Haz Beans

Neither somewhere you can visit, nor even somewhere you can see up close – it being found deep within a restricted system – it would nonetheless be remiss to omit Ómílarith, the 14th moonlet of the gas giant Bunker (Arvael IV), in the Palaxias (Imperial Core) system.

It should be obvious from the massive docking facilities built into the moonlet’s northern pole and the radiator structures of its southern tip that it has long been converted to military purposes, as has much of the Palaxias System, but Ómílarith, unlike much of the Bunker sub-system, has not been converted for gas mining, nor for antimatter storage, and nor is it a simple warehouse like the structures that surround Depot (Arvael III) with a set of metallic rings.

It is, however, a cryonic storage facility, and one dedicated to a single good.

Bioweapons? No.

Milspec bodies? No.

Pharmaceuticals? No.

Ómílarith is home to the miles and miles of tunnels lined with cryocels, each holding in perfect preservation one more ton of the seed, the fruit-pip, of the Esklavea sendaren plant.

It is, after all, well-established that the Imperial Navy runs on esklav to a far greater extent that it does on deuterium, antimatter, or even paperwork. No-one is entirely certain what would happen should the beverage cease to flow – whether the Empire’s military operations would simply grind to a grouchy halt, or contrariwise, whether the Navy would sweep through known space like an angry, migrainous wildfire – but even fewer are willing to take the chance of finding out.

Against such mischance, the Imperial Strategic Bean Reserve stands ready.

– Around the Worlds on ¤1,000 per Sol

Selectivity

The Habtech’s Peace referred originally to an agreement brokered between the various mercenary companies engaged on each side during the months of drift-habitat fighting that characterized the latter phase of the Black Web War, and continues to refer to similar agreements (again, usually between mercenary groups) up to the present day.

Under a Habtech’s Peace, all combatants engaged in extended combat operations aboard a drift-habitat or other hostile-environment shelter agree to

  • refrain from using control over or sabotage of structural, main power, thermal control, life support, attitude control, or orbital maneuvering systems as a weapon of war;
  • refrain from conducting operations in such a way as to impair the operation, repair, or maintenance of these systems, or in a manner that places key elements of them at risk;
  • permit the passage of identified habitat technicians through and between the combat zone and occupied areas as necessary, without let or hindrance;
  • refrain from making use of identified habitat technicians as agents of sabotage or espionage;
  • actively refuse any offers of intelligence from identified habitat technicians;
  • and so forth.

The purpose of such an agreement should be obvious: operations in such environments offer all too many scenarios in which all sides of the conflict lose, in the destruction of the asset over which they are fighting and/or a mass-death event which destroys or renders combat-incapable both sides. Death for death’s sake is in no-one’s interest.

While combatants often cut a course very close to the line, a Habtech’s Peace is rarely violated, and in such cases mercenaries and mercenary-support organizations adherent to the Iron Concord will often join forces to punish the offender. (It is widely believed that the lack of participation of polity forces in these arrangements is due to the lack of ability – in most cases – to punish defectors.)

– from an article in Blood Cheques and Bullets, 7282Q1 issue

Give Way

“Okay, let’s go over how the traffic priority controls work. You can up-priority by paying a small fee, with a promise to pay more if your higher priority becomes relevant. The fee goes to us, the later charges to every vehicle that’s inconvenienced by yours. Or you can down-priority, which is free, but nets you a small payment every time the road-grid can pick you to ‘lose’ rather than another vehicle.

“But people don’t understand how the vehicle priority algorithm works underneath.

“It doesn’t affect vehicle speed, or routing, or any such. We can’t run vehicles efficiently at multiple speeds over the same roads, after all. No, what the traffic priority setting does is affect the way the road-grid handles resource-contention decisions where two vehicles require the same resource – odoblock, say – simultaneously, and resolving this deadlock require that one vehicle be selected to ‘lose’, which we define as a set of parameters including increased travel time, increased travel cost, vector changes outside the passenger comfort envelope, user preference deviations, and so forth. In those cases, the lowest priority ‘loses’, and where multiple vehicles share the same priority, a random function decides the loser.

“That’s a simplification, but it’s close enough to true. It’s most visible with emergency response vehicles, which naturally have a hard-coded top priority, but if you carefully study the patterns of traffic around some other vehicles over time, you can see the algorithm at work. Sleeper cars and fragile cargoes, for example, have their comfort envelopes weighted higher so other vehicles ‘lose’ to them when a maneuver is required. Bulk freight without deadlines is usually deprioritized for the potential savings, so statistically speaking, robotrucks ‘lose’ more than regular traffic.

“So why do people think that these don’t do anything?

“Well, how often do you think the road-grid system needs to make resource-contention decisions?”

– Eimil Murianos, odocorp engineer, IBC live interview

They Also Sell Anti-Shame Drugs

ATTENTION, SHOPPERS!

CUSTOMER CONFIDENTIALITY IS NOT GUARANTEED
BUT MAY BE PURCHASED AS A RANGE OF AFFORDABLE OPTIONS

Hush (Ex. 16)
No-one will be told that you were here, but your information will be retained in my records.

Shopper? I Hardly Know Her! (ExV. 256)
I will forget that you were here, and identifying information will be removed from my ledger; the purchase will be attributed to “Some One”. Your presence will also be deleted from security footage et al. Warning: control of your presence information with regard to infrastructure not owned by me is outside the scope of this option.

Passing Without Trace (ExV. 384)
As above, except that both identifying information and the item(s) in question will be removed from my ledger; the purchase will be listed as “Some One bought Some Thing”. To maintain ledger consistency, the identity of the items will also be removed from their record of purchase.

Concealing The Backtrail (ExV. 512)
As above, except that the identity of the supplier(s) of the item(s) will also be removed from the record of purchase.

As an extra-cost option to the above, I will also undertake to contact my supply chain for these items and purchase similar confidentiality services on your behalf. Pricing for such additional services will begin at cost plus ExV. 128 for the first hop (per item), with the per item charge doubling for each additional hop. Undertaking to purchase such confidentiality services does not imply that such services are or will be available, or that they are or will be effective; no warranty is implied.

