of certain features of certain objects and liquids. The philosophers sand was a very refined essence of living, so to make it into an elixir I'd need to refine it further when I made it into a liquid. Simply solubilizing it water or booze didn't do that. It degraded it, by adding an impure element of something made with impure materials I was dragging down the essence of living into something impure itself. I'd get the taste of it, and the smell of 'life'; but nothing in regards to the actual effect. That was my thinking anyway; without a decent potion kit, or a way of refining base alcohols into an alkahest - a universally perfect solvent - I was just making a tasty energy drink. So the only useful thing I'd managed to do with the sand so far was to rub it onto my bruises and watch them fade in seconds.

    I checked my pad again; still nothing. Nicaro had yet to get back to me, and I hadn't seen hide nor hair of the other two. In the case of Solomon I was more than happy to never see him again; but with Mansa I was hoping to maybe try and save some form of relationship with the man. I had no idea how my pad worked, or my keypad, or any of one of the million and a half pieces of networked technology that existed all around me. Back on Earth, not knowing how your PC worked was a fairly standard way of going through life; and you didn't really need to. Most commercial technology was front loaded with a million and a half little helpful additions that made technology so easy a child could use it. The Expanse had the same - for the most part - but the ubiquity of technology here was absolute. My keypad messaged me last night reminding me to go shopping, because my fridge had noted that it was running low on faux meat. I had no idea how to turn that off, or even if it could be turned off. Which pissed me off a little bit; I was the sort of guy that disliked having to give away my email for anything. It even irritated me that my doctor has my phone number. The concept of my fridge monitoring my food habits had made me nearly rip the thing out of the wall. If Mansa could show me even the most basic workings of some of the technology that populated everything around me, I'd consider that a win. I had messaged him once, and left it at that, he didn't seem to be the sort of guy that was ever negligent towards his pad. He'd more than likely seen it and not bothered to respond yet - if he ever would. Which was irksome, but not too unexpected.

    Leaving the entrance hall - and sealing it with a wave of my key app - I popped a premade meal into the reheater and turned it to low. imitation chicken, with imitation cheese, served with a side of real potato and real green beans. Protein, carbs, salt - lots of salt - and the smallest amount of artificially added vitamins as the corporations could get away with adding. I hopped in the shower as my meal heated up.

    "Ahhh." I let out a satisfied sigh as the hot water from the shower rolled over sore muscles. I had taken time to completely fill my water tank; far over the ration that the station allowed people who had rented low class accommodation. It was the first time I had enough for a proper wash, rather than a quick scrub down from the sink with a cloth. The small hunk of hand soap wasn't ideal for that job admittedly, but the shower gels in liquid form were expensive as hell. Epstein drive technology shifted the issue of getting things around in space from weight, to volume. So you ended up with super compressed chunks of certain things rather than the liquid you'd normally see, well, in the case of low end products. There were powders that turned into a soap like lather; but I hadn't sprung for them. It was surprising really, how unadvanced a lot of the day to day life on Ceres actually was. You could go out and look on the web and see a super advanced 3-D printing system that could create a steak from protein nozzles and have it slide out the machine hot and ready to be eaten; but the average person just cooked with an electric oven. You could buy a powder that instantly turned your teeth a sparkling white and re-enameled them, but most people just used toothbrushes. Because there wasn't any reason not to I supposed. The Belters made do with something until it was of no more use to them, that didn't just mean technology, it also meant customs and ways of acting. No point fixing what wasn't broken.

    While I was showering I felt the pressure behind my eyes building again; that familiar unpleasant sensation that I was slowly learning to associate with my bizarre workshop. Unlike before when it struck it didn't floor me, or even hurt that much beyond the initial buildup. I got a small flash of light, like a bulb blowing out in front of my eyes. There was a brief flash of 'intent' that I had partly felt the last times it had happened, only thing time it didn't fade away. This time it settled into my brain and imparted experience.

    "Huh." I knew alchemy; to a pretty dammed advanced degree. I knew the proper way to create various formulae, I knew the underpinning principles behind the laws of natural providence. I even knew the guiding principles behind bio-alchemy. It wasn't like I'd had a collective of blueprints downloaded into my head or anything like that; it was more like I'd done a degree in Alchemy, after already sitting through secondary and primary schools specializing in it. The same way I knew how to do maths, or write. I had no real specific memories of those beyond flashes of early childhood; but I could still do them. Same principle with Alchemy, I could create advanced alchemical structures to achieve some pretty dammed esoteric effects with about the same nonchalance as I did basic calculus. It also came with a bunch of secondary - but still extremely useful - skills.

