Lore of Yore
Histories of the known universe... and beyond
The Occupied Outward Realms Tour is, according to the Stewards of the Royal Household, a "rare opportunity for our darling Princess Royal to engage with her devoted subjects on the ground level, and to sample the varied cultures of the British Empire's proud outward territories."
According to the darling Princess Royal herself, the OORT scheme is so-called because "I ought to sample the insufferable delights of three dozen dim and distant worlds, but I'd much rather sample the beach-front bar and a light tan on the Julip resort moon." Her Ladies-in-Waiting have expressed sentiments along much the same lines.
However, a Princess's duty is to the Realm and Star Territories, and Victoria the younger set out on her OORT campaign this past year, stopping first at Fort Lancaster to shore up our boys in red with a stirring speech before leaving the Albion Reach for the Crown dependencies. Far Acre brewed up some speciality jasalt mead for the occasion of Her Highness's visit, and the supernumerarily-limbed Kondiles of Tumbleblown Orbital greeted her with open arms (all nine of them).
As the tour carried on, however, reports grew that Princess Victoria was not entirely adhering to her carefully-plotted itinerary, and was in fact making certain detours to sample even more varied aspects of the disparate planetary cultures. Reports of much carousing on the Wheel of Far Haven, and a drinking contest that drained the Peldooie rum distillery dry were reported in the ha'penny papers, but the Royal Household threatened legal action against any such accusations.
In any case, the Outward Realms Tour continues to this very day, and indeed the Star Territories inwards of the Sentum Cynosure have made great noise about their preparations for the princess's long-awaited arrival. "Our cutlery has been polished beyond measure, our decanters are already steaming with our finest brews, and not a speck or spore of dirt will be found within a hundred fathoms of our embassy," according to Eustace Siwens, Master of the Household at the British embassy on Vorgak 3.
Whatever her initial reservations about the Tour might have been, it is clear that on her next stop, Princess Victoria can expect only the warmest of welcomes upon setting foot on Vorgak soil.
Upon signing up at the enlistment offices past Saturn, a would-be officer of the Royal Space Navy might dream of a career upon the High Galaxies. Striding into the Royal Docks of London, boarding the gangway of a Vaunted-class cruiser, even serving amidships aboard a towership of the Realm.
Service to the British Empire would be a fine thing indeed, were it not for the existence of persistent, perspicacious, and downright peril-inducing pirates.
While towerships are typically large enough to simply bash aside any galley or cosmic corvette hoping to waylay them, smaller ships of the line have become easy prey for canny corsairs in recent years. Although brigands such as the Vulture Hawks tend to stick to ambushing tea trawlers, and typically turn tail at the sight of a Royal Cruiser, some of the cosmos's more desperate (or insane) pirate gangs have perfected techniques to leave even a well-armed ironclad frigate becalmed and divested of its fuel, cargo, and suitably attractive personnel.
The Gentlemanly Privateers of Voth utilised a dummy vessel to flag down Naval ships passing through the Voth Cartency; this was a converted British schooner whose cargo hold had been outfitted as a den in which the privateers hid while their ship was taken aboard the unsuspecting larger vessel. While this may be a duplicitous tactic in anyone's book, the Gentlemen were to a man wash-outs from the Navy, and still considered themselves men of Albion despite their reduced status. As such, the Toppest Gents greeted their victims with cheery hulloos, dressed in their Naval finery, and their fellows burst from their hiding place to rob the unfortunate officers blind.
Moosh the Black, known as the Deadly Cow of Space, liked to outwit xyrs targets, typically cloaking the Bos Taurus in the mass shadow of a nearby planetary object, before ramming xyrs victim at full speed with the horn-like prongs affixed to the trireme's prow. Unfortunately for Moosh, xe scuppered xyrs own craft after unwisely ramming what xe believed to be a simple space-whaling ship, but turned out to be a solid-metal planetary core, detached from its host and supercooled as it drifted through space as an impenetrable ball of iron. Moosh was said to have modified xyrs tactics thereafter, choosing instead to wait in the alleyways of Succhurene and knock victims over the head with a big plank of wood.