SPECIAL OPTION: AUTOCONFIDENTIALITY

That’s Not Mine, Officer (ExV. 128)
Your purchase of these item(s) will be redacted from your memory and transaction records will be anonymized. (Custom inoffensive false-purchase records can be added as an extra-cost option. Memories not included.)

I Was Never Here (ExV. 256)
Your purchase of these item(s) and your presence here surrounding this transaction will be redacted from your memory. (Custom inoffensive false-purchase and false-supplier records can be added as an extra-cost option. Memories not included.)

A 12% discount applies if this option is purchased in combination with “Shopper? I Hardly Know Her!” or any of the options above which include it.

Induced Startup Dysphoria

Most bionic implants are designed to be controlled by simple mental commands in the same way as natural body parts; originally by painstaking training of the sensory and motor cortices to recognize the device and its functions, and in more recent times by engraving neuralware device drivers into the augmentee’s neural net. Either technique permits the use of an implanted device to be as easy and unconscious as flexing a muscle, rather than requiring the clumsy use of mnemonic sequences, narrative command phrases, or entoptic interfaces.

The problem with this, on the other hand, is that it bypasses the brain’s normal learning-to-mastery sequence, and until one is accustomed to the operation and functionality of such a device, it really shouldn’t be quite so easy and unconscious to use. That twitchy reflex that causes you to drop your drink and knock over your chair is merely a cause for mild embarrassment, whereas that twitchy reflex that causes you to pop off a cluster of micro-missiles and burn down the bar with your laser eyes is a cause for significantly more embarrassment, not to mention substantial liability and criminal charges.

Thus, induced startup dysphoria. This piece of neuralware exists to partially counter the effect of the neuralware drivers and make the implant feel unnatural and/or uncomfortable – to a mild degree, and continuously diminishing on a curve – for an appropriate acclimation period (usually defined in terms of a number of activation cycles) – in a manner which deters the brain from incorporating it into reflexive or non-deliberative-cognition-based actions until the augmentee has had the opportunity to properly internalize its functions. Mayhem beyond this point can safely be assumed to be intentional.

(Often, less scrupulous augmenteries in the black and red market segments omit the provision of an ISD module. It is unknown how many unintentional firefights this practice has started, but since many of these augmenteries leave the client’s new implant disabled until they have left the back office, it seems certain that they’re aware of the issue. As in every other business, you get what you pay for.)

– Augmentery’s Almanac

Parallelism

It’s about divergences in computer technology —

Or in other words, some conversations elsewhere have made it evident that it would be useful to have some of these things out here for discussion, and since this is going to involve comparisons to Earthling ways of doing things, it’s going to be a worldbuilding article rather than an in-universe one.

Some of this has been implied previously – for those of you who remember the little piece I wrote on programming languages in particular, in the opening phrase “The typical computer in use in the modern Empire remains the parallel array of binary-encoded Stannic-complete processors that has been in use since the days of the first settled Stannic cogitator architecture”.

So what does that actually mean?

Well, it means that while the individual elements of computation would be familiar to us – if you are reading this, you are almost certain to be doing so on something describable as a binary-encoded Stannic-complete processor – how they were arranged took a sharp left turn way back in the day.

Most of our computing is fundamentally serial. We may have fancy multicore processors these days, but we’re still pretty much scratching the surface or real parallelism; most systems are still operating in a serial paradigm in which you work on one task, switch to another, work on that, etc., etc. If you write a complex, multithreaded program, it may look like things are happening in parallel, but most of the time, they won’t be.

For various reasons – which may have something to do with the relative ease of adding power to the old brass-and-steam Stannic cogitators by adding more processor modules vis-à-vis trying to get faster reciprocation and higher steam pressures without exploding; or it may have something to do with older forms of computation involving hiring a bunch of smart lads and lasses from the Guild of Numbers and arranging them in a Chinese room; or… – once they got into the electronic (and spintronic, and optronic) era instead of trying to make faster and faster serial processors¹, designers concentrated on making processors – with onboard fast memory and communications links – that could be stacked up, networked, and parallelized really well, complete with dedicated hardware and microcode to manage interprocessor links.

(You could look at something like Inmos’s Transputer as similar to early examples of this.)

Open up an Imperial computer, you’ll find a neat little stack of processor modules meshed together, working away on things in parallel and passing messages back and forth to stay coordinated. In modern designs, they share access to a big block of “slow memory”, possibly via one or more partially-shared caches, just like here‘s multicore processors do, but that doesn’t change the fundamentals of the parallel design.

And this architecture doesn’t change with scale, either. From the tiniest grain-of-rice picoframe found in any living object (three processing cores for redundancy, maybe even only one in the tiniest disposables) to the somewhere-between-building-and-city-sized megaframes running planetary management applications, they’re all built out of massively parallel networks of simple processing modules.

[Digression: this is also where the gentle art of computational origami comes into play. In the magical world in which the speed of light, bandwidth, and information density are conveniently infinite, you could fully mesh all your processing modules and everything would be wonderful. In the real world in which light is a sluggard and bit must be it, you can only have and handle so many short-range communications links – and so computational origami teaches you how to arrange your processing modules in optimally sized and structured networks, then stack them together in endless fractal layers for best throughput. More importantly, it teaches the processors how to manage this environment.]

[Second digression: having spent a lot of time and effort producing simple, networkable processor cores, this also rewrote a lot of how peripheral devices worked – because why would you waste a lot of time fabbing specialized silicon for disk controllers, or GPUs, or floating-point units, or whatever, when you could simply throw some processing cores in there with some “firmware” – for which read “software flagged as tied to hardware feature flag foo, instance bar” – and get to the same place?

So, for example, when you think “printer”, don’t think “dumb hardware operated by a device driver”. Think “processor that knows how to draw on paper; all I have to do is send it a picture”. Pretty much every peripheral device you can think of is implemented in this way.]

This has also had rather a profound effect on how everything built on top of it works. I spent quite some time discussing how programming languages worked, along with MetaLanguage (the bytecode that these processors have more or less standardized on speaking) in the above-linked post, but you may note:

Polychora: a general-purpose, multi-paradigm programming language designed to support object-, aspect-, concurrency-, channel-, ‘weave-, contract- and actor-oriented programming across shared-memory, mesh-based, and pervasively networked parallel-processing systems.

