Practical Filth

Shortly after that incident, the cross-directorate Technical Services PWG presented us with a new range of disposable, concealed monitoring devices intended to be used in a variety of scenarios. Unfortunately, while a technological miracle of the age – packing all the multispectral monitoring functionality needed for various espionage scenarios into tiny, shielded, disguised packages, while duplicating the functionality of their guise – they proved to be less than useful in practice due to a cultural delta.

While perfectly suited for work at home, it had escaped the boffins in TS-PWG that on the many worlds of the galaxy less particular about maintenance than the Empire’s, the appearance of shiny, new devices or attachments (nuts, lights, push buttons, and the like) would in itself stand out remarkably clearly against the background.

It was my unfortunate responsibility, in my new role as Second Directorate liaison and as an old field agent, to break this news to TS-PWG and propose an appropriate solution. While we considered the notion of making, shall we say, “pre-unmaintained” monitors, the difficulties of devising patterns of wear and corrosion which would blend smoothly into the environment and, indeed, the difficulties of discreetly modifying unmaintained infrastructure proved insuperable.

The answer we came to was inspired by a training course still on offer at the College of Masks – “Filthy Barbarism for the Clean-Living Agent” – intended to demonstrate how to avoid standing out among the less civilized, and in particular the habit of “littering”, the lazy and careless abandonment of minor waste without consideration for the property of others or the surrounding environment. In short, many worlds simply have an endemic problem with discarded waste, providing the perfect material guises for monitoring devices.

Of course, little is as simple as it seems. The distribution of specific items of waste is culturally and economically determined, and as such, the specifics of these material guises vary greatly from world to world, place to place. It was never my intention that the routine sampling of “litter” from various worlds for the benefit of the Technical Services PWG, operation GARLAND WASTREL, should be my legacy. But if “Mishaka’s Scav Runs” it is to be, it’s a better legacy than many in our profession receive.

– Three-Centuries In Intelligence: A Memoir,
Mishaka Kodonaga,
declassified +1648

Too Hard-Headed

Gorch steelheading, by any of its various names, originated as a street medical procedure from the freesoil world Gorch (Dinyoza’s Serpent). A retroviral treatment, steelheading affects the glial cells of the brain, causing them to accumulate metallic, particulate iron within internal vacuoles. This serves as an effective countermeasure to uploading using the standard techniques (i.e., the high-resolution NMRI built into every commercially available cerebral bridge), since the ferromagnetic particles darken and distort the image, and may indeed cause damage to the scanning equipment. As such, steelheading has become popular among every quantum-hatted forknapping-obsessed paranoid from Core to Rim.

Since it remains a street procedure, it is sadly to be noted that many of its purveyors do not inform their clients of the actual risks of placing a brain stived through with super-nanoscale iron particulate into a high-grade magnetic field, and specifically the combination of thermal effects on the glia and direct magnetic force effects resulting in said brain being stirred like a bowl of overcooked pudding. Caveat emptor, indeed!

Unfortunately, other uses of the procedure have become apparent. I draw your attention here to the incident last year aboard CS Fist of Civility, when hostages recovered from one branch of the Resolutionist Faction had been involuntarily steelheaded by their captors, a fact not discovered until it had led to a permanent death.

Steelheading, however, is a technique that is only preventative against NMRI or similar technologies, and a clean upload can still be achieved by use of the older membrane disassembler, or a nanitic burning-scan reader such as that used in a ripknife. Of course, these techniques either require an extracted mostly-dead brain or are fatal to the patient, which is why they were replaced by high-resolution NMRI in the first place, and yet they remain viable methods of extracting a mind-state from a steelheaded brain.

For this reason, we have now added testing for the presence of encapsulated ferromagnetic particulates in brain tissue and the use of alternate methods as part of the best practices for uploading brains recovered from hostages, kidnapping victims, or otherwise “left unattended”, and we commend this to the attention of our colleagues elsewhere.

– Dr. Venerí 0xCADE443E,
Noble Order of the Lancet,

Fellow of the Imperial College of Surgeons,
Imperial Sodality of Neuroscience,
in a letter to the All-Worlds Journal of Medical Incident

Three Paths Diverge

It is, under the Conventions of Galactic Warfare, the convention that a planet facing an enemy force that has attained orbital supremacy, whose orbital defense grids and planetary shields have been disabled, that has no immediate prospect of relief, and that has been summoned to surrender, should surrender its planetary defenses in order to prevent an unnecessary and futile effusion of blood, this being the charming euphemism these conventions use to describe the slaughter of the helpless and wide-scale destruction that inevitably accompanies the use of starship weapons upon planetary targets.

However, as with all conventions, they are defined as much by the occasions on which they are not obeyed as by those on which they are. Today, for example, we will discuss three different examples of situations in which this convention was not obeyed:

Our first example comes from the closing days of the conflict with the Rúrathtu Maternity, in which Vice-Admiral Horulgavis Meliamne’s task force had entered the Goris-den-Lesk System using a backdoor route via the Five States and the Mistram System, and successfully eliminated – using the information warfare capabilities of the superdreadnought Cache Poisoning – the laser web protecting Lesk proper. Despite the Imperial forces having effective orbital superiority, Grandmother Lomas ihr-Fenél of Lesk successfully delayed surrendering the planetary defenses for four days, allowing sufficient time for the Maternity’s Second Fleet, under Matron-Admiral Kajiya ihr-Lomas to approach from the Ric-den-Narin System, compelling the Imperial forces to fall back to Mistram. The treaty ending this border conflict was signed two weeks later over Ríällebar.

It should be noted that Vice-Admiral Meliamne was subsequently commended by the First Space Lord for his restraint in not unnecessarily escalating the siege of Lesk and continued to serve on the trailing frontier, eventually retiring at the rank of High Admiral.