    "I could definitely be a surgeon." I held my hand up at eye height, I wasn't exactly shaky before, but now I could draw an almost perfect circle in my sleep. Because that's what was required for advanced alchemy; being able to draw and modify incredibly precise symbols and circles on the fly. This was ... not actually that revolutionary actually. I could in theory buy up a load of dense metals, then just transmute it into iridium, or gold. Then what I'd have is a big bundle of precious metals that I couldn't actually sell. There were places to easily sell huge amounts of metals all throughout Ceres; the docks tended to hundreds of ships owned primarily by resources mining rock hoppers. When I'd tried selling off materials from my workshop bins, I'd had trouble shifting it at corporate owned resource hawkers. They'd passed it through a scanner on their desk, handed it back and told me that without it being 'stamped', they couldn't take it off my hands. Turns out that when you went out mining, you needed to stamp every molecule you pulled out of an asteroid before you could sell it, that way that the corporation could track who had what permit and where they were mining. So I'd need to have a mining contract to get anywhere with selling materials. Irritating.

    So making money immediately by using Alchemy was out. Well, making money immediately by selling alchemically created resources was out. But from my - advanced - understanding of Alchemy opened up far more interesting paths than being a miner. Bio-alchemy alone allowed for the theoretically perfect integration of one or more creatures into each other. It would take experimentation sure, but the results could be completely revolutionary. My degree on Earth had been in genetics; science had always been a passion of mine, and I had of course looked up the state of 'modern' gene sciences. I hadn't understood much - most of it was offloaded to extremely high throughput specialized computers now - but it turned out that in general, our most optimistic assumptions about where gene engineering was going to go, were just that: pure optimism. The majority of the focus was turned away from changing humans, and poured into developing novel expressions of certain genes, to create medicine. Biogel was a perfect example of that. It was - essentially - a collection of specialized promoting factors that caused the expression of new cell growth, onco-gene activators to prevent cancers; and a boatload of suspended proteins, fats, enzymes and growth factors. It allowed for the complete regeneration of limbs and organs from nothing. There were no laws against genetic engineering of humans; just no cultural will towards doing it, as such the resources never went towards it.

    With bio-alchemically, I wouldn't need to build genomes, or have a sequencing machine, or even do something as simple as construct a cDNA library if I wanted to try and create a hybrid of ... anything really. I could completely bypass the issue of isolating a genotype from a phenotype, and then trying to integrate it. Alchemical circles allowed for the wholesale integration of various phenotypes without even needing to consider isolating anything; it worked on a much 'higher' form, taking concepts and meshing them together. I didn't know exactly how to do it right now, but I knew from pure theory, it would be possible. I could even weaponize it if I wanted to. The most fundamental concept of Alchemy was based around balancing energy - in the form of heat, or matter, or electricity - and a disruption of that would spark a destructive reaction. Doing it improperly with a static circle would probably kill me by trying to balance any differences through my body; but disrupting it from a distance could create explosions from absolutely nothing, or turn entire rooms full of people into red mist. I could theoretically use people as alchemical rea-

    "Oh, for fucks sake!" The water had cut off. I was already clean, but it completely derailed my entire train of thought. I had been so deep into examining the sudden wealth of experience I'd gained I'd stopped paying attention to my water level. Which meant that just to have a decent drink later tonight I'd need to either chug the lukewarm mineral water from one of the workshop bins, pay the water hawker for a refill, or just wait for the station to refill it next morning. It was one of the things that I actually did sympathise with the Belters over. The water ration pissed me off something chronic, especially as you could literally fly out to any random asteroid and harvest drinkable water; then have the Ceres port authority refuse to let you bring it in without a five million Yen permit. I knew objectively, that most business decisions aren't made out of malice, but rather a desire for profit; and by making miners buy water permits you could make an absolute mint. I also knew on a subjective level that my blood pressure hit the ceiling whenever I turned a tap on, and it did jack shit.

