RocketCat sez

Alright you delta-V jockeys! Just to get the rocket roaring I am going to give you a starter rocketpunk universe as a background for your science fiction novel or game/simulation. From this you will be able to tinker under the hood, re-wire things, swap out components, and build upon it until you have made it yours.

I figure this will be useful for beginners and for advanced students who are under a tight deadline.


Not required, but always nice is some MacGuffinite, that is, an economic or political reason motivating a push for a large number of people living and working in space. Because in the real world there does not seem to be any compelling reason. You can leave out the MacGuffinite but be prepared for a few know-it-alls to pop up and ask awkward questions.

This particular MacGuffinte I am about to offer is rather flimsy and far-fetched, but enough to start you brain-storming a MacGuffinte solution that will fit your needs.

At the start of the RocketCat era of space exploration, happening only mumbly-mumble years in the future, the state of Texas had fallen upon hard times. The prime mover of the Texas economy was the petroleum industry, which was not bringing in as much income now that hydraulic fracturing had become more widespread. Texas needed either a new source of income or a new market for its plentiful supply of electricity. Or both.

Texas noted the steady rise in popularity of the idea of colonizing Mars. In practical terms the concept was utter nonsense. But it was an nifty blue-sky concept to whip up political support among the ill-informed voting public.

And in addition to plentiful supplies of electricity, Texas also had some nice real estate quite close to the Equator. The closer to the Equator, the lower the delta V required to launch into a standard zero-inclination equatorial orbit. True, Texas was not as near to the equator as the ESA's Guiana Space Centre, Puerto Rico, or the Kennedy Space Center. But Texas [a] was part of the USA, not Europe, [b] had a surface area much larger than 9,000 square kilometers and [c] was not rapidly turning into a swamp. Texas also has to the east a long stretch of the Atlantic ocean where spent rocket stages and exploding spacecraft debris can ditch without triggering multiple lawsuits.

Texas' solution is a combination of:

Laser Launching is a relatively inexpensive way to boost lots of payload into LEO. It would open up access to space to everybody from megacorporations down to mom & pop asteroid mining businesses. The launch business would have huge numbers of customers due to the "If you build it, they will come" effect. People would look upon the launch site as a public benefactor.

Is this a new source of income for Texas? Check!

Will all those lasers be a new market for Texas' plentiful supply of electricity? Check!

Building a laser launch facillity when there is no real destination worth launching to is really stupid. The "If you build it, they will come" mentality has its limits. This is where Politics comes in.

Consider the US transcontinental railroad which started construction in the 1860s. 1,500 or more miles between the Missouri River and California with virtually no Anglo-American customers. Just like the laser launcher, it was a road to nowhere.

"Western railroads, particularly the transcontinental railroads, would not have been built without public subsidies, without the granting of land and, more important than that, loans from the federal government ... because there is no business [in the West at that time,] there is absolutely no reason to build [railroads] except for political reasons and the hope that business will come."

"What we're talking about is 1,500 or more miles between the Missouri River and California, in which there are virtually no Anglo-Americans. Most railroad men look at this, including [railroad magnate Cornelius] Vanderbilt, and they want nothing to do with it."

The transcontinental railroad was built for political reasons, not economic ones. If Texas stirs in some "Colonize Mars!" popularism, they can get the federal government to provide some funding and loans. For a project whose true goal is to jump start the Texan economy, not a benefit for the US as a whole.

Much to Texas' surprise, the laser launcher actually did become a long-term profit center, instead of a short term scam.

The next stage is Cape Dread. This is a base on Deimos to harvest water ice to stock up various orbital propellant depots.

It gets started because as it turns out Deimos is a moon of Mars. Texas will be pushing the "Colonize Mars!" initiative, so a Deimos base will provide more excitement to the political effort, and also another nice project to boondoggle and to drum up more business for the Texas Laser Launcher.

The history of Cape Fear starts off very modest. Phase 1 is just a waypoint for a NASA Mars expedition. Phase 2 is commercial, when Texas tries to monetize it.

Then the "Close, But No Cigar" asteroid goes whizzing between Terra and Luna, scaring the poo out of everybody on Terra in general and a few trillionaires in particular.

Cape Dread sells subscriptions to trillionaires offering a luxurious bomb shelter suite on Deimos in case an asteroid actually does target Terra. They will offer a safe place to dine on caviar while having a ring-side seat to watch all the great unwashed masses getting eradicated by the next killer asteroid. And there are other benefits, such as being a tax haven and data haven. The data transmission to and from Terra will have a 15 minute lag time, but nothing is perfect.

During the next few years Cape Dread has an economic boom, building and over-building infrastructure. Eventually the economic bubble pops. But the infrastructure remains. Texas abandons the infrastruture for pennies on the dollar. However the old die-hards of Cape Dread are in for the long haul, they stick around. They become the nucleus of the Cape Dread colony, in the orbital propellant depot business.

And orbital propellant depots are the key to accessing the solar system, since they basically cut the delta-V cost in half.

Meanwhile zillions of small Maw-and-Paw Prairie Schooners start spreading across near space.

And the unit of currency is not the dollar, euro, or bitcoin. It is the MacGuffinite, abbreviated MG. It is vaguely backed by whatever is the major MacGuffinite, but it is not on the "MacGuffinite Standard", like money based on the gold standard. The latter is just begging for a monetary collapse.

Solar System Map




TerraGov is the de-facto ruler of Terra, sort of. It is actually a Confederation of the major superpower nations of Terra (science fiction authors reading this get to pick exactly which nations these are).

Having said that, there are plenty of second-string unincorporated nations who are quite angry about this. They are constantly trying to undermine TerraGov, constantly trying to enhance their own power, and constantly helping/hindering other non-incorporated nations according to current expediency. They are a nice rich source of spies, pirates, sabotage, covert support of TerraGov rebels, political intrigue, and other things guaranteed to liven things up. This should start the wheels turning inside the heads of science fiction authors.

Texas Laser Launch Complex

Terra's main surface-to-LEO laser launching site.

IKEA-Bigelow Rymd Hem

Your one-stop shopping for inexpensive prefabricated space habitat kits and furnishings.


Wagon Train Company HQ

They provides tug services for Mom and Pop habitat modules launched from Texas Laser, hauling them to Luna, Mars, and the asteroid belt. The tugs also have emergency services, for a fee of course.

Konvoy Konveniences Fleet Base

They supplies special ships that fly with Wagon Trains or impromptu convoys taking advantage of Hohmann launch times. The ships contain 7-11 style convenience stores and other services designed to harvest money from travelers.

Data Havens

Assorted short-lived Data and Tax Havens.

The Motel Aldrin

An Aldrin Cycler providing Terra-Mars life-support services. You have to supply the delta V for capture and escape.



Largish space station on the main route between Terra and the rest of the solar system (not the only route). Mainly a transport Nexus and a huge orbital propellant depot.


