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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Sorry for the long delay. :rolleyes: Turned out it wasn't possible for various reasons to not update, so I had to rebuild the gamestate essentially. Obviously that means no more wormhole mechanic, but please ignore that as I will be roleplaying it the same. I've also switched ship pack to one more suitable for the First Century's 'used future' aesthetic. Please consider this and any other changes retcons.

==============

Chapter 10: Doctrine


uI47Odm.jpg


Shanghai, Chinese People’s Federation - 2224
The ballroom orbited the Earth at 17,000 miles per hour, a whimsical construction of glass and steel crowning the apex of Commercial Station Maersk Zenith. Here, in the corporate levels, the living was easy. Champagne flowed, and a real pianist tinkled at a real piano. Men in designer suits and women in expensive dresses drifted round some fundraiser or other.

Vast picture windows looked out on the planet below. From 400 miles up, the Earth was still achingly beautiful. Endless curves of green and blue, sunlight sparkling off the oceans. If you peered hard enough, you could see the scars. The muddy smudge of flooded coastlines, the grey rash of runaway urbanization, the expanding deserts and shrinking forests. But they seemed so small against the whole. Mega-hurricanes and super cyclones were just wispy twirls of cloud. From up here it all seemed so...manageable.

Xiaoting helped himself to flutes of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray. Mei stood at the railing, overlooking the Indian Ocean. Her hair was pulled up from her elegant neck, her gown tastefully low cut. The diamonds he’d brought her sparkled down her back.

“There you are,” she said, turning as he approached. Her smile promised wonders. “I thought you’d got lost.”

“Can’t go far up here.”

She laughed. “I suppose not.” Her hand fastened round his arm. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“I enjoy any party with you.”

She sipped her champagne. “Then maybe we should slip away. What do you - ”

HARDWARE ERROR.

Xiaoting yelped as his VR visor was snatched from his head with a painful synaptic shock. Disconnect vertigo threatened to overwhelm him, as his cramped cube of a bedroom reasserted itself. His mother stood over him, a scowl on her face and his visor in her hand.

“Xiaoting!”

“I told you, don’t do that!” He said, snatching it back from her. It’d cost him two years savings, scrimping his Basic here and there. “You’ll mess it up!”

He checked the unit was still working. VIRTUAL LOVER LUXE - GAME PAUSED the screen said.

His mother shrugged despairingly. “I’ve been shouting. You can’t stay in here playing with yourself all day. You need to go down and collect.”

Xiaoting blushed. “Okay, okay,” he said, just wanting to be rid of her. A vac train passed, rattling every item in the six small cubes of their apartment. Through the rain-spattered letterbox of his window, Shanghai and its 50 million people crouched behind the distant bulk of the sea wall, an endless neon vista of skyscrapers, lights, and ribboning highways.

“Hurry up!” his mother commanded, pointing her cooking spatula at him in final warning before she turned and squeezed herself back into the kitchen where soy noodles were boiling on the inductor. Xiaoting sighed resentfully, turning off his VR and packing it away. Every inch of his room was alcoves, shelves, or bed. He opened his tiny closet and grabbed some outside clothes. The sound of his mom’s dumb soap operas boomed out of the kitchen screen, and he could hear the neighbor listening to the same through the wall, with a half second delay. Another vac train passed, vibrating his teeth.

His mother caught him at the front door.

“Xiaoting...”

He turned, and she titled her face toward him expectantly. Xiaoting rolled his eyes and kissed her cheek.

“Come back quickly,” she said, tugging his rain collar tighter around his neck and brushing off some imaginary dust. “Your sister is coming for dinner. She has some news.”

Xiaoting struggled not to roll his eyes again. “Okay,” he muttered.

He rode the battered elevator from the 67th floor to the lobby. He hated the way his mom said ‘your sister’, with the same time people reserved for minor deities. Xue was Miss Perfect, and everything Mom said to him these days carried a tone of reproach and disappointment. He’d never meant to be a screw-up. He’d been a good kid. High aptitude. Selected for academic fast-track. But then puberty. Vape. Virtual. Girls scared the shit out of him. They only went for guys with taxpayer parents anyway. Guys with geneering for perfect teeth and handsome faces. Guys who had lawns, houses, and pets. Retreating into his cube seemed to make sense. His GPA went down, bit by bit. 4, 3.9, 3.8. Not much point applying for college under 3.8. 3.6, 3.4. Teachers stopped looking at you after that; they had 150 kids in the class after all. No point waiting for stragglers when you had to salvage somebody. He’d graduated from high school with a 3.33. No one got a job under 3.5 anymore. That was just the way it was.

He stepped out of the lobby and into the windswept plaza between apartment towers. Some nameless cyclone was blowing in from the swollen East China Sea, cloaking the skyscrapers in rain and reducing the pedestrians to scurrying, hooded figures. Traffic was bumper to bumper along the street, and the whole city smelt of fetid humidity and rising storm. A municipal cleaning drone assiduously worked to remove graffiti from the walls of the children’s play area, its yellow hazard light flashing in the gloom. A warning stencilled on its back warned anyone interfering with it faced two years of Basic suspension.

He rode the crowded vac train six stops, assaulted by holos, panhandlers and the chaos of the city. He pushed his way through the tumult of Jing’an, where police drones hovered overhead and people jostled around him. Eventually he reached the crowded municipal office. These places always looked the same; rows of automatic booths laid out under buzzing fluorescents, a dusty flag in the corner and a bored looking security guard to make sure no one went manic and smashed anything. Xiaoting stood in line until one of the battered terminals was available. He interfaced his haptic.

“Welcome: XIAOTING, LI. Loading your government portal account.” The flag of China and various stock photos of happy, productive citizens flashed by. “What would you like to do today?”

“Refill Basic.”

“You have selected: Withdraw Universal Income Allowance. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Xiaoting grunted.

“Please note, next withdrawal will not be available for: 15 DAYS. Do you wish to proceed?”

“Yes.”

“Please insert finger for substance abuse test. Federal law prohibits income allowance provision to confirmed substance abusers. If you require substance abuse assistance, please contact your local health authority.”

Xiaoting did as he was told, putting his digit in the slot. It prickled slightly as the machine scanned his blood. It made a happy noise, and a smiling green emoji appeared on the screen.