…because once you grow to the size – and it doesn’t take much size – at which programming your parallel arrays in relatively low-level languages similar to Occam begins to pall, you start getting very interested in paradigms like object/aspect/actor programming that can handle a lot of the fun of massively parallel systems for you. This has shaped a lot of how environments have developed, and all the above language environments include compilers that are more than happy to distribute your solution for you unless you’ve worked hard to be egregiously out-of-paradigm.

And the whys and hows of WeaveControl, and the Living Object Protocol.

This has also, obviously, made distributed computing a lot more popular a lot more rapidly, because having been built for parallel operation anyway, farming out processing to remote nodes isn’t all that more complicated, be they your remote nodes, or hired remote nodes, or just the cycle spot market. Operating systems for these systems have already developed, to stretch a mite, a certain Kubernetes-like quality of “describe for me the service you want, and I’ll take care of the details of how to spin it up”.

In accordance with configurable policy, of course, but except in special cases, people don’t care much more about which modules are allocated to do the thing any more than they care about which neurons are allocated to catch the ball. In the modern, mature computing environment, it has long since become something safely left to the extremely reliable optronic equivalent of the cerebellum and brainstem.


Now as for how this relates to, going back to some of the original conversations, starships and AI:

Well, obviously for one, there isn’t a single computer core, or even several explicitly-designed-as-redundant-nodes computer cores. There are computers all over the ship, from microcontrollers running individual pieces of equipment up – and while this probably does include a few engineering spaces labeled “data center” and stacked floor to ceiling with nanocircs (and backing store devices), the ship’s intelligence isn’t localized to any one of them, or couple of them. It’s everywhere.

If your plan to disable the ship involves a physical attack on the shipmind, you’ve got a lot of computing hardware to hunt down, including everything from the microcontrollers that water the potted plants on G deck to the chief engineer’s slipstick. You have fun with that. Briefly.

As for AI – well, digisapiences and thinkers operate on the same society-of-mind structure that other minds do, as described here. When this interrelates with the structure of parallel, distributed computing, you can assume that while they are one data-structure identity-wise, the processing of an AI is organized such that every part of the psyche, agent, talent, personality, subpersonality, talent, mental model, daimon, etc., etc., etc., is a process wrapped up in its own little pod, off running… somewhere in what looks like a unified cognitive/computational space, but is actually an arbitrary number of processing cores distributed wherever policy permits them to be put.

(If you choose to look down that far, but outwith special circumstances, this is like a biosapience poking around their brain trying to find out exactly which cells that particular thought is located in.

Said policy usually mandates some degree of locality for core functions, inasmuch as light-lag induced mind-lag is an unpleasant dissociative feeling of stupidity that folk prefer not to experience, but in practice this non-locality manifests itself as things like “Our departure will be delayed for 0.46 seconds while the remainder of my mind boards, Captain.” Not a big deal, especially since even protein intelligences don’t keep their whole minds in the same place these days. They wouldn’t fit, for one thing.)

But suffice it to say, when the avatar interface tells you that she is the ship, she ain’t just being metaphorical.


  1. Well, sort of. It’s not like hardware engineers and semiconductor fabs were any less obsessed with making smaller, faster, better, etc. processors than they were here, but they were doing so within a parallel paradigm. “Two-point-four-billion stacked-mesh processing cores in a nanocirc the size of your pinky nail!”, that sort of thing.

The Glittering Web

Red-Gold Routes:Red-Gold Route, taking its name from the common practice of coloring the territorial volume of the Empire gold, or gold-bordered, and that of their satrapies and client states shades of red on political maps is, in definition, a long-distance route used by the the Imperial Merchant Navy in which all the ports of call are in Imperial territories, clients, or trade stations. This emphasizes not only the usefulness of the route as a means of connecting the Imperial metropole with the greater galactic empire, but also the strategic security of being able to connect (and travel between) distant possessions without having to rely on making stops in, or passing through the sovereign territory of, another polity. The definitive description of the Red-Gold Routes and their status is to be found in the navigational charts and rutters published by the Imperial Post-Courier Star Packet Company, ICC.

A similar term, the Red-Gold Beam, refers to the dataweave communications routes that allow packets to reach their destinations without ever transiting non-Imperial segments of the extranet (an option for which can be set in the routing headers). The communication lasers themselves, naturally, are frequency-multiplexed and are in any case invisible from off-axis.

See also: arterial; Far Star Station; Golden Band; Golden Interstar; Spice Way Program.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Thematics: Delicious Ideals

Herewith some thoughts on thematics, inspired by today’s quest for matcha-flavored Pocky, a fine and delicious product of the Ezaki Glico Company, Limited.

I observe, on their corporate web site, the slogan “Pocky is about sharing happiness and bringing people together.”

And I observe introspectively just how very much I want to believe that in an entirely unironic fashion.

That when you look at the multinational candy industry, and scrape away the layers of issues caused by terrible legal and regulatory environments, and dipshits who practice clichéd dark-side capitalism, and dipshits who accuse everything of being clichéd dark-side capitalism, and get right down to the core of things, the Founder, CEO, and Etc., really did start out as a small boy who grew up with a dream of being Willy Wonka and bringing truly awesome chocolate to the world, and held hard to that.

[And, y’know, apply liberally and literally across all other industries. I’m not just talking about chocolate, obviously.]

How is this about thematics, I hear you cry?

Because this is the universe where – because the people thereabouts take ideas seriously, and thus take ideals seriously – such quaint notions are literally true.

(And where bitter postmodern cynics will be beaten with delicious chocolate-coated biscuit sticks until they give in and acknowledge that actually, they do spread happiness after all.)

Infrared Emission, Too

warmbody: a career that exists in certain “economically quirky” parts of the emerging markets, the warmbody – also sometimes known by the unusual sobriquet “rent-a-squishie” – reflecting an unwillingness to accept the realities of industrial magic and need to preserve “traditional” employment at all costs.

From the corporate perspective, warmbodies serve to pad payrolls, generate the appearance of activity, and most importantly, are living permission slips to do business in polities in the grip of labor-cults.