Such hit-and-run tactics were small time, however, compared with the protracted campaign carried out by the Royal Navy on the Shanty Moon. While the worlds of the Thirteen Colonies have largely accepted British rule, the pirates inhabiting the moon's coves refused to kowtow to the Empire's iron fist, and fought tooth and nail against the would-be British occupiers. Most infamous of these rapscallions was Capering Jack and His Band of Loons, who pestered Naval marines by throwing coconuts from within their dens, and scurrying through labyrinthine tunnels to give sore-headed pursuers the slip. These days, the moon is rather more civilised, although inhabitants are still sure to give any nearby coconut tree a wide berth.
The Bermuda Triangle. The Vile Vortex of Quuel. Hesper's Hollow. Venturing into such mystifying regions might cause a nautical captain or stellar sailor to lose their crew, their ship, or their life in short term. However, in the case of the Depthless Fathom of Vonsk, many an inquiring cosmic crusader tends to exhibit far stranger side-effects.
Officially, the Depthless Fathom refers to the localised space surrounding the stellar nursery known colloquially as the Elephant's Trunk, or Colossi-H7. Discovered by Lady Jacotte Hoveton, one of Queen Elizabeth's Watchers who was employed upon a pursuit of the Chartreuse Assassin when she stumbled upon the region, the Fathom rendered Hove's damaged vessel becalmed until rescue arrived from Albion. When her saviours entered her ship, the intrepid Britons discovered Hove dancing a merry jig around a makeshift camp fire, which subsequently burned a hole straight through her ship's hull, dooming the entire group to the vast stellar coalescence.
Other stories end in similar predicaments: Proditor Rhames escaped justice for the Six-Dagger Murders on Kelnus, only to disappear into the roiling molecular clouds without further trace for another ninety-six years. When a bright-eyed young man arrived on Terra Arthus bearing dental records matching those of the presumably-late proditor, staff of the Centre for Advanced Genetic Tomfoolery were at a loss to explain Rhames' extended lifespan and apparent de-ageing. More puzzling, however, was Rhames' insistence that he was a small raspberry blancmange named Trevor the Whistling Egg, and the matter was quietly ignored.
In later years, the sensational endeavours of Doctor Prespicarius Nit attracted the attention of peons and newspapers across England. Nit, a self-styled Professor of Adventure, took it upon herself to fly her rickety rocket ship, the Teaspoon, directly through the Elephant's Trunk in order to prove its utter lack of danger. Boundary buoys situated on the opposite side of the nursery—suitably removed from its startling effects—documented the Teaspoon's emergence from the cloud at top speed, and tracked its wobbling trajectory straight to the Delightful World of Odd's Bodkin. There, Nit crash-landed atop the Zesty Needle and burst into the first alehouse she laid eyes on. The doctor emerged a week later, having drunk the place dry and divested innumerable pontoon-playing patrons of their winnings and several articles of fetching clothing. Nit's alehouse crawl proceeded down the entire hundred-fathom length of the Needle, drinking thousands of beings under the table and shutting down nineteen reputable public houses, and upon reaching the bottom she promptly fell into a deep slumber that lasts to this day.
Several theories have been put forth as to the cause behind the nursery's bewildering effects, although the Royal Infomarium has yet to recognise any of them—especially those that witter on about time dilation and relativistic quantum mechanics. A more down-to-Earth hypothesis was suggested by a Glamby Ronter of Devon, latterly part of the Treven Mons project on Mars. Ronter, a keen frequenter of the Wallop & Tickle public house, explains thusly:
"It's obvious really, innit? You've got folk dancing about like lunatics, some of 'em thinking they're still in the first bloom of youth, others crawling from one pub to the next. Obvious. They're all smashed off their trolleys."
Indeed, the latest survey team sent out by the Admiralty has confirmed the presence of naturally-occurring ethyl alcohol within the interstellar masers of Colossi-H7. Heated by the nursery's protostars, these masers appear to have formed a large cloud of intoxicating chemicals in orbit around the region—meaning that any star sailor who hasn't properly welded their portholes shut might find themselves feeling a little more jolly than usual. If Mr. Ronter's theory is borne out by the Admiralty's data, it may well transpire that the Elephant's Trunk becomes the go-to galactic hot-spot for those looking to get absolutely cosmically sloshed.
The great city of London remains alive even in the pitch of night, its streets resounding to the footfalls of people going about their concerns in their multitudes. It also resounds to the subtle scurry of the underclasses, more fleet of foot, conducting shadier business. It means criminals are abroad.
