Jan 25, 2020 6:01 AM
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Except it's not Lord Nekros that sits in it.

"Hello," says not-Lord-Nekros, standing and bowing slightly. "Welcome to the Storm's Fury, Prime Minister Admiral Count Vorkosigan. I trust the docking wasn't any trouble?"

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"Just Count Vorkosigan is fine, thank you. It went very well."

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"Excellent, I'm glad to hear it. I'm Lord Callida, it's a pleasure to meet you. I apologize for the inconvenience, but Lord Nekros will not be joining us, as he has been removed from command."

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"Has he."

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She smiles, just a little. She's wearing armor similar to Lord Nekros, though sleeker and with something like robes over it. ... Part of the robes are slightly singed. That might, perhaps, be relevant.

"As such, I'm now in command. Please let me know if we cause any trouble to you or your government, I would rather not start a war with my seven ship fleet."

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"Starting a war with your seven-ship fleet would be inadvisable," he agrees. "Pleased to meet you, Lord Callida. I hope we will have a productive conversation."

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"As do I. I believe we have a lot to offer each other." She sits.

"Now, the forefront of things I'm willing to share is medical technology, but I don't know what baseline I'm comparing mine to."

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"I'd be happy to have my people prepare a report on the subject," he says, taking a seat in an appropriate sitting location. "It shouldn't take long. May I comm my ship for the purpose?"

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"Certainly. I have no problem with you communicating with your ship, or recording these talks and transmitting them for review, in good faith."

She doesn't sense hostility from him, so - she'll be happy to cooperate, why wouldn't she? She would like allies in this strange new galaxy they're stranded in.

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His intentions are extremely straightforward and cooperative, yes.

He sends a brief message to the Prince Serg directing that someone write up a report summarizing the state of galactic medical technology and communicate it to the Storm's Fury. His people answer back that it should take them about ten minutes.

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Excellent. Count Vorkosigan may have a datapad with a similar report of the state of the current technology they have available, and the technology they have schematics but not equipment for.

A main part of their medical tech relies on a substance called kolto, and it's not hard to see why. It rapidly speeds up healing, not only healing quickly but healing correctly. If a kolto patch is slapped onto a gaping wound it will do more than stop the bleeding; it'll heal significantly faster, and unless the damage is very severe, without scarring. Those with large injuries can be submerged in a tank filled with kolto solution and have been brought back from near death with little trouble at all. Unfortunately, they have a highly limited supply, as the only known source of kolto is in the galaxy they can't get back to.

They have a similar but less effective substance called bacta that's synthetically created, but they don't have the resources to do it readily available. It's a complicated chemical refinement process that requires a lot of resource investment, and is often not quite worth the investment to make. In their home galaxy, there is a species called the Vratix that excretes a substance that is much easier to refine into bacta than the original chemical ingredients. The species actually is responsible for inventing bacta, and are the main sellers for the medical substance. Unfortunately, the fleet has no genetic samples of Vratix, nor any on board in their fleet; they tend to keep to their home planet, since selling bacta is so lucrative, and they therefore have little reason to leave.

Both are absolutely phenomenal at dealing with most diseases, killing the disease itself and bolstering the immune system of the patient. Less fantastically, here are their antibiotics and vaccines and perfectly ordinary immune system boosters. They have diseases, but with only some exception they seem to be pretty in hand, if properly treated with available medical technology. The ones that aren't in hand are the ones that do very bizarre things, like turning people into mindless, murderous, zombie-like monsters known as rakghouls.

When the damage is too great, or medical assistance comes too slow to prevent damage caused by the body attempting to heal incorrectly, they have various cybernetic enhancements. The cybernetic enhancements are quite good; improved vision, hearing, various functions in combat, and most expensively, prosthetic organs and limbs. The report warns that they're not a universal benefit, however - having cybernetics can open one to various weaknesses, especially associated with electricity, and certain types of specialized weapons.

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While Count Vorkosigan is reading the datapad, his people's report arrives.

Medical technology in the wormhole nexus is... ahead of the medical technology Lord Callida is used to on a number of levels, but both sides could benefit from sharing their specialized knowledge and resources.

The wormhole nexus does not have kolto or bacta, but they do have the ability to clone and grow individual replacements for damaged organs. Also, cryo-freezing technology that, when properly applied, can allow someone who would otherwise die to be preserved and revived later. This technology is not without its flaws - symptoms of cryorevival commonly include memory loss - and not all cryo patients can currently have their underlying problem fixed well enough for revival to be viable, but it's very useful to have around.

Local cybernetics differ hugely from the ones described in the datapad on nearly every conceivable level. Drawbacks, benefits, expenses, which specific enhancements are available... everything. In most cases it's cheaper to have a new organ grown than to replace it with a cybernetic; limbs are a different story, being harder to grow in a vat. Bones are a big part of the problem there, and in fact under some conditions you end up just replacing the bone and leaving the rest of the limb where it is.

Local antibiotics and vaccines are specialized to local diseases, which seem to be generally way less terrifying than rakghouls unless you piss off the wrong Cetagandan. In the absence of biological warfare, though, diseases and their cures around here are on a level with the non-bizarre ordinary illnesses in the Sith fleet's home galaxy.