Space Colonies

An assortment of space colonies


Space Colonies

An assortment of space station with different functions and space colonies. Some are noble, some are shady, some have degenerated into Mos Eisley Space Station, some are falling apart due to the Three-Generation Rule. And most of them grow bamboo. Science fiction writers take note.

Hershey L5

Chocolate is a pain to grow on Terra due to picky climate constraints. Chocolate producing regions on Terra are prone to civil wars. Terra cannot produce enough chocolate to meet the global demand. And there are many people who are dangerous to be around when they are undergoing chocolate withdrawal (my wife, for instance).

Hershey is a Gerard O'Neill style L5 space colony optimized as a huge chocolate plantation.

NanoFacture LTD

Their orbital factories use precise control gravity, vacuum, radiation, temperature, and energy density to a degree impossible to achieve on Terra. They manufacture exotic substances and nanotechnology.

LUNA (Terra I)

Sears, Robot & Co.

Sears, Robot & Co. provides the same services that the original Sears did in 1888 for rural dwellers, but to Maw and Paw asteroid habitats. Look through their InterPlaNet catalog website, fill your virtual shopping cart, pay with BitCoins, and Sears will spring into action. The Lunar fulfilment center will package your order in cargo capsules and use their mass driver to lob it at your hab. They even have kit homes, er ah, habitat modules.

And they can even make emergency deliveries of oxygen and other vital supplies. After you have signed away your soul with your signature written in blood.


Winchell-Chung Astronautical Industries (aka Atomic Rockets Inc.)

A strange spacecraft manufacturer that specializes in experimental, customized, and extreme designs. It is run by an eccentric recluse, but the spacecraft are considered top-notch. The location is to take advantage of the rich metal deposits and almost unlimited solar energy available at Mercury.

RocketCat is a frequent visitor.

The standard joke goes that he employs little green Kerbals to make his spacecraft, the same way Willy Wonka employs little orange Oompa-Loompas to make chocolate.

But do not approach the WCAI orbital construction complex without permission. The output of the solar-pumped laser array has been conservatively estimated at 1.3 petawatts. He says they are for laser-thermal rockets, but the array is called the Angel's Pencil.

Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-do
I have a perfect puzzle for you
Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-dee
If you are wise, you'll listen to me
What do you get when you guzzle d-V?
Burning as much as a fat SUV
You are not getting very high Ace
You're not going in…to…Space.


Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-dar
If you're not greedy, you will go far
You will live in happiness too
Like the Oompa Kerbal doom-pa-dee-do!

John Reiher



Owners of cheap laser thermal rockets need somebody to supply them with laser beams. They can rent laser time from Beams-R-Us. If you have no LT rocket, Beams-R-Us will be more than happy to rent you such a rocket for use with the laser time. But pay your bills or BRU will pull the plug and you'll either find yourself stranded or desperately trying to use the thin gruel of natural sunlight to get somewhere before your oxygen runs out.

Please note that all Beams-R-Us laser arrays contain self-destruct devices controlled by the military Laser Guard. Who also have several laser-hardened warships on patrol ready to blow the snot out of Beams-R-Us' assets if they try to use their lasers to destroy military ships or civilian cities. Oh, did I mention that the self-destruct devices are booby trapped?

The beam arrays are solar powered, taking advantage of a solar flux 6.8 times as strong as that around Terra's orbit.

The Laser Horse

They have laser arrays like Beams-R-Us, but they use them with company owned cargo spacecraft to make the equivalent of railroads in space. They supply shipping services for people, cargo, and Maw-and-Paw habitat modules.

And like Beams-R-Us, the Laser Guard has them on a very short leash.

The name comes from rail-road trains in the Old American West.


Phobos has no manned presence on it. Because it is in the process of breaking up. Which is bad news for the Mars colonies.


Cape Dread

The primary source of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the inner solar system's orbital propellant depots (OPD). These (along with the Texas laser launcher complex) are key to opening up access to the solar system, since they basically cut the delta-V cost in half.

This also lead to Cape Dread becoming the orbital High Port paired with the Mars low port spaceport on the Martian surface. Which predictably lead Cape Dread to become a Boomtown. Transport Nexus. Giant traffic control complex to keep the ships from colliding. Ship repair docks. Ship construction factories. Warehouses for merchant cargo in transit along with factors for various merchant corporations. Trans-ship point from the Terra-bound clippers to the reusable Mars shuttles. A place for independent asteroid miners to sell their hard found ore. Deimos ice miners, longshoremen, local 235 ice-miner's union.

There might also be wildcat independent Deimosians setting up shop with their own ice processing gear in smaller internal bubble-caves. Old spacecraft too broken down to make the run back to Terra might be retired to serve as surface facilities. Break off the propellant tanks to melt'em down for metal, bury the habitat modules in regolith for protection, take the reactor and use it as a power generator. Use a Mylar bubble mirror with the dilute Martian sunshine to slowly crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, subsist on a diet of algae. Thusly you'd have a habitat shack for an eccentric outer space mountain man. The Old Rocket Bar might actually be an old rocket, selling shots of space booze.

Tourist traps, luxury hotels. Not to mention the pawn shops, clip joints, bars and brothels that spring up around any spaceport or space station, in other words "Startown". Perhaps repo men ready to seize ships where the captain/owner has gotten too far behind on the ship's mortgage payment. The Cape Dread Port Authority would of course need a security squad. And there may be Lurkers.

Think of it like a combination of New York City and Hong Kong. In space. All ruled by mayor Elon Musk the Fourth.

Cape Dread want to stay independent from Mars and Terra since free ports can make more money. The situation is similar to that found in the movie Casablanca. Various national governments (both on and off Terra) want to seize control of the lucrative port. Meanwhile Cape Dread is constantly doing all sorts of shenanigans to maintain independence. Science fiction authors take note.

However, Cape Dread's power is slipping away as the ice mines of Ceres grow and expansion increases into the outer solar system.

But on one point Terra is non-negotiable. While Cape Dread is independent (due to complicated events), the Mars colonies are still controlled by Terra. Mars would like to declare independence but Terra has grabbed them by the short-and-curlies: Mars is utterly dependent upon Terra for its must-have supplies of Phosphorus.

Terra knows that Mars will rise in revolt the instant it obtains and alternate supply of phosphorus so Terra will do almost anything to prevent that. About the only good supply other than Terra is from type C asteroids. So far the Terran Spaceguard has managed to prevent any large-scale shipments of phosphorus from making the trip from the asteroid belt, thus keeping a lid on dreams of a Martian revolutionary war.

Terra's problem is that Deimos is basically a huge type C asteroid.

So Terra has told Cape Dread "Here's the deal: you don't mine any phosphorus and we don't nuke Deimos into blue glowing gravel"

This totally unstable situation will suggest to science fiction authors oh so many juicy and dramatic plot possibilites.