Constable Hulme prefers them abroad. It means he has fewer of them to deal with here in the capital.
These days, there are many who consider the Thames River Police an outdated organisation, what with cosmonauts wheeling along the starways of the Fifteen Galaxies far overhead. Still, officers like Hulme, Earth-born and staunchly Human, maintain their diligence. "Looking to the stars only means you miss what's under your feet," he likes to say.
Under his feet right now is a fish; a minnow, rare on the Thames, flopping on the wet deck of the duty boat. It has been disturbed from the gentle ebb and ooze of the river, enough to pitch itself onto the boards of Hulme's patroller. He deduces there is something beneath the waters making greater waves than himself.
He calls on his duty pilot, Cobb, and the searchlight sweeps across the face of Billingsgate Market down to the river's ink-black surface. Hulme peers into its illuminated depths, finding little besides the menagerie of litter tipped from the embankments over the years.
Then, a flash of light; Cobb's beam hits riveted metal, and the duty boat is jostled by the wake of something from below. Hulme grabs the rail to stop himself toppling over the side, and Cobb gives a shout just as the shadow ruptures the surface.
Monstrous and wailing, the amalgam of metal and cogwork rears up in front of the Billingsgate arches, scaring a flock of gulls into the sky and scattering a cluster of nattering oyster-wives, and a hatch creaks open from on top. A figure thrusts itself from the copper carapace, streaming with river water.
"You up there," Hulme yells. "Stop in the name of the Constabulary!"
The figure turns to him, arms outstretched, and fixes its goggles on the riverman. "Doctor Nementor stops for nothing save the winds of entropy themselves!" In his gloved hand, a glowing vial bubbling with something thick and noxious. "And I have come to blow down the towers of your festering city!"
Nementor's great submersible creaks into motion, whirring metallic tentacles rising from the depths like spinning turbine blades, and the insane doctor laughs triumphantly.
It's going to be one of those nights, Hulme tells himself. The constable squares his shoulders, and reaches for his baton.
It is a sound few want to hear: the creaking groan of joints and rusted cogs, combined with the devilish hiss of venting steam and the thunder of ground-juddering footfalls; not to mention the rumbling bark of an internal gearbox that, when churning up to speed, has the distinct ring of a menacing peal of mechanical laughter emanating from deep within a mullanium carapace.
These are the heralds of an oncoming killer robot, and for those who hear these unearthly sounds, doom is sure to follow.
The killer robots utilised as wrought-iron guardsmen on Crown dependencies of the British Empire are intrinsically linked to the innovation of the Industrial Revolution. However, the technology precedes England's efforts by some time; the so-called Heron Engine, or Devil of the Wind, was an ancient, powered steam engine used as a brazen fighting machine by the Horde of Damocles, and was later appropriated by the early Royal Navy as a Boiler Technician.
In later years, the Mandurai Robotonists took time out from seeding bio-synthetic woodland on V'kanderplon IX to construct towering Revolutionary Kinetic Pummellers and Environmental Kinetic Walking Excavators for deforestation efforts. RK and EK units became a common sight on numerous agricultural worlds, and seemed to impact the number of environmentalists willing to chain themselves to any trees in the path of the robots' huge, grasping claws.
Such designs have been co-opted by other parties; Yanglan the Mighty, also known as the Tiny Terror, corralled a killer robot to serve as her steed, and rode into the Battle of the Marjan Marshes atop her garishly-painted death machine. A theft from the storage facility on V'kanderplon IX led to the formation of Battle Machines fielded by the Vorgak Empire during their invasion of Vorgak 3. One of these lumbering war machines, referred to as the deadly Robo-Killer, gave the brave soldiers of the 51st Colonial a decisive pummelling, and even attempted to excavate a few unfortunate souls during the struggle.
Not all killer robots live up to their names, however. Other units have their destructive capabilities capped, and serve as oversized, mechanical guard dogs on a variety of planets. The ranks of Yeomen Warders have even been bolstered by several killer robots, which guard British realms ranging from far colonies to the Palace of Westminster itself. Should any trespasser make their way into the shadowy undercroft, they might be faced with the blazing red eyes and gnashing teeth of a loyal killer robot, ready to dole out a solid whack on the head in the name of Queen Victoria.
