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Forging Ahead (GURPS Interstellar Wars/Celestial Forge)

To note, actually, the Galaxy is approximately, tip to tip, 40000 Paraecs across (I believe the number is 30-40 thousand, but whatever). Assuming the Vilani travel at Jump 2 the whole way and they still have the week wait time between activation and return, it'd take them nearly 800 years to go from one end of the galaxy to the other. That's basically drawing a straight line between one tip and the other and following that line to a T.

They've been in space a while, but not long enough that an 800 year voyage would seem worth it. And that's not even counting the fact that you're barely exploring anything else outside the planned route.

In short, I'm pretty sure that the Vilani empire is small, all things considered, and I'm pretty sure outside of their empire, maybe on the other side of the galaxy there are other alien species.
Oh sure, the Vilani empire is teeny tiny compared to the galaxy as a whole. But the thing is, space is big. (Yes yes, Douglas Adams quote here, laugh it up fuzzball.)

If we assume the Vilani empire is a cube (to make the math easy) 100 parsecs to a side (pulled from my ass; about a year's travel from edge to edge in a straight line); that there are about three star systems for every four cubic parsecs in that region; that at most a third of those systems are reachable; and that only 1 in 20 reachable systems can be made "habitable" (as in, settling planets and planetoids, counting terraforming but not building space stations and asteroid bases); that's still 12,500 systems.

To put that in perspective, according to this source (grabbed blindly while ducking around) there are around 19,500 "incorporated areas" (towns, villages, cities, et cetera) in the United States. Per my envelope math, the Vilani empire probably administrates a number of star systems comparable to the number of towns and cities in the United States. That's kind of gargantuan from an administrative perspective.

I don't actually know how "thick" the galactic disk is. Is 100 parsecs reasonable? Too small?
To put that in perspective, according to this source (grabbed blindly while ducking around) there are around 19,500 "incorporated areas" (towns, villages, cities, et cetera) in the United States. Per my envelope math, the Vilani empire probably administrates a number of star systems comparable to the number of towns and cities in the United States. That's kind of gargantuan from an administrative perspective.
There's actually only approximately four thousand inhabited planets and several thousand more outposts and remote bases in the entire Vilani Imperium, but they haven't made 100% efficient use of their volume of space.
There's actually only approximately four thousand inhabited planets and several thousand more outposts and remote bases in the entire Vilani Imperium, but they haven't made 100% efficient use of their volume of space.
Which is pretty decent for a empire going for stability before all. Are they heading for a new wave of rapid expansion or do they just steadily advance as worlds are settled and incorporated with new nobles chosen or uplifted as needed?
Which suggests that the time and attention of the local regional governor is mostly focused on administering more worlds than the Terran Confederacy has in total, so them only once having the time and resources (and motivation) to add to that makes sense. He was effectively using a quiet moment politically (the equivalent of a weekend off) to deal with the matter that had been sitting in the 'to do pile' for decades but never quite getting to the top. And then internal imperial politics happened and dealing with Terra got put on the back burner again.

I'd imagine there are 50-100 such regional governors, all with backing on that imperial council that got mentioned (I get the impression the council is what matters politically, the Emperor is picked by them and handles day to day issues but long term policy is the council). So that would suggest 40-80 settled worlds and about that many outposts to handle, with most of the fleet available to a governor devoted to maintaining contact and appropriate shows of force to remind planetary governments that they're part of the glorious Vilani empire - particularly in a traditionally restive region like this one.
Jesus you people are seriously pissing me off with all your complaints. If you don't like the story STOP READING IT AND STOP BOTHERING US WHILE YOU'RE AT IT. Power fantasy not ramping up quickly enough? Too much world building? Character not doing what you want? JUST LEAVE ALREADY!

The majority of us here like and appreciate Cliff and his stories but there's a couple of you mouth breathers that can and will ruin it for the rest of us by pissing him off with all your whining. It's happened before and I know of at least one of his threads that was shut down because of all the arguing...with the author and original poster of the thread....who was just trying to write his story.

Cool your head or you'll face consequences of your own. Rule 1 is a thing.
Honestly it sounds like their best bet might be just to be quiet neighbors and perhaps go a bit isolationist for a generation or 3 to build up. Hope the Vilani kinda forget they are there. Which might be the game plan anyway but the Vilani for whatever reason decide to come back for round 4 anyway.
Tbh, when it comes to Cliff being excessively verbose in his writing, yeah, I agree that it's a problem that I'm not exactly thrilled about because yeah, sometimes my eyes glaze over a bit.

. . .

EDIT - Also, like, at Cliff's worst he's not half as verbose as David Weber is at his best, and I still enjoy his work.
Heh, I was going to say he's not a tenth as bad as Weber when that author is in a technobabble mood.

In the field of CF fiction, I'd rate Cliff as substantially more concise than Brockton's Celestial Forge, as well.
I gotta admit, what kind of shitshow is the 'genius' hunters group eventually going to be? Because it seems clear to me that they've dropped the ball hard, and they did it a second time after the initial 'honest' mistake of overlooking Sofia because she didn't fall under a multi-year 'genius' pattern.

Drafting her and shoving her through boot camp? Not a particularly gentle touch, but one with an understandable amount of logic and sufficiently small time cost.

Actually sending her off to a bottom level navy position? That is just a flat waste of time. They've already had some years of unpressured study into her to try and figure her out, and they already tried the more intensive environment. Ensign scut-work is just more of the same of her previous PSB work, only even less productive because she's not surrounded and encouraged by academics. That she's gotten anything beneficial from it is more a product of her own OOC cognitive super-powers. Not some fine manipulation on their part.