The actual functions of the warmbody vary widely in accordance with the nexus of corporate policy, regulatory environment, and individual characters involved. At its best, it can function as a form of subsidized training, preparing people for meaningful careers elsewhere in the business, or working as independent associates.

At its worst, by contrast, it constitutes an elaborate shell game in which corporate pretends extremely hard that its workforce is doing something of use – and are not being kept carefully away from anything that might impinge on actual operations – while said workforce hopefully pretends not to notice.

(These arrangements rarely last for long in those circumstances in which they’re unwilling to go along with the pretence.)

But for the most part, it just works out to be a Universal Tedium, in which boredom is inefficiently exchanged for resources. Since it is usually considered important that the public not be aware of the nature of such arrangements, warmbodies do acquire a skillset of some note in fields such as paper-shuffling, beverage-fetching, wall-propping, stealth gaming, and the tactical deployment of bullshit – applicable across a wide range of industries.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Blood Included

A phenomenon ever worthy of note is how much the overall culture of the Worlds has been shaped less by the direct influence of the Great Powers, or indeed by their cultures in themselves, but rather by misunderstandings of those cultures, in which others grasp the surface forms but not the essence behind them, or the ameliorating factors less visible in society, and not at all in the simplified forms of it depicted in popular culture.

Consider, for one example, the curious institution of the Harúnet heartbreaker.

The freesoil world Harúnet (Promegi Matrix) came to be dominated by noble clans (of unspoken offworld origin) impressed by, and seeking to imitate, not the actuality of Imperial culture, but rather an impression of it they had gained primarily from adventuring parties of young-bloods travelling the Worlds in the early existence of the Accord. The culture this gave rise to, therefore, reflected precisely the funhouse-mirror image one might imagine: hedonistic young noblemen and women filled with vainglory and arrogance, melodramatic, ever-touchy with regard to their honor and any slight to it, and obsessed with their renown and the value of their word above all.

Thus, the heartbreaker. To a Harúnet don, their word is unquestionable and beyond price, and their life the only possible surety for their word. A don who must pledge his word, therefore, offers his heart as surety for it in the most literal of senses, and one who needs must offer some great expiation, or back a gamble otherwise unsecured will make that same pledge. Should that surety be called for, the don will call upon his heartbreaker – typically a sibling or favored cousin – to publicly cut out his heart as payment of the debt. (This is intended to be lethal, and while those who cheat death in various ways are, in law, merely nonpersons on Harúnet thereafter, such wights often find themselves pursued across the World by cousins of the clan seeking to expunge the shade thus cast on the family’s reputation.)

Of course, outside the noble classes and especially where outworlders are concerned, not all may understand the importance of such a pledge made to any of the dons of Harúnet. Thus, a second, less reputable type of heartbreaker has come into existence, one who combines their ritual function with the duties of a skip tracer; to wit, hunting down the forsworn wheresoever they may flee, and collecting their patrons’ owed pound or two of flesh.

– The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Imitiative Sophontologies of the Old Worlds

Things to See, Places to Go (12)

“Planetary law on Harúnet (Promegi Matrix) states that anything (or more accurately, any rights to anything) can be gambled there, and that all bets must be paid off, and all markers exchanged, before leaving planetary jurisdiction.

“Conveniently, a number of orbital habitats in Harúnet’s libration points specialize in providing asylum, at extortionate rates, to those whose legislatures of domicile frown on either winning or losing unmentionable favors, illegal goods and services, state secrets, sovereignty, organs, memories, identities, indentures, lives, relationships, dependents, major local landmarks or cultural treasures, and/or inhabited planets.

“This guide strongly recommends not indulging in the complimentary drinks.”

– Around the Worlds on ¤1,000 per Sol

Lunch Is On Me

Séralámíya-class littoral restaurant ship

Builders:

(original) Ethring Iron and Steam Works
(refit) Captal Daëntry Naval District

Displacement: 41,000 long tons

Length: 272 m
Beam: 34 m
Draft: 6.18 m (full load)

Propulsion:

  • 8 x Empire Nucleonics, ICC “Kirchev’s Cauldron” nucleonic boilers, driving
  • 8 x Blackstone Industries, ICC turbogenerators
  • 4×4 Hammerforge Tool Company, ICC heavy shaft drive motors

Speed: 32 knots
Range: Unlimited (6 year refueling interval)

Complement: 2,800 (including chefs and longshoremen)

Armament (Secondary):

  • 4 x 6″ Imperial Navy Type Three dual-purpose gun; single turrets
  • 12 x twin 24 mm Black Sky anti-air defense guns

Armor:

  • Belt: 6″ heavy steel plate
  • Deck: 3″ heavy steel plate

A product of the late Third Oceanic Dominance, the Séralámíya-class littoral restaurant ship – or rather, the unique example of such – was a product of the conditions of the island-hopping eastern theater, in which the Imperial Military Service found itself liberating or accepting the surrender of a number of island polities whose infrastructure had been depleted by war to the point at which starvation was setting in, necessitating relief efforts trailing only a short distance behind the front proper.

Modified from one of the then-aging Affíëtelír-class flush-deck carriers (then in the process of being replaced by the new Stormfall-class island-superstructure carriers), Séralámíya maintained the fundamental structure of the Affíëtelír, but replaces its aviation facilities. While the aft end of the flight deck was retained as such to support a small number of light cargo tiltrotors (carried on deck), the forward flight deck was converted into an open area (which could be rigged with a canvas cover in inclement weather), designed to be readily secured from the rest of the ship and with protected access routes from reserved gangways to shore. This was intended to serve as a safe dining area for civilians when suitable areas ashore were unavailable.

Meanwhile, to serve both this and back up shore facilities, the forward end of the main (upper) hangar deck was converted into extensive kitchens and other food preparation areas, while the majority of this deck was given over to food storage including a large refrigerated section. The secondary (lower) hangar deck, including its workshops and aviation fuel tanks, were converted into more food storage, but in their case with the addition of large cargo doors on each side of the ship at bow and stern. At the bow, these doors were intended to permit rapid “roll-off” deployment of self-propelled field kitchens to serve areas remote from the coast, and delivery of stored food to them using carried vehicles; at the stern, to permit the ship’s stores to be replenished from colliers without interrupting other operations.