Our second example, however, comes from the 6144 raid on the Palnu Sodality weapons development facility in the Tonkanit System. Tonkanit being a branch system (i.e., possessed of only a single stargate), the Imperial task group under the command of Admiral Tintál Alcarialé was able to make a successful rapid transit through the Palnu-held Tillómor System into the Tonkanit System, before dividing, leaving behind a task force under Vice-Admiral Synd Marukanin to blockade the gate. The primary task force then proceeded to Tonkanit proper and interdicted its orbitals.

Despite the orbital supremacy of the Imperial task force, the commander of the Blackroot research facility – presumably emboldened by his safety, said facility having been constructed beneath a granite batholith sufficient to protect against any but the largest of stoneburners – declined to surrender the planetary defenses.

While groundside conflict would always have been required as part of the raid to force entrance to the Blackroot facility and seize the research within, the refusal to surrender the planetary defenses combined with the limited time available to complete the mission compelled Admiral Alcarialé to sweep the landing zone clear of ground-to-orbit weapons using his shipboard weapons. While successful in terms of mission completion and justifiable in view of the nature of the Palnic research, the use of these against dug-in planetary facilities caused substantial collateral damage to civilian settlements located in the vicinity of Blackroot and were probably responsible for several million unnecessary casualties.

Finally, and demonstrating the reason for the convention, we have the 4666 case of the Masudi System. The planetary government of Masudi is notorious in history for being the only polity ever to use an RKV in anger, dispatching one against the nearby Tuwati System (still the titular capital of the Affiliation of Planets, despite the obliteration of the original ssst!phok homeworld) shortly after both had been contacted by the expanding Accord.

This was the first test for the Ley Accords (signed 4508, 86 years after the founding of the Accord of Galactic Polities). As soon as the news of the obliteration of Tuwati reached the Conclave, its members all responded to enforce the Accords, with a number of independent fleets setting out for the Masudi System. In the early months of 4666, Masudi was invested by several task groups, including those of several smaller polities alongside those led by Admiral Ancas Videssos, of the Imperial Navy, Admiral Vemis Daremma of the Consolidated Waserai Armada, and Admiral Tol Mer Seval, of the League Navy.

While the task group commanders attempted, via broadcast communication, to negotiate with the masud people for the surrender of the planet (the civil and military authorities of the system being forfeit under the terms of Chapter I), no response was received, and it became apparent over the course of the investment of the planet that the Masudi Kingdom intended to fight to the death. Having heavily fortified the planet, the bombardments required by the combined fleet to suppress the ground-to-orbit defenses and clear the way for planetary landings triggered an atmospheric firestorm and particle winter.

Although Masudi was not obliterated, unlike Tuwati, it suffered severe ecological damage including the extinction of all large land-dwelling animals (including the masud species) and much of its plant life, with an associated significant climate and atmospheric composition shift. It remains a protected planet under Conclave authority, although the remainder of the Masudi System was awarded to the Affiliation of Planets as partial reparation.

– from an introductory lecture at the Imperial War College

Paradigm Shift

“Souls are software objects,” the Horologians maintain, and this is truth.

We need not, however, fall into the Horologian-acknowledged automatonic heresy that reaves the universe of all choice and meaning, nor dismiss so casually our hard-won millennia of spiritual wisdom. To be certain, this truth vitiates the core claim of Supernaturalism and the existence of souls embodied in a metaphysical or spiritual substance, as indeed the existence of any such substance.

But we may reconsider, perhaps, the ideas of the ancient philosopher Eutalas of Chresytané, who first propounded the notion of a higher, more abstract realm – not formed of spirit, but of information. Let us consider: if souls are software objects, what else are they but constructs of information, creatures of the informational realm?

The singer is not the song; nor is the writer the book; nor is the computer, the dance of electron and photon in circuits of thousand-fathom complexity, the information which inhabits it. Such is a category error of the first class.

Thus the inescapable conclusion is that, if souls are indeed software objects, then our spiritual nature is no more, and also no less, than our informational nature.

We have spoken.

Let us further consider: in the light of the identity of spiritual and informational being, it is clear that all objects of informational weight must also be objects of spiritual weight. The spiritual weight of books, for example, is considered a settled matter by our brothers who emulate Aláthíël and Atheléä, and their informational weight is obvious.

What is the nature of the spirit of a book? If we pursue the path laid out for us by Eutalan thought, we might presume it unlike that of the unique person; that as the information within is distributed, one complex idea manifested in many physical copies, then the spirit of the book must also be distributed, tenuous and liminal, across those many copies.

Perhaps, as books are read, and annotated, and cherished, this spirit localizes, and individuates, for the information about the book is as surely part of it as the information within the book.

And cannot the same be said for the tree and the mountain, the river and the sky, and the shintai in its shrine? Are the eikones themselves diminished by the recognition that the incarnation of the concept is neither more nor less than the concept itself, pure and eternal, fundamental and magnificent?

These objects and abstractions themselves do not compute, one might say, and so their souls cannot develop or change, and yet is it strictly necessary that a soul’s computation should be localized within its own physicality? There is no strict rule in information theory nor in theology that requires this. Perhaps the souls of the inanimate manifest in and by the thoughts of the living minds around them.

Let us further consider: in the advancement of physics today, the current leading theory is that of information physics, whose core assertion is this: “it is bit”.

It postulates a universe which is in itself a self-computing, self-modifying system of information and interactions which is both substrate and content, and in which all that is necessarily participates.

If this is the truth, then must it not be true that all that is, having an informational nature and participating in this system, is therefore definitionally blessed with an ever-evolving spiritual nature?

While the implications of these redefinitions of our understanding of our nature are vast, and upset many cherished beliefs, it is the highest purpose of our Church to seek the unity of Truth and Beauty, and from this we must not and shall not shrink.