“You have passed the substance abuse test. Please watch the following government messages.”

The screen switched to an earnest looking middle-aged woman. “I never thought I’d reach taxpayer status,” she said, somewhat robotically, “But with adult education classes I was able to increase my income and my skills.” The image switched to people studying. “Adult education classes in your area are now 40 percent funded by UN grants. There’s never been a better time to continue your education. 13 percent of adult education graduates reach - “

Xiaoting grew bored. He looked over at the pretty girl drawing her Basic a few booths over, noticing her curves through her fashionable spacer leggings.

The terminal paused the video. “Eye-line violation detected. Federal law requires you watch the following government messages to proceed.”

Xiaoting sighed and turned back. He watched the stupid video, and then the one after it about joining the military.

“Would you like to know more?” The terminal asked.

“No,” Xiaoting said.

“Thank you,” the terminal replied. Finally, it made a noise like an old-fashioned cash register, and displayed his new balance. “Your Universal Income Allowance has been credited. Please allow ten minutes for your financial profile to update. Do you require another government service today?”

“Get lost,” Xiaoting muttered, pulling his coat back on.

“Thank you for using this terminal,” the machine replied cheerily, playing its little departure video. “The Federal Government: Working For You.”

He wandered home slowly. People online called it the Basic Blues; that feeling that this was all your life would ever amount to. There were quizlets and articles and vids about avoiding it, but Xiaoting always found it easier just to let it roll over him, like a wave. Most people never mattered. At least he was smart enough to see it. He kicked an old soda bottle into the overflowing gutter. A municipal street cleaner drone sloshing down the street scanned his face and beamed a winking green emoji onto its display. THINK POSITIVE it said.

The neon lights of a McDonald’s blossomed through the steamy rain. Xiaoting entered; the walls were vid-screens, inlaid with service slots. The sizzling meat and flaming grilles on the screens never looked like anything that came out of the slots. He ordered a protein burger and fries, declining to upgrade his patty to clone beef, and paid with his newly filled account. A disclaimer warned him McDonalds Corporation would not accept liability for injuries or deaths resulting from anyone sleeping or otherwise loitering in the store when it entered its automatic cleaning cycle.

He ate, watching some dumb vids on his haptic. His mind kept running back to his mom, and the way she said ‘your sister’. Xue had always been the favorite. Always set impossible expectations for him to follow, with her 3.93, and her corporate job, and her rental apartment. She had a boyfriend. Friends. Sex. Part of him thought he was starting to hate Xue.

Shit, he remembered. Xue.

He ran out the store, and to the nearest station, his lungs protesting by the time he got there. He could already predict the scholding he was going to get when he got home. Xue would never be late. How dare you be so disrespectful to Xue. Xue works hard. Xue. Xue. Xue.

When he finally skidded into the apartment, his mother was sitting on the edge of the couch, crying. Well, that seemed like an overreaction. He realized his dad was there too, and a suited Hispanglo man he’d never seen before, but who carried the unmistakable aura of officialdom.

Xue smiled, wrapping her expensive, sweatered arms around him. “There you are, Xiao,” she said, pulling him in. He was confused; the more he looked at his parents, the more he realized they looked happy, even though his mother was still clearly weeping.

“What’s happening?” Xiaoting asked, mystified. “Who’re you?” he asked the stranger.

“Mr. Walker is from the UN,” Xue explained. “I’ve been selected, Xiaoting. And you’re all coming with me.”

“Selected for what?” he asked.

“First wave civilian settlement,” Mr. Walker explained, in American accented Mandarin. He handed Xiaoting a brochure, with an image of an exotic, impossibly verdant landscape on the front. He smiled. “You’re going to Centauri, Xiaoting.”


===========================
First contact with the Uqo’Praknarians had not been an unalloyed success, but as humans explored further into space, they learned that the galactic neighborhood was home to other, more benign sentient life. In 2223, the Hawking 4 mission to V616 Monocerotis, Earth’s nearest black hole and long a subject of scientific curiosity, discovered something completely unexpected. Orbiting the black hole at a safe distance, Hawking 4 discovered an ancient space station. Even cursory visual inspection indicated the space station had been constructed and upgraded by many disparate cultures over its long life.

60QIwPs.png


The mysterious structure orbits V616 Monocerotis. UN scientists were pleasantly surprised by who resided inside.

Dusting off the UNSO’s first contact procedure book, the Hawking 4 mission crew transmitted algorithmic ‘handshake’ codes towards the station and were rewarded with answering replies. The beings within called themselves Curators and were a scientific commune of sorts drawn from many different peoples and cultures, some of which no longer existed anywhere else in the galaxy. At last, it seemed humanity had discovered aliens that might be equipped to understand and cooperate with their own United Nations. The UNSO identified fostering further contact with the mysterious Curators a key priority.

Rk2Qcai.png


The Curators proved amenable to Earth diplomacy, if cautious. The UNSO began immediate efforts to develop a programme of cooperation and contact.
The same year, the Pioneer 84 mission to the Ziamon system was startled to find the fourth planet emitting a cacophony of radio signals. Remote stealth analysis indicated the presence of a pre-space flight civilization with a technological level comparable to Earth’s 20th Century. The inhabitants of this swampy world called themselves the Lozavata, and seemed to be evolutionary descendants of mobile, sentient plants. As fascinating as this was from a scientific perspective, Earth policymakers had not much considered the possibility of interactions with aliens of a lesser technological level than humanity, and how to proceed became a subject of political debate. Some felt the aliens should be left entirely alone, but their near-spaceflight technology level implied some form of contact sooner or later. Moreover, Ziamon’s location close to Uqo’Praknarian space raised the possibility that the Lozavata might fall victim to Uqo predation if Earth did not look to their defense. In the halls of the United Nations, debates regarding the Lozavata inevitably turned to Earth’s own history of colonialism and imperialism, and modern controversies surrounding globalization and the balance of international power. Secretary-General Koo instructed the United Nations Trusteeship Council to develop a comprehensive policy with regards to the Lozavata and other pre-spaceflight species the Earth might encounter in the future. In the meantime, the Security Council mandated a strict quarantine of the Ziamon system.