Count Vorkosigan reaches the end of the explanation of kolto and bacta. He gazes contemplatively at the datapad for a moment, then looks up. "It seems very plausible to me that the technology of this galaxy would be able to duplicate kolto, given enough samples to study. Not guaranteed, but plausible. And if that's true, your small and finite supply of kolto becomes a galaxy-wide medical revolution. This seems... useful, to put it mildly."

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"Agreed. I'd quite like to look into it."

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"The manufacturing process for bacta would also be useful, but I don't currently expect us to have any better luck with it than anyone else who's not a Vratix. I could be pleasantly surprised, of course, but that so rarely happens."

He pauses thoughtfully, then adds, "If you went to the Cetagandan Empire with this, they might be able to pull off some kind of bioengineering miracle and get bacta production going on a grand scale. But I wouldn't recommend it. They tend toward opportunistic conquests of anyone they think they can easily overpower. Barrayar tried that once, it didn't work out, and we haven't made the mistake of trying again; with Cetaganda it's a longstanding pattern."

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Well you see, going to the Cetagandan Empire is not an option because our hyperdrives no longer function, she doesn't say, because she is going to make sure her people are well taken care of before she lets on that their most valuable technology doesn't work at all.

She nods agreeably. "I think I don't like my odds of seven ships against an empire," says Callida, dry. "Nor do I like the Cetagandan's history of conquest."

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"There are other places you could go, but Barrayar does have the advantage of being most conveniently nearby. So."

He pauses again, ordering his thoughts.

"I think," he says slowly, "that in your place, I would be thinking very hard about just how likely it is that I can ever go home again. I don't know your exact situation, but you haven't left yet, which suggests to me that either you don't want to, or you can't. Now, if your fleet is completely self-sufficient for an indefinite period of time spent orbiting a lifeless rock in someone else's system, then it would be fair for me to offer you a deal for the kolto samples such as I might offer to a company based in a nearby station. If, on the other hand, your needs are greater... it follows that I should be offering greater solutions."

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... Interesting. And he means that, too.

"We haven't yet been able to replicate the phenomenon that brought us into this galaxy, and do not expect to be able to do so in the near future," she says carefully. "We are not completely self-sufficient, though it's not outside the realm of possibility that we could become such, with the right infrastructure and time. What greater solutions are you willing to offer?"

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"There are a number of options available to me. On my personal authority as Count Vorkosigan, I could offer you and your entire fleet citizenship in the Barrayaran Empire as immigrants to my own District, although I would not be able to personally employ any of you in a military capacity because private armies are forbidden by law. I could ask the Emperor to do the same on his authority, and I judge it likely that he would, in which case you could find yourself at the head of a new seven-ship Imperial fleet if that option struck your fancy."

He pauses to see what she thinks of these ideas before he goes on.

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She seems - not vehemently against, at least, but she's not leaping upon the opportunity immediately or looking particularly excited by the prospect. But she is not expecting this will be the only option available to her, so she's waiting for him to continue.

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"If the production of kolto works out well, the proceeds would easily cover the purchase of individual commercial jumpship tickets for any or all of your personnel who wished to immigrate to any planet or station in the wormhole nexus, plus assistance navigating relevant bureaucracy. Some places are of course more open to immigration than others, and I control none but my own. You could take your fleet to the planet of Jackson's Whole and claim a place in its hierarchy of criminal enterprises - I judge that you easily possess enough force to compete with the lesser houses - but there would be a reputational cost in your dealings with any other planet, and significantly more danger there than elsewhere of someone deciding to attack you in pursuit of your resources."

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Lord Callida considers these options.

"How does Jackson's Whole compare to outfitting my fleet to be self sufficient and then parking in some out of the way part of the nexus?"

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"The risks of each option are... different. On Jackson's Whole, by long-established custom, military and financial power is its own authority. If you successfully defended yourself against the other Houses, they would accept you as one of their own and even potentially defend you against outside attacks, if it seemed in their interest to do so. But you would have to defend yourself. On the other hand, if you set yourself up as an independent station in some unclaimed corner, it is possible that no one would bother you at all; but if someone did, they would almost certainly be operating on a far vaster scale than you, and you might find defense... prohibitively difficult."

Another pause, thinking through the situation some more.

"Location would be very important, if you chose the 'independent station' approach. And depending on your existing level of self-sufficiency and manufacturing capabilities, it could be anywhere from only a little expensive to very expensive indeed, to reach the point of true sustainability. I can have a map of the wormhole nexus sent over, but to summarize what I think would be your best options: If you asked to be an independent protectorate of the Barrayaran Empire, operating out of your own station in Barrayaran-controlled space, you would have to bend to our laws but the imposition would be much less than if you chose to fully integrate into our society. If you went to another government somewhere in the wormhole nexus and did the same... my first suggestion would be Beta Colony. They easily have the resources to defend you from outside attacks, and I can imagine they would be eager to get their hands on the technology you can offer. My best guess is that they would deal fairly with you. But I suspect you would retain less independence as a Betan protectorate than a Barrayaran one. You're free to interpret that as my own bias in favour of my homeland, of course."

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Callida tilts her head slightly and studies him.

"... I think I will not interpret it as bias," she decides, softly. "You're being quite honest with me, aren't you?"

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"That is my intent," he agrees.

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"Thank you," says Lord Callida, utterly sincere.

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