Operation Search and Expunge (2/5): Breach

Illicit Drift, Narijic System, Freeport Loop – Mission Elapsed Time +0:00:01

In the base of the crater in which the pod had impacted – aided by the requirement for stealth of the illicit drift, which couldn’t afford to reveal its position by installing local defense systems, never mind by actually using said systems – a brief mist hung in the void as the heat-charged thermal goo abruptly vented.

A moment of stillness to allow it to disperse, and the forward body of the pod cracked down its mid-line and opened, a humanoid figure pulling itself upright from its cradle of impact foam.  Me, Operative Morria.

Well, in mind, anyway.  My internal self-image doesn’t all resemble the Jímar-class single-op ‘shell they assign us for these missions, thank Ithával – hairless, sexless, regolith-gray skin the texture of old leather directly wedded to ceramet armor-plating.  And, more relevant to the immediate situation, without any particular need to breathe…

Enough fresh-reinstantiate woolgathering, Morria, I reminded myself.  “A slow incarnation is a dead incarnation,” as they say, and don’t let that distract you either.  There would already be local security cycling the locks to check out the impact site.  I yanked the equipment packages out of the pod, and stashed them around me, the pinch over one shoulder, grenades and the breacher charge over the other, weapon in hand, then fired up local wireless and ordered a self-diagnostic.  Straight-line blue.  A moment to order the pod into self-destruct and check the composite had started to deliquesce, and I was off in a high, bounding run.

*             *             *             *             *

The same consideration, of course, was why I couldn’t enter through the locks, either.  Well, shouldn’t.  Beating up on the local security might be fun, but very much outside mission parameters.  Which is why three minutes later I was not approaching the locks marked on my plan, but rather a flat spot in the asteroid wall where the habitat excavations had brushed a bit too close to the surface and been reinforced with a fused-wall.  I brushed the regolith aside, slapped the breacher to the surface, and leapt for cover while it drilled itself in —

The ground pulsed, and with a silent roar air fountained from the wound torn in the habitat, bringing with it a litter of smart-paper and aerogel mugs and other light stuff caught in the outflow before the spacetight doors slammed down.  A couple of bodies came with it, too, who must have been standing right next to the wall when it breached.  One was a kalatri in Voniensan uniform, I noted absently, adding his now perpetually-surprised features to the log-vlog; that wasn’t in the mission plan.

Speed is life.  I flicked a red-banded grenade, HE and needles to flush out the non-oxyeaters, into the hole and dived in after it, pirouetting to scan the room.  Nothing but corpse-char and wrecked office equipment; excellent, but half the drift would have felt the twin detonations.  Service duct.  There.  All was going as planned, now to keep moving, taking out the air and the automation as I went…

Trope-a-Day: Awesome Personnel Carrier

Awesome Personnel Carrier: The V40 Ralihú – as used by the Exploratory Service and the Imperial Legions – with its full-environment sealing (operate on any planet, including underliquid; also, climate control), all-directions sphere-drive, vector-control facility for better ground-holding and brief off-ground hops, plus ability to drop from orbit and hover for recovery, kinetic barriers, solid armor, excellent suspension, and modular enhancement system including a full squad carrier, medical facilities and moderately heavy weapons for IFV use… probably qualifies.

Leap Day

In honor of (I can honor the weirdest things) it being February 29, our calendar’s leap day, a half-dozen facts about the leap day for those using Imperial Standard Time:

  1. First, it does have one, as IST is based on the rotation and orbital periods of Eliera, the eldrae homeworld.  The year is a little longer than hours, because while it’s only 333.3 local days long, the local day itself is roughly 26 of our hours long.  Given these periods, the leap day is added every third year and omitted every thirtieth, to suit.
  2. It’s named “Calibration Day”, because that’s what it does to the calendar.
  3. It’s added to the calendar at the summer solstice, immediately after the intercalary day set aside for that every year.
  4. As it’s an anomaly in the smooth progression of days, nights, cycles and years anyway, it’s also the traditional day that leap seconds and other minor adjustments are added on to.
  5. It’s not officially a holiday, but since everyone’s still recovering from the Midyear’s Day festival, it’s not like much work gets done on it.
  6. Many Imperials really hate the thought of having to eventually split Elieran planetary time and IST up as the planet slows in deep time, even if that is what every other planet has to do routinely. Plans for giant planet-girdling superconducting rings to electromagnetically spin the planetary rotation back up are already being tossed around by the Excruciatingly Long-Range Planning chaps.  At least it keeps them busy.