L7SWbVR.png


DSbjTxn.png


The Ziamon civilization, self-known as the Lozavata. The discovery of pre-spaceflight sapients stirred a host of political and ethical debates on Earth.

Meanwhile, the Earth was dealing with the birthing of a whole new system of economics. By the end of the 2220s, space tariffs and import duties had replaced sales and automation taxes as the single largest source of revenue for many governments. A surge of technological progress continued, fuelled by extrasolar discoveries and further application of the Wu-Adkins phenomenon, even as the Commodities Collapse fundamentally altered the structural foundation of the economy. Materials that had been in short supply were suddenly available in abundance, and cost-price frameworks shifted to accommodate space’s essentially unlimited supply of mineral ores. Within a decade, the economic calculus of a range of space-borne economic activities had shifted from prohibitive to profitable. In this ‘gold rush’ climate, it became increasingly difficult to regulate all human activity in space. The number of corporate space vessels registered for wormhole transit rights increased by almost twenty times between 2225 and 2240. Keeping track of all the activities of these vessels was hard enough, and these were just the registered ones. Earth authorities faced a growing problem with ‘wildcat’ prospectors, lured to space by the prospect of abundant riches. ‘Piggybacking’ through wormholes with legitimate (or seemingly legitimate) traffic, wildcats would then set out in smaller vessels, establishing crude colonies and mining camps, or strip mining directly from ships. Naturally, this work was usually far less profitable than imagined, and intensely dangerous. Aside from the inherent risks of space, wildcats were easy pickings for pirates and slavers. Away from the watchful eyes of Earth governments, criminality proliferated, and many UNSO experts feared the consequences of wildcats accidentally making contact with unknown aliens. Nonetheless, efforts to combat the phenomenon were piecemeal, not least because wildcats had a somewhat romanticized image in Earth media. Moreover, in an era when the majority of citizens were almost wholly dependent on government assistance and taxpayer status was a mark of prestige, politicians were reluctant to be seen to be ‘punishing’ individual enterprise.

5KNqkv3.png


Human space, c.2225. While a boon in many ways, Earth's rapid expansion also caused a variety of social and political problems.
The pirate issue had become increasingly serious. A steady progression of lurid tall tales roiled public opinion on Earth. Perhaps none was more incendiary than that of Kiêu Tranh, the so-called Trappist Survivor. Allegedly recovered from a lifepod by a commercial crew in the Trappist-1 system, a doorknocker on the edge of the Expansion Sphere, Tranh claimed to be a survivor of a pirate raid on the commercial ice hauler Maersk Orion. Tranh’s story was a lurid one: after being taken by human pirates in a fatal raid on the Maersk Orion, she claimed to have been sold to Uqo’Praknarian slavers, and subjected to cruel and bizarre experimentation. Tranh’s stories made her an overnight tabloid sensation, and she grew rich and famous off the resulting stream of publicity. Within a decade, Tranh’s tale inspired hundreds of books, films, games, and even pornographic parodies. This occurred despite every official investigation rebutting her claims, refuting her ‘evidence’ and purported biography. One UN inquiry even suggested Tranh had never been to space at all. Nonetheless, the vortex of media attention grew so strong that the Maersk Orion’s owners were ultimately forced to fund expensive space-time light cone analysis, which concluded that the Maersk Orion was lost to a catastrophic reactor malfunction and not pirate attack. Still the Tranh phenomenon continued. To her dedicated fans, anything that disproved her was merely ‘proof’ of a government conspiracy to lessen the Uqo’Praknarian threat.

xtSQjDT.png


The UN-Uqo'Praknarian border, c.2225. Uqo'Praknarian raids and other tensions made this a dangerous part of space.
Modern historians see this collective delusion as evidence of the dislocating effect of the discovery of sentient alien life on human psychology and societies. Certainly, much of the response was illogical, but governments of all levels were increasingly frustrated with blatant Uqo’Praknarian aggression. As much as xeno-psychologists warned that there may be some fundamental disconnect between human and Uqo’Praknarian values and thinking, this was little salve to politicians dealing with angry victims and frustrated corporate insurers. Alien panic was just one factor of the political extremism and social instability that continued to stalk the Earth. Perhaps the saving grace for governments was the sheer diversity of forces arrayed against them, whose ideological infighting and disparate agendas prevented any real challenge to the globalist consensus. This was hardly a comfortable state of being though, and roiling dissent had real costs in terms of terrorism and violence. The UN was not immune; in the most notorious anti-UN attack of the period, ecological extremists kidnapped 22-year-old Antonio Paolo Guerrero from the campus of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, killing three Peacekeeper bodyguards. Guerrero was the son of Elena Angélica Mellado, the UN Undersecretary-General for Personnel and Human Resources. With direct oversight over the UN’s 26 million salaried staff, Mellado was the sixth-most senior member of the UN Cabinet. After fourteen dramatic days, Guerro was successfully recovered alive by Peruvian special forces, but not until his captors had streamed themselves severing several of his fingers to promote their cause.

XMqjNRf.png


The wider galactic political situation, c.2225. Hawkish analysts concluded that Earth's rapid expansion would eventually lead it into conflict with the Cartel regardless of the slavery issue.
For the security-minded administration of Koo Heung-min, these challenges were interrelated. For Koo, the flow of space resources represented Earth’s lifeline, and the last guarantor of the liberal, globalized world order. More than that, Koo saw space as an important symbol, a promise of better days around the corner, a dream holding together Earth’s fraying social fabric. Internal chaos fed external weakness, and vice versa. In a landmark speech at the opening of UN Peacekeeping Command in Jerusalem, Koo postulated his theory of extrasolar relations:

“Economic and social expansion must always be met with defensive expansion, and yes, offensive expansion. Defense is no longer optional; defense is critical to all our future efforts. At the same time, development must rightly take its place as the foundation of a strong defense. I once borrowed Hammarskjöld’s observation that ‘the United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save mankind from hell.’ Let me today offer a modification: the United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but that doesn’t mean it can’t help pay for a ticket.”
In the early months of his administration, Secretary-General Koo successfully advocated for a variety of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. Koo’s political success was to interlink defense and development spending by reforming the UN tariffs and contributions structure to ensure a system of automatic ratio allocation - any new spending on defense ensured a corresponding windfall for development and vice versa. Thus, the priorities of the Security Council and General Assembly (and, by extension, the Global North and Global South) were kept in close alignment, and all Member States and bureaucracies within the UN better bound together for mutual benefit.