The Martian Colonies

These are still under control of Terra. They would revolt in a heartbeat, were it not for the unfortunatel fact that Terra has a monopoly on supplies of phosphorus. But the instant that monopoly is broken the fireworks will start.


Ceres Colony

A boom-town similar to Cape Dread. A transport nexus, source of water ice for orbital propellant depots, and other space station services. Plus a small but growing colony. Read Leviathan Wakes by "James S. A. Corey" (first novel in the Expanse series) to get ideas about Ceres colony.


A space station in the same Solar orbit as Ceres, but on the opposite side of Sol. A smaller version of Ceres colony, but without the water ice or the colonists. Contra-Ceres ensures that a belter asteroid miner is never further than about half the Asteroid Belt diameter from a Ceres, instead of sometimes being a full Belt diameter away.


A provider of services to Maw-and-Paw asteroid miners. Services ranging from renting mobile refineries to purchasing ore. Keep in mind that Maw-and-Paw operations are generally limited to mining volatiles, mining metals is for the big corporations.

Galmetals Inc.

The largest, roughest, toughest corporation in the asteroid mining business. They do not play hardball, they play granite-ball.

Doodlebug Corp

Specializing in orbital propellant depot refills. They maintain a fleet of Robot Asteroid Prospectors (called "water witches") and Kuck Mosquitos. They also market a line of low-powered LH2-LOX thrusters and regenerative fuel cells. Their corporate logo is a "Y" shaped dowsing rod.

Caribbean Sugar Islands LTD

Company uses a series of bare-bones installations to breed Helium-3 fusion fuel. They are not self-sufficient at all. On purpose.

Asteroid Belt Athens

A series of asteroid colonies that are sparking a new Renaissance. This could be the start of a new space cultural revolution. Keep in mind that their strength is the fact that each colony is kaleidoscopically different from all the others (as different as Athens was from Sparta). Many have societies that can charitably be described as "disconcerting".

  • Aster-Amazons: an all female society reproducing by parthenogenesis. They are of the opinion that the only good male is a gelded male, and they are not talking about anything as minor as a bilateral orchiectomy.

  • Singularians: the entire society is geared to do everything in their power to usher in a Vingian technological singularity aka "the Rapture of the Nerds". This is strictly along the lines of developing a computer artificial intelligence, since genetic tinkering with humans is forbidden under the Rigger Ban.

  • Hive Society: all members of society are mere cells in the organism which is the Hive. See Hellstrom's Hive and Macro-life.

  • Gestalt Intelligence: the society is attempting to forge a Group Mind, where there are many bodies but only one mentality. Current lines of research are trying to develop a brain-computer interface compatible with the local InterPlaNet and with radio-telepathy. We are Nestor.

  • Thelema: also known as A∴A∴, Άστρον Αργυρόν (Astron Argon) and Good Ole 451. The society is into psionics and mysticism in a big way. Disturbingly their magick actually seems to work. Their emblem is an odd six-pointed star called a "unicursal hexagram".

  • Wierden: also known as the Well of Forever. A society inspired by an old TV show called "Babylon 5" to make themselves into B5 style "Technomages" (using science to give the appearance of wizardry). They have gotten rather good at it. Their skill with flashy special effects and showmanship is only second to their aptitude at computer hacking, electronic surveillance, microelectronics, advanced technology, exotic weapons, covert operations, disguise, and martial arts. Don't mess with them.

  • And Many More

Assorted Small Habitat Modules

These will range from the space equivalent of a shack, to a Maw and Paw habitat, to a small mining claim operated by a lone prospector, to a small colony where they have dome raising bees for new arrivals, to small boom-towns.


Callisto Colony

Callisto is more or less outside of Jupiter's radiation belt, unlike the other three Galliean moons. But it still has a huge supply of valuable water ice. They support the science bases studying the life-forms living in the underground oceans of Europa. They also control the incredibly lucrative power generators and ion-farms of Io

IO (Jupiter I)

Callisto Matter & Energy Co.

Io is a nasty volanic moon with an annual radiation dosage of around 25,000 sieverts per year.

But between Io and Jupiter's surface is the potential to generate about 2.0 × 1013 watts (i.e., 20 terawatts or a bit more than the total electricity consumption of the entire planet in 2004). CM&E harvests a bit of this bounty by using electrodynamic tethers. On the drawing board is a scheme to use copper rods with microwave power emitters. These would be launched at Jupiter. As the copper cuts the magnetic lines of force it generates electricity. This is converted into microwaves and beamed back to Io. Of course the rods are destroyed when they enter Jupiter's atmosphere, but that's the price of doing business. This is the "Energy" part of "Callisto Matter & Energy Co."

The intense radiation field of Jupiter can be used for the spallation of elements into needed isotopes on an industrial scale. This is the "Matter" part of "Callisto Matter & Energy Co." Of course it is trivial to make huge amounts of weapons-grade plutonium, but other elements are more lucrative.

The isotopes are a valuable export as is. The large amounts of available power can be used to manufacture energy rich substances for export (like antimatter). CM&P is always looking for partners to establish plants on Io for power-hungry industrial processes. You supply the factory, Io supplies the power, both of you split the profits.

CM&P is owned by Callisto Colony, and they maintain a small fleet of armed spacecraft to ensure it stays that way. If you have any bright ideas about attacking that fleet, remember that Callisto can afford to arm it with antimatter weapons.


TerraCo Military Isolation Lab

This is an area where the military develops technologies with hazard ratings approaching Existential Threat level. That is, things that if they escaped control could make the human race extinct. The military's justification for meddling with such insanely dangerous toys is that they don't want to fall behind research done by The Enemy, but the true reason appears to be virtual genital amplification by packing a larger gun.

Broadcasts announce that unauthorized spacecraft breaching the security line will be fired upon with no warning, and they are not kidding.

There are two large task forces in the area. One has all their weapons aimed outward at incoming unauthorized ships, be they spy ships or be they enemy battle fleets trying to grab some goodies.

The other task force has all their weapons aimed inward. In case any of the experiments tries to ... escape.

There are a series of orbital labs. Each is separated from the control complex and all other labs by a healthy distance. There have be a few incidents over the last 75 years or so, but the details are ultra-top-secret.

  • Two instances of labs being obliterated by nuclear explosions, apparently from the internal self-destruct system.

  • One instance where the lab was nudged into a Sol collision trajectory by a huge remote controlled military fusion tug. During the five year long fall, the lab was escorted by a large task force. Presumably the available fleet firepower was not enough to ensure destruction of whatever-it-was. After the lab fell into Sol and was presumably consumed, the task force invested Sol in a patrol orbit for another three months. Just in case the lab suddenly reappeared and tried to claw its way out of Sol.

  • One instance where the lab apparently vanished into an artificial wormhole.