While a rapidly constructed and in many ways clumsy compromise design, Séralámiya served throughout the later stages of the war and undoubtedly prevented many civilian death due to hunger. Following the Third Ocean Dominance, Séralámíya herself was decommissioned, ultimately to be replaced by a specialized class of littoral restaurant ships (the Galramíya-class, designed as a joint project with the Emergency Management Authority for disaster relief) based on the lessons learned from her design, of which the second carried forward her name.

Tempus Fugit

So, here we are at the end of September, and I’ve written all of one thing in the past month. Depression, unseemly heat, and a server deciding to take up an exciting new career as a brick have combined to do a real number on my creativity.

Thank you all for bearing with me through these times of crisis and literary drought. Hopefully October will suck slightly less. Or maybe COVID will come back strong and kill us all. Either way.

In the meantime, here’s one of those little fine distinctions that creeps its way into spacer slang:

topside: In a starship context, on the hull. (An EVA topside is thus distinguished from an EVA outside, which implies leaving the immediate vicinity of the ship.)

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Some Professions

copperhead: In ancient times, an unskilled laborer who would work for a traditional rate of a selenis (a copper coin) per hour, doing anything, so long as the coin was paid up front. In the modern era, slang for casual contract labor.

My grandfather was a contract barker in Lodendar’s Gyre of Commerce, bringing in copperheads and running jobs for the Towers merchancy. He built his business on reliability and competence, delivering it upchain and keeping ledgers downchain so he could shine his best workers. My father, too, path-pointed labor contracts across all of Mossstone. So you could say that we’ve always been in the same trade.

Faleran Rysakar, CEO, in the Service Gate, ICC, corporate history

dirt farmer: One who produces soil from regolith on worlds undergoing ecopoesis where there is no existing soil, such as eutalentic worlds, or who produces soil for habitat use from asteroid regolith; skilled, technical labor that takes a great deal of patience through physical and chemical processing, followed by the multiple stages of building up the layered soil microbiome from bacteria through microfauna.

It’s easy, by comparison, to farm in dirt. Life springs forth from living soil with the greatest of ease – indeed, half your problem is stopping it. Bringing forth life from lifelessness – ah, now that’s a real challenge.

Tirel Meliane, Sixth Well ecopoesis team, Adírdis

ergtech: a worker with energy production facilities, usually fusion or fission reactors, who routinely works with cryogenic fuels, power metals, dangerous magnetic fields, high pressures, liquid metal coolants, and so forth. A profession descended from the fissioneers of the Era of Steel and Steam who tended the first nucleonic boilers.

Nothing makes you feel so alive as riding the rods on one of the big piles. Nothing’s more likely to kill you, either.

Solian Desúmé, 11th century fissioneer

freehand: An obsolete term outside the Emerging Markets; prior to near-complete automation and ubiquitous robotics, an unskilled laborer guided in the performance of various skilled tasks by AI and v-tag assistance. Also, pejorative; an AI’s meat-puppet.

It’s not the best way to build an orbital elevator; in fact, it’s close to the worst way to build one. But out in the Periphery, where robots are feared, lest they “deprive” the sophonts of work – which they must have; apparently we cannot simply pay them to do nothing – and tachydidactic training would “violate mental autonomy”, it’s the way we’re left with. The frustrating, tedious, centuries-obsolete way. At least we still get to use the management system AIs.

Sartra Beldevil, site director, Empire Constructions, ICC

freemind: By analogy to freehand, a freemind is an unskilled thinker engaging in thought-for-hire; which is to say, the renting of one’s spare cognitive capacity on the specialist cycle spot market for general-purpose neural network applications.

On the one hand, I’ve spent the last year working on a bunch of fragmented ideas, with nothing to show for them but a headful of memories I don’t understand. On the other, it’s paid for me to spend next year on projects of my own. Not the worst deal I’ve ever taken.

Sed Mer Lacann, artificer-in-training

nomomach: “war-lawyer”; a military branch whose primary mode of effort is to use legal, moral, memetic, and/or sociological engineering against a target group to attempt a specific goal. Contrast: warbarrister.

Not impressive, you say? Well, while they may not be as majestic as one of the Navy’s dreadnoughts, the mess of controversial lawsuits these amicus briefs will generate will keep their electoral system in turmoil for at least a decade. And a democracy that can’t trust itself is a democracy that isn’t stamping around the trailing marches looking for trouble to cause.

Odera min Toriss, nomomach, Bellatry TAG

public eye: a sophont sensor platform, or the entry-level newsie, the public eye is simply any citizen who permits remote access to sensors on their person or property (or even, via slink, to their sensorium) by the public: for sousveillance, for adding to publicly available datasets, or simply to capture events and viewpoints that might not otherwise have been seen.

The eye is blind.

traditional statement upon entering an area of defended privacy

stigmeologist: Colleagues of the logotects in the Keepers of the Language, stigmeologists are linguistic experts in punctuation and cadence.

What sort of uncultured savage writes a diplomatic threat in hendecasyllabic stanzas?

Sapphíä Corescianos, Logarchy of Engraving, Printing, and Stationery

!tesh: (“ant”) a kind of freehand, a !tesh (“ant”) is someone who is assigned one tiny portion of a task in exchange for a micropayment without receiving any of the surrounding details of the task. In this way, the details of the overall task to be performed can be concealed not only from observers or from those who might ask questions, but even from the workers themselves. In some cases, !tesh labor can be used without the workers even knowing that they are working on a task; for example, when the tasks are disguised as quests in an augmentality game.

Took a photograph of the crowd outside the Fillio Building and sent it to the specified nym: 4,096 points.

Shadow Walkers game system message

voucher: A professional witness trained in observation, remembrance, and precision, able to describe situations and events reliably after the fact without extrapolation, distortion, or assumption. Vouchers often make use of specially-certified mnemonic enhancements, and in a manner similar but not identical to Cilmínár professionals, operate under geas to speak the complete and exact truth.

You should probably know that I have heard the joke ending with “There is at least one nekhalyef in Ossiréï that is black on this side,” precisely 1,597 times. Including this one.