Counterpoint: Tourism

My colleagues have spent most of this issue telling you all the conventional reasons why you ought to visit the Empire: the outstanding natural beauty, the many places of historical significance, the music, the food and wine culture, the chance to experience their literary, gaming, and entertainment culture up close, or even just to witness all the eccentricity on display.

I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t.

Firstly, it’s all so wretchedly anodyne. For a land notorious for its decadence – and it is decadent – it has all the bohemian credibility and counterculture of a consciously-designed theme park. Something about Imperial libertism has converted every imaginable vice from drug parlors to autophagy restaurants into friendly, commercial experiences that simultaneously defang the shock one might rightly feel at some, and robs the others of even the slightest frisson of transgressive pleasure.

Second, one of my colleagues mentioned, when discussing how safe the Empire is to visit thanks to its ubiquitous law enforcement, the to-be-avoided experience of collecting a half-dozen on-the-spot fines for littering on your first day there. Well, while the Imperial legal system is notoriously rigid, that’s not the true visiting-the-Empire experience. That would be discovering that due to the equally uncompromising use of reputation networks and the near-complete lack of any public-privacy or antidiscrimination laws, you’ve been deemed Officially Not Polite Enough to customer service staff and are paying 120% over market for everything.

Then there are the weapons. Yes, we know it’s just the local political climate – and incidentally, unless your idea of a pleasant holiday is a knock-down drag-out argument, don’t use that word or any of its derivatives; it’s almost reflexive – but everybody, everybody is carting a gun and probably a sword around, too! That they make a point of how low their rate of violent crime is compared to the Worlds’ average does not make this look any better; given that, why would well-adjusted people need to carry all that hardware around?

But most of all, it is the subtext of the entire experience. In small doses, it’s not so bad, but on any extended visit, the sheer flawlessness of the place starts to hurt the eye.

We all want to make our worlds better, our lives better, our selves better. But there’s a point beyond which further improvement is counterproductive.

And this point comes well before I start looking around desperately for any scrap of litter, any accumulated dirt, any stain, crack, or hole, any building – not acclaimed as historical – with some signs of wear on it, any traffic that’s not moving with exacting regularity, or just one single solitary person who is not one of the eldritch-beautiful people.

There’s no fuzziness to the Empire at all. No soft edges, no comforting blur, nothing that’s been permitted to be less than its idealization, and the result is a place that is profoundly disquieting for those of us from locales with more realistic expectations.

And if disliking that makes me an “entropist”, well, that’s why I won’t be going back.

– from the Empire-centric special edition of Worlds Traveler magazine

Future Clothedness

From a friend’s post on Google+ about his universe:

One thing that strikes me is that the most advanced worlds have only symbolic clothing, if any. With Sufficiently Advanced Technology they can regulate the microclimate continuously or greatly increase the body’s temperature tolerance. I assume obesity is also eliminated (unless it is considered cute in some cultures) so people don’t hide their bulk in loose clothing. Clothing is then used for modesty, decoration and to signal status or allegiances. At this point, a loincloth / pubic flag suffices, along with jewelry. If status is signaled through aura or skin markings, only modesty remains, and having an object that particularly draws attention to the genital area does not necessarily qualify for that.