  • One instance where the lab started to fractally dissolve and change into a new shape. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is either gray goo nanotechnology or rogue Von Neumann machines. The entire task force frantically bombarded the lab until it exploded, which took a remarkably long time because the blown-up bits stubbornly kept repairing themselves by growing back together.

  • One instance where half the guard task force abruptly started attacking the other half. The outer task force destroyed all the guard task force ships and the lab. The outer task force then had all their crews transfer into rescue ships, stark naked through vacuum. The outer task force was then self-destructed. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that a badly programmed superintelligent AI software tried to escape by taking over guard spacecraft via network firewall penetration and uploading itself into the ship's processing cores like an intelligent computer virus.

  • One instance where the guard task force behaved in a strange manner, suggesting that they were under attack by a Langford Visual Hack.

  • One instance where a lab exploded with the force of a sub-nuclear explosion. High speed Paparazzi video analysis suggests that a second almost-but-not-quite identical lab materialized overlapping the first lab, causing the explosion due to the fact that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that the lab inadvertently dragged its sister lab sideways in time from an alternative history or parallel time-line.

  • One instance where the lab moved at high velocity away from a Paparazzi satellite. Trouble is, there were about a hundred such satellites englobing the Isolation Lab area, and the lab moved away from all of them simultaneously. Which is impossible. The popular theory on InterPlaNet is that the lab fell into the fourth spacial dimension, which is about the only plausible explanation.


Titanic Polymers Inc. (a subsidiary of ReiherCo)

If you are building spacecraft, space stations, or planetary bases; you gotta have some kind of plastic.

If you need something fancier than polyethylene made from agricultural waste, you have two choices. Pay through the nose for fancy plastic imported from Terra with an outrageous shipping charge (ugly 9 km/s delta V) or come to the friendly plastic brokers of Titanic Polymers, on the shores of Titan's seas of petroleum.

They also provide lubricants of all sorts for industrial and domestic use. "If you have two things rubbing together, TitanLube can make it a frictionless action!"

It takes a long time to do Hohmann shipping from Saturn, but since these products have such universal demand there will always be stockpiles available at your local transport nexus.

"You Can Trust Your Thing, To The Man Who Wears the Ring, The Big Bright TitanPo Ring!"

Copyrighted Locations

These are useful locations and institutions for RocketCat's Universe that come from copyrighted works of science fiction. You can use them if you are making a roleplaying game background for personal use only. But you will be breaking the law if you used them in your novel or other commercial project without permission from the original author.

Autocrat of Ceres

(ed note: this provides a Law for the Asteroid Belt, and incidentally a cinematic and dramatic plausible system of far roving bounty hunters.)

The Autocrat of Ceres sat in his very plain chair in the very plain compartment, and regarded the two very nervous people before him with regret. He was going to have to kill them.

“I’m very much afraid,” he said, “that I don’t have much choice in the matter. You were each expected to show cause why I should not put you to death. I have seen no such cause shown. Instead I have seen two people who have allowed a petty squabble over mining rights to degenerate into another useless rock war. It is your egos, and not the mining rights, that prevent justice in this case. And the Autocrat’s Law requires me to remove all obstacles to justice. Case closed.” The Autocrat nodded toward his marshals, and they stepped forward.

The plaintiff screamed, the defendant fainted. The marshals were good at what they did. Within seconds, both of the claimants were restrained, sedated, and being taken away, toward the Autocrat’s very plain, very famous, very deadly airlock. The one where pressure suits were not allowed. The place to which human obstacles to justice were quite literally removed.

Justice, as with many other things in the Belt, was in short supply, and when available, was not of the best quality—too rough, too harsh and too rushed. To the Inner System dandies who visited now and again, the Autocrat’s Law seemed barbaric, violent and vengeful. But to the Belters, who had no other source of justice, the Autocrat’s Law represented civilization itself. In all the wide, wild, ungovernable vastness of the Asteroid Belt, they knew there was one place, one name, one law that all could trust. Only the Autocrat’s Law could protect them against themselves. Harsh and final it might be, but so too was it impartial.

For the Belters knew the Belt was huge—ungovernably huge. There could be no law when law enforcement was impossible, and no conventional enforcement was possible when the population density was something less than one crotchety misanthropic old coot per million cubic kilometers. It was easy for other things besides law to get lost in the midst of all that vast expanse.

Things like sanity, order, trust, proportion. Megalomania was an easy disease to catch when a man or a woman could have a world—albeit a very small one—for the effort of landing on it. And if your own world, why not your own law, your own empire? Why not declare the divine right of kings and expand outward, conquering your neighbors as you go?

The Belt had seen a thousand rock wars between independent states, many of which consisted of two rock-happy miners taking potshots at each other. If lunatics wanted to exterminate each other, that was their own affair, but there was a more serious and basic problem. Other people could get drawn in, or get caught in the cross fire. In all likelihood, the Autocrat had saved dozens of lives this day by blotting out the leaders in this pointless fight.

But, obvious as the case had been, the Autocrat had taken pause before rendering his decision. The present Autocrat of Ceres was a most careful person. But so was the previous holder of the post, and the one before that. No other sort of person would ever be appointed.

Not only Ceres, but the entire Belt Community as well depended on the Autocrat’s authority to supply order, discipline, regimentation, at least to Ceres and its surrounding satellites and stations. Anarchy surrounded Ceres on all sides, but even the Belt’s wildest anarchists knew they needed Ceres to be stable, orderly, predictable, to be a place where a trader could buy and sell in safety.

The rules might change elsewhere with every passing day, but at Ceres the Law was always the same. Claims filed in the office of the Autocrat were honored everywhere—for they were backed not only by the Autocrat’s Law and Justice, but his Vengeance.

Nothing but fair dealing was ever done in a Ceres warehouse. None but fair prices were ever paid. No one brought suit frivolously. For the Autocrat himself stood in judgment of all cases.

By the Law, the Autocrat was required, in every case from unlicensed gambling straight up to claim jumping and murder, to find cause why the death penalty should not be exacted against one—or both parties—to the case. If the Autocrat could not—or would not—find such cause, plaintiff and claimant, accuser and defendant died.

The Autocrat’s Law had a long reach. Many defendants were tried in absentia, having chosen to flee rather than face a day in court. But as the saying went, If the Autocrat finds you guilty, he will find you in the flesh. His bounty hunters—and his rewards—found the guilty everywhere. Very few places refused to honor his warrant—and none were places a sane man would flee towards.

Indeed, fear of the Autocrat’s Justice prevented all but the most worthy claimants from coming forth to ask it, and prevented all but the most venal from risking its power. Calls for justice were few and far between when the sword was as sharp as it was double-edged.

From The Ring of Charon by Roger MacBride Allen (1990)
Stylized Warfare

(ed note: This provides a cinematic and dramatic system for spacecraft combat, without instantly killing all the fragile interplanetary colonies.)