As it is, in the best case scenario (which this seems to be), she's the squarest of square pegs like not even career military conformists can picture, and all they've done is wasted everybody's time and decreased her own confidence in them. In the middle case, drafting her to pull her away from her work and then sucking away all her time pisses her off, and they've just severely impacted the Confederations use of an asset with tremendous value. In the worst case, and she IS unstable like they've justified all this bullshit on the potential of...then she blows her top and maybe causes a disaster or maybe gets locked up. In which case they've successfully prematurely detonated a bomb....by handling it in a deliberately clumsy manner, and throwing away any chances of trying to make it into a highly valuable asset. An asset they wanted to be from the beginning.

In short...it's stupid, and I don't see the point. ESPECIALLY if they fear an unstable or just overly eccentric/unsociable genius like what seems to be the only reason for more testing, rather then just throwing them back into education and then R&D.
I gotta admit, what kind of shitshow is the 'genius' hunters group eventually going to be? Because it seems clear to me that they've dropped the ball hard,

Actually sending her off to a bottom level navy position? That is just a flat waste of time. They've already had some years

Gonna assume you have not yet read the part where Cliff admits that the group misidentified what kind of genius she is.
They were expecting a future really good grand admiral or similar because she did not actually invent anything in school they know about.. and now she is about to revolutionize everything. Yeah they will know they fucked up hard.

Edit: To be fair she blows of all known scales and dynamics like a nuke. They cant peg her correctly because they have never seen anything like her before.
Chapter 7
Labels were a two-edged sword.

On the one hand, the ability to quickly classify and index a complex phenomenon using a simpler idea was called "abstraction", and a capability for doing that was not only necessary for a sapient being to function but part of the actual definition of sapience. On the other hand, labelling something too hastily or broadly meant that it was entirely possible to miss critical parts of the picture, even with a perfect memory, because you didn't actually open the mental filing cabinet drawer holding the key data because according to your index it didn't hold anything relevant to the problem.

The tech database jammed into my head with Ragnarok Proofing had indexed an entire body of knowledge under 'fusion power", so after looking briefly at the performance specs for their fusion plants and realizing that our contemporary fusion powerplants had a comparable power output for at least as small a size I'd decided to push a detailed exploration of that particular tech to the back burner while I concentrated on things I knew were better than ours, such as FTL drive...

... until a cross-reference from the mental database about Battletech FTL technology led me back to fusion power by a most unexpected route. Because somebody in the Inner Sphere had seriously mislabelled their "fusion" reactors. When I actually did a detailed review of the theory and practice of how the damn things actually worked deep inside their guts, my hair stood on end.

If I'd thought the math behind Vilani jumpdrive was weird, then Battletechnology bordered on dark magic. A Battletech "fusion reactor" was actually some kind of dimensional flux generator. It was an application of the same technology that allowed them to bang a high-voltage current through some superconducting coils in just the right way and end up forcing open a rift through time and space. Used one-way with a tremendous charge all dumped from the capacitor at the same time, you bamfed a starship hull multiple parsecs in a blink. Used another way, it warped space to the point that the stream of hydrogen you fed into the reaction chamber would just start having the protons spontaneously start trying to occupy the same space at the same time without needing anything as tedious as a magnetic pinch field or a high-powered ignition laser to get the reaction going. At that point it was simply a matter of feeding the resulting superheated ionized plasma through a magnetohydrodynamic coil to generate electrical current. Much like how a conventional generator made electricity by having a rotating magnetic field sweep across conducting coils, only in this case the rotating magnetic element was made out of highly charged plasma.

Or to put it more simply, you shot hydrogen gas into one end, then twisted the very fabric of space and time until fusing particles fell out. And the Battletech setting used this to power generators, and barely explored any applications for such an unprecedented (to say the least!) technology beyond that. I'd already known that the Clans basically treated Star League knowledge as religious lore and just built what the Sacred Blueprints told them to build, but what had even happened to the scientific method in the Inner Sphere? No wonder they thought that the best way to build a high-tech war machine was to take an industrial exoskeleton and make it an even bigger target, while firing anti-vehicle weapons over iron sights at close visual range-

But the practical upshot of all this was that when I realized that Ragnarok Proofing went far deeper than simply giving me a better jumpdrive and that the Inner Sphere had made a great many things that actually were superior to our tech, even if a surface read of the game didn't show it. Because if there was one thing consistent about the people in Battletech it's that they made tremendously inefficient use of their technologcal and industrial capabilities. Honestly, they were the proverbial thumb-fingered engineer who took a thousand-sol torque wrench and used it to pound nails with.

Which is why the invention I was about to show the gentleman from High Frontier Development had nothing to do with FTL tech at all. In addition to the part where what I needed right now was any kind of 'win' on the R&D front, to break out of the naval/tactical track that I had somehow been bureaucratically pigeonholed in, there was also that basically anything that would be a gamebreaker for Terra against the Vilani would also let the Vilani crush us like insects if they got it. And for all that they didn't like making sudden big changes to their tech as opposed to generations of incremental improvement, I couldn't just blithely assume they were idiots. If I put something out there that flipped the entire game table over, they'd do their best to get a copy for themselves. Which meant that until I was already working inside an ultra top-secret environment I didn't want to even begin to write down, let alone share, any of the good stuff. Because I had to plan for the possibility - especially here on Nusku - that the Vilani might possibly have agents inside any non-classified workspace.

To be fair, they also could theoretically have an agent inside even the most classified workspace but at some point you actually had to trust other people to be able to do their jobs or else no large-scale project could even begin to function. I just didn't want to set that point too far out on the first day. So after the "fusion" incident had left me realizing that I'd overlooked a lot of the potential of Battletech's setting, I'd gone back and deliberately worked my way through the mental "index" of the Ragnarok Proofing database, reading at least an overall prospectus of the technology contained within instead of just looking at the "label" on the filing cabinet drawer and moving on. And after I started doing that, it didn't take me very long to find exactly what I needed, and so I latched on to the particular possibility I'd discovered there and gotten to work.