– De Natura Animarum Mentemque,
proclaimed by the Speaker of Starlight, in the year 2481

Fate and Chance

There are two primary classes of worldline-affecting ontotechological devices: the aleaic and the moiric. Aleaic devices modify the probability of random events, typically to operationalize low-probability events or processes or to avert high-probability events. The former is typified by the probability kiln, which manipulates the evolving worldline phase-space to elevate the probability of desired results, making otherwise low-yield or impractical processes practical; the latter, in turn, is typified by the probability unseller, a protective military technology which magnifies the probability of glancing hits or misses.

The moiric device, on the other hand, addresses itself not to the chances that affect worldlines, but to their proximity, thrust, and drift. Examples of this class include, for example, the moiric alarm, which reads the future termination of its own worldline to warn of danger; the Inevitable Certainty Engine and tendency traps, worldline-attractors; their inverse, the aversion generator, a worldline-repeller; a variety of as-yet theoretical splay technologies; and so forth.

(The parallels between these classes and the mythopoetic division between the generic blessing and the specific curse have, obviously, been noted.)

An Introduction to Ontic Devices, Meliamne Ophris, Irreality Vault researcher

Orbs of Pondering

An older model Spherecomm™. Note the attachment at its base.

A popular fad of the 2200s and 2300s was the Spherecomm™, a portable communications terminal in the form of a light, hand-held crystal ball. Most of the time, the Spherecomm™ provides the same functionality as any terminal, using a special interface designed to make use of the “infinite, omnidirectional scrolling” provided by its spherical screen, and to allow manipulation with all four fingers and the thumb while the Spherecomm™ is held in the palm of the hand; however, with a quick mode-switch, the Spherecomm™ can instead use its internal volume as a fully functional volumetric display, suitable for both trinet and trivision reception as well as other trigraphic applications.

Early versions of the Spherecomm™ required an attached base (as seen in the picture at right) to house the power supply and associated electronics. While also functional as a stand to hold the Spherecomm™ at rest and prevent it from rolling away, this proved unpopular in use, and interface designers lamented the loss of the ability to treat rotation of the device as a meaningful gesture.

Fortunately, technology was soon to provide alternatives, with the power supply being reduced to a minimal size and located in the center of the Spherecomm™, with light being refracted around it – rendering it invisible – as a function of the device body’s crystalline structure. Meanwhile, the addition of low-power ionic/magnetohydrodynamic thrust to the Spherecomm™ casing allowed it to keep itself upright when set down, and as a small and light device, even suspend itself in mid-air for group viewing, or to follow its owner while in use – the forerunner of today’s commonplace docuspheres and conversation balls.


While the Spherecomm™ fashion eventually came to an end in favor of ring terminals and other jewelry-cased designs, and of free-space volumetric displays, the devices themselves never entirely passed out of use. Is it time for a revival of the form factor?

I think so.

Our Old Inspirations, Your Novel Ideas (1Q 3025 edition)

Heaven’s Ash

Rising above the surrounding hills and forests like mountains in their own right, the grandest emanations of Syjéral and the greatest of the kami serving the daughters of Sylithandríël are the lórréra, the World Trees.

Far above any dryad, naiad, or lesser emanation, the scattered handful of lórréra work together with the mechal elementals produced and commanded by the dweomerbergs to manage the planetary ecology.

A massive, mountain-sized tree with a blue glow hovering around its branches.


The World Trees, like the lesser dryads, are trees at heart, albeit unusually large and healthy ones, optimized to produce through their natural processes the energy needed to support their other functions. Each of the lórréra is, beneath the bark, an unthinkably complex biocomputer composed of complex arrays and meshes of lignoneurons laid down within the xylem. This system and its animating intelligence are sufficient to model in real-time a complete picture of the lands, woods, and waters around the lórréra, and make such adjustments as the model calls for to maintain stability.

The lórréra exist in a world of continuous communication. They exist as major relays within the same delicate electromagnetic tapestry as the other mechal elementals, with metallic deposits embedded in their lignoneuron-stived xylem serving as their antennae, of course, but more subtly they are participants in the complex web of ecological communication around them. In this, the obvious bluelife bioluminescence is the least part; the intertwining roots and rhizomes of a mature lórréra can cover half a continent, and in doing so, touch all the life thereupon with chemical signals of breathtaking subtlety.

Is it any wonder, then, that we, too, should have learned to communicate with them, and they with us? While thaumaturgical lore – the knowledge of the mechal elementals and the art of reading and commanding them – remains well documented, there remain only fragments of its origins, and that of much other ecological and silvicultural lore – in the shamanic practices of the Emergence, going back into the Gloaming, when eldrae first learned to underhear the electromagnetic whispers of the World Trees, and to attempt deeper communion with nature by crude pagan rituals involving the consumption of their sweet, nanite-rich sap.

(It is also from fragments dating from the Emergence that we have the tale of one Sárvis, called “the Ill-Wit”, who commanded the tribe of which he was king to fell one of the World Trees that he might build for himself “a hall like none other that ever was, or ever would be.” Upon attempting this, his tribe were plagued by ills “as if all the spirits of nature rose against them”, until Sárvis pledged himself to be slain among the branches of the offended lórréra to appease its wrath. The surviving fragments do not record the success or failure of this gambit, or whether or not his people survived.

None have attempted to repeat such grand folly in all the centuries since.)

– A History of Nature’s Artifice and the Thaumaturgy of Machines,
Enneagram Press

Father One-Punch

While little but myth remains about Evéris Vennistál, the life-bound bodyguard of Loran Camríäd, Théarch of the Deeping at the time of the foundation of the Empire, one tangible artifact passed down through the modern era is his signet ring. While appearing to be a massive piece in solid gold, as befits Vennistál’s background as an eminent itinerant of Kalasané, the ring later known as Evéris’s Final Argument was fashioned of practical gilded steel: well-suited for the purpose to which he put it in legend, that of felling those who sought to dispute matters in ill-pleasingly informal ways with a single blow, leaving behind it only the sygaldry of the one who defeated them.