Jon had studied his history of humanity in space, and especially humanity's history of warfare. War had brought him to this end. Men had taken the ancient game of chess, had given it three dimensions and a wider variety of pieces and moves and had turned warfare into a game. The basics remained the same. The Command Ship replaced the king, invested with the power to control the pieces on the three-dimensional board of space-time. Destroy the opponents' Command Ship and the battle ends in victory. The only major difference was that men still moved the pieces, but they moved them from the inside, and men died if they were lost.

A large cometary mass had entered the solar system a few years back. Once it had been determined to be of interstellar origin and a genuine scientific find, the Jovan and Lunan governments could not risk hostilities breaking out among competing exploration parties conducting a space race to claim the find in the name of a single government. Even by Jon's standards, the ideal solution would have been to mix crews aboard an international exploration caravan, but the Jovans considered Lunan lighting harsh and distracting, the air too dense and hot. The Lunans considered Jovan gravity preferences unnecessarily stressful and the side effects of the antibiotics necessary to prevent cross-biological contamination too uncomfortable. It took little more than minor grievances to result in a challenge by the Outer System Federation to armed combat, the winner to take possession of the cometary mass, the loser to trust that all findings would be fairly shared by all the nations.

But Jon not only knew the real reason for the challenge, he had anticipated it. It had been six years since the last major confrontation between the two greatest powers in space. Both were eager to probe the developing war technology of the other side.

On Earth, prior to the Holocaust, a growing population had featured relatively few races and cultures in its growing homogeneity, but it had faced the increasing stress of dwindling food and natural resources to be shared by all. Humanity had almost succeeded in creating a paradise on Earth, but it failed abysmally in controlling its own nature. When war broke out, it destroyed everything, but once free in the vastness of space, the process only intensified. As each colony left the ship-building yards of Jupiter or the inner system, a new racial variety of humanity was born, and a new culture. The same reasons for war existed, but also a heightened awareness of its consequence.

Economically, the two major spheres of humanity complemented one another. The colonies among the outer worlds specialized in the mining and processing of the lighter elements. Icebergs of insulated gases, liquids, and solids spiraled constantly down into the inner system. The outer system colonies considered themselves independent, but organized economically and militarily under the leadership of the Jovans, the outer system's largest society orbiting the four major moons of Jupiter.

The colonies of the Inner System Alliance also considered themselves independent, but, again, organized under the leadership of the Lunans, the largest inner-system colony based on Earth's single moon. Given the abundance of free solar energy close in to the sun and the heavier elements mined from Mercury, Luna, and Mars, the Inner System Alliance specialized in heavy construction and manufacturing.

Early in the days of the thriving space colonies, humanity hard learned three important facts and worked quickly to incorporate them usefully into the structure of a burgeoning society. First, a highly technical civilization meant increased specialization and interdependence between its parts. Second, the psychological distance between cultures in space would surpass anything seen on Earth in mankind's history. And, third, as long as man could bunch his hand into a fist, violence as a viable alternative to negotiation would remain too great a temptation to ignore. There would be war, but war would have to be contained. The rules of the wargames had been established by the Ganymede Convention less than two centuries after the Holocaust. Wars would be fought, but civilian populations would not be the target. Each population center understood, regardless of the intensity of their hatred, that their own welfare depended upon the welfare of an integrated whole.

War became a sport. The struggle of opposing warfleets to destroy the Command Ship of the opposition made the wargames the most intensely fascinating and challenging sport man had ever known.

The Outer System Federation voiced the initial challenge over the issue of the interstellar comet and its anomalies. Therefore, the Inner System Alliance had the choice of a defending position. Luna Nation chose Earth as a backdrop to their defensive position, forcing the Jovan forces to attack at a shallow angle across the interference provided by the face of a full-sized planet.

The Jovan fighter squadrons had been brought in by the carrier Saratoga. Jon's squadron had been assigned to defend the battleship Ganymede. The Ganymede engaged early in the apparently suicidal attack upon the Lunan Command Ship Brystol. But the battleship deflected at the last instant, attacking the fortress defending the Brystol. The maneuver forced the Brystol to take evasive action, a move to place more of the mass of the Earth directly behind it in relation to the incoming Jovan forces.

The wargames would have been little more than mass destruction of automated equipment without the deliberately imposed handicap of human-piloted machinery. Because of their human pilots and crews, the Jovans couldn't move directly against the Lunan formations. At velocities of hundreds of kilometers per second, the human body couldn't survive the G forces necessary to pull away from the bulk of the planet lying behind the Lunans. Automated vessels were legal, but limited in firepower. Still, in the excitement of battle, the Lunan forces panicked in the face of the onslaught of the carrier Saratoga barreling in on a full-frontal attack, decelerating engines of over fifty million tons of thrust burning like full-fledged supernovas.

Long before the Saratoga reached maximum deceleration, swarms of fighters fell away from the craft, blossoming outward to attack the flanks of the Lunan fleet on the horizons of Earth, the hurtling Saratoga little more than a weapon of fear, a lightweight shell never intended for combat worthiness. The Brystol had only seconds to analyze the bizarre strategy and respond. As the juggernaut deflected from its suicidal trajectory, skimming the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrating from numerous missile hits, the Brystol moved out of harm's way, directly into the firing trajectory of a Jovan weapons barge that had moved into position during the confusion.

Jon had studied the entire battle and its subtly shifting strategy during the seconds it took to engage, fire, and pass from the scene on his own individual mission. The Brystol should have vanished in a fireball of thermonuclear fury. It somehow survived, the Lunan formation reorganizing for its offense and a tighter defense around its Command Ship. The Jovan forces had incurred high losses in order to accomplish a probable victory. Knowing they would not survive another pass, Jon heard the concession to victory an instant before a random proximity mine detonated a few kilometers away. The blast reduced the underbelly of his Cobra to slag.

His computer had assessed the damage as terminal, blown off the shell of armor and ignited the emergency retrorockets to kill as much of his forward velocity as possible. Regardless, crippled fighters spinning into deep space at several hundred kilometers per second were not prime candidates for immediate rescue in the after battle cleanup.

A pilot in a fighter too heavily damaged to decelerate always had the option of entering a state of suspended animation and be rescued at convenience in the outer system. Jon had slept twice under such circumstances. He would have preferred to sleep again, but captured by the gravitational field of Earth, he had orbited the planet once, sweeping inward to skim tenuous atmosphere. He lost even more orbital velocity. The fighter had skipped once into space and arced back down for a final confrontation with the unknown.

For the first time since the Holocaust, a warfleet violated the rules of the Ganymede Convention. No command ship existed among the fleet to end an armed conflict. Most of the craft appeared to be scientific in nature, a true exploratory caravan, but it included warcraft capable of unacceptable levels of devastation.

Moore listened to the communication between Luna Authority and the Supreme Commander of the Jovan fleet broadcast on an open channel.

"Luna Navigational Control," a heavily accented Jovan voice spoke, "we are assuming a fifteen hundred and sixty kilometer equatorial Earth orbit. We are on a peaceful mission."