Thus, to my great surprise, my universe ended up having a lot of naked and almost naked people. I wonder if this really is going to happen in the real world as well if we survive long enough. I suspect we’d end up with a lot of body paint in that case though. Look at what people do to the parts of their bodies that are visible today. Perhaps clothes are less work after all…

Well, I’ve seen this proposed before as a model for the future, and depending on how your culture evolves, I don’t even think it’s necessarily that unreasonable.  But here, just for counterpoint, are the reasons why the Eldraeverse – despite having all the same advantages by way of controllable microclimates, increased temperature tolerance, obesity elimination, yadda yadda, didn’t go down this road.

Initially, before we get started, let me take a moment to point out that none of them is modesty, in the taboo/body-shame per-se/cranky deities sense of the word.  After all, if that was the case, one imagines that the mixed-sex (all six!), mixed-race, mixed-species public baths with all the ensuing nakedness would be something of a problem for the modesty-and-decency brigade, which they very much aren’t.

And yet clothing is traditionally worn, and Anharmonic Indecency – which covers among other things some of the territory of our Indecent Exposure exists in the law code (for the administration of public areas;  you can never get it for anything you do inside your own property line, including the hull of your vehicle) – although it takes effort to get that one through simple underdressedness unless you’re actually waving your genitals around.  Why?

Well, first, there’s distraction.  Note, and this is an important note, that this is not some gender-wacky “women must not tempt men” notion, such as idiots on Earth keep bringing up.  (If you tried bringing that up in the Empire, you’d be laughed at, and if you were persistent or unlucky, shot.  If you tried bringing it up as a defense in a rape trial, which in Imperial legal parlance encompasses the entire territory of sexual assault, you’d be shot more.)

Rather, it’s just the general recognition that most species, irrespective of gender, have hard-coding in their sensory cortex that says “PAY ATTENTION TO NEKKED PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY ATTRACTIVE ONES”, and this tends to produce the same sort of problems, attention-economics-wise, as using cellphones while driving and suchlike, except that it’s an unexpected stimulus you weren’t planning on reacting to.  As such, there is a certain degree of public safety utility in not having attractive naked people wandering around where people are driving and operating heavy machinery, never mind the net effect on efficiency of all the distraction prompts in your brain.

In short, it’s like doing any of those other attention-grabbing things when people are trying to work/play/otherwise attend to their own business.  It’s rude.

(This is obviously not applicable in those places where nudity is acceptable, like the public baths – where efficiency is not a concern in a leisure activity, and where the possibilities for serious accidents with Doc Kajen’s Superbly Awesome Old-Time Bath Nanosalts and massage oil are mostly, well, not.)

Second, there’s negative aesthetics.  Recognizing that almost everyone’s attractive to someone, almost no-one’s attractive to everyone.  Accepting the quoted point regarding how much is needed for decoration – although I’m going to dispute it again below – this eliminates the way that clothing also covers up a multitude of sins.  Literally in, say, my case, in which it covers up the effects of my raddled and dissipated lifestyle including a taste for steak, booze, sherry trifle, and soft living; more figuratively, it also conceals the effects of a lot more of life’s events on the body that we may not necessarily want to advertise to everybody.  Or just those parts of the body that evolved very much for utility, not appearance.

It’s not a reflection of cultural body-shame to point out that my naked beer gut is never going to be an attractive feature.  (Or even the personal kind, for that matter.  I’m not ashamed of that particular trade-off; I will gladly admit to a strong preference for NOM NOM NOM over six-pack abs, even while aesthetically preferring to conceal the consequences of said preference.)  It might be, I suppose, and I admit I have limited experience with the mindset of the female of the species, to speculate that the last-chicken-in-the-shop look of the male genitalia isn’t exactly what most ladies look for in a chap, nor will it be winning any art’n’design awards any time soon.

This is a lot less applicable in the modern Empire, of course, given the way people are genetically engineered and nanotechnically enhanced to be born gorgeous and stay that way in perpetuity, with self-maintaining fitness and perfect healing, as it would be in the setting above, but cultural inertia is also a factor.  As is no-one is attractive to everyone, and some people don’t want to be.

Thirdly, there’s positive aesthetics, or what is covered above under decoration and status markers, and so forth.  To which I will just say that this is culturally dependent, but bear in mind that how