And that's why the invention I'd brought to show them today was a high-density powerpack adapted from the battery that allowed a Clan Elemental suit of power armor to not only run and jump for an entire day without refueling but also fire an ER Micro-Pulse Laser that had a power requirement and damage similar to the Small Laser that the Inner Sphere mounted on light mechs. That was at least an order of magnitude more efficient than the highest-density accumulators possible to build with Vilani technology, and they charged quite rapidly as well. The overall commercial value of such a substantial improvement in portable energy storage technology was incalculable. Everything from smartphone batteries that could charge in ten minutes and last for a months' normal operation on up to electric cars with 10x normal range were possible with this. And hopefully the commercial potential would be huge enough to persuade someone that I actually was a genius inventor, so please buy my invention and give me enough of a rep that when I make a 'theoretical breakthrough' in FTL physics later on, somebody will actually be willing to fund a project at least the size of the original StarLeaper One to test it out.

Fortunately, it wasn't just math that I had to persuade them with. Another reason for starting with the battery technology is that it was actually small enough for me to build a sample of on top of a workbench. My folks did admittedly have to take out a second mortgage on the house to afford the lab setup that let me actually make the demonstrator, not to mention how much it cost in power fees to actually charge the damn thing, but when I dumped something the size of a 20th-century car battery on top of the workbench and invited them to hook it up for a load test on the same machinery they used to test the giant capacitor banks built for starships, and it demonstrated that yes it was actually capable of holding enough electric charge to fuel a fully-loaded groundtruck for an 800-kilometer journey, and did so using one small battery instead of a rack full of accumulators that would fill most of the back of the truck cab... well, we'd arrived first thing in the morning to talk to R&D, and by mid-afternoon we were in the CEO's office. Becuase quick-charging, ridiculously durable, and relatively cheap batteries that also held a ridiculous amount of charge per unit volume would be useful in building almost anything.

"You understand the delicacy of our positions here, Ensign Nowak. As an active-duty member of the Confederation Armed Forces... are you familiar with the story of John Garand?" Mr. al-Ghazali, one of the richest men in Confederation space and the owner and CEO of High Frontier Development asked me.

"The designer of the World War II standard infantry rifle for the North Americans?" I replied. One of the 'equivalent of ten PhDs' that Well-Researched had given me had been in Terran history, after all.

"The very same." he replied, mildly impressed. "And one who never received so much as a dime in royalties for his invention, despite it being the most widely manufactured firearm in the world during the largest planetary war in the history of Terra... because he was a government employee at the time he developed it, and therefore they owned all rights to it."

"That was both because Mr. Garand had specifically been hired as an ordnance engineer at the government's Springfield Arsenal - meaning that any firearms R&D he engaged in would have been part of his official duties - and because as a patriotic act he short-circuited any potential legal dispute over the ownership rights to his invention by voluntarily signing all of his interest over to the government." I pointed out matter-of-factly. "I developed this on my own time, and I am and have ever since graduating training been assigned as a line officer and on ship duty - as an electronic warfare officer, not even an engineer - and certainly not in any research or development posting. Also, while I admit it's largely a my-word-versus-theirs situation because I was doing it off-the-books and not as an official class project, the bulk of this research was completed by me during my period as an undergraduate student at MIT prior to my being drafted." And okay, that last bit was an outright lie, but it's not as if anybody could check. And at least this way I could get some retroactive use out of my having spent that year at MIT and not getting anything finished, by making the official story 'I'd been moonlighting on this the whole time but my getting drafted had interrupted the final phase'.

"Can you substantiate that?" the corporation's Chief Legal Officer, henceforth a silent witness to our conversation, asked politely.

"My notes and calculations from that period weren't exactly collected with an eye towards having to prove a case in court later, but they still have digital timestamps." Indeed they did, and forging them all letter-perfect had been a chore and a half. "And in addition, my parents and I had an agreement that in return for funding my experiments they would be assigned the interests in my first major success - an agreement whose intent predates my entering naval service, even if we only formalized it in writing after I actually had that success."

"While verbal contracts are generally considered legally binding, the difficulty of actually proving the exact terms of verbal contracts in case of dispute is why it is ill-advised to attempt to take anything into court that you did not get first in writing." she replied.

"I'm sitting right here." my mother said mildly. "Does that difficulty with verbal contracts still exist when both parties to it are willing to attest to it, in every particular?"

"Provided you both filed separate affadavits swearing to commit yourself to the original handshake agreement with no dispute, I think we could make that stand up." the Chief Legal Officer replied to both us and her boss after a long moment of thought, and he nodded. "And, of course, the government has no valid claim on intellectual property not only whose development process began before Ensign Nowak's entering naval service but the rights to which were already assigned elsewhere before her enlistment. The only difficulty would be proving it, and the only substantial obstacle to that would be if you and your parents tried to submit... varying claims."

"Even so, the fact remains you came here first as opposed to notifying your chain of command." Mr. al-Ghazali said. "And however valuable your invention, even with the legal options we just explored we'd still have to engage in a nontrivial amount of litigation before we could commercially develop it or else risk an entire capital investment being obviated by a later legal ruling." he trailed off, not being rude enough to say I am going to use this as an excuse to really put the price down. out loud.

"My daughter had no intention of going behind the backs of her chain of command, sir." my mother stood up for me. "But obviously she didn't want to trouble the military procurement bureaucracy with such a matter until she was certain there was actually a commercial value in her invention worth contacting them about."