Confined to the maladies and viruses circulating a single planet of the cosmos, a doctor of medicine might have their work cut out for them. When the field of potential and very possible disease is opened to countless galaxies and even more countless worlds, it's a wonder there are any physicians still left in practice.
The Sanatorium for Chronic Maladies, Distempers, and General Ill Spirits is a humble institution found on the Hendevour Belt of Presin Major. One of the planet's more affluent municipalities, Hendevour hosts all manner of beings from across the Fifteen Galaxies, and naturally many of their lingering diseases as well. The Sanatorium, one of thousands in the British Empire alone, has a workload that would put your average planetary scaffolder to shame.
Plucking a random date from the institute's records (13th June of the year gone) we can see what the doctors have had to contend with:
Clearly, the cosmos would be lost without the dedicated and highly patient staff of clinics such as the Sanatorium for Chronic Maladies. The centre boasts one of the highest success rates in the Armillary Sphere, and more often than not its outpatients leave with a spring in their step, a shake to their tail, and a susurrus across their polyps—with the exception of Mr. Pespic, who unfortunately slipped off his hook and was briefly mistaken for an unusually vocal doormat.
The inter-quadrene diamond trade is, as they say, going places.
Having discovered volanium in the Colombo Gap, the Saturn Mining Company became a galactic player, and its parent company, the Free Agoran Trade Conglomerate, became drunk with power—and even more drunk on a variety of celebratory Venusian alcohols.
The Trade Directorate followed in the footsteps of the British Empire and began a campaign of aggressive expansion, laying claim to the entirety of Saturn's ring network as well as all sixty-six of Jupiter's moons—the incident that vaporized Pasithee was written off by the government as a "misfiring of experimental thermo-nuclear warheads developed for the purposes of intensive soil fertilization".
The Conglomerate kicked several indigenous species off their moonlets to stake claims on every precious mineral in sight. Only one of the displaced native species was foolhardy enough to file a law suit: The Eponis of Sinope, a somewhat backwards race as it was, came out of the court ruling with a single asteroid to their name: It was sixteen cubits wide and decreed fit for habitation for all seven thousand and nine members of the species. The Eponis, Latterly of Sinope, have not appeared in the galactic records since.
Mining operations became famous across the system, with ore tankers shipping out across the Albion Reach and into the Armillary Sphere. However, stories of the Conglomerate's cut-throat business dealings also earned infamy, and for freelancers such as cargo pilot and occasional mercenary Jax Farrago, it became wise to keep one's head down during his transits. Some of his fellow haulers didn't, and Jax began to realize just how quickly a revolving door policy could operate—especially if that revolving door led out into, say, a pool of lava eels from Pyyrus I. He hoped to eventually leave the Conglomerate with a tidy sum in his account, and maybe a volanic gemstone or two stuffed into his britches.
That was, however, before Overseer Spick closed down Saturn's central facility, and, in attempting to sneak into the tunnels to learn the truth, Jax discovered something hellish at the heart of the Diamond Mines....
The soldiers of Vorgak Command were installed on Vorgak 3 primarily to oversee supply drops from the Albion Reach, and maintain a token military presence on the outward colony world. Occasionally Commander Lunk was required to break up a punch-up over at Patty’s Knob, or stop a horde of lagonasps from eating a crop of vorgatubers.
Then, colonists began dying. At first, Vorgak Command chalked it up to a bad diet of foreign food, but more settlers turned up dead on the commander's doorstep; too many for the field doctor to contend with.
Captain Bertram Smythe of the 51st Colonial opened an investigation, suspecting foul play, but came up empty-handed. Smythe was last seen embarking on well-deserved leave towards the Naggy valley, beyond the British embassy.
Days passed, and the brief surge of excitement experienced by the listless soldiers of Vorgak Command soon quieted. Life on Vorgak 3 returned to normal, and seemed unlikely to change.
It wasn't as if the aboriginal Vorgak were about to turn up out of the green.
The stellar maelstrom circling the Garden of Ostermereen, tumbling with the pulped wrecks of a hundred spacecraft, was not enough to deter Doctor Hassock Chase from reaching the planet's surface.
The Impassable Obelisk of the Twelve Sun Pillars, whose pulsating, tar-black surface caused queasy stomachs in seven of her fellow Tempium Expeditioners, didn't phase her either.