    I didn't bother standing in the shower when it went through its 'drying cycle'. That'd save up some of the water still clinging to my body, but I really wasn't in the mood to sit there and be treated to a dehydrating cycle that'd turn the texture of my skin into something akin to beef jerky. So I just dried off in the room itself while the shower ran its cycle. Checking my Pad brought me no new messages; but I did get a update bulletin that turned my blood cold. Water, as I already realised; was important on Ceres. The corp that ran the news on station kept regular updates on water hauling routes, and the state of ice harvesting. The newest update was that the Canterbury ice hauler was on its way back home after a 'minor incident'. That meant that pretty soon the Anubis was going to nuke the ship and spark a system wide war. I didn't know the exact time line of when that would happen - could be a week, could be a month given how slow ice haulers moved - but I knew it would happen. Intellectually there was nothing I could do about it now. It was a hundred million kilometres away from me, even if I got a message out to them; they couldn't outrun, outshoot or outsmart the Anubis. If they tried fleeing then the stealth gunship would swat them down before their drive even turned on; if they tried fighting then they'd be throwing iceballs at a nuclear weapon toting killing machine, if they tried to call for help then the Anubis would jam them.

    It shouldn't have bothered me, I knew that these people were going to die - I'd seen the dammed show after all - and they realistically meant nothing to me. The 'important' people from the ship would all survive on the Knight escape shuttle; and once the story really got going I could maybe leverage my foreknowledge into making a life for myself. I didn't really have a way to get involved, and I didn't have any incentive to get involved. In fact getting involved would just get me killed at this point. Some Protogen corporate security team would ventilate me, call it gang violence and that would be that. Just another dead idiot out in the Belt. I shouldn't even try and get involved. Just keep my head down, maybe earn enough to buy a small ship, get a cheap permit and transmute enough precious metal to live a decent life. I knew where wasn't touched by the Earth Mars war, so I could ride it out in relative safety if I played this smart. As Amos would say 'Ride the churn.'

    "Fuck." I breathed out slowly, still staring at the Canterbury update; uncaring of the sound of the reheater telling me food was done. I was drumming my fingers on the back of the pad while I considered what I should do.

    It was a lot easier to think about keeping out of everything, than it was to commit to keeping out of everything. Especially with something just 'dumping' what were essentially superpowers into my head. Could I alchemy up a gunship capable of throwing down with the Anubis? No. But the mere fact that I could do Alchemy implied that I should be doing it for something; there were no stories where the main character just shrugs and tells himself it wasn't his problem. Even if this was 'real life' - which was a bizarre thought when I was on a fictional planetoid station - It was my problem dammit. It was a massive problem, a solar system wide problem; and now it was my problem. I couldn't stop the Anubis, but I could get to Tycho to try and speak with Holden and Johnson. Maybe cut off Protogens fucked up plans at the knees without getting my head blown off; or warn them of what was slowly festering in Eros, or even about what would happen if Eros landed on Venus and made the ring. I had to try something; I don't think I could live with myself if I just sat out everything, scuttling around underfoot like a cockroach trying to make a living wasting my alchemy by selling gold. Not knowing what Protogen was doing to innocent people.

    The second I decided to help, another flashbulb went off behind my eyes; there was no buildup, no view of the ring anymore. Just a blunt insertion of more experience. This time it was engineering; very, very, very advanced engineering knowledge. Enough to rebuild a fully mobile fighting robot from scrap parts in fact; with laser weapons, esoteric energy weapons and even an FTL drive. I couldn't make the entire thing from nothing - yet, a small part of me whispered - but I understood how to kitbash a lot of the less insane systems. Even putting aside the fact that I lacked access to the more advanced spare parts and tools I'd need to make all the robot systems, it gave me enough engineering knowledge that I could definitely work on the ships currently flying out of Ceres. The Epstein drive was essentially just a high efficiency fusion torch, the knowledge in my head now regarded those in the same way I'd have looked at a child's model rocket motor. Interesting, but antiquated. I had in effect, just had enough useful information dumped in my head to turn me into a fully qualified ships engineer. What few gaps that existed regarding coding languages, and subsystems unique to the ships flying now, could be pretty easily filled in with some online courses.