"In addition to the fact that as a major defense contractor, High Frontier would know far more about who to talk to and how without letting that process interfere in the flow of business than I would." I chimed in. Yes, we're tailgating off of your patent attorneys for free instead of bankrupting ourselves hiring one of our own, but that only gets you so many points shaved off the royalties we're asking.

"We do have several useful contacts to speak to in that regard, that is true." Mr. al-Ghazali smiled back, amused at what we weren't saying and how we weren't saying it. "So, presuming that any disputed ownership of your intellectual property rights could be settled in our favor with relative amiability, and your patent application likewise, then we would be prepared to offer..."

It took until well into the next day to finally get a contract signed, and getting it done even that soon required us to take a knee at the end of the process. Because what I'd needed most right now was a quick and definitive resolution, as opposed to the most profitable one I could possibly get. Indeed, we were lucky to get one percent of the gross as royalties out of the old skinflint, and a substantial portion of that was still being paid in stock options instead of cash. But we also got a two hundred megasol advance and a binding commitment that he'd deal with all the legal disputes - if any - regarding the rights to my new 'ultracapacitor' technology. In return for which he'd have proprietary rights on one of the most profitable inventions of the decade (so far!) for as long as my patent lasted.

Of course, the main reason I'd done all of this in the first place was to get the name of 'Sophia Nowak' rammed directly up the noses of the most senior ranks of the Confederation Navy's military R&D and procurement bureaucracies, because the aforementioned legal proceedings would of necessity blow right over, if not through, any bureaucratic firewall that Mr. Dumonte might have put around my case file for whatever reasons they might have had. And given that Mr. al-Ghazadi and High Frontier were already one of the largest defense contractors in the Confederation, if anybody would have sufficient influence with said procurement bureaucracy to get this one rammed through than they would.

And last, but certainly not least, I got to make Mom and Dad future billionaires. Which was worth the whole trip all by itself.

* * * * *​

I actually ended up making one more patrol in the Gladstone, because even an expedited trip through the court system over the rights to 'ultracapacitor' technology was still going to take several months. Fortunately, as the major parties to that litigation were the Confederation bureaucracy versus High Frontier and my parents - the entire point of the dodge we were working is that they were the ones who owned the intellectual property rights, after all - all I had to do was record my sworn depositions and then I was free to head back out and be safely away from the entire brouhaha. Of course, everyone on the Gladstone from Lt. Prescott on down knew about what was going on, so it was already accepted as a foregone conclusion that no matter what happened next my tour onboard would be ending the instant we touched dirt again at the end of patrol.

And sure enough, it did. Even before we'd made planetfall we'd already gotten the word on the com that one Ensign Sophia Nowak was being reassigned. Likewise, I'd gotten a message from my parents stating that Mr. al-Ghazali's lawyers had gotten an expedited ruling from the Confederation courts confirming that the intellectual property I'd developed on my own time, starting before I'd even joined the Navy, was indeed mine to sell as I saw fit. With that completed and the patent application also being suitably greased through in a hurry by megacorporate influence, my parents had already collected all 200 million of the advance and would be in a position to collect far more than that once the High Frontier Development Consortium finished revolutionizing the entire battery industry.​

Hidden Quest Completed!
All Sorts Of Applications
Objective: Obtain Your First Patent
Reward: 200 CP

... could you give me some non-hidden quests, Forge? So far I only really have one of those, and that one's a nightmare.
Also, apparently "at least one military significant area" requires me to make a noticeable improvement in an area of tech, not just one militarily significant invention, or else the ultracapacitors would already have met the minimum requirements for the 'avoid losing the Fourth Interstellar War' quest.

But hey, at least I now had enough points to grab an item that I'd had my eye on for the past couple of weeks... the Black Supercomputer. Even more ridiculous than the Ceph nanotech, this item was straight-up absurd. It could be magically summoned or banished with a thought, promised literally unlimited storage - which by itself violated the laws of thermodynamics in at least two separate ways - and 'borderline infinite' processing power, was indestructible, immune to malware, and also was advertised as having a selective perception filter on it that would keep anyone from noticing anything unusual about it. Most importantly, it was supposed to be magically immune to malware... which meant I would finally have an entirely secure digital storage device to keep things in, even in a hypothetical future where I might have things I didn't want to share with my superiors. Or anyone else. So yes, I was definitely yoinking it when I got it.

And after we made planetfall and I officially mustered out from the CSS Gladstone, touched base with my folks, signed what patent paperwork I needed to sign, and attended a celebratory dinner with Nusku's latest multi-millionaires (and accepted them discreetly transferring slightly less than half of the 200 megasol advance High Frontier had paid them into my own account, minus the gift taxes), at the end of my weeks' leave at home I reported back to base to arrange for transport to Terra and my new duty station, only for the personnel clerk at the window to direct me to a private meeting room instead, where an unfamiliar Navy officer with the shoulderboards of a full captain waited to greet me.

I fought down my immediate reflex to brace to attention and report in the best boot camp fashion and instead actually took in the conference room, focusing particularly on the lit holographic icon floating over the table signifying that not only was this a secure conference room but that the room's inbuilt bug-jamming systems were currently activated. I also noted that a tablet computer was laying in front of him on the table, with a familiar-looking set of instrument readings on the holographic display.

I let the door close behind me, stood to attention, and politely asked "Do you normally work with a Mr. Dumonte, sir?"

The captain nodded at me in reply. "Captain Li Jiang, Office of Naval Intelligence. And yes, I do. At ease, Ensign, and have a seat."

I took the chair offered to him and let the silence fill the room, until after a ten-second pause he nodded again and continued. "I'm almost entirely certain of what the first question you'd like answered is, but before we reach that part of the conversation I need to address another matter. And since attempts to indirectly evaluate you have proven inconclusive, we've finally decided simply to ask."