Luna Authority responded instantly. "The spirit and the letter of the Ganymede Convention has been violated. Never in the history of the space nations has civilization faced such grave risk of irresponsible catastrophe."

From Silent Galaxy aka Battlefields of Silence by William Tedford (1981)

RocketCat Origin

In the year mumbly-mumble some brilliant but misguided scientists were trying to decrease the cost for humans to access space by reducing human's life support costs. Perhaps inspired by Planets in Peril by Edmond Hamilton, they genetically engineer human beings who can live in the vacuum of space with no protection. The new race, called "Riggers" (from "rigor mortis"), bear a passing resemblance to a skeletal human, abet with some body parts seemingly composed of gristle. In other words, the Dem Bones trope.

You can see where all this is heading.

The misguided scientists are predictably hoisted by their own petard as the Riggers figure there is not enough room in the Solar System for two intelligent races. The Riggers embark on a brutal campaign of human genocide but are defeated since human beings are even nastier.

A hand full of surviving Riggers lurk in obscure areas of the Solar System, occasionally pirating human cargo ships and smelting down the hapless human crews for their component H2O and phosphorus. Or at least the random bits of the crew which remained after the Riggers had feasted on their still-living bodies.

Meanwhile the process of genetically engineering human beings has been made illegal, under penalty of death. Never again.

To help track down the remaining Riggers the TerraCo Military Isolation Lab (Saturn-Sol Lagrange Point 4) created the Beast Master program. This was not very successful, since it is very hard for non-sentient animals to operate effectively when wearing tiny four-legged space suits.

The following program hit pay dirt. The Combat-Critter Program genetically uplifted predator animals who had at least a vague friendship with humans. They would hunt down and terminate Riggers.

The most successful is the new species Spatia Catus, and the meanest of them all is RocketCat.

Of course the scientists engineered a kill-switch in all the uplifted animals. Just in case. But when I mention this to RocketCat, he just ... smiles.

RocketCat stands about average human height, has digitgrade legs and a tail (which is kept along the spine inside a space suit and protrudes out a silly hole in civilian pants). The hands have retractable claws which RocketCat occasionally inlays with monoedge blades capable of slicing flesh to the bone and (eventually) cutting through most armor. Since like all felines the claws are shed, RocketCat only inlays for special occasions (wearing fingerless gloves). The hands are modified to be close to human in order to allow operation of standard human equipment and controls (not to mention weapons). Fangs and teeth, on the other hand, are pretty much standard cat (well, standard for a cat the size of a human at any rate). Catnip has little or no effect, to deny Riggers an easy weapon (but they can smell it a mile away).

His fur color is jet black, as black as the Boötes void.

Spatia Catus' metabolism has been genetically tweaked so it can produce arginine and taurine, unlike conventional cats. Like ordinary cats Spatia Catus favor a high-protein diet (obligate carnivore), which makes it a challenge to use closed ecological life support systems (they can't live on algae). This makes their feces malodorous, hence the aphorism "mean as cat-poop." I'm sure they get real tired of eating compressed bug bars, and at space stations tend to spend more than they should for restaurant meals of real meat. There is also a remarkable absence of rats around any place a Spatia Catus is bunking. The rats that are too stupid to flee at the merest whiff of cat scent will quickly become a midnight snack.

Spatia Catus is hypersensitive to spoiled and rotted food. They can detect the odor long before it becomes strong enough to be smelled by a human. This gives them a reputation for being finicky eaters.

As with standard cats, they have excellent night vision and can see at only one-sixth the light level required for humans. And poor color vision, they have difficulty distinguishing between red and green. They can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs or humans, detecting frequencies from 55 Hz to 79,000 Hz, a range of 10.5 octaves. This includes ultrasound. The hearing is very sensitive being most acute in the range of 500 Hz to 32 kHz. The mobile ears enhance the ability to detect a sound's location. They also have a sense of smell about twice as sensitive as human. Sense of taste is poor, fewer taste buds and they cannot taste sweet things at all.

As with standard cats, they are sensitive to environmental poisons, because their livers are less effective at some forms of detoxification than are humans. This also includes many medications. Some standard human drugs are quite poisonous to Spatia Catus. As is chocolate, poor kitty.

Standard cats raised as pets live in a kind of extended kittenhood (neoteny). They see their owners as a cat mother surrogate. Not Spatia Catus, they are strictly feral, and are not domesticated. At all. If you try to pet one the shock-trauma room might be able to sew your arm back on.

Spatia Catus are not sexually compatible with human beings, for reasons you will discover if you research male feline genitalia (hint: spines, plural). You will then understand why female cats have to be so deep in estrus that they are cross-eyed before they will let a male cat anywhere near them.

RocketCat has been highly trained to detect, track, hunt down, and sanction with extreme prejudice Riggers. He has carefully honed detective skills, is a dead shot with most firearms, and is a master of a peculiar martial art called "Cat-Fu". As most cats RocketCat has inate skills with acrobatics and parkour. He has also been trained in microgravity hand-to-hand combat.

RocketCat's weapon of choice is a 3 cm Campbell Heavy Laser Pistol, though he is fond of Deathwind 20mm Gyrojet pistols with seeker rockets.

RocketCat's odd hobby is astronautics and spacecraft design. As you already know from reading his comments scattered through this website, along with the knowledge that he does not suffer fools gladly and is quite sarcastic. His favorite games are Homeworlds and Ogre.

He travels in a small torchship with a freaking nuclear salt water engine that don't need no steenking Hohman orbits. It also don't need no steenking stealth, you can track a continuously detonating atomic drive from as far away as Proxima Centauri. The spacecraft was constructed at Winchell-Chung Astronautical Industries, of course. He humorously named his ship the Polaris. It has a delta-V of 200 km/s, carries a crew of five hulking RatBot enforcers and is armed with a Casaba Howitzer. Said howitzer has six rounds, each of which can skewer a spacecraft the long way with a spear of nuclear flame. Yes, the astromilitary is not very happy about this being in civilian hands. The ship's armor has a foil-thin core that RocketCat is evasive about, but I suspect it is steel made with muon-iron (roughly 207 times as strong as conventional steel).

The Polaris is run by a sardonic artificially intelligent computer named GAZAK, if HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, then GZK is one ahead of HAL. GAZAK and the RatBots are quite capable of taking care of themselves. The gutters around the starport occasionally contain the mortal remains of idiot punks who thought RocketCat's empty spacescraft would be an easy burglary job. GAZAK also has a hobby of infiltrating the local node of InterPlaNet and hacking into every government, police, megacorporation, and other computer it can access.