tjkhi7n.png


UN corvettes under construction at Sol. Under the aegis of the newly formed UN Peacekeeping Command, the UN Peacekeeping Fleet became a fully-fledged force for defense and law enforcement.
Externally, Koo followed the combative public mood, and his own instincts as a former soldier and peacekeeper. In his opinion, only strength deterred aggression. Koo increasingly criticized the Kennedy administration’s hesitancy in dealing with the Uqo’Praknarians, arguing it had created dangerous ambiguities and given the aliens a false impression of Earth acquiescence to slavery and other activities. In March 2234, the Secretary-General remarked to Peacekeeper cadets:

“Of course, we desire and seek peaceful first contact. But more important than that, we desire first contact that makes our positions plain. You can’t be a good neighbor if you don’t know where the next person puts their fence.”
A frustrated Security Council agreed. The same month it passed S/RES/8681, granting UN Peacekeeper captains pre-permission to fire upon any suspected slavers or pirates operating within the Expansion Sphere, whether Human or otherwise. The Koo Doctrine was clear: accept Earth’s manifest destiny, or else.

CBS2bb5.png

 
Last edited:

stnylan

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The slavers may make Earth more united than it has ever been ... eventually.

But whilst the gameplay is interesting this little vignette we have into life on Earth in the early 23rd century is absolutely marvellous.
 

Nikolai

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That Xiaoting guy, I'm not sure I pity him or not. He seems like he has lost all hope, but perhaps he'll make something out of himself in the colonies.
 

Terranallias

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Sorry for the long delay. :rolleyes: Turned out it wasn't possible for various reasons to not update, so I had to rebuild the gamestate essentially. Obviously that means no more wormhole mechanic, but please ignore that as I will be roleplaying it the same. I've also switched ship pack to one more suitable for the First Century's 'used future' aesthetic. Please consider this and any other changes retcons.

==============

Chapter 10: Doctrine


uI47Odm.jpg


Shanghai, Chinese People’s Federation - 2224
The ballroom orbited the Earth at 17,000 miles per hour, a whimsical construction of glass and steel crowning the apex of Commercial Station Maersk Zenith. Here, in the corporate levels, the living was easy. Champagne flowed, and a real pianist tinkled at a real piano. Men in designer suits and women in expensive dresses drifted round some fundraiser or other.

Vast picture windows looked out on the planet below. From 400 miles up, the Earth was still achingly beautiful. Endless curves of green and blue, sunlight sparkling off the oceans. If you peered hard enough, you could see the scars. The muddy smudge of flooded coastlines, the grey rash of runaway urbanization, the expanding deserts and shrinking forests. But they seemed so small against the whole. Mega-hurricanes and super cyclones were just wispy twirls of cloud. From up here it all seemed so...manageable.

Xiaoting helped himself to flutes of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray. Mei stood at the railing, overlooking the Indian Ocean. Her hair was pulled up from her elegant neck, her gown tastefully low cut. The diamonds he’d brought her sparkled down her back.

“There you are,” she said, turning as he approached. Her smile promised wonders. “I thought you’d got lost.”

“Can’t go far up here.”

She laughed. “I suppose not.” Her hand fastened round his arm. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“I enjoy any party with you.”

She sipped her champagne. “Then maybe we should slip away. What do you - ”

HARDWARE ERROR.

Xiaoting yelped as his VR visor was snatched from his head with a painful synaptic shock. Disconnect vertigo threatened to overwhelm him, as his cramped cube of a bedroom reasserted itself. His mother stood over him, a scowl on her face and his visor in her hand.

“Xiaoting!”

“I told you, don’t do that!” He said, snatching it back from her. It’d cost him two years savings, scrimping his Basic here and there. “You’ll mess it up!”

He checked the unit was still working. VIRTUAL LOVER LUXE - GAME PAUSED the screen said.

His mother shrugged despairingly. “I’ve been shouting. You can’t stay in here playing with yourself all day. You need to go down and collect.”

Xiaoting blushed. “Okay, okay,” he said, just wanting to be rid of her. A vac train passed, rattling every item in the six small cubes of their apartment. Through the rain-spattered letterbox of his window, Shanghai and its 50 million people crouched behind the distant bulk of the sea wall, an endless neon vista of skyscrapers, lights, and ribboning highways.

“Hurry up!” his mother commanded, pointing her cooking spatula at him in final warning before she turned and squeezed herself back into the kitchen where soy noodles were boiling on the inductor. Xiaoting sighed resentfully, turning off his VR and packing it away. Every inch of his room was alcoves, shelves, or bed. He opened his tiny closet and grabbed some outside clothes. The sound of his mom’s dumb soap operas boomed out of the kitchen screen, and he could hear the neighbor listening to the same through the wall, with a half second delay. Another vac train passed, vibrating his teeth.

His mother caught him at the front door.

“Xiaoting...”

He turned, and she titled her face toward him expectantly. Xiaoting rolled his eyes and kissed her cheek.

“Come back quickly,” she said, tugging his rain collar tighter around his neck and brushing off some imaginary dust. “Your sister is coming for dinner. She has some news.”

Xiaoting struggled not to roll his eyes again. “Okay,” he muttered.

He rode the battered elevator from the 67th floor to the lobby. He hated the way his mom said ‘your sister’, with the same time people reserved for minor deities. Xue was Miss Perfect, and everything Mom said to him these days carried a tone of reproach and disappointment. He’d never meant to be a screw-up. He’d been a good kid. High aptitude. Selected for academic fast-track. But then puberty. Vape. Virtual. Girls scared the shit out of him. They only went for guys with taxpayer parents anyway. Guys with geneering for perfect teeth and handsome faces. Guys who had lawns, houses, and pets. Retreating into his cube seemed to make sense. His GPA went down, bit by bit. 4, 3.9, 3.8. Not much point applying for college under 3.8. 3.6, 3.4. Teachers stopped looking at you after that; they had 150 kids in the class after all. No point waiting for stragglers when you had to salvage somebody. He’d graduated from high school with a 3.33. No one got a job under 3.5 anymore. That was just the way it was.