Artifacts of the Early Imperial Era, University of Calmiríë

At Arm’s Length

comprador: A native contract supplier for one or more interstellar corporations abroad. Usually subordinate to the responsible factor.

In Imperial trade parlance in particular, the term comprador refers to both the title of the native contracts corporation and the executive operating it. Such a native contracts corporation functions as an interfacer writ large, acting to bridge the divide between the freewheeling contractual culture of the Empire and the Accord on Trade simply interpreted, and the various aids and incidents demanded by local regulators. Such is often particularly necessary in the sphere of employment relations, the Empire never having institutionalized the concept, placing the comprador in a position akin to that of a financial institution performing maturity transformation: transforming short-term money-for-task contracts from the interstellars into long-term employment on local terms.

This naturally transfers risk from the interstellars (the “Clean Hands”, in a cynical borrowing from the ISS jargon term) to the comprador, and it is by its skill in negotiating and, where necessary, manipulating both local regulations and transeconomic arbitrage that the success of a comprador may be judged. Such transformation is generally to the economic disadvantage of local hires, who receive less total remuneration for their performance and upon less favorable terms than direct contract would have permitted – a fact which is considered one of the many sad ironies associated with operating in emerging markets.

– A Core Economic Dictionary, Aurum Press (6900)

Do Not Taunt

Gentles all, I ask but one thing of you in your scholarship: while you may and should, of course, describe the cliodynamic tendencies leading up to the states and systems you study, and the tendencies inherent in those states and systems that may push them in a particular direction, you must refrain from describing them as pre- and post- with regard to others. In your previous studies of the field you have learned many of the elegant telic theories of history your predecessors have generated; in your present studies of the field’s subject matter, you should have learned that – in the absence, and even in the presence, of a telos-enforcer with a big stick – history happens over and over again in different orders and by different means as if driven by some perverse imp to spite anyone conceiving of a simple acyclic path.

In short: reality doth make fools of us all, but I would prefer that my students did not bait it.

Saváne Filéristríös,
Asamis Chair of History,
Imperial University of Almeä

Exigency

This is, the operator thinks, possibly the worst day to hear the stolid parping of the some-moron-thinks-he’s-a-train alarm.

A glance at the monitor pointed to by the sensor indicator told the story. Courtesy of the motion-and-presence trackers, it played back the moment at which the aforementioned moron had forced open one of the doors of his stopped train –

the Midmorn-18 eastbound express, Clifftop line, reflex filled in, currently holding for 22 minutes awaiting a pause in Inclinator emergency traffic –

– dropped to the trackbed, and jogged off down the tunnel towards Upslope station.

The operator glances at his board, and the covered, key-locked switch labeled ETHICAL STRICTURE. A timer below it, freshly reset, counts down by pulses from seventy-two, a mechanism implemented to ensure that no changes could be made without mindful forethought. At its normal setting, OPTIMAX, traction power would automatically have been cut to the section in which the not-train was detected, and security robobulls automatically dispatched to drag the hapless wight in question to an uncomfortable interview with security and a lengthy repayment of his fellow passengers’ inconvenience.

But today…


CICENCOM/EMA: PHíLAE/LANDING/INFRASTRUCTURE EMERGENCY DIRECTIVE
EVENT+0.00:14:11.182
IMMEDIATE ACTION ORDER

This is a TRANSPORTATION ASSETS IMPERATIVE directed to SUBMARINE EXPRESS.

STATUS: Impact of not-under-command bulk freighter TDMMS Pelagic Pedestrian on foreshore defenses sector 112 has caused failure of sea wall and protective kinetic barriers in that sector. Minor flooding, since secured, has occurred in Ironclad Docks District to +18 in over datum. Estimated time to repair (including salvage of freighter): 18 hours +/- 6 from mark.

FORECAST: Arrival of storm producing sea state HIGH with wave height estimated at 402 in over datum at event locus predicted at estimated time 4 hours +/- 1 from mark. Consequences predicted include total flooding of Ironclad Docks District. Severe infrastructure damage. Mass casualty event.

IMPERATIVE: I am requisitioning all available transportation to evacuate Ironside Docks District. Clear all non-evacuation traffic from Inclinator. Trains engaged in evacuation activities are granted priority over all other traffic. All currently-unassigned consist elements capable of passenger transport are preempted for evacuation traffic. Otherwise proceed in accordance with established emergency protocol.

To secure transportation under current, predicted, and undetermined conditions, adopt ethical strictures GRANITE EXIGENT.

CICENCOM/EMA
NNNN


…the key was turned two steps beyond that, and the computerized systems instructed to maintain traction power and transit come hell or literal high water. Or, indeed, the presence of any obstruction in the tunnels not sufficient to impede the passage of a train.

Which meant, the operator’s thoughts continued even as the security monitor flashed white and dimmed and the alarm self-silenced, that one stumble into the maglev coils or a slip sufficient to contact the traction power bus-bar would be regrettably, inevitably, lethal.

“Note to Track Maintenance,” the operator murmurs into his command headset, grimacing at the monitor that now showed only a shadow on the bed of the twilit tunnel. “We have rat chow in the tunnel between Upslope and Seawatch, section four. Once the isohaz clears down, send a recovery team to pick up the marble and hose off the trackbed. Operations, clear.”

Moving Sideways

To review, we have already considered the first type of psychokinetic manipulation: the extrinsic manipulation of objects. While largely instinctive in use – unlike the extensive families of techniques built on top of them – reproducing these effects was relatively simple and produced the unifield vector effector, the enabling technology behind the modern tractor, pressor, and torquor beams.

The second type of psychokinesis is the intrinsic manipulation of one’s self. While more difficult to master, most people do acquire proficiency with the basic component effects of in this area, which together form the heart of psychokinetic freerunning: the rejump, in which one bends momentum in mid-air to adjust one’s trajectory and/or velocity; and the longstep, in which one uses a high-intensity pulse of mass-reduction to achieve a burst of speed, appearing to cross a room or otherwise reposition oneself in an instant.