And a word to the wise: when RocketCat is in town, do not torture or kill any domestic cats. RocketCat will find out and he takes such things very personally. The police will find your mutilated corpse with every wound and injury inflicted on the kittycat painstakingly recreated on what is left of your body. A fact the police can readily ascertain due to the convenient presence of a reference hologram depicting the poor kittycat victim. Convenient because it is nailed to your skull. Underneath the hologram, your final agonized facial expression has been know to give police and forensic experts nightmares.

Yes, there have been assassination attempts on RocketCat using a cat-kill as bait. Every time the end result is an unharmed RocketCat and all members of the assassin kill-team being found dead and identically mutilated as per above. As well as whoever hired the assassins in the first place.


As previously mentioned, Riggers are genetically engineered humans who can live in airless space, look like animated skeletons, and want to exterminate the human race.

Here is some inspirational material about hostile space skeletons from pulp science viction.

Planets In Peril

     "The other factor that deepens the hopelessness for us is a more tangible and terrifying one. It is the threat of the Cold Ones. That is the name we give to a new and hostile race of intelligent creatures that has appeared in our dying universe.
     "The Cold Ones are unhuman in many respects. They are the product of a disastrous chain of biological events that took place on the frozen planet of a dead star. They have advanced as we retreated, conquering world after world that we abandoned. For they can live in the endless icy darkness of airless worlds, where we would die.
     "Our retreat, and their advance, have now almost reached the fatal climax. Most of our universe is already blacked-out by death, a vast wilderness of ashen bulks that once were stars, and icy spheres that once were smiling worlds. The last millions of us Tarasts now huddle together upon the chill worlds of a few smoldering stars that are not yet completely dead.
     "Now the Cold Ones are reaching toward that dying star-cluster that is our last refuge. Already they have established a base there from which they attack our crowded worlds."

     "Good God, those spaceships are open!" he cried. "They're just fast space-sleds. How can their crews survive in airless space?"
     "The Cold Ones do not need air to breathe," Gerdek said from the breech of the gun he was handling. "Ha—we got that one!"

     The Cold Ones were indeed ghastly figures. Their bodies; were of human size and shape but they were not of; flesh. They were of bone, gleaming, hard white bodies with skull-like heads from which two uncanny eyes looked forth with fixed, unwinking glare. They looked, indeed, horribly like human men changed by some dreadful metamorphosis into ossified creatures.

     He observed his captors more closely. He saw that these Cold Ones were not really skeletal figures, though he had applied that term to them in his rage. The arms, legs and torsos of the creatures were of human shape and size. But they seemed of solid white bone instead of flesh. The blank, bony faces of the skull-like heads were hideously noseless, though they had a mouth opening between hinged jaws.

     Grag abruptly realized that in speaking to one another, the Cold Ones did not move their bony jaws. The fact was that his captors were not really speaking at all, though at first he had thought they were. They were conversing telepathically, and his brain caught their thoughts. These creatures, the robot now perceived, would be wholly unable to communicate were it not for their well-developed telepathic faculty. For they spent most of their lives in airless voids where sound was impossible.

     "Lad, look at these creatures. I never saw anything just like them."
     Curt Newton joined him and examined the shattered bodies with intense interest. He realized at once that these inhuman creatures who could live in an airless void were of a startling new order of creation. The broken white bodies and limbs were composed almost wholly of rigid bone. The only parts not of osseous tissue were elastic, cartilaginous ligaments inside the hollow limbs, and the eyes and brain. The eyes were lenses of transparent cartilage. And the brain exposed by the shattering of one skull-like head was an organ of hard gristle.

     "Only a bunch of cursed nightmares like those Cold Ones could live in such a place. What are the creatures, anyway? They don't breathe, they have no flesh, yet they somehow look human."
     "The human resemblance was very strong in those dead ones I examined," commented the Brain in his rasping voice. "It seemed to me that the creatures might be a strange variant or mutant of ordinary humanity."
     "Your guess is right," Gerdek told him. "The Cold Ones came originally from our own human stock in this universe."
     Captain Future was astonished. "The devil you say! You mean that natural evolution produced such a quasi-human race?"
     "No, it was not natural evolution that produced them," Gerdek answered gloomily. "It was artificial evolution."
     Curt suddenly remembered something. "Now that I think of it, old Igir said something at the Council about the Cold Ones being loosed upon this universe long ago, by the disastrous experiments of a Tarast scientist. Is that what you're talking about?"
     Gerdek nodded. "That was their origin," he said. "It happened thousands of years ago. At that time the Tarast empire still held sway over almost all this universe. But already many of our suns were dying, and we were faced with the shadow of doom that has since become so dreadful. In those days Tarast science was still great. And our greatest scientists sought a means of combating the growing menace of cold and night.
     "One of those scientists was a man named Zuur, native of the world Thool that lies far across the universe from here. The sun of Thool was one of the first to die, and its people were transferred to other planets. But Zuur remained in his laboratories on frozen Thool, seeking a solution to the great problem facing our people. Zuur had a daring plan in mind. He foresaw that almost all our suns would soon be dead, and our planets cold and airless. He wanted to adapt the Tarast race to live under such conditions. His idea was to cause an artificial evolution of our human people into a new race which would be able to live on cold, airless planets.
     "He was an expert in the technique of causing artificial mutations. He used that technique on certain Tarasts who had volunteered for the experiment, and produced thus a radical new mutation of the human stock. The mutants were humans completely fleshless and bloodless, their osseous bodies requiring only a few mineral elements for food. They could exist in airless space because they were not oxygen breathers. Cold meant nothing to them, for their bodies had no blood or liquids to freeze."
     "So that was the origin of the Cold Ones," murmured Captain Future with deep interest.
     "Holy sun-imps, you ought to have murdered that guy Zuur for turning loose such a bunch on you!" Otho exclaimed.
     "Zuur met death at die hands of his own creations," Ger-dek said somberly. "He did not realize what a malign species he had created until they turned and destroyed him. Their minds, like their bodies, were not really human, and they were dominated only by a cold lust for conquest."

     "Zuur wrote:
     " 'My latest attempt to create a new mutant race of humans, to fit the changed conditions of our universe, has been a failure. These new mutants can endure cold and airlessness, as I had hoped. Their osseous bodies require only simple mineral elements for sustenance. They are highly intelligent, too, though their intelligence is of a coldly malignant type. This leads me to think my process changed die human mind or soul, as well as the body.
     " 'But despite their intelligence and capabilities, they are a failure. For though they can endure the most extreme conditions of cold and hardship, they have one hidden weakness in their makeup that would render them vulnerable to extermination by anyone who knew it.
     " 'So I am going to destroy them and try again, in order to develop a different mutant of less malignant type who will not possess this dangerous and vulnerable weakness.' "
     Lacq paused a moment, and then went on earnestly.
     "That is what my ancestor Zuur wrote in his last letter. It was the Cold Ones he was writing about, and whom he meant to destroy. He never did so, however. The Cold Ones must have guessed their creator's intention—for they killed him first. Then they spread out from Thool, increasing in numbers and invading all the universe."