Nor did the thousand-foot drop through the chalk denehole into the heart of the Hypaethral present the archaeologist with a problem: She brought a rope.
Inside the hypogeum, Chase discovered the lost treasure vault of the last Dynast to escape the Hinterland Purges, which she hoped to return to the Royal Infomarium to help fill in the blank pages of the Hinterkings' long reign. However, one further curio caught her attention in the bowels of the temple; separate from the Hinterking's treasure was a nook containing a single, clay statue of a beckoning cat. In her academic journal, Doctor Chase writes thusly:
"In my career I've fought off gibbering skeletons in the Seven Temples of Tibb; unearthed the Cask of Dragons with my bare hands; even tackled the infernal puzzle box of King Jiid—but in all my travels nothing has affected me as much as that blasted clay cat. It had a power I couldn't understand, and don't to this day. I only knew that it was beckoning me, and I wanted naught but to follow it to the ends of the universe."
The doctor did indeed pursue this enigmatic compulsion across eight quadrenes over the next several years—along the way solving the riddle of Banjo Grumpus, and excavating the Starfall meteorite—but continued to express an irresistible pull towards a place that did not appear on any map known to the Cartographer's Range.
Ultimately, what was left of her Tempium Expedition washed up on the Shoal of Dancing Fire on Liasu, and Hassock set off alone across the salt pan, still carrying the clay cat in her satchel. A day after her water flask ran dry, Chase happened upon a small oasis fronted by a wooden shack, and crawled towards it in the fervent hope it was not a heat-induced mirage.
In fact, the crystal pool and shack were both real, and once Hassock had taken draught of the salty water, she approached the diminutive gentleman occupying the shack. She discovered that his stall was stocked full of clay cats identical to her archaeological find, some of which waved at her in mechanical greeting.
Questioning the man as to the provenance of her artefact, Chase learned that the trader's maneki-neko were self-propelled units seeded on worlds along a specially-designed pheromone trail through a large portion of the Fifteen Galaxies, and would lure potential customers to his shack by an irresistible physiological stimulus. Having spent a sizeable amount of her academic resources following what turned out to be a intergalactic sandwich board, Doctor Chase was understandably ticked off at the small gentleman, and current reports suggest his shack now occupies the bottom-most sedimentary layer of the oasis.
The frigate appears in a flash, its turbines spinning out as it drops from light-speed into the silent desolation of the Barkeem Ascension. Lights flicker across its mullanium hull, and go dark.
Inside: chaos. Crewers run to and fro laden with gizmos to kick-start the leaking turbines, spilling precious vrillium into the grating of the deck that had, moments ago, been juddering happily in flight.
On the flight deck, a desperate plan is concocted. Captain Lubrious doesn't believe it will work, but he has little other choice. As preparations are made in the hold, a call is put out, ship-wide, for two officers to volunteer.
Lieutenant Pilt Gogran and Private Nomp Brilkwater step up. And step outside.
Clad in space suits, the pair clamber across the frigate's hull, making aft-wards as they lug the Keelkicker between them. The device, manufactured by a Mandurai subsidiary and used as a deep-space pummeller to hammer giga-rivets into the hulls of their stellar accretion refineries, might be just the thing to save the ship.
Gogran and Brilkwater manhandle the Keelkicker into place between the frigate's failed turbine cowlings, and together they secure it with bricks of magna-silt. Brilkwater slips, almost pitching from his perch into the wide black beyond, but his mate grabs his arm, holds him tight. Both officers' sons, born in the cosmos, they know how important it is to stay together out here.
Together, they begin the activation sequence. They cling on with white knuckles as the pummeller winds up. Then, with a thunderous clap that shakes the entire frigate, the Keelkicker shunts the becalmed vessel beyond its top speed. The officers are almost thrown into the deep void, but clutch their restraints in sheer terror, their bodies going horizontal as the starlight falls away around them.
The ship emerges, steaming, half a quadrene away, where Gogran and Brilkwater are extricated from their death grips on the hull. The pair are given a week's shore leave on the Julip moon, as well as the thanks and commendations of everyone aboard. The two heroes will surely dine out on their astonishing story across the Royal Navy for many years to come.
Histories of the known universe... and beyond