(Body-flying is not considered part of this type, inasmuch as it is impossible to lift oneself, and it depends on extrinsic manipulation of fixed or high-mass objects.)

Work on technological reproduction of these effects led up to the development of the modern vector-control core for vehicles, from skimmers to starships.

The path of inspiration leading from rejump to core is relatively straightforward, as obvious parallels can be seen in the integration of the vector-control core with attitude control systems.

Developments from the longstep are, however, somewhat more obscured. While the work of the Precursors was readily able to support such operations on a single-person scale, it proved impossible for many centuries to build a vector-control core capable of spike operation. However, the traditional vector-control core mode is based on what is, in effect, a low-energy continuous longstep which provides lesser thrust enhancement on an ongoing basis.

This state of affairs persisted until the late 7900s, with the release of Shue Lezíär’s hypertoroid drive core. Fed by a double ring of chained flash accumulators, the hypertoroid core is capable of spiking to power levels orders of magnitude greater than standard cores for brief moments. Timed with exquisite precision to match firings of attitude-control thrusters or even main drives, a vehicle – even the largest of starships – equipped with such a core can appear to blink from one position to another in a matter of moments: a true longstep.

– Histories and Parallels in Vector Control Development

Not That Fish Story

Recreation Commons
Second Deep
Anemone Deep-Aqua Lab
Isimír

“So,” Oswyn interrupted my brooding, “you saw something to go with your anomalous biologic?”

“You’ll be the fifteenth person to tell me that I didn’t see the flash-of-gold that I have a plain memory of, Oswyn Maric, and no more welcome than the first.”

“No challenge intended.” He pulled up a seat and poured himself another beer. “Just a welcome to the Isimír old-hands club. Sub drivers have been seeing Goldie out here since they retired the old Benthic Needle.”

“And you’ve come to tell me a literal fish story to pass the time until I get my privileges back?”

“Nothing but truth on sale here, my word on it.”

I spread my arms in invitation. “Spin me your tale, then.”

“It all started back in the first year, when GenTech were setting up their aquaculture labs. They’d brought a whole bunch of test organisms to see what they could get to grow in Isimír water: plankton, algae, seaweed, and most importantly, carp. Back then we had a bunch of temp bubbles set up around the shaft entrance, all lit, warmed, and conditioned with test environments. It was all going smoothly until a newbie sub-driver mistrimmed, came shallow too fast, and hit one at ten fips. Split the shell open and dumped the biologicals.” He flicked a finger and an incident report glimmered in my vision.

“Into an ocean that would kill them.”

“They only recovered 96.2% of the biomass. Check for yourself.”

“So it sank, or it drifted out of range.”

“Or…”

“Or nothing. You want to hear all the ways in which that’s impossible? They may have been salt-adapted, but not brine-adapted. There’s not enough dissolved oxygen in native water to support an Eliéran fish, and it’s cold enough to freeze them solid. And what are they going to eat? The only native life we’ve found out there is bacterial.”

“At the depths we’ve explored. For as long as we’ve been here, we’ve just been splashing in the shallows. It’s warmer down there, too, if the probes are accurate, and who knows what native life interactions there might be?”

“Speculation.”

“And yet there are the anomalous contacts.”

“Your pitch is bubbly, and I’ll tell you why. Firstly, because that contact couldn’t possibly be some lost carp, because it was damn near the size of a whale. And secondly because rules be damned, I left a wide trail of warm water and nutrients on the way back to dock in hope of native life, so if there were something out there -“

Oswyn’s voice was a hoarse whisper; his gaze fixed behind me.

“Do we have a lot more of that nutrient aboard?”

“Probably, why?”

“Look out the window. I think your friend wants more snacks.


“Where was-“

“I don’t know.”

“How did-?”

“I don’t know that either. On the other hand, being a world-ocean, Isimír has no waterfalls.

(Apology &) Glorious New Tractor Factory

First, the apology.

As you’ve noticed, this is the first thing I’ve posted this December, for which I apologize to all my readers and especially to those kind enough to pay me for posting things. To explain – well, it’s a second-order effect of our summer being-raided-by-the-Feds experience. (Details here, for anyone who didn’t get them at the time.)

You see, way back at the start of the month, we were called upon once more by the FBI, who were quite unexpectedly bringing our property back. I must reluctantly credit them for taking only four months to decide that weren’t, in fact, holding corporate networks for ransom, which by the standards of the American government is quite uncanny speed and efficiency. They even went so far as to apologize for “the inconvenience”, which was both (a) entirely unexpected and (b) possibly the most delicate euphemism imaginable for “having our goon squad smash up your house, terrorize your family, and help themselves to your stuff”. Dear friends, it was not the former which left me too slack-jawed with incoherence to make a properly sarcastic response.

As such, I have found myself spending the month going through the returned items, taking inventory and determining what will be the subject of future claims due to being obviously faulty (the two servers with large chunks of their cases broken off, for a start) or more subtly faulty now (gee, could that high abnormal sector count have anything to do with the natural antipathy of hard drives and fucking grenades), and then ensuring that they are all purified, exorcized, and mind-cleansed before being returned to use (my network does not need a case of foamy fibbie fever, thanks so much), which has taken up pretty much all of time.

And then it was Christmas, which was a timely relief from stressful reminders of bullshit.

But, yeah, that’s what I was doing this month instead of writing. Mea culpa, but at least I have some back ideas stored up for next month?


That all said, now, let’s talk about tractors. The beams, that is. This is inspired by a question a reader asked over on the Discourse:

Say, why aren’t tractors and other vector control tech used for fast atmospheric vehicles (especially aerospace cruisers)? You’ve got plenty of remass just sitting around outside, so you should only be spending fuel for the energy to run the vector control core?