He stepped out of the lobby and into the windswept plaza between apartment towers. Some nameless cyclone was blowing in from the swollen East China Sea, cloaking the skyscrapers in rain and reducing the pedestrians to scurrying, hooded figures. Traffic was bumper to bumper along the street, and the whole city smelt of fetid humidity and rising storm. A municipal cleaning drone assiduously worked to remove graffiti from the walls of the children’s play area, its yellow hazard light flashing in the gloom. A warning stencilled on its back warned anyone interfering with it faced two years of Basic suspension.

He rode the crowded vac train six stops, assaulted by holos, panhandlers and the chaos of the city. He pushed his way through the tumult of Jing’an, where police drones hovered overhead and people jostled around him. Eventually he reached the crowded municipal office. These places always looked the same; rows of automatic booths laid out under buzzing fluorescents, a dusty flag in the corner and a bored looking security guard to make sure no one went manic and smashed anything. Xiaoting stood in line until one of the battered terminals was available. He interfaced his haptic.

“Welcome: XIAOTING, LI. Loading your government portal account.” The flag of China and various stock photos of happy, productive citizens flashed by. “What would you like to do today?”

“Refill Basic.”

“You have selected: Withdraw Universal Income Allowance. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Xiaoting grunted.

“Please note, next withdrawal will not be available for: 15 DAYS. Do you wish to proceed?”

“Yes.”

“Please insert finger for substance abuse test. Federal law prohibits income allowance provision to confirmed substance abusers. If you require substance abuse assistance, please contact your local health authority.”

Xiaoting did as he was told, putting his digit in the slot. It prickled slightly as the machine scanned his blood. It made a happy noise, and a smiling green emoji appeared on the screen.

“You have passed the substance abuse test. Please watch the following government messages.”

The screen switched to an earnest looking middle-aged woman. “I never thought I’d reach taxpayer status,” she said, somewhat robotically, “But with adult education classes I was able to increase my income and my skills.” The image switched to people studying. “Adult education classes in your area are now 40 percent funded by UN grants. There’s never been a better time to continue your education. 13 percent of adult education graduates reach - “

Xiaoting grew bored. He looked over at the pretty girl drawing her Basic a few booths over, noticing her curves through her fashionable spacer leggings.

The terminal paused the video. “Eye-line violation detected. Federal law requires you watch the following government messages to proceed.”

Xiaoting sighed and turned back. He watched the stupid video, and then the one after it about joining the military.

“Would you like to know more?” The terminal asked.

“No,” Xiaoting said.

“Thank you,” the terminal replied. Finally, it made a noise like an old-fashioned cash register, and displayed his new balance. “Your Universal Income Allowance has been credited. Please allow ten minutes for your financial profile to update. Do you require another government service today?”

“Get lost,” Xiaoting muttered, pulling his coat back on.

“Thank you for using this terminal,” the machine replied cheerily, playing its little departure video. “The Federal Government: Working For You.”

He wandered home slowly. People online called it the Basic Blues; that feeling that this was all your life would ever amount to. There were quizlets and articles and vids about avoiding it, but Xiaoting always found it easier just to let it roll over him, like a wave. Most people never mattered. At least he was smart enough to see it. He kicked an old soda bottle into the overflowing gutter. A municipal street cleaner drone sloshing down the street scanned his face and beamed a winking green emoji onto its display. THINK POSITIVE it said.

The neon lights of a McDonald’s blossomed through the steamy rain. Xiaoting entered; the walls were vid-screens, inlaid with service slots. The sizzling meat and flaming grilles on the screens never looked like anything that came out of the slots. He ordered a protein burger and fries, declining to upgrade his patty to clone beef, and paid with his newly filled account. A disclaimer warned him McDonalds Corporation would not accept liability for injuries or deaths resulting from anyone sleeping or otherwise loitering in the store when it entered its automatic cleaning cycle.

He ate, watching some dumb vids on his haptic. His mind kept running back to his mom, and the way she said ‘your sister’. Xue had always been the favorite. Always set impossible expectations for him to follow, with her 3.93, and her corporate job, and her rental apartment. She had a boyfriend. Friends. Sex. Part of him thought he was starting to hate Xue.

Shit, he remembered. Xue.

He ran out the store, and to the nearest station, his lungs protesting by the time he got there. He could already predict the scholding he was going to get when he got home. Xue would never be late. How dare you be so disrespectful to Xue. Xue works hard. Xue. Xue. Xue.

When he finally skidded into the apartment, his mother was sitting on the edge of the couch, crying. Well, that seemed like an overreaction. He realized his dad was there too, and a suited Hispanglo man he’d never seen before, but who carried the unmistakable aura of officialdom.

Xue smiled, wrapping her expensive, sweatered arms around him. “There you are, Xiao,” she said, pulling him in. He was confused; the more he looked at his parents, the more he realized they looked happy, even though his mother was still clearly weeping.

“What’s happening?” Xiaoting asked, mystified. “Who’re you?” he asked the stranger.

“Mr. Walker is from the UN,” Xue explained. “I’ve been selected, Xiaoting. And you’re all coming with me.”

“Selected for what?” he asked.

“First wave civilian settlement,” Mr. Walker explained, in American accented Mandarin. He handed Xiaoting a brochure, with an image of an exotic, impossibly verdant landscape on the front. He smiled. “You’re going to Centauri, Xiaoting.”


===========================
First contact with the Uqo’Praknarians had not been an unalloyed success, but as humans explored further into space, they learned that the galactic neighborhood was home to other, more benign sentient life. In 2223, the Hawking 4 mission to V616 Monocerotis, Earth’s nearest black hole and long a subject of scientific curiosity, discovered something completely unexpected. Orbiting the black hole at a safe distance, Hawking 4 discovered an ancient space station. Even cursory visual inspection indicated the space station had been constructed and upgraded by many disparate cultures over its long life.

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The mysterious structure orbits V616 Monocerotis. UN scientists were pleasantly surprised by who resided inside.