"Sir?" I non-answered.

"Were you always as intelligent as you are now?" he replied evenly. So, they'd gotten - or at least guessed - that far.

"No sir." I answered him forthrightly.

He exhaled sharply, and I could see his posture relax slightly. "May I ask when this started?"

"Shortly before my CAT exams." I answered truthfully. 'And no sir, I don't have any idea how it happened. It... just happened."

He didn't even pretend to not be looking down at the display of his tablet as he nodded in acknowledgement of that. Yup, they've definitely a lie detector aimed at me this time. Well, that's why I wasn't lying...

"Mr. Dumonte. Dr. Ahmedi, and myself - and several others - are members of a high-level multi-agency working group, the Advanced Aptitude Tracking And Coordination Council. Unofficially, some people refer to us as 'the Genius Patrol'. Our mission is, of course, to do our best to locate exceptional and specialized talents that could be of exceptional value to the Confederation and then make sure that they're assigned where those talents can be best utilized."

I raised an eyebrow at that obvious bait and finally asked the question. "And this relates to my previous assignment how, sir?" I trailed off politely.

The corner of his mouth quirked. "We made a mistake." he admitted, and then waited in a clear 'You're not the only person who can play conversation intiative games.'

I nodded in acknowledgement of the touch he'd just scored and continued. "And that mistake was...?"

"An error in classification." he admitted. "Your scientific accomplishment on Peraspera showed that even as the most junior and unofficial member of a team, you were still capable of steering its efforts in a more productive direction as well as synthesizing many separate obscure bits of information that would normally never be coordinated with each other to draw an insightful conclusion. And then you went to MIT and after a year of dedicated research - and we had more than a little bit to do with how easy you found it to apply for unupervised lab time - seemed to produce no results except for one microbiology project that, given how thoroughly you destroyed it and then abandoned the entire effort, was apparently an abject failure."

They'd gotten that close? Eep! But at least they clearly had no idea of what I'd actually destroyed, or else they'd have intervened immediately.

"... you'd thought that my greatest genius was my leadership potential?" I asked incredulously as the centi-sol finally dropped.

"Can you blame us?" he said. "Until the ultracapacitor, outside of a certain talent for computer programming all of your successes ultimately were achievements of analysis, planning, and organization. Does that describe a scientist, or an admiral?"

"That's why you drafted me and assigned me to ship duty." I realized. "You thought I'd been putting myself down a blind alley, so you tried to redirect me."

"It's happened before. Anyone who has come to the attention of our office at all would almost invariably be the smartest person their entire school district has seen in years. Quite likely the smartest person they've met so far in their entire lives. So of course they all think that they can be the next Einstein or MacAndrew. But you better than most people can appreciate how even a very a high degree of 'normal' intelligence still isn't quite the same thing that allows someone to work out special relativity or invent the jumpdrive." Captain Jiang explained. "And it's not just scientific genius that the Confederation needs."

"So normally you let young geniuses self-select for what they're best at... but if you have reason to believe they've gotten that wrong and are stubbornly head-butting a stump, you steer their careers a little harder. And on top of that, there's the bit we just acknowledged about how all of your institutional expertise at tracking or predicting the development and education of human brains doesn't quite apply to me due to...?" I trailed off meaningfully.

"Whatever unique situation is going on with your neurology, yes." he acknowledged. "However, we already have an in-depth examination of your brain structure from Dr. Ahmedi's initial evaluation of you, and likewise sufficient DNA samples to analyze. And even schoolchildren, let alone senior officials, know the parable of the golden goose. So while we have every intention of putting you into a lab, it won't be as the research subject." he finished with a suitably disarming chuckle. "And between our belated recognition of how our initial decision in your case was in error and what by now is your more than adequately proven reliability, you're getting the assignment you initially asked for out of OCS. Because while I still have no doubt that you'd make a masterful admiral or senior intelligence analyst in your future, your ultracapacitor research - and the determination with which you've pursued it - has demonstrated that the best use of your talents almost certainly lies there."

"I'm going to the Skunk Works?" I asked with a smile I couldn't restrain.

"DARPA's advanced starship R&D facility at Ganymede." he agreed. "And unlike what would normally await the average newly-reported aboard Lieutenant Junior Grade, Rear Admiral Davenport has already been given a quiet heads-up from our office about you."

"Lieutenant j.g.? So I'm being promoted." I stated rather than asked.

"You've been an Ensign for almost a year by now, which makes you eligible for promotion below the zone." he replied. "And you've certainly earned it."

"Well, between that and your board's recommendation, that will hoepfully make my actually getting the budget to work on my next idea more likely." I said.

"You have another piece of research already in the works?" he asked.

"All I have on this one is theoretical math, and the projected budget to actually try and turn it into working hardware would be notably in excess of what it took for me to make the prototype ultracapacitor. But so far the math looks really promising to me, and I believe that the potential rewards far outweigh the risks." I replied.

"What potential rewards would those be, Lieutenant?" he asked me curiously.

"FTL communication, sir." I answered smartly, and carefully kept any expression off my face as I saw him literally jawdrop.

* * * * *​

Saarpuhi Kushuggi's Palace
Kankhali City, Shulgiasu, Duusirka Subsector (Imperial Rim Provincial Capital)

Underking of the Rim Worlds Sharik Yangila stood with her back to her lavishly appointed desk, standing and facing the video display that was currently configured as a panoramic exterior view from the highest tower of her palace. An early riser, it was her regular habit to greet the rising sun in this fashion, and to take a quiet hour to reflect and meditate upon her plans and goals before the press of her regular workday began.