     He read the ancient writing.
     I have decided to destroy the colony of osseous mutant-humans whose development cost me so many years of labor. My hopes have ended in tragic failure. This osseous race which I evolved can never continue man's civilization into the future, as I dreamed. They can withstand the cold and airlessness of our dying universe, it is true. My manipulation of the genes evolved a race capable of that, as I hoped. But their psychology is alien to that of ordinary humanity, and they are so coldly cruel and ruthless that I cannot entrust to them the future of civilization.
     Even if I did so, they would in the future be all destroyed by the vulnerability to inherit them. It is a fatal defect which I entirely overlooked when I planned their evolution. It is a defect which does not harm them in the least, under the present conditions of our dying universe. But it would become lethal to all of them when our universe is reborn, as it will in some future time.
     This fatal defect of the Cold Ones is their susceptibility to ultra-violet vibrations. Ultra-violet rays have a terrific damaging effect upon any living tissues not properly conditioned. Human beings, who evolved long ago when our universe was young and its suns poured forth much ultra-violet radiation, naturally developed protection against that radiation in the form of pigmented skin. This makes humans able to withstand a high degree of ultra-violet without harm.
     But the Cold Ones have not developed protection against such radiation, for they have been evolved in our present dying universe, in which there is almost no such thing. Dying suns like ours emit hardly any ultra-violet rays. So it is natural that the Cold Ones have no protection against such rays, for they do not need such protection now.
     But when our universe is reborn, as it some day will be, then hot young suns will be pouring out floods of the ultra-violet rays. The Cold Ones would have no protection against those fierce rays. The radiation would almost instantly slay them all, shattering their cartilage-brains and riddling their osseous bodies. They would perish.
     So the future of civilization cannot be entrusted to them. And as I have written, their malign and alien natures make that impossible, in any case. Therefore I have decided to destroy them before they try to turn on me and kill me. I shall use ultra-violet rays to exterminate them quickly.

From Planets In Peril by Edmond Hamilton (1942)
Nemydia Deep

     They stood waiting for him, dark silhouettes against a ruddy background. Chayn shifted his vison into the higher regions of the spectrum. They became visible in the microwave spectrum, outlined in a bluish haze. Chayn crouched in shock, paralyzed for a fraction of a second.
     They were human skeletons with eyeless sockets turned to focus on him. The three of them moved swiftly to surround him in the artificial gravity field. They attacked with a strength sufficient to tear metal. Chayn felt hammer blows on his back. He reached out blindly with one forearm and grasped a leg of the nearest machine. He yanked and the machine shattered.
     Robots, sophisticated devices only superficially of human shape. Chayn crushed carbon bone to powder in amazement. He felt and even saw the intense magnetic fields animating the skeleton dissipate. In disgust and horror, Chayn swung both forearms, shattering the remaining two machines. Damaged, they crumbled unmoving to the deck.
     Human technology. It had to be. Nightmarish and terrible, it was the most sophisticated he had ever seen, more than he could have imagined.

     No more than three meters distant, the guard stopped and looked directly at the probe. Chayn looked back into hollow eye sockets. Something glimmered from within those dark orbs. Engineering concessions had been made to the terrifying illusion of a human skull. From close proximity, the Cluster Guardians were a long way from appearing human. They were more insectile, the skeleton an actual exoskeleton housing a complex technology to give the machines their pseudo life of movement and coordination.

     The woman offered a nod of acknowledgment and a ghost of a smile, leading her to a lab where white-smocked technicians clustered around a low operating table. Drills whined as they dissected the remains of one of the black skeletons. Kamor sat on the edge of a counter overlooking the operation. He dropped to the deck and walked around the table to greet Villimy.
     "Jan didn't expect you back. On a scale from one to ten, you've earned an eleven for tenaciousness. Welcome back, Villimy Dy."
     Villimy turned to the room's center of attention. She pushed her way through an open space to gaze upon the length of a broken and inanimate skeleton. The cross-section of a broken bone gave her no idea how the conglomeration of bones could possibly move.
     "That's a machine?" Villimy said to no one in particular.
     "Not the kind with moving parts," one of the technicians offered without bothering to look up from an inspection of the femur connection to the pelvis. "Tendrils of a very dense element in the bone structure serves as a means of intercepting modulated, hyperlight signals. Not tachyon particles. The signal is processed in the skull within a very simple electronic circuit and directed to the bone marrow. Dense magnetic fields form close around the bone structure and manipulate it. The skeletal structure is definitely a human copy. Only the rib cage is superfluous to function, apparently used as a nuclear battery providing long-term power. It's not, strictly speaking, a robot at all, more of a remote-controlled device, a drone."

From Nemydia Deep by William Tedford (1981)
Skeleton Men of Jupiter

     In the very instant that I realized that something was amiss, a score of men surrounded and overpowered me before I could draw and defend myself. A voice cautioned me to silence. It was the voice of the man who had summoned me into this trap. When the others spoke, it was in a language I had never heard before. They spoke in dismal, hollow monotone — expressionless, sepulchral.
     They had thrown me face down upon the pavement and trussed my wrists behind my back. Then they jerked me roughly to my feet. Now, for the first time, I obtained a fairly good sight of my captors. I was appalled. I could not believe my own eyes. These things were not men. They were human skeletons! Black eye sockets looked out from grinning skulls. Bony, skeletal fingers grasped my arms. It seemed to me that I could see every bone in each body. Yet the things were alive! They moved. They spoke.

     The cabin lights were switched on. I was disarmed and my hands were freed. I looked with revulsion, almost with horror, upon the twenty or thirty creatures which surrounded me.
     I saw now that they were not skeletons, though they still closely resembled the naked bones of dead men. Parchmentlike skin was stretched tightly over the bony structure of the skull. There seemed to be neither cartilage nor fat underlying it. What I had thought were hollow eye sockets were deep set brown eyes showing no whites. The skin of the face merged with what should have been gums at the roots of the teeth, which were fully exposed in both jaws, precisely as are the teeth of a naked skull. The nose was but a gaping hole in the center of the face. There were no external ears — only the orifices — nor was there any hair upon any of the exposed parts of their bodies nor upon their heads. The things were even more hideous than the hideous kaldanes of Bantoom — those horrifying spider men into whose toils fell Tara of Helium during that adventure which led her to the country of The Chessmen of Mars; they, at least, had beautiful bodies, even though they were not their own.
     The bodies of my captors harmonized perfectly with their heads — parchmentlike skin covered the bones of their limbs so tightly that it was difficult to convince one's self that it was not true bone that was exposed. And so tightly was this skin drawn over their torsos that every rib and every vertebra stood out in plain and disgusting relief. When they stood directly in front of a bright light, I could see their internal organs.

     "These things are Morgors?" I asked, nodding in the direction of some of the repulsive creatures. U Dan nodded.

From Skeleton Men of Jupiter by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1943)

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