Dusting off the UNSO’s first contact procedure book, the Hawking 4 mission crew transmitted algorithmic ‘handshake’ codes towards the station and were rewarded with answering replies. The beings within called themselves Curators and were a scientific commune of sorts drawn from many different peoples and cultures, some of which no longer existed anywhere else in the galaxy. At last, it seemed humanity had discovered aliens that might be equipped to understand and cooperate with their own United Nations. The UNSO identified fostering further contact with the mysterious Curators a key priority.

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The Curators proved amenable to Earth diplomacy, if cautious. The UNSO began immediate efforts to develop a programme of cooperation and contact.
The same year, the Pioneer 84 mission to the Ziamon system was startled to find the fourth planet emitting a cacophony of radio signals. Remote stealth analysis indicated the presence of a pre-space flight civilization with a technological level comparable to Earth’s 20th Century. The inhabitants of this swampy world called themselves the Lozavata, and seemed to be evolutionary descendants of mobile, sentient plants. As fascinating as this was from a scientific perspective, Earth policymakers had not much considered the possibility of interactions with aliens of a lesser technological level than humanity, and how to proceed became a subject of political debate. Some felt the aliens should be left entirely alone, but their near-spaceflight technology level implied some form of contact sooner or later. Moreover, Ziamon’s location close to Uqo’Praknarian space raised the possibility that the Lozavata might fall victim to Uqo predation if Earth did not look to their defense. In the halls of the United Nations, debates regarding the Lozavata inevitably turned to Earth’s own history of colonialism and imperialism, and modern controversies surrounding globalization and the balance of international power. Secretary-General Koo instructed the United Nations Trusteeship Council to develop a comprehensive policy with regards to the Lozavata and other pre-spaceflight species the Earth might encounter in the future. In the meantime, the Security Council mandated a strict quarantine of the Ziamon system.

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The Ziamon civilization, self-known as the Lozavata. The discovery of pre-spaceflight sapients stirred a host of political and ethical debates on Earth.

Meanwhile, the Earth was dealing with the birthing of a whole new system of economics. By the end of the 2220s, space tariffs and import duties had replaced sales and automation taxes as the single largest source of revenue for many governments. A surge of technological progress continued, fuelled by extrasolar discoveries and further application of the Wu-Adkins phenomenon, even as the Commodities Collapse fundamentally altered the structural foundation of the economy. Materials that had been in short supply were suddenly available in abundance, and cost-price frameworks shifted to accommodate space’s essentially unlimited supply of mineral ores. Within a decade, the economic calculus of a range of space-borne economic activities had shifted from prohibitive to profitable. In this ‘gold rush’ climate, it became increasingly difficult to regulate all human activity in space. The number of corporate space vessels registered for wormhole transit rights increased by almost twenty times between 2225 and 2240. Keeping track of all the activities of these vessels was hard enough, and these were just the registered ones. Earth authorities faced a growing problem with ‘wildcat’ prospectors, lured to space by the prospect of abundant riches. ‘Piggybacking’ through wormholes with legitimate (or seemingly legitimate) traffic, wildcats would then set out in smaller vessels, establishing crude colonies and mining camps, or strip mining directly from ships. Naturally, this work was usually far less profitable than imagined, and intensely dangerous. Aside from the inherent risks of space, wildcats were easy pickings for pirates and slavers. Away from the watchful eyes of Earth governments, criminality proliferated, and many UNSO experts feared the consequences of wildcats accidentally making contact with unknown aliens. Nonetheless, efforts to combat the phenomenon were piecemeal, not least because wildcats had a somewhat romanticized image in Earth media. Moreover, in an era when the majority of citizens were almost wholly dependent on government assistance and taxpayer status was a mark of prestige, politicians were reluctant to be seen to be ‘punishing’ individual enterprise.

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Human space, c.2225. While a boon in many ways, Earth's rapid expansion also caused a variety of social and political problems.
The pirate issue had become increasingly serious. A steady progression of lurid tall tales roiled public opinion on Earth. Perhaps none was more incendiary than that of Kiêu Tranh, the so-called Trappist Survivor. Allegedly recovered from a lifepod by a commercial crew in the Trappist-1 system, a doorknocker on the edge of the Expansion Sphere, Tranh claimed to be a survivor of a pirate raid on the commercial ice hauler Maersk Orion. Tranh’s story was a lurid one: after being taken by human pirates in a fatal raid on the Maersk Orion, she claimed to have been sold to Uqo’Praknarian slavers, and subjected to cruel and bizarre experimentation. Tranh’s stories made her an overnight tabloid sensation, and she grew rich and famous off the resulting stream of publicity. Within a decade, Tranh’s tale inspired hundreds of books, films, games, and even pornographic parodies. This occurred despite every official investigation rebutting her claims, refuting her ‘evidence’ and purported biography. One UN inquiry even suggested Tranh had never been to space at all. Nonetheless, the vortex of media attention grew so strong that the Maersk Orion’s owners were ultimately forced to fund expensive space-time light cone analysis, which concluded that the Maersk Orion was lost to a catastrophic reactor malfunction and not pirate attack. Still the Tranh phenomenon continued. To her dedicated fans, anything that disproved her was merely ‘proof’ of a government conspiracy to lessen the Uqo’Praknarian threat.

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The UN-Uqo'Praknarian border, c.2225. Uqo'Praknarian raids and other tensions made this a dangerous part of space.
Modern historians see this collective delusion as evidence of the dislocating effect of the discovery of sentient alien life on human psychology and societies. Certainly, much of the response was illogical, but governments of all levels were increasingly frustrated with blatant Uqo’Praknarian aggression. As much as xeno-psychologists warned that there may be some fundamental disconnect between human and Uqo’Praknarian values and thinking, this was little salve to politicians dealing with angry victims and frustrated corporate insurers. Alien panic was just one factor of the political extremism and social instability that continued to stalk the Earth. Perhaps the saving grace for governments was the sheer diversity of forces arrayed against them, whose ideological infighting and disparate agendas prevented any real challenge to the globalist consensus. This was hardly a comfortable state of being though, and roiling dissent had real costs in terms of terrorism and violence. The UN was not immune; in the most notorious anti-UN attack of the period, ecological extremists kidnapped 22-year-old Antonio Paolo Guerrero from the campus of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, killing three Peacekeeper bodyguards. Guerrero was the son of Elena Angélica Mellado, the UN Undersecretary-General for Personnel and Human Resources. With direct oversight over the UN’s 26 million salaried staff, Mellado was the sixth-most senior member of the UN Cabinet. After fourteen dramatic days, Guerro was successfully recovered alive by Peruvian special forces, but not until his captors had streamed themselves severing several of his fingers to promote their cause.