Bríäla Sallantar, senior voucher, Credible Guild

warbarrister: A legal specialist in the laws and conventions of war, including the applications of contract law specific to mercenary work. Contrast: nomomach.

Under Imperial law, your plan includes seven distinct war crimes. Under Republic law, thirteen. Under Galian law, none at all, but you should not consider that encouraging…

Also, I’d shoot you myself.

Delék mor-Valakad, legal adviser to the Black Dragoon Battalion

Eldraeic Word of the Day: méshválar

méshválar: (from mésh, a tile or plaque, and válaras, name, itself from val, personal pronoun, and laras, word); a name-tile.

The origin of the name-tile is in the simple courtesy of not bringing moisture or road-dust into the home. Imperial houses are normally constructed with a caráhan, an entry room, which serves the purpose of containing outside dirt and providing space for visitors to prepare themselves to enter the house proper, as well as for requesting permission to enter the house proper from its hearthmistress or her proxy. Such a room therefore often contains amenities such as a small fountain for personal refreshment and cupboards or chests for visitors’ shoes, travel clothing, etc., that they do not wish to bring with them into the home, as well as the traditional welcoming display.

The méshválar, a thin porcelain tile bearing its owners name and sigil, serves two purposes connected with this room:

For visitors, the méshválar is placed upon the cupboard or chest in which they have placed their effects, signifying their ownership of the contents. In some caráhan, associated with commercial buildings rather than homes, these containers lock, and once the key has been withdrawn, the méshválar is placed specifically over the lock, but this would not be seen in a private home. The strength of the custom is more than sufficient to guarantee privacy; indeed, should a guest depart without being able to collect their effects, it is usual to ship the entire chest, unopened, to their home.

Meanwhile, when at home, it is customary to place one’s méshválar on a rack located within the caráhan, thus allowing arriving visitors to know who is currently at home before requesting entrance.

Time Bomb

WATCH CONSTABULARY / ORBIT GUARD
SPACECRAFT INCIDENT REPORT

REPORT: MERI-11-5122

EVIDENCE BLOCK 2A

DESCRIPTION: The following comprises a transcript of conversation occurring in the forward (open) hold of the Magpie-class debris recovery vehicle CMS Comber’s Bounty, in the minutes immediately preceding its destruction. The transcript was recovered from a surviving buffer memory of the local voice command system node and as such is of limited quality and records only local sounds.

BUFFER STARTS

FLTCOM: — you brought this thing onto my ship without checking, you —

[silence, approximately 6s]

FLTCOM: Because you did not bother to check what this “marvelously intact” piece of wreckage was before you brought it aboard. In contravention of procedure, good sense, and every other consideration but the chime of coin behind your eyeballs.

[silence, approximately 14s]

FLTCOM: Oh, yes. It’s an antique. As I profoundly hope did not occur to you, the VI-4 libration point is most famous for the Battle of Meridian VI-4. What we have here – is your camera on? – is a Type 95 Deep Javelin, one of the most ridiculously deadly torpedoes the Bureau ever came up with. Yes, it’s centuries obsolete, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly.

[silence, approximately 7s]

FLTCOM: Let’s start with the drive. See these nice, shiny nozzles? There’s your first clue. They’re as pristine and unsullied by use as your cerebrum. The nuclear salt-water drive on this never fired. That means these tanks are still full of highly enriched uranium tetrabromide, which is unlikely to have decayed enough to help us. If any of the valves marinating in the corrosive nuke-juice decide to fail, we get a nuclear drive plume in here. And if the damn stuff has crystallized on the baffles by now, we could get a critical assembly by poking it too hard.

[silence, approximately 2s]

FLTCOM: The warhead? That’s just a nice, safe, nucleonic shaped-charge driving a plasmated beryllium filler through whatever’s in front of it. That would be Mechanical Switching Three, Auxiliary Avionics, and most of the rest of the ship, if you weren’t clear on that. That uses the X-rays. The gamma rays, meanwhile, they tickle the off-axis lasing rods to give it some extra punch. And that little thing on the nose that’s less than a foot from the bulkhead? That would be the proximity fuse set for a couple of miles. Arms as it leaves the tube, and yes, it is armed.

[silence, approximately 15s]

FLTCOM: Do? What I am going to do is return to the bridge and put out a distress call for the Orbit Guard and the best EOD tech in the system. What you are going to do [sigh] Much as I would like to strap something with the apparent density of your skull to the nose of this catastrophe as improvised shielding, you – assuming you wish to board any starship in the future as something other than ballast – are going to return to your cabin, stay there until instructed otherwise, and while you are contemplating the number of different ways in which you have probably killed us all, you can memorize every single damned illustration in the Dangerous Debris Diges —

BUFFER ENDS

On Preextant Properties

Little more need be said on the matter of thoughts and chattelry; in truth, the Word is the thing and the whole of the thing:

All the works of your hands:
Stone and metal, wood and water, fire and wind.
All that your will creates.
These things are forged in your Flame;
That which you create is yours.

The Word of the Flame, Truths : 9

This is sufficient for ideas alone, or for the works of the artisan, the crops of the farmer, and the wares of the merchant.

But what of properties which had already existed in their components, such as volumes of land, including within them the passing airs and the still waters? Or what of the initial claim upon the fruits of stone, the development of which inevitably removes them from their source?

Before we consider Arlannath’s answer to this, the postulate of indisseverability, we will first describe these properties in a state of nature. That is, we shall discuss the ore lying hidden within the earth, the path unwalked, the land unimproved, and so forth.

The consensus of our philosophers is that such things are simply unowned, and belong to none. Challenges were raised to this position in the past, by such philosophers as Milentios of Inisvaen, Lanqin of Sar Andael, or Moréteyr of Ildathach, asserting rather that such things are jointly owned by all. This view has largely been repudiated as korásan arrogance, for who can rightly claim even partial title to an infinity of whose nature – indeed, of whose existence – he is largely unaware, over which he can assert no dominion, and to which he has committed no binding act? Moreover, such theories cavil at the conclusion that if all such things are jointly owned, they are jointly owned by all thinking beings, those dwelling around the farthest star as much as by those nearby who might have an interest, leading inevitably to the inability for anyone to set their hand to the smallest pebble without the consent of all unbounded creation.