    "Okay, so you want me to help then?" I asked out loud rubbing away the dancing lights from my eyes; I didn't get an answer, not that I really expected one. Whatever was giving me these powers didn't seem to be into actually explaining why it was doing it. But there was clearly some sort of reward system for me, like it wanted me to get involved with the 'story' of the world and was giving me treats for doing so. Knowledge, materials, whatever. Which meant that the more I did, the more I'd get, which would in turn let me get more involved. Unless someone freaked out and put a bullet in me. Some of the skills I'd gained just now put my understanding of certain principles far above the current tech level; especially the FTL. I wouldn't put it past someone to assume it was some proto-molecule based knowledge and put me down after Eros. Well, if Eros happened that is; if I was committing to trying to help, I should really try and stop Eros from happening. The system needed the ring to form yes, but using an entire towns worth of people as proto-molecule substrate was too high of a cost to pay for it. I knew how to fix an FTL drive with parts now, but I didn't know how to just build one from scratch. In mean sure, in theory I knew how they worked now, but only enough to fix common problems with them. I couldn't offer an alternative system of FTL that would replace the ring system if I just flat out stopped it from forming. If I was going to actually help, rather than put off everyone dying immediately for everyone dying later as we all get trapped inside the increasingly conflict hungry solar system; then I needed to get my hands on some proto-molecule to try and cause the ring to form safely, which is going to piss off ... everyone.

    I doubted that Holden would let me causally walk off with a sample of it. Going into Julie's room at Eros was definitely an elaborate form of suicide if she wasn't in that specific 'cocooning' stage of the proto-molecules life cycle, so no sample from that. Eros was something I wanted to avoid, which meant that I couldn't get a sample from there. That really just left going directly to Thoth station and getting the location of remaining samples from the scientists there, or trying to yoink the sample on the Anubis before Holden destroyed it. Since Thoth was under guard by an Amun-Ra class stealth ship, that was right out the window. Which really did just leave trying to hook into the Rocinante and going with Holden. I was going to have to absolutely finesse both the timing and my ability to chat shit to get onto that ship. Otherwise Fred Johnson was going to kick me off his station, which was really irritating when the Expanse was always incredibly fuzzy on the exact timescales involved. Good thing I had enough foreknowledge to make the attempt, and enough literal magical knowledge to offer him something valuable. I may not be able to create a giant robot from scratch, but I should be able to kitbash something ground breaking in the four day trip to Tycho. Maybe an energy shield? Or an FTL communicator, some of the materials would be hard to get a hold of ... wait, no they wouldn't. I should definitely be able to transmute at least some of them.

    "New message." The cool, female tone of my pad drew me over to it and away from my - definitely - self destructive plan to throw in my hat against the forces of Earth, Mars and Protogen. Nicaro was messaging me; he wanted to meet and talk about a possible new job. Sure, I could do with a little extra cash if I was going to buy my way to Tycho. I was partway through sending him a message confirming the meet when another flashbulb went off. I didn't wait for the flashing to fade from my eyes, I didn't even finish the message. I just flicked out my key app, opened the entrance hall and stepped through the workshop door. Only now there wasn't a workshop on the other side of it, there was goddamned island. Just floating out in the vastness of space which somehow occupied my closet!

    "Oh, what the fuck!" Just when I thought I had a handle on whatever was messing with me,it went and did something like this?

    -=-

    "So...he's not UN?" Nicaro asked in a low whisper. Across from him, Dawes sat, relaxed in his chair. A small glass of Belter gin was untouched in front of him; and he was flicking a dismissive finger over a pad laid out on the table.

    "No." Dawes sighed deeply. "Perhaps not." He almost sounded disappointed by that fact. They hadn't accidentally included a UN operative in a smash and grab data heist funded by the OPA. Any other time he would have been relieved that the man Nicaro had brought on board for the job, wasn't one of their enemies. Any other time it would have made things less complicated, not more.

    "It's a good thing, no? If he's not UN, then he's just some random Earther. Maybe a techie made a mistake, or a file got lost? It happens." Nicaro shrugged, not privy to the thoughts racing through Dawes mind, or the wider implications of what they had found on the traitors pad.

    Dawes looked away from the table, out towards the screens showing the docks. His docks. Tycho may own Ceres, and Earth may own Tycho; but those people were a hundred million million kilometres away. To even cast their eye out to Ceres it would take fourteen whole minutes. Dawes could sit down, eat dinner, have a nice chat and be away - in full view of every authority on Earth - before anyone 'in charge' could even send the order to have him looked for. He knew his history, Empires always reached further than they could control. Like a elliptical orbit; they would seem to be so close for so long, an unfathomably massive light that cast itself over everything and everyone. Then they would recede - slowly, always slowly. At first - until their presence was no different from the stars themselves; minute and distant. Earth was the boot on the throats of Ceres, but that boot was old, worn and soon to be done. Mars would come next; the brash and angry child that it was; Mars had always coveted Ceres; like Earthers the Dusters had holes in their hearts they wanted to use the belt to fill.