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The wider galactic political situation, c.2225. Hawkish analysts concluded that Earth's rapid expansion would eventually lead it into conflict with the Cartel regardless of the slavery issue.
For the security-minded administration of Koo Heung-min, these challenges were interrelated. For Koo, the flow of space resources represented Earth’s lifeline, and the last guarantor of the liberal, globalized world order. More than that, Koo saw space as an important symbol, a promise of better days around the corner, a dream holding together Earth’s fraying social fabric. Internal chaos fed external weakness, and vice versa. In a landmark speech at the opening of UN Peacekeeping Command in Jerusalem, Koo postulated his theory of extrasolar relations:

“Economic and social expansion must always be met with defensive expansion, and yes, offensive expansion. Defense is no longer optional; defense is critical to all our future efforts. At the same time, development must rightly take its place as the foundation of a strong defense. I once borrowed Hammarskjöld’s observation that ‘the United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save mankind from hell.’ Let me today offer a modification: the United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but that doesn’t mean it can’t help pay for a ticket.”
In the early months of his administration, Secretary-General Koo successfully advocated for a variety of General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. Koo’s political success was to interlink defense and development spending by reforming the UN tariffs and contributions structure to ensure a system of automatic ratio allocation - any new spending on defense ensured a corresponding windfall for development and vice versa. Thus, the priorities of the Security Council and General Assembly (and, by extension, the Global North and Global South) were kept in close alignment, and all Member States and bureaucracies within the UN better bound together for mutual benefit.

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UN corvettes under construction at Sol. Under the aegis of the newly formed UN Peacekeeping Command, the UN Peacekeeping Fleet became a fully-fledged force for defense and law enforcement.
Externally, Koo followed the combative public mood, and his own instincts as a former soldier and peacekeeper. In his opinion, only strength deterred aggression. Koo increasingly criticized the Kennedy administration’s hesitancy in dealing with the Uqo’Praknarians, arguing it had created dangerous ambiguities and given the aliens a false impression of Earth acquiescence to slavery and other activities. In March 2234, the Secretary-General remarked to Peacekeeper cadets:

“Of course, we desire and seek peaceful first contact. But more important than that, we desire first contact that makes our positions plain. You can’t be a good neighbor if you don’t know where the next person puts their fence.”
A frustrated Security Council agreed. The same month it passed S/RES/8681, granting UN Peacekeeper captains pre-permission to fire upon any suspected slavers or pirates operating within the Expansion Sphere, whether Human or otherwise. The Koo Doctrine was clear: accept Earth’s manifest destiny, or else.

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I've been reading your crown atomic AAR, and I have to ask, what kind of Stellaris faction would your timeline lead too, and how would they deal with these aliens
 

zenphoenix

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Surt

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So humans have not changed much, except for bio-engineered teeth, they are still frauds, depressive and susceptible to FUD ...
 

cookfl

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I've been reading your crown atomic AAR, and I have to ask, what kind of Stellaris faction would your timeline lead too, and how would they deal with these aliens

I guess that depends who you think is going to come out on top in CA...

I have to ask.

Blondie?

No, but now I’m curious!
 

Bored Student1414

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He wandered home slowly. People online called it the Basic Blues; that feeling that this was all your life would ever amount to. There were quizlets and articles and vids about avoiding it, but Xiaoting always found it easier just to let it roll over him, like a wave. Most people never mattered. At least he was smart enough to see it.
Ah the jobless future, no longer do people need to work to survive because the government can provide all the money you need for life. In some series, it is a sign that humanity has left infancy in the words of Picard and that people can take the opportunity to focus on bettering themselves instead of just trying to live. In other series, it is a sign of a lack of opportunity and the loss of basic human dignity as most people cannot do anything that matters.

His mind kept running back to his mom, and the way she said ‘your sister’. Xue had always been the favorite. Always set impossible expectations for him to follow, with her 3.93, and her corporate job, and her rental apartment. She had a boyfriend. Friends. Sex. Part of him thought he was starting to hate Xue.
In the 21st century, this is the dull just out of college life stage that most young people try to escape as possible and is nothing to be jealous. In the 23rd century, this life is a privileged and lucky life that draws attention from the UN itself and is the ticket to even greater things.
In the halls of the United Nations, debates regarding the Lozavata inevitably turned to Earth’s own history of colonialism and imperialism, and modern controversies surrounding globalization and the balance of international power. Secretary-General Koo instructed the United Nations Trusteeship Council to develop a comprehensive policy with regards to the Lozavata and other pre-spaceflight species the Earth might encounter in the future. In the meantime, the Security Council mandated a strict quarantine of the Ziamon system.
Now we can have that prime directive/alien intervention debate! What is the right thing to do?
Tranh claimed to be a survivor of a pirate raid on the commercial ice hauler Maersk Orion. Tranh’s story was a lurid one: after being taken by human pirates in a fatal raid on the Maersk Orion, she claimed to have been sold to Uqo’Praknarian slavers, and subjected to cruel and bizarre experimentation. Tranh’s stories made her an overnight tabloid sensation, and she grew rich and famous off the resulting stream of publicity. Within a decade, Tranh’s tale inspired hundreds of books, films, games, and even pornographic parodies. This occurred despite every official investigation rebutting her claims, refuting her ‘evidence’ and purported biography. One UN inquiry even suggested Tranh had never been to space at all. Nonetheless, the vortex of media attention grew so strong that the Maersk Orion’s owners were ultimately forced to fund expensive space-time light cone analysis, which concluded that the Maersk Orion was lost to a catastrophic reactor malfunction and not pirate attack. Still the Tranh phenomenon continued. To her dedicated fans, anything that disproved her was merely ‘proof’ of a government conspiracy to lessen the Uqo’Praknarian threat.
Isn't one of the usual UN conspiracy theories that the UN is going to play up a fake or overblown alien threat in order to increase its power over the Earth? Here, people are claiming the UN is trying to downplay the threat. I guess the alien slaver abductions are more common that I previously thought. As for the Tranh phenomenon, there would be fakes. It is not surprising that people would want to listen to the "survivor" and not the panels of faceless UN bureaucrats even if the bureaucrats are right.