Thus to Arlannath and indisseverability. This postulate arises from the simple observation that a creation cannot be separated from its prerequisites. That which exists must necessarily exist in a place; that which is made must be made of something. One cannot build a house without building its foundation upon land; nor can one mine and bring to market copper without removing copper ore from beneath the earth. The one is indisseverable from the other. In the absence of any barrier to the use or acquisition of the unowned – for the benefit of any individual or group which seeks to use it in an act of creation – resting upon prior title, this indisseverability necessarily implies that an act of creation from the unowned, a binding act, confers proper title to that which is created and that which exists to support it. Such binding acts are the basis for all homesteading, roadsteading, minesteading, commonsteading, and other mechanisms by which the wild unowned is brought within the aegis of civilization.

Arlannath did observe, nonetheless, that such acts of creation incurred a hypothetical opportunity cost, insofar as such a binding act necessarily diminishes the unowned. This matter, in his day and for generations thereafter, was considered a self-resolving trifle, since the lands of Eliéra were wide and little-peopled, and under such circumstances the advantage to the community near, far, and yonder of the improvement of land and availability of resources presented an opportunity profit to all believed to far outweigh that opportunity cost.

(The larger opportunity profit redounding to the appropriator is merely the proper reward for foresight and entrepreneurship. Anyone can seize an opportunity, but the rewards rightfully go to those who do.)

Philosophers and economists of later millennia have had occasion to consider this matter in more detail as time has passed, reaching its culmination in Períne Cyprium-ith-Elethandrion’s seminal publication On Externality and Incorporation. The original-appropriation and resource-extraction surcharges applied by the Protectorate of Balance, Externality, and the Commons, discussed in the next chapter, are the legacy of his work.

from an introductory Imperial economics textbook, circa 3000

A Cure As Epidemic

A shadow fell over the city.

That was, of course, perfectly normal. It was fourteen minutes before the Wakening hour, and four million people’s deliveries were here, packed into a vast warehouse wrapped in an inconceivable volume of vacuum, wrapped in turn in shimmering white fabric bearing the moé winged parcel and hexrunic letters proclaiming its name and ownership for all to see.

Desire Causes Satisfaction, the All Good Things, ICC fulfilment zeppelin, had arrived on its morning rounds.

Perhaps the dark cloud cascading from its vomitories, dense enough to deepen the shadow to true shade to fight in¹ rather than a dissipating gray wisp, was unusual but it was no matter for concern. This was the Empire, such airships did not fail, and the people below could go about their business assured that whatever had caused this alteration of normal routine would become apparent in due course.


From Rectifier Gaelin Septimiel-ith-Septimiel to Citizen-Shareholder Eimil Isilviere-ith-Inviere, greetings.

In response to the ongoing Level 3 (Epidemic) Contagious Disease Warning posted for the Greater Cestia & Proximal regions as of 2049 Cálith 20, the Emergency Management Authority is pleased to provide all citizen-shareholders, citizen-intendants, and metic residents within the affected region and other strongly connected regions a dose of the vaccine to cytomegalovirus VVAR-1472-B and related strains developed under the aegis of the Office of Disease and Toxin Control, Prevention, and Elimination.

For further details of the vaccine and its development process, please see here. Should it prove the case that the information you desire is not available via this link, please contact the office of the Procurator of Transparency.

The provided dose has been packaged in a self-refrigerating autoinjector coded for individual use, which can be operated by pressing the uncapped tip against the body over a muscle mass; an upper arm is recommended.

Should the vaccine payload have exceeded the permitted temperature range, expired, or otherwise degraded, the blue status light on the autoinjector will have turned red and the autoinjector will not function. In this case, please contact the nearest Imperial Services office for a replacement.

Please wait five days for vaccine to take full effect before discontinuing high-level infection control precautions. We request that low-level infection control precautions be continued until the epidemic disease warning is rescinded as a courtesy to your fellow citizen-shareholders.

The contribution to population immunity provided by individual vaccination has been assessed as a positive externality valued at Es. 192.41 by the Protectorate of Balance, Externality, and the Commons. As such, this will be credited to your Active Credit Account upon verified autoinjector operation.

The Empire thanks you for your cooperation and forbearance in these troubled times.

Given under my hand and seal this day 2049 Telenith 9,

Gaelin Septimiel-ith-Septimiel
by appointment to the situation, rectifier
Emergency Management Authority


  1. This somewhat anachronic definition of “shade to fight in” gained currency late in the Consolidation, when Imperial forces were clashing with those of the Alliance over mining and energy production facilities on tide-locked Eurymir and during the long day on Toramir, the innermost planets of the Lumenna system. On such battlefields as the Plains of Glass, one has the choice of fighting in the shade, or of being boiled to death before ever engaging the enemy.

Let’s Break It Down

liquidator (sovereign): As a member of a satrap’s retinue, primarily in cases of annexation, it is the function of the sovereign liquidator to trim down the newly acquired governance to something approximating the Imperial standard. Since the majority of barbarian governances have arrogated to themselves a certain number of necessary and useful functions – outwith the legitimate functions of governance – and do not exist solely as mechanisms for the application of high-handed interference, presumptuous regulation, and arbitrary brutality, this is unfortunately not something that can be achieved merely by dispatching writs of abolishment to all and sundry.

To further dismay, neither is this as simple as centuries of ham-handed “privatization” attempts might make it seem, were one to ignore their results. A typical necessary and useful organization to be broken up by a liquidator is nonetheless ossified; uninnovative; risk-avoidant; accustomed to a position of legal monopoly; in the habit of answering to political masters rather than its nominal customers; derives its revenues in ways separated, to one degree or many, from the satisfaction of said customers’ requests; burdened with a thousand mandates outside its core competency; and whose staff frequently have a variety of unhelpful attitudes including apathy, grim resentment, petty-korásan syndrome, office politicking, political officing¹, cog functionalism², contraproject activism³, and either blind ignorance of or pig-headed indifference to the coquetries of economic reality.

