Sergeant Lian Gorfan propelled himself along the line that stretched between the shuttle and satellite base station. When he’d been a child his grandmother had always said, disparagingly, “That lad don’t know which way’s up!” Well now he did. Forget about the universe, up is defined by the airlock you are leaving.
Another thing he’d learned in the marines, quality was shown in little things. It was the care taken by the tech who serviced your vac suit, the care taken when ‘throwing the line’ between two vessels. In this case it was the care the shuttle pilot had taken to align the shuttle airlock with the base station airlock so both were the ‘same way up’. Indeed the SRCC team which had placed the base station in orbit had made sure that its ‘top’ was aligned with the north pole of Tsarina. It seems a little thing, but it meant that as he moved along the line, he didn’t have a vertiginous feeling that he was about to plunge a thousand miles down to the planet surface. No, the planet was hanging there ahead of him, just to the left of the base station.
He glided along the line, the momentum of his first jump carrying him smoothly along. Ahead of him, it must have been early afternoon in Kaunas City; he couldn’t make out the city itself but could see the straits of Farrant. Akin was moving through evening, great swirls of dark cloud covered it, thickening toward the north.
He turned his attention to the station ahead of him. The hull plates were enamelled, another useful indicator that someone was taking care. The enamel coating wore better than steel. So if you expected the installation to last into its second century, enamelling was a cost-effective process. He reached the airlock, swung down, punched the ‘open’ button and waited for the door to slide open.
He unclipped from the line and stepped into the airlock. He put down his tool chest and stood at ease, glancing around while waiting for the air pressure to equalise. Above the internal door, moulded into the metal was the slogan, “The Sands River Citrus Cooperative: Serving its members for over four thousand four hundred years.” Lian had read up about the SRCC in the shuttle. Formed initially as an agricultural cooperative it had branched out into meteorological prediction and weather satellites. From there to providing ‘intra-system traffic control services’ was a small step. Now the SRCC had a presence in well over a thousand systems, and insurance premiums were lower if you were shipping in an SRCC-monitored system.
The inner door of the airlock opened, and Lian could see two men waiting for him, each wearing nondescript grey overalls with SRCC badges on the left breast. Lian unfastened his helmet. “Good day, gentlemen. I am Sergeant Lian Gorfan of Tsarina Marine Division; I believe you have a problem.”
The older of the two men stepped forward. His head was shaven and tattooed extensively. Lian put him down as a Hubwards Initiate from Kraft.
“I’m Taf, the Meteorologist,” said the man. “This is Aran, my colleague and intra-system traffic controller. I’ll try and explain while you take your vac suit off.” Lian gave him a casual salute and nodded to Aran. Aran too, had his head shaved, but Lian noticed that his overalls were short-sleeved and that on his arms and hands sections of the skin appeared to be covered with small mirrors. These mirrors were flexible; Lian could see that they conformed to the movements of the skin.
Lian started to remove his gloves. Taf, with the air of a lecturer faced with students of uncertain intellect, began. “What do you know about computers?”
Lian looked up from unfastening the seals on his torso plate. “Well, I hold the standard naval qualifications.”
“So you know that no one in their right mind links one computer to another so they can communicate electronically.”
Lian parroted the answer from one of his training manuals. “This is Standard Operating Procedure to stop some bright twelve year old producing a virus which can disrupt banking systems or send power stations off-line.”
“Exactly,” Taf sounded like he was trying to encourage one of the slower members of class, “and so we communicate with computers through a keyboard, voice, hand-signals or by having them use optical recognition software on printed documents. Except that, at SRCC, we don’t. Because of the sheer volume of meteorological data, we have to use electronic transfer as well.”
Lian felt he had to prove he wasn’t out of his depth here so interjected, “Some warships use linked systems as well, but obviously they are sealed from outside contact.”
Taf smiled in a slightly patronising manner. “And obviously we make sure that software is securely hardwired into the computer. This reduces the risk of problems introduced from outside.”