Terra, she thought firmly. Eleven parsecs away as the photon travels. Eighteen jumps away as the starship travels, thanks to the vagaries of astrogation and the several three=plus parsec gaps in the starmap that prevent direct travel. Approximately fourteen billion people set against the Ziru Sirka's several trillion. Barely a dozen inhabited worlds to our thousands. And trapped in an astrographic pocket that prevents expansion in any direction save through Imperial territory, thanks yet again to the vagaries of the starmap and the limitations of jump-2 drive. As far as the Imperium is concerned, merely the latest troublesome minor race to be encountered at our borders. As far as I know the Emperor has yet to even be notified of their existence, and the Minister of the Four Quarters - my immediate superior - only began to acknowledge them when the results of the latest war required us to report that Imperial territory had been conceded to the Terrans. The vast majority of Vilani society has yet to even notice they are there, and even most of my own subjects who have encountered them believe them only to be meddlesome traders and brave yet still primitive warriors. Perhaps a minor or moderate blemish on the peace and order of the Ziru Sirka, but surely no actual threat to our ancient and well-ordered society.

Fools. The Terrans are the greatest threat to our way of life that we have encountered since the Consolidation Wars themselves, and virtually no one other than myself can see that! she fumed. Not even the loss of Nusku has opened their eyes. Over one billion subjects of the Imperium now submit to a foreign master! A settled, inhabited planet has been taken away from the Imperium and conquered by outsiders, the first time that has ever happened to us, and yet even that does not open their eyes!

She turned away from the majestic glow of Shulgiasu's primary star and the equally majestic cityscape it illuminated to began firmly pacing a well-trodden course up and down her office floor.

Eighty years ago they did not even have jumpdrive, and now they have fully reverse-engineered our own and their ships match the speed of ours parsec for parsec. They were still a balkanized world during our first campaign against them, and yet they survived - yes, survived and unified! Three times we have punished them, and three times have they thrown us back! Kadur Erasharshi was the greatest military commander the People had seen in generations, a callback to the ancient vigor and daring we had during our initial expansion into the galaxy, and even he could not defeat them by main force.

She halted and twitched her shoulders against the most painful of her memories, then took a deep breath and continued onwards.

I pray that wherever your spirit is, Kadur, you will one day forgive me for betraying you. But I had to betray you, sir. Your losses in ships and materiel were about to reach the point where the Minister would order your relief anyway. And if I had not done what I did - if I had not altered the records to make your failure apparently one of treason on your part, as opposed to being due to the attrition the Terrans had forced upon us - than not merely you but the entire concept of conquering the Terrans by force at all would have been discredited.

The Imperial Court would almost certainly have decided that the benefits would not outweigh the cost, and that with the Terrans trapped in an astrographic pocket there was no need to fear that expansion anyway. And they would have forever sworn off any further attempts to reduce them by force, and allowed them to persist in the same informal autonomy with which we accomodate the Vegans. After all, even an interstellar society is no threat to the supremacy of the Empire so long as it can be prevented from geographically expanding. What can a mere pocket empire of several worlds do to the vast, irresistible mass of the Grand Empire of Stars, after all?

And the answer is, they can destroy us. Our society has lasted so long, maintained order and stability so well, that too many people are forgetting the lesson our ancestors fought and burned in the Consolidation Wars to learn - that stability is not a state of being, it is a process. It must be maintained. Our society has been engineered at every level to ensure uniformity of method, respect for precedent, and proper procedure. Intelligence has its place, but innovation merely for innovation's sake is worse than inefficient - it is dangerous. Over the course of centuries we have refined our science, our engineering, our culture and recordkeeping and bureaucracy and laws and precedents and thousands of things both major and minor so that we not merely hold entropy at bay but defy it, spit in its very face and dare it to try and tear down what we have so painstakingly built.

Sharik slowed her breathing and fought for inner peace, reflecting as she always did on the comforting, enduring, beautiful structure of the Ziru Sirka and the social engineering which had created it. A society that according to its most ancient history had once been much like the Terrans in its youth - brilliant, energetic, flush with youthful arrogance, and dreaming that they were the untrammeled lords of creation itself. A society that had leapt out to conquer the stars, then almost destroyed itself with civil war as its reach had so far exceeded its grasp, and then had created the Grand and Glorious Empire of Stars out of the ashes of the Consolidation Wars. A society that had not foundered in blind superstition like the Egyptians of ancient Terra, but had instead consciously chosen to put aside advancement solely for advancement's sake as a thing for reckless youth, that a truly mature interstellar society must consciously set aside.

As a senior agent and then senior supervisor of the Vilani intelligence service, she had not only made a dedicated study of the Terran problem but had lived for over a year on Terra itself as a covert operative, some years prior to the conflict the Terrans had named the 'Third Interstellar War'. During her exposure to Terran culture she had come to learn about several of their religious and cultural philosophies, and so was one of the very few Vilani who had even heard of - let alone began to understand - the ancient Terran way of life called 'Confucianism'. To her it had been a most admirable attempt at creating a rational and structured society where religious belief merged with adminstrative regulations merged with criminal law to transform society into a tool for giving everyone a place and making them satisfied with said place, a harmonious collective that would maintain itself intact down the centuries without more than the most minimal necessary changes to survive.

Of course the ancient Chinese had failed in this regard, but what else could be expected from pre-industrial primitives without even the most basic acquaintance with psychological science or mathematical sociometrics? Expecting them to succeed at the task would be as absurd as expecting primitive hominids to build a jumpship without access to anything but wood and stone. They simply had not possessed the tools, the precursor sciences, necessary to design such a structure. but the Vilani had possessed those tools, even as far back as the Consolidation Wars. And after those wars had taught them the harshest lessons in why said tools were necessary, they had finally set about using them. And with them they had created the most prosperous, enduring, and peaceful empire in all of human history. Any human history.