For the security-minded administration of Koo Heung-min, these challenges were interrelated. For Koo, the flow of space resources represented Earth’s lifeline, and the last guarantor of the liberal, globalized world order. More than that, Koo saw space as an important symbol, a promise of better days around the corner, a dream holding together Earth’s fraying social fabric.
Hope isn't just fuel for rebellions. A sense of hope is needed for a healthy society to function and the promise of outer space is one of source of it.

The Koo Doctrine was clear: accept Earth’s manifest destiny, or else.
Imperialism ho! "To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far."-Cecil Rhodes. Koo committing the historically anti-imperialist and decolonizing UN to the path of manifest destiny is rich historical irony. Of course, the Uqo-Praknarians are not the most sympathetic bunch but what about other aliens out there? We shall see in due time.

Folks, I will drop the UN overview once the initial rush of responses to the recent update end to avoid being overshadowed or stealing thunder from the update.
 

youstas

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Grim future, but in contradistinction to another AARs there were no nuclear war in 21st or 22nd century, and billions of people didn't die, cities, sights and art objects weren't destroyed so I would agree to live in cookfl's version of the future
 

JodelDiplom

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Grim future, but in contradistinction to another AARs there were no nuclear war in 21st or 22nd century, and billions of people didn't die, cities, sights and art objects weren't destroyed so I would agree to live in cookfl's version of the future
It's hardly grim. It's just less rosy than the silly wankfests that sometimes pass for futuristic settings. (Although there definitely are way more dystopian settings than utopian ones nowadays)
 

Golvan

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Grim future, but in contradistinction to another AARs there were no nuclear war in 21st or 22nd century, and billions of people didn't die, cities, sights and art objects weren't destroyed so I would agree to live in cookfl's version of the future
China is grim today, and is gonna get even grimmer in the future because they will actually implement those "social ranking" policies. Hopefully the rest of the world is a bit less depressing.
 

Bored Student1414

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Personally, I don't think so. I think a crapsack world has to be a place of unremitting darkness, where there can be no hope for a better future and any successes are a vainglorious effort to delay the inevitable.

Cookfl's future is none of these things. Earth is bleak, that is certain, and humanity's first forays into interstellar politics appear fraught. Crime is an endemic issue, (although I'm not sure how indicative that is of a dystopia, I'm more inclined to think it's a result of scaling up, and new opportunities for unethical activities) and while I don't think we've seen that much evidence of sexism or racism (although, we have only dealt with elites really, so who knows), there is classism all over the place, as we can see with the treatment of traditionally third world countries.

But, the values of the UN are noble ones, to expand humanity's knowledge and prospects. Resources are being shipped to Earth, which will hopefully help solve some of the problems of wealth distribution. There are prospects on the colonies. The UN appears to be doing a decent job of administering an interstellar jurisdiction, and the political system appears to be malleable enough that fresh blood can achieve reform. (Maybe speaking prematurely there, but I'm confident in the new guy).

All in all Cookfl presents neither a dystopia nor a utopia, which is a relief. And that's because neither would be as compelling as the believable, fascinating version of the future that they offer. One that feels as if it could be a realistic projection of humanity's trajectory from today, featuring characters that are neither demons or angels, but thoroughly human. Which is why I can't wait to read more.

I've been reading your crown atomic AAR, and I have to ask, what kind of Stellaris faction would your timeline lead too, and how would they deal with these aliens
The world of First Century is born of this real world's ideals and values. Democracy, freedom, international cooperation and so on. In the Crown Atomic, those values are not mainstream. If this AAR was about the future of the Crown Atomic universe instead of our own, it would be quite different in hard to predict ways.

It's hardly grim. It's just less rosy than the silly wankfests that sometimes pass for futuristic settings. (Although there definitely are way more dystopian settings than utopian ones nowadays)

Cookfl's world is a world of sharp contrasts and a world that only could come from our own world. If you focus on the technological process, or on international cooperation, that this world is quite idealistic. Humanity has spread to the stars and claimed rich new worlds. There is significant international cooperation and world peace in this universe even if it required the specter of national and ecological collapse to make it happen. Life is unpleasant but it is today's life with the same problems cranked up higher and even more governmental regulation of life to try to deal with those problems. It is a nightmare if you are a libertarian. For others, it is not the future we wished for but Earth isn't the worst place in the universe and it easily could have been much worse. If you want to see a truly terrible place to live in the First Centuryverse, there is Uklapp. Across human space, people are genuinely hopeful that the future will be better and you do not have to dig very far to find it. Making the world a better world is a messy and human process.
 

AlexiosdeMartín

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I'd love to read a book written by you, every time you write an immersion story I want to follow that particular story to the end. The spin you give to this kind of aars is something truly amazing, you already had me with the alien-ants and the space pirates, but you hooked me up completely with Xiaoting. A looser on Earth gets to colonise Sirius... That's stuff for an awesome story.
 

annsan

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China is grim today, and is gonna get even grimmer in the future because they will actually implement those "social ranking" policies. Hopefully the rest of the world is a bit less depressing.

Perhaps this is what caused the democratic revolution in China in TTL

Girls scared the shit out of him. They only went for guys with taxpayer parents anyway. Guys with geneering for perfect teeth and handsome faces. Guys who had lawns, houses, and pets.

The future and genetic engineering is even tougher for incels :rolleyes:

He’d graduated from high school with a 3.3

So basically B+ grade = doom. Damn man
 

cookfl

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I'd love to read a book written by you, every time you write an immersion story I want to follow that particular story to the end. The spin you give to this kind of aars is something truly amazing, you already had me with the alien-ants and the space pirates, but you hooked me up completely with Xiaoting. A looser on Earth gets to colonise Sirius... That's stuff for an awesome story.

Thanks dude. Very kind
 

Casko

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Will we see the quality of life on Earth improve over time?

well in Science fiction it generally tends to go one extreme or an other from Star Trek to WH40k

I must say I am looking forwards to seeing how Cookft handles it at any rate.