But really, to answer it, I need to talk some about tractor beams in general, and so I’m going to do that.

Ultimately, tractor and pressor beams (and the hybrid torquor beams, which I’m not going to talk about extensively here but which y’all can deduce from the information on tractors and pressors) aren’t beams in the strictest sense. They’re representatives of one offshoot of vector-control technology, which is to say, non-local force transfer; the relevant engineered devices in this family acquired the moniker because an easy way to point your non-local force transfer is to heterodyne the exotic ontoeffect on top of a carrier. Hence “beam”.

(This is not the only way to do it: you can build a much simpler projector pair which, when powered on, will exert tractor/pressor effects between themselves – but only themselves. You can’t redirect the force anywhere else or otherwise point them. That makes them useless for many purposes, although if you want to build those cool-looking catamaran spaceships without physical hull connections or flying cities that don’t crush any poor schmuck who walks underneath, they’re quite useful for that.)

Rather than get into the messy internal details, I’m going to describe their effects. Basically, you can think of them as a springs-only-without-the-springs. If you lay a tractor beam on a target, it acts like a spring stretched between the projector and the target that wants to return to its natural length of zero; the further away the target gets, the harder it pulls, and ultimately it wants to pull the target right into the projector. A pressor beam, meanwhile, acts like a spring squished between the projector and the target that wants to return to its natural infinite length; the closer the target, the stronger the push, and ultimately it wants to shove the target an infinite distance away.

(Both of these phenomena are, of course, limited in range by the range of the carrier beam; if you can’t focus it on the target, you can’t project the ontotransfer. As the carrier beam disperses, the effective ontotransfer diminishes until the beam “snaps”.

Also, I am simplifying by using the projector as reference frame when I talk about the effects on the target. As with local force transfers, Newton’s Third Law is in effect: the tractor “really” pulls things together, and the pressor “really” pushes things apart. It’s just easier to talk using the projector reference frame.)

On its own, a tractor isn’t really all that useful; it has all the problems of a towrope – magnified, in space use, by the lack of a friction-providing medium – insofar as you can’t stop something moving towards you with a pull. Or, to put it simply, if you, the Enterprise, start towing a million tons of asteroid with your tractor beam, when you stop doing so, you’d better dodge before you get a million tons of assteroid, if you know what I mean.

Thus, in practice, all “tractor beams” are actually combined tractor-pressor units. The combination gives you the ability to hold things in place (along one axis): the tractor and pressor are configured so that the push-pull balances out at the intended distance. If the target moves closer, the tractor’s pull weakens and the pressor’s push strengthens, moving it back out; if the target moves further away, the pressor’s push weakens and the tractor’s pull strengthens, moving it back in.

Note that using a single tractor-pressor unit in this way only keeps the target in a fixed position along the axis of the beam. This can be useful in some scenarios, but as anyone who’s ever towed someone will know, does not stop it from fishtailing all over the place, along the other two axes in the absence of gravity. Tugs and other professional towers will thus use multiple projectors pointed at multiple tractor points in order to prevent this.

(A lot of tugs in the ‘verse have a similar layout to the nuBSG Cylon basestars, to mount three big projects at the end of the three protruding arms, thus giving them plenty of leverage and three-axis coverage.)

What’s a tractor point? Well, as I said, Newton’s Third Law applies: when you use a tractor (or a pressor), all the force you’re transmitting through it – potentially the full weight of the target – is applied to both the projector and the specific part of the target the beam is pointed at. For this reason, the projectors are generally bolted directly and heavily to the major structural members of a ship mounting them; likewise, on the other side of the equation, tractor points are heavily reinforced plates also bolted directly and heavily to the main structure, to provide places where a tractor beam can be safely pointed.

For non-barges, think of them as the equivalent to the tow hooks they fit to cars for emergencies, and important for the same reason: hulls are not designed to bear that much weight, and much like the case of the idiot who ties the tow rope around the fender, that will come right off and make a nasty mess. Hell, using weaponized tractors to rip off big strips of hull was even in vogue for a while.

Why not point the beam at the whole ship, you say?

Well, a couple of reasons. One, it’s a beam. Much like light only illuminates the surface of an object, the carrier beam only transmits the ontoeffect to the surface of the object. That’s not as bad as it sounds: obviously light doesn’t interact only with the first layer of atoms and nor does the carrier beam (another point in the design of tractor points is maximization of penetrance), but you aren’t going to force either through the entire object without deleterious effects.

And two, dispersal affects efficiency. A highly collimated carrier beam can deliver the ontoffect on target with little lossage; the wider you disperse the beam, on the other hand, the more lossage you get (the inverse square law is not your friend). The limiting case of this is the “reactionless drive” that works, essentially, by pointing this particular ontoeffect at half of the observable universe, at which point you’ve successfully achieved efficiencies that make the photon rocket look good.


So, to return at last to the question:

Say, why aren’t tractors and other vector control tech used for fast atmospheric vehicles (especially aerospace cruisers)? You’ve got plenty of remass just sitting around outside, so you should only be spending fuel for the energy to run the vector control core?

(And there is at least part of me at this point that really wants to say “the answer should now be deducible from the information given above”, but I’m not that mean, and besides, it’s Christmas.)