And for all the strict hierarchy of the society of the Ziru Sirka - after all, without clear delineations between those who led and those who followed, those who organized and those who labored, there would only be anarchy - their society also recognized merit as much as it may. A hereditary element to power was unavoidable, because the human instinct to conserve resources and influence for their family above strangers was impossible to eradicate without eradicating humanity itself, but the principle that a political system was most viable not when it encouraged right-thinking humans to do the proper thing but when it also set itself up so that even flawed humans had positive incentive to follow proper courses of action was so obvious that even a Terran had independently figured it out. Not that very many of his countrymen had had the wit to listen to him.

Even Sharik Yangila herself, born of a minor human offshoot called the Anakundu who had been conquered by the Imperium centuries before and who carried no pure Vilani blood at all, had still been able to have her achievements recognized enough to stand where she was today - an Underking of an entire province, only two steps down from the very Emperor himself. There might be some few scraps of kimashargur malcontents who still fumed at the Vilani 'oppression' and 'tyranny' of the Anakundu even today, but they were foolish dreamers drunk on ancient legends and with no appreciation for the reality around them. For if even a non-Vilani-blooded daughter of the Imperium such as her could rise so high, then could not anyone?

No, for all her personal ambition Sharik Yangila still felt nothing but gratitude and loyalty to the society of the Ziru Sirka. A society that could let a common-born nobody like her rise high enough to direct the fate of a full sixteenth-part of the Imperium itself. A society that rewarded devotion with protection, rewarded service with prosperity, rewarded harmony with harmony. A society so stable that it can operate and stay viable for millenia despite having expanded several times past what any Terran would consider a viable span-of-control limitation at maximum jumpdrive speed.

A society that has been so successful at keeping the wrong ideas from gaining any purchase for so long that most of us have forgotten how vulnerable we can be to them.

The angle of the rising sun reached the point where, as it did every day, it informed the Saarpuhi Kushuggi that her usual morning ritual was drawing to a close.

I will finish our great work, Kadur. If they will not give me a larger fleet than yours, then I will refine the fleet I do have until it can strike even harder and deeper into Confederation space than ever before. If Terra's will to resist has proven too strong for us to overcome by main force, then I will weaken and divert it before I bare our fangs again. Already my decade of false peace is beginning to lull their suspicions. Already the undisciplined masses of their 'democracy' are starting to choose representatives willing to shrink their military budget, lower their perpetual state of readiness, even if some few of their officials are still wise enough to see the danger. Already my operatives do their best to inflame nationalist tensions and separatist impulses among their own provinces, only so recently united into a world government at all. When they are weak enough... when they are diverted enough... and when we are ready enough...

One way or another, I will ensure that the Terrans can never threaten us again.
* * * * *​

Author's Note: Sometimes, a few thousand words can take twice as long to write as twice that many words. But, Sophia finally gets to start inventing things, the Genius Patrol finally realizes where they goofed and moves to fix their mistake, and we get our first glimpse at a Vilani POV and some foreshadowing of what's to come.

Oh, and as for the current date, it's mid-2169. Canonically, the Fourth Interstellar War began in 2173, although Sharik Yangila began her first overt moves in 2170.

The fate of Kadur Erasharshi in canon is an unsolved mystery - the sourcebook merely says he got relieved, and then got mysteriously vanished from Vilani history and records. The 'he got executed for treason' and the bit with his chief subordinate (and she was, canonically, his lieutenant) betraying him so that she could continue on with his work instead of having the entire concept Imperially ordered to be abandoned forever is me filling in some blanks.

Unspent CP: 0
Purchases: Black Computer (Lucy)
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I see at least one of the aliens have clicked that humanity advancing so rapidly in under a century is kinda troubling, although it seems their society at large would scoff and dismiss such a thing. Wonder how she'll react to the battery tech invention? That should be public domain knowledge, with how widespread it shall end up, unlike the FTL tech Sofia is next gonna work on.
I see at least one of the aliens have clicked that humanity advancing so rapidly in under a century is kinda troubling, although it seems their society at large would scoff and dismiss such a thing. Wonder how she'll react to the battery tech invention? That should be public domain knowledge, with how widespread it shall end up, unlike the FTL tech Sofia is next gonna work on.
I'd imagine poorly. That sorta tech jump is kinda characteristic of some tomfuckery being afoot.

So a normal day for the average CF user.
So at this point the Federation has chosen to just call it quits and put her in charge of her own R&D group and let her do what she wants given she has effectively developed two revolutionary new inventions.

And while they are curious and have their suspicions are content to just milk her for all the benefits she can give.
I mean at this point if I was them I would assume she is literally on a mission from god.

Considering that her intelligence suddenly changed on a basically impossible level and she has a massive concern about invasion that is against general consensus it actually requires fewer assumptions than my next best guess.
One way or another, I will ensure that the Terrans can never threaten us again.
Bit paranoid, isn't she? I mean, yes, the Terrans are a threat to the Vilani and their slaving, conquering ways and the logical thing to do is to crush the Terrans before they got off their space honeymoon period. But do you have to be so edgy about it?

I've always liked your antagonist, cliff. They're always fun to read about.
"FTL communication, sir." I answered smartly, and carefully kept any expression off my face as I saw him literally jawdrop.
I've never liked how FTL is depicted in Sci-fi stories. Mostly because a lot of them just acknowledged that FTL comms existed and that's it. It's just not that good of a plot device-- is kind of the impression I've got.