About The Tsarina Sector by Jim Webster
Not one book but four! Basically a long time ago, when I was just a kid, (I think it was in 2013) I got talking to a small publisher. They wanted some SF. I said I could write SF. Anyway in 2014 they published ‘Justice 4.1’. It came out in paperback and ebook and I took it to LonCon and it sold pretty well really. Later that year the second book came out. War 2.2. Already the publisher was fading. Small publishers do this, life is tough and family commitments can crowd out high ambition. So War 2.2 only came out in kindle. Then the published finally closed their doors and I was left with two manuscripts, half a third, and a story arc.
Which is fine, just fine. Except I was busy. And, from the point of view of SF, a bit disheartened. Anyway during lockdown I had time. It wasn’t that I didn’t have plenty to do, agriculture didn’t lock down, the food chain is too important for that sort of thing. But all sorts of inspectorates, ministries and quangos all ran off and hid and suddenly all the unpaid work they usually find for me to do just didn’t materialise. So in that spare time that had blissfully materialised I finished the third book and wrote the fourth.
Now the fourth was an issue. I’d intended it to be a five book arc, but the fourth book finished the story. Admittedly it did so in a book twice as thick as the others, but there wasn’t a gap. There was no way I could split book four into two without leaving cliffhangers all over the place.
Now if there’s anything I dislike more than a cliff hanger in a series, it’s a series that just doesn’t happen. So after the messing about after the first two books I decided that this time the series would happen. I’d make damned sure it happened. I pressed publish on all four books on the same day. So you can buy this series knowing that the author isn’t going to lose interest. Each book has a beginning and an end.
So what’s the thing about? It’s set on and about the world of Tsarina. The planet at the edge of the galaxy. A place where they’re sort of holding things together but ‘just getting by’ has become government policy. It’s just the story of the problems that the Governor’s Investigation Office has to tackle. There are starmancers, genetic engineers, brush fire wars, narcotics, expensive furniture, night club singers, and through it all runs a question. What is justice (with the subtext, and can we afford it) and how do we do it?
A Bite of… Jim Webster
Sci-fi? How does the master of practical fantasy come to that harbour? And are there any parallels between the genres?
The first SF book I bought with my own money was Jack Vance, the Dragon Masters. After that how could I think that SF and Fantasy were separate genres? There is a broad fuzzy borderland between them where all sorts of fun things get to happen.
Perhaps the following year after the Dragon Masters, I bought a copy of the first single volume edition of Lord of the Rings and read it in three evenings! Mind you, I’d been blown away by Peter Pan, years before that, so I’ve pretty much always loved both Fantasy and SF. What do I like? Good stories well told.
What has been the most fun about the genre hop?
-Looks round furtively- “Well in SF I get to shoot people and don’t have to be the nice guy.”
What would Tallis Steelyard and the orchidaceous Maljie think of this venture?
Given this venture started before Tallis Steelyard or Maljie broke into my life, they have to accept that every so often a man must do what a man must do.
Mind you, ‘the orchidaceous Maljie.’ There must be a story in there!
For somebody who was first busted for illegal arms dealing back in the late 1960s, the author’s ability to remain at liberty has surprised many. Perhaps it’s his ability to stick with what he knows that has been his unexpected strength. Certainly when asked to invest in dubious business ventures, his answer, “Boy, I trade in land and cattle” may have saved him a lot of grief. Steve Jobs never saw that answer coming.
Jim Webster’s married, has three daughters and his co-worker is a Border Collie. He farms in England, south of the Lake District where the sun both rises and sets over the sea.
Hobbies? He’s much in demand as a pilot, in spite never having held a pilot’s licence or even flown a plane. When asked this question he’ll instinctive say, “reading and going for long walks.” Then when he realises you’re not interviewing for some sort of dating website he’ll admit to an interest in military history, wargaming and the sorts of things a wise man will never put on a questionnaire.
You can find him on Twitter or check out his blogs for life and agricultural stuff, for Tallis Steelyard and fantasy and for wargaming and SF but mainly wargaming.