    If the Tycho corporation collapsed, or the UN forced it to break up, the Martians would move in on them. Every year they pushed closer and closer, half a decade ago, seeing a Martian patrol boat as far out as Ceres would have meant war between Earth and Mars. Ceres's nature as an important UN fuel depot, water reserve and parts manufacturer would have seen a battleship deployed to chase off Duster ships. Now? Patrol boats docked every day. There were even a half dozen Martian marines relaxing at the bar. The flags of Earth on parts of the station had all but vanished, replaced by the red planet and her child Deimos. Or even better, replaced by the symbol of the OPA. If Mars came for Ceres that might shock them, the scale of OPA that existed on the station; it was beyond any of their estimates - he knew, the man making the estimates to send back was OPA - beyond their worst nightmares. No one wanted to make any move now, better to not rock the boat. But the OPA had men in every major university; it had them in dock offices, on the embassy staff. He had studied men who had thrown off oppressors before him; their methods were all the same: Infiltrate, expropriate, co-opt. So he did just that, and half the time the Earthers even paid for it themselves. If Mars moved in to take the station from Earth, then they would co-opt them as well. The life of the Belter was one of adaptation and innovation. Each struggle they found themselves in simply made the survivors all the more prepared for the next.

    "Bossmang?" Nicaro asked, drawing Dawes attention away from the video screens. When he looked back to him, Nicaro had finished his drink, and was ordering another; he'd barely touched his own. Most rock-hoppers of his generation never did like the booze, always too much danger it had been filtered improperly in some homemade still contraption; nothing worse than dying of industrial chemical poisoning. But the newer generations had all benefited from Earth imports, Martian imports and even some - now - well known Belter labels. When he'd been growing up, the bar they were currently sat in didn't serve Belters, it served Earthers immigrating to space; now? Now those Earthers had children, the man that wouldn't serve Belters, had a son with bones longer than his own; and he's happy to pour drinks for his fellow Belters.

    "What you want me to do about him?"

    "Nothing." He raised both hands and pursed his lips in a dismissive gesture.

    "Nothing?" Nicaro Asked, mildly confused. He wasn't exactly the most ardent supporter of the OPA; but he'd been around enough of them to know that they didn't take well to Earthers for the most part. He couldn't imagine that Dawes would be fine with one just turning up out of nowhere and setting up shop in his docks.

    "Nothing. If he's just an Earther, then let him be; hire him again if his work was good. The OPA isn't interested in harassing tourists, or bullying people trying to live their lives. He's off my board" He paused to take a sip from his drink. "But I have need of your man, the techie."

    "Ah, Mansa?" Nicaro smiled. Mansa was a good kid; smart, resourceful and knew where his scrip came from. Scoring his details from a talent scalp out in Pallas was a real treat. It was the only reason that Dawes had handed off the smash and grab data heist job to him.

    "Yes, Mansa; I don't need him right away of course, let him enjoy his money. But make sure he doesn't leave Ceres."

    "What should I tell him? There'll be more jobs?"

    Dawes cocked an eyebrow at the question. It should have been obvious what he should tell Mansa; the man wasn't a moron. He had definitely looked through the details they'd ripped from the traitors pad, he was from Pallas, he was already an avid OPA supporter. "Tell him his cause needs him."

    "Sure bossmang. But what about the other one? Ivan."

    Ah, Ivan. Dawes smiled ever so slightly. He'd personally spoken with the man after the job. He was smart; smarter than most people gave him credit for. You had to be when you ran with pirates and lived long enough to afford augments like he had. He had talked with him about the scrap between him and Liam - no last name listed irritatingly - that he'd provoked during the job. The Earther was strong like he expected, and armed as well. An imitation wooden hammer of all things. When he'd sent him the message through Nicaro's pad to bring a weapon, he'd expected maybe a concealed firearm, Earth agents never felt safe unless they had a gun with them. The hammer was a smart move, it was small enough to hide and could be explained away as just some old tool he'd found and kept around. Ivan had said he took the punch - without his augs active of course, otherwise the Earther would have been a stain on the wall - well. Didn't back down from the fight, but clearly wasn't all that used to a real life or death struggle with how tense he'd been. If it were anyone else Dawes would even say that the pirate liked the Earther; but he could never read Ivans mood, even after years of knowing him. He could just let him fade back into the black, tke his cash and go? No, it would be good to keep him on in; very few situations were made less favorable by a super-humanly strong veteran after all.