The most detailed FTL comms as a plot device in Sci-fi (at least, the ones I know about) was when the FTL comms was run by a secretly murderous phone company with the ultimate dream of space genocide (Battletech), and the part where you need a telepath to literally send their souls through Space Hell just to deliver your message (Good ol' 40K). Seriously, those were pretty wild. Why don't people talk about their space phones more often?
Bit paranoid, isn't she? I mean, yes, the Terrans are a threat to the Vilani and their slaving, conquering ways and the logical thing to do is to crush the Terrans before they got off their space honeymoon period. But do you have to be so edgy about it?
Not really paranoid unless you assume it's impossible to surpass Jump 2 (which with terrans still loving innovation is practically inevitable). Because if you stay hands off and they develop the tech to start expanding again in a direction that you have no eyes in.. Well, it'd suck if your little enemy suddenly (for a given value of sudden) turned into an empire with a couple hundred planets and far higher mobility than yours in their warships.
Oh well done, cliff! You spoofed me about the FTL vs battery thing being what she's presenting, but it all makes sense.

Also, the bit at the beginning about labels, I like that, since it parallels the label situation with the genius patrol and Sophia. Also, their classifying her genius as leadership-based - that's actually a really neat idea, and I can totally see why they thought that.

Of course, they've also cottoned on to the fact that her intelligence is new, and as I suspected they were aware of her MIT lab time to some degree. Why do I get the feeling there might be someone around who isn't so convinced by the golden goose parable and will want to poke at her? If nothing else, you know there are going to be some people poking at her neurology scans behind the scenes, though that may never have any bearing on the story.

Interesting interlude with the Vilani leader. She's definitely pretty smart about the danger, but is also overly paranoid I think. IDK though. As always, I appreciate you filling in canon blanks with reasonable explanations, and I also enjoy your notes explaining what was canon and what were blanks you filled in.

Of course, have to wonder at what point the Vilani learn about the FTL comms. On the other hand, even if they do learn about it, this Vilani (sorry, can't spell her title from memory) seems to be very against the idea of adopting something like that - it's something that would threaten the zeitgeist of the Imperium, since the STL comms they use allow more autonomy for outlying provinces and such...
but what had even happened to the scientific method in the Inner Sphere
Crab bucket politics are a hell of a thing.

Copyright/Patents don't expire in BattleTech.

It is a plot point in some of the novels that even if a protagonist finds a lostech automatic factory, they will need to navigate the license agreements to actually build those mechs. It is lightly implied this is why there are so many knock-off mech models around common frames.

Consider Disney and how protective they are of The Mouse. Now give them a a black-ops team composed of 80-100ton mechs and a willingness to fuck-over worlds without established orbital superiority
I like to believe our convos here in chat gave you ideas that turned you away from giving the corps actual FTL. When originally you were just going to do it. My thought is that our chats here gave you new ideas to push and new methods of thought that you originally did not think of.
Considering that her intelligence suddenly changed on a basically impossible level and she has a massive concern about invasion that is against general consensus it actually requires fewer assumptions than my next best guess.
What guess would be that?
Huh, Black Computer instead of Nullspace Computer? I suppose there are advantages to either of them.

I do like the look into the Vilani ruler but... how to day this... It feels like it might have worked better with her talking to her vizier equivalent? As it was, it was just a whole bunch of "person talking in their own head" and while that did a lot to explain why the next war is going to happen... it didn't do much to set the scene so to speak. How to the others in her immediate vicinity feel about a new war? How do those people view her preparations? Stuff like that.
Huh, IIRC the Terrans lost the planet she is in the next war. I wonder what having FTL comms would do for that war? Because I can't see enough time for more inventions in the 3 years she has. Or maybe she surprises me again, she is good at that.

EDIT: I suppose the ansible would be a massive state secret for years....
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I have to say, I really don't like that they figured she did a massive jump in intelligence both from the in-universe and meta perspectives. (Not to make it sound like I want you to change it or anything.)

From the meta perspective it's just my preference. I prefer meta elements to be contained to the background as much as practically possible. I get the parents part; and like that it was mostly contained in the background too.

From the in universe perspective, I just don't see how they can make such a ridiculous jump to something that should be impossible from their understanding. Presuming anything from more likely to really unlikely like hiding her intelligence from social pressures as they did before would be more logical. You even have a ready excuse to what she was doing before that time in the "she has the 10 PhD equivalent education" power. They should just assume she was studying or something as a base for these future discoveries and similar. Maybe hacking around for education material and that's how she got good with programming?

Even if they think it was someone experimenting on her or something, they shouldn't be able to trust it and go to the lab phase even if they try to keep it moral. Especially before the whole super battery thing where she doesn't seem to have this much value for a goose that lay golden eggs situation.

I don't know, it kind of soured me from an otherwise great chapter and story. (Also, as ryune said; Vilani ruler part would have been better if she was ranting to a confidant/lover/aide or something.)
I wonder what having FTL comms would do for that war?

It lowers response times. A response to an attack would take a minimum of two weeks as it currently stands. One week to get a courier to the next link in the chain and (if a rapid reaction force is ready) a week to get back. Instantaneous ftl coms mean that rapid reaction force will show up in a week, or as soon a the drives are charged if she gets a KF jump drive adopted in time.
Times get cut down even further the longer a trip with a jump-2 drive is.

If ships get equipped with mobile HPG's that also allows real time coordination between intra system ships, and ships about to jump in with a Battletech style jump drive.

Terran forces would forever be well within their enemy's decision loop.
So does anyone else wonder which type of ftl come she is going to produce?

The black box is simpler and easier to use, but is supposed to have negative effects on jump travel. I always thought it might be because it was too easy to lose control of though, as it is easy to produce and use.

The other method is much harder and a lot more expensive to produce, but is easier to control and a lot more capable.

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