Well, there are some applications that are used, such as using tractor tethers to swap momentum (seen here) or turn corners more quickly by club-hauling against fixed tractor points; and other related effects, such as using the distinct paragravitational family of vector-control effects to, for example, build magnetogravitic jets with no moving parts. But as for main-drive effects:

  • You can’t push off things, because they suffer your weight. If you use a downward-pointing pressor to keep your aircar up, everything underneath you gets crushed, and very little of it was built to be run over by an aircar. This includes all aircars using lower altitudes.
  • You can’t pull on things either, because they too suffer from your weight. The club-haul grapple turn looks cool when you pull it off, but it looks less cool when you yank the coffee shop on the corner and all its patrons into the middle of the street trying it.
  • You can’t fix either of those by dispersing the beam, since the same inverse-square phenomenon that reduces the harmful effects also murders your efficiency to death.
  • Air (presumably the remass in question?) isn’t very motivatable by tractor-pressor technology, because it’s not solid and as such sucks at intercepting the carrier beam. (We’ve seen hand tractors being used in air before, I believe.) Tractor-pressors _do_ lose some efficiency in air – and create some minor draughts, if sufficiently powerful – because of the fraction of the beam that is intercepted, but much like shining a beam of light through air, it’s a tiny fraction. (Dust particles or water droplets can intercept it, though, so if you are in a filthy place or it’s foggy, be prepared to keep wiping the projector lens off.)

In short, you’re better off using other bits of the vector-control family for propulsion, like the basic mass-twiddling, and paragravitational widgetry like the magnetogravitic jet/pump.

Speaking of aerospace cruisers, though, consider the later designs where, given the translocation rings allowing easy back-and-forth transit, they simply keep most of the ship in orbit and use tractor technology to lower the entire flight deck into atmo…

Quintenary?

quaternary weaponry: Among heavy infantry, who use the M-70 Havoc combat exoskeleton, there are three official categories of weaponry:

  • primary weaponry: the heavy tribarrel, flamer, and target designator built into the exoskeleton;
  • secondary weaponry: additional hardpoint-mounted weapons provided by a modular weapons back, such as the BP-400 Conflagration;
  • tertiary weaponry: weapons carried by, rather than attached to, the exoskeleton.

Quaternary weaponry, therefore, is a term that shows up principally in aftermath reports, meaning “punched to death”. Insofar as the M-70 Havoc provides a twenty-four-fold physical strength multiplier to its wearer, the use of quaternary weaponry against armored troops, vehicles, buildings, and occasional field fortifications is far from unknown.

— Blackjacket’s Dictionary

There Have Only Ever Been Four

In 7262 and 7263, the Imperial Security Executive suffered a number of leaks of documentation referring to the establishment of a “Sixth Directorate”, including location information on forward operating bases attributed to this Sixth Directorate, and a number of sightings of Intelligence prowlers whose pennant numbers indicated association with this Directorate, and backed up by traffic analysis indicating the existence of this new intelligence organization.

The Sixth Directorate, of course, did not exist. Not, it is to be noted, in the sense that the Fifth Directorate does not exist, but in the sense that it literally did not exist save for the shadow cast by leaked documentation, dressed-up empty prefabs, and altered transponder data.

Its nonexistence, however, and the panic reactions of most of the Worlds’ intelligence agencies, did a marvelous job of distracting everyone from Second Directorate and Admiralty Intelligence operations during the 7265-7269 period of the Republican central government’s final collapse.

(A brief resurgence in Sixth Directorate sightings occurred in 7489 and 7490, which were largely dismissed as an attempt by the Executive to resurrect their old masquerade. In this case, however, ExSec had designated their Primary Working Group for dealing with the Exceedingly Hostile Takeovers the “Sixth Directorate PWG”, allowing them to operate with impunity in the former Magenite sphere of influence while attention was directed conspicuously elsewhere.)

– Imperial State Security, A Declassified History

That Is Not Dead

By dreaming dragons – the world was carved
To dreaming dragons – the world yet bends
Those dreaming dragons – all lie dead
Yet dreaming dragons – carve it still.

“Lay of the Dead Dragons”, fragment, circa -3,500

the light breathes
the shadows move and the objects don’t
are you real?
am I?

I am not.

unknown survivor of passage through the periphery of the Tortelsvard grimward, immediately before dissolving without trace

Drones can’t bleed.

Dallen Osiríän, engineer on OPERATION ABYSS DREDGE, upon being confronted with a post-dive drone that was, in fact, bleeding

You can try a reality engine against it the moment that no-one else is living on this planet, and not before.

Prefect Aldysis Paluna, Fifth Directorate

“That’s not fog. That’s reality getting fuzzy. Basically… run.”

History records that the trakelpanis trakóras amán are all dead, wiped out at the beginning of the Gloaming, three hundred thousand years ago. In this, history is correct.

The common assumption that death carries with it finality, on the other hand, is incorrect. During the Chaos that marked the end of trakelpanis trakóras amán civilization, five fell upon Eliéra: for three, those who we believe dwelt here before the Chaos, we have names. The Shaper died at her home, in the Dragon’s Nest, and in so doing created the largest of Eliéra’s grimwards, nearly twenty miles across. Of those who dwelled at the Gate of Dragons, both died elsewhere: the Architect fell in Saralainn, and the Farseer was slain abroad in far Marukamui. Of the nameless amán legendaria presume to be their attackers, one formed the first and most famous grimward in central Kaládav, brushing the valley of the Falthrang, and the other died far to the south, amid the monazite sands of Tortelsvard.

And there part of them remains.

What is a grimward? It is the mad dream of a dead dragon, no more and no less. The trakelpanis trakóras amán possessed a peerless ontotechnology, capable of commanding the forces of reality and warping it in accordance with their desires and ambitions, making, twisting, and unmaking with a thought. The amán knew few strictures or boundaries, and acknowledged fewer, the fatal flaw that led to their self-destruction as a race: how much less restrained, then, the passions flickering in their hollow bones, unconstrained by conscious will?

The land, sea, and sky for miles around where they lie, then, are regions where reality grows fuzzy: even the most mundane things found within or passing their boundary may find themselves warped into prodigies or horrors unique in the universe. Space and time themselves quail there: one may cross miles in a footstep only to find that step taking centuries, or a mile may stretch into a journey of decades which leads one out before one entered. There can be no certainty there, no prediction, and no safety. Only the whim of the grimward’s master defines the structure of being within its bounds.