    "He should stay too, we might need him again; tell him the same rate as before." With that, the conversation was over. Dawes nodded to Nicaro, and the pawn shop owner took the hint; he finished off his beer, took the pad from the table and wandered out of the bar. Leaving Dawes alone with his thoughts.

    The Scopuli should have left Tycho station by now, and be well on its way to intercept that Earth ship. In theory they were to remain radio silence, and kick their drive out once they reached CA-2216862. However the data from that traitors pad had revealed that they may have been compromised. He knew that using the child of one of the richest men in the system would come back to bite him; but she was so filled with fire, letting her strike out against her father - and help the belt at the same time - had been far too tempting to resist. Especially as she had such promising information for them to use. He had originally pegged Liam as being some Earther black-ops sent to retrieve her; he'd appeared from nowhere, with no travel records, and no contacts on station. But nothing in the mans possessions had indicated that. Perhaps Nicaro was right? Logs do go missing all the time on Ceres; no one really cared who came or went. Unfortunately it would have actually been better for this 'Liam' to be a UN operative; at least then they would have been able to learn something about who was selling OPA information to the inners.

    The man they had grabbed hadn't given anything up, even after several hours of ... questioning. Whether it was loyalty to the UN, fear of the UN, or simply that he didn't actually know what data he had been smuggling, they would likely never know. He was remanded into the custody of the stars earlier that day; forever to float free. Dawes tapped two fingers to his chest without even thinking about it; the man may have been a traitor, but he faced his end with dignity, and that demanded respect. He downed the last of the drink; paid his tab and left the bar. Without any new information on where the leak was, he'd have to search the old fashioned way. Put out false information leads and hope one of them gets snagged; that would narrow down in which cell of OPA the leak was coming from. Then from there they could go about checking over individual members. Of course that assumed that the leak was from a person, or persons, rather than it being some sort of data miner. That was where Mansa came in, the techie was from Pallas; he was OPA through and through. He could go over their systems, and the station logs to see if they had been compromised.

    The problem of course, was time. The Scopuli was going to ambush an Earth ship as it passed by the asteroid; if they had been found out, then that ship was either going to divert or it simply wasn't going to appear. They didn't have forever to find the breach, a few UN agents biding their time and simply obfuscating their tracks long enough for the vessel from Pheobe station to reach its destination would be enough to doom the crew of the Scopuli, and make all the time, money and manpower invested into it, a wasted endeavor. That, was unacceptable. The fallout from a failed attack on an Earth ship might even affect Ceres itself, he had no love for the idea of a riot over more Earth sanctions.

    E-=-X

    Not sure if I got Dawes tone right. All I can hear when I picture him in my head is the actor that plays him. Whenever I picture that actor I default to his Moriarty role. I also dropped a lot of the Belter slang, you should assume they're still using it, but because they are both Belters, there's no need to write it out, it's just translated.

    -Simple (100CP)
    You understand the connections between parts. You can make large alchemy circles far more easily and far less complex than others. You can combine this with Advanced Formulae for multipurpose combat alchemy.
    -Advanced (100CP)
    Alchemy comes to you as easily as breathing does. Your greater understanding allows you to perform more complex alchemy. You can combine this with Simplified Formulae for multipurpose combat alchemy.
    -Engineer (Megas XLR) (100CP)
    You're a talented and knowledgeable multi discipline engineer, particularly skilled in everything you could ever need to maintain Megas and similar war machines
    -Tower of Sorcerae | Floating Isle | Moving Locations | Arcane | Sorcerae | A Memory Of The Face Of Creation (Lords of the Night - Liches) (300CP)

    Tower of Sorcerae (100CP)