The task of the liquidator is to abolish these slow-motion disasters without allowing them to become fast-motion disasters.

When chopping up an interdependent monolith, making your incisions in the wrong place may produce a mere private monopoly, or a cartel – doomed to eventually topple without a legal monopoly, assuredly, but while fulfilling the liquidatorial mandate in the most technical sense, this is hardly a result to be desired. Worse, it may produce organizations incapable of surviving independently in the short run, meaning in this case before alternate organizations can take up their function. Remember, due to the tendency of these governances to monopolize any field in which they engage, such functions will not be available on the local market to take up the slack.

Of the greatest difficulty, of course, is finding people to direct the new organizations. The nature of the old is unlikely to have created a dynamic organizational culture ready and willing to adapt to the marketplace, let alone thrive there. One may be fortunate enough to find some potential leadership within the old organization not yet stultified by its internal sociodynamics – which may, in some cases, be as simple as eliminating the old hierarchical management structure and replacing it with a bottom-up cooperative structure⁴ – but often one is compelled to resort to such means as bringing entrepreneurial talent in from outside⁵, strapping on appropriate floating initiatives and trusting that the organization will pay attention to them, or as a last resort⁶, transferring core staff and assets to an Imperial organization with local interests, similar purpose, and a willingness to take on the job.

These difficulties, together, make it all-important that the sovereign liquidator be a soph of great patience, calm temperament, and stout of both heart and liver.

– Offices of the Imperial Service, 143rd ed.


For those not familiar with synarchist jargon for various types of dysfunction, the following helpful footnotes are appended:

  1. political officing: the practice of subordinating the function of the organization to one’s own ends, usually unconnected to the stated purpose of the organization; when not practiced by the Directorate or its equivalent, it does not constitute entelechical fraud, but is nonetheless inappropriate and may constitute a subversive breach of contract.

  2. cog functionalism: also known as “jobsworth syndrome”, from the oft-repeated cry of the advanced sufferer that exercising any creativity or stretching beyond the bounds of normal routine is “more than my job’s worth”; the unwillingness or actual inability to do anything beyond the boundaries of existing procedure. Sufferers could, in theory, be replaced by a small automation script, and in practice, often are.

  3. contraproject activism: unlike political officing, which is merely diversionary, contraproject activism subverts the function of the organization to work against its own entelechy. Hard as it is to believe, when you find an education provider deleting advanced courses, a transport service encouraging people to stay at home, or an energy supplier promoting restrictions on energy use, you’ve found contraproject activism.

  4. In some examples of this type of organization (e.g., those which issues with organizational culture have not promoted cog functionalism, apathy, and featherbedding), the staff at the sharp end of the organization care far more about its nominal function and serving its customers’ interests than those in charge, and in those cases, such a structural inversion can work very well.

  5. Carefully screened, of course, since such offers have an appalling appeal to the unscrupulous type of vulture, those more interested in picking apart the wreckage than in building a functional organization.

  6. The Empire generally finds it preferable, from a sociodynamic-development standpoint, for such organizations to be constructed locally by, for, and out of the communities they serve, at least initially. Such convergence as partnerships, mergers, and other arrangements in the future may bring about can then safely be left up to the resulting structure, rather than imposed externally.

When The Guns Fall Silent

The Imperial Military Service has long been considered somewhat unusual among military forces for the degree of respect it offers to those it has fought, and often defeated. This is not entirely accurate as a consideration, since a certain level of courtesy and mutual respect is hardly uncommon between gentlesoph soldiers; it is hardly uncommon to find other military forces which obey the injunction that strength and honor must also act with grace. There are few, admittedly, that afford – indeed encourage – the militaries of conquered nations the opportunity post hoc to award honors and distinctions to those who fought valiantly against them in defense of their homes.

(Since these honors are awarded under the unusual conditions created by the Annexation Act, and necessarily supervised by the appointed satrap, they are considered both foreign and Imperial in nature; for a full list of these unusual Imperial awards, please see Annex B to this book.)

Unique, perhaps, is the Empire’s creation at the Service’s request of three distinctions specifically to be awarded to the enemy after the fact. Displayed as medals carved from blackened osmium, these three are:

The Order of the Valiant Foe: Most frequently awarded of the three, the silver-chased Order of the Valiant Foe is awarded to those who have displayed outstanding acts of gallantry or personal valor on the battlefield while fighting against the Empire.

Since an overwhelming proportion of these distinctions are awarded posthumously, the Order of the Valiant Foe is a stipendiary order; a stipend is paid from the Privy Purse for the support of spouse, children, and other family of the recipient.

The Order of the Noble Enemy: Taking its name from the Jussovian proverb that a noble friend is the greatest of gifts and a noble enemy the next greatest – a sentiment engraved around its perimeter – the sapphire-on-osmium cluster Order of the Noble Enemy is awarded for dedication to the principles of civilized warfare above and beyond the call of duty.

Most famously, the Order of the Noble Enemy was awarded at the end of the Fourth Oceanic Dominance to the captains of the Ildathach destroyers Levinbolt and Thunderblast for their rescue of over a thousand survivors from the Imperial cruiser Dawning Dragon (sunk the previous day in the battle of White Sands Bay) at great hazard to themselves, such operations leaving them vulnerable to prowling submarines and the load of survivors greatly reducing their fighting ability.

The Order of the Worthy Opponent: An award of gold and topaz upon osmium, the Order of the Worthy Opponent recognizes skillful leadership and outstanding generalship, qualities shared by many of those who have most successfully opposed the Imperial will.

In its origins, the Order of the Worthy Opponent, like its counterparts, was a distinction awarded to officers of those nations absorbed by the Empire during its expansion in the Consolidation, but as with them, its use has since expanded. Most famous among these is the Order won by Matron-Admiral Kajiya ihr-Lomas of the rúrathtu, the award of which she declared the greatest honor of her career in her memoirs, and which she wore to her dying day. Her great-granddaughter presented it to the Museum of the Imperial War College during the celebrations of the signing of the Imperial-Rúrathtu Alliance, where it can be viewed today as a reminder that between honorable enemies, enmity need not be eternal.

– Titles, Orders, and Awards of the Imperial Military Service