Thus, these regions have been surrounded by long and high walls, posted warnings, and the strongest wardings ancient thaumaturgy or modern technology could devise since early in the Gloaming, long before there was an Empire, layers built on layers and warnings inscribed over earlier warnings, with reality engines humming where once beacon-fires burned.

They may be the greatest dangers we have found in this universe.


WARNING
EXTREME ONTOLOGICAL DANGER

DO NOT TRANSGRESS THE BOUNDARY OF THE GRIMWARD UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
DEATH IS PREFERABLE TO THAT WHICH LIES WITHIN.

DO NOT APPROACH THE GRIMWARD.
DO NOT CONTEMPLATE THE GRIMWARD.
DO NOT PROVOKE THE GRIMWARD.

BY ORDER

IMPERIAL RANGERS, SUPRADEATH CONTAINMENT SECTION

A Ring On It

The most distinctive feature of any frameslip drive is its ring. Unlike the simple vector-control core which can be tucked safely within the parent ship – the microtides accompanying too-close exposure to a vector-control core have been responsible for little more than a great deal of nausea among engineer apts – the much greater inflection of space required to form the frameslip envelope and the ripple on which it rides needs to be kept as far from the starship itself as practical. Since sensor domes, turrets, drive nozzles, radiators, et. al., protrude beyond the hull and must continue to operate during fittle-flight, a large slipspace volume is required, resulting in frameslip rings often being the most prominent feature of any starship equipped with one.

As frameslip travel has advanced, a variety of techniques have evolved to deal with the unfortunate form-factor this forces upon frameslip drive starships, and the problems inherent in having a large structure packed with relatively delicate metric-manipulation technology outermost in the starship’s structure, especially for warships.

Where the technology itself is concerned, the most important development was the multiphasic frameslip drive, enabling a single core to direct its output through dual or even multiple rings arranged in series along the drive axis. Rather than the spherical slipspace produced by an original-pattern frameslip drive, multiphasic frameslip encapsulates an ellipsoidal volume, more compatible with other aspects of celestime architecture, albeit at some cost in envelope efficiency. Such designs obviously reduce the necessary size of the frameslip rings for a given hull compared to a single-ring design.

Another area of development has been the use of temporary rings. The first systems of this type were simple temporary rings; a number of prototype vessels were constructed with dockable “collar” frameslip modules, similar in concept to the drive module of the Kalantha-class frontier trader. While this proved to be an unpopular paradigm, later developments along this line produced the Flatbread-class frameslip superlifter, which uses an open frame similar to a cageworks to surround the vessel it transports, and the Lanceola-class fleet carrier, a long-spined craft to which cruiser and destroyer-type screening vessels can dock within the radius of its frameslip rings.

Simultaneously, other designers were working on the collapsible frameslip ring, capable of being withdrawn from its active position to lie flat against the hull when not in use, a process requiring first disconnecting and then shrinking the individual segments of the ring. In achieving this, designers concentrated the frameslip machinery into a series of nodes at key points around the ring, permitting the remainder – primarily waveguides and simple couplers – to be mounted within telescoping structures extending from each side of the spar-mounted nodes and interlinking to complete the ring. This has now become the established standard for all but specialized and dedicated frameslip vessels; in more advanced designs, the extended nodes make use of reality graphics to form the full ring out of pseudomatter nanovoxels, eliminating the need for telescoping.

One particular example worth mentioning at this point is the Metamotive-class stargate transport, which hybridizes the above models. It makes use of a unique six-part design, the components of which are capable either of linking together and operating as a single unit while moving between gates, or of separating and docking independently with the transport sockets on a Ring Dynamics Mark IV stargate, extending the reach of the ring to cover the entire structure.

One of the greatest difficulties in ring design, however, was faced by the Imperial Navy’s Bureau of Innovation: that of enabling capital ships – battleships, carriers, and larger classes – to be constructed with frameslip capability. While collapsible frameslip rings, which place the key machinery safely within the protective envelope of the starship’s systems, suffice for civilian use, this is insufficient for a ship of war; the protection of armor is required for survivability in the battlespace environment. Thus, the Bureau developed the Alcarialé-Renaez frameslip mount.

Capital starship design is based upon a core framing structure within which the pressure hull (or hulls) is mounted, along with the drives, power reactors, bunkerage, auxiliary machinery, cargo holds, etc., etc. The outer hull, composed of armor plating, is mounted atop this framing structure by means of flexible spreader trusses; only a few necessary components are mounted to the inside of the outer hull.

The Alcarialé-Renaez frameslip mount separates the frame structure into multiple segments (typically three), along with the armor above it. The points where secondary structural members meet are connected when the segments are closed up using variations of the Ascíël coupler, while flexpipe, concertina couplings, and similar technologies are used to carry power, data, and materiel across the segments regardless of their position. Meanwhile, the junctions in the armor layers are built to a double-overlap pattern which provides protection when closed and do not allow for a vulnerable gap between armor sections. The primary structural members – selected to be sufficient for the stresses of fittle-flight, if not combat – at the division points are replaced by magnetohydraulic rams wrapped in similar variable-length couplers.

When such a vessel wishes to engage frameslip drive, it must first disengage the various couplers between each segment, at which point the multiple magnetohydraulic rams engage to drive the framing segments apart, lengthening the starship and opening gaps in the armor above the division points through which the spars and nodes of a collapsible frameslip ring may be extended, and the ring completed through reality graphic projection. On arrival, the same process is reversed to withdraw the ring and restore battle-readiness.

Of course, as all this is a somewhat complex and lengthy evolution, the frameslip-equipped capital ship must be sure to plan its arrival at a suitable distance from the battlespace, and likewise, may find itself unable to depart without a safe location in which to deploy the frameslip ring without exposing its vulnerable aspects to enemy fire.

– The Evolution of Frameslip (8001-8200), INI Press