    You have a tower dreamt into reality. Maybe by you, maybe by someone else, but it was never made a concrete and defined thing. It starts out a thing the size of a city block, and thirty stories high. It can be something of stone, or glass, or crystal, or wood. When no one is watching it, it can change its outer facade. Inside it has a basic layout, though you can change that layout whenever it is unobserved by people other than you. Both the inside and out will repair themselves over time, and the tower may slowly shift itself, faster if unobserved, though still slowly.
    The tower echoes any crafting perks you possess, gaining technologies and magics in keeping with the secrets and arts you've seized. You may feed the tower vast quantities of Arcane over time to make it grow. You may make it grow in luxury, making everything inside the tower higher quality over time and more comfortable and beautiful. You may make it grow in utility causing it to grow embedded magical items, and if you have the perks, technological ones. You may make it grow in size, becoming broader or taller or both, or even make it grow inside without growing outside, though that's even more expensive.
    If you make the Tower a bound artifact, all those functions will be enhanced. You can also have it already on legs, or other appropriate mechanisms, so that it can move about. You may import an existing property as your Tower, though if that combination would be especially powerful you must pay an extra 100cp for the privilege.
    Floating Isle (100CP)

    Your Tower flies, and so does a modest amount of land around it. Enough for a small family farm though like with the rest of the tower it's possible to expand this. The weather's always pleasant - the air elementals bound to moving it make sure. They're quick to defend the tower if need be, and there are many permanent unseen servants to invisibly serve guests and do work about the place. And the elementals can push the tower at a decent pace.
    You get about a dozen elder air elemental servants. If killed, they will come back in a day and a night. They can't leave the premise, but otherwise faithfully obey you. They're also surprisingly bright, for elemental at least. You know methods of binding more with the same properties should you require them, though it is neither a fast nor easy process.




    I'm going with rolling the more advanced form of something also tries to buy the earlier form it as well.
    It's shorter than the last two, and later, because I had to sit down and watch some Megas XLR and try and think about how to avoid absolutely breaking the entire setting with it; a one off attack they used had the front end of the space battleship Yamato poking out to fire the wave motion gun, which is ... wild.
    [​IMG]
    100 points is way to cheap for multidimensional travel and time travel. So I went with 'understands a lot of the science, but not enough to recreate all of it without parts'. I was also considering looking around the tower in this segment, but it's already kind of just a 'this is what the powers do' segment that doesn't really do much with the story, and for some reason typing this out lagged my QQ post editor so badly that I can finish an entire sentence before it's finished scribing out the first four words. Which has made editing this a living hell. I also think the tone was a bit off compared to the last two chapters. Not sure if that's because I've had to cover more 'here is information' sort of stuff, or because of other reasons.
    Next chapter will be the last where I'm committed to using the words for points/rolls system; see how that goes and then I may try another method.

    Points banked this chapter: 0 (Total points: 0 )
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2022
  26. EntropyEnginear

    EntropyEnginear Experienced.

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    The alchemy is from full metal alchemist right? So I’m curious which energy source he would be pulling from to power his transmutations if he used it in space.
     
  27. Reece

    Reece Iceberg Slim is my role model

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    I have been thinking over that one. Alchemy uses tectonic energy IIRC. So theoretically I'd just say it shaves off a small amount of the energy used for rotating the habitats, or the G's generated by burning an Epstein drive.
     
  28. Crazy Kangaroo

    Crazy Kangaroo Completely bonkers.

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    "Better not break the setting with crazy tech-"

    *gets Megas XLR tech*

    "-the setting was overrated anyway."
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2021
  29. EntropyEnginear

    EntropyEnginear Experienced.

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    Yeah but the amount of free energy from those wouldn’t be as powerful or abundant as Tectonic energy. Most likely if there was an energy to grab it would either be magic from another perk or the natural solar radiation put up by the sun. Which of course would probably require experimentation to create circles that cater to that vs tectonic energy. Of course if it did go with such a neglible energy source the slack would have to be carried by something and by something I mean the mc.

    It could also be tapping the energy systems directly causing each alchemy circle to cause “blackouts” in whatever sections he uses his ability in. Which would actually be an applicable use of combat alchemy to be honest. Imagine tapping a ship that’s booting up and trying to escape only for it to completely “die” as large Crystaline or plant life is alchemied into and over the ships outer surface.
     
  30. Knived

    Knived Making the rounds.

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    Damn that was one fantastic chapter. Although nothing much happened it still felt fulfilling.
     
    Crimson Reiter and Slayer 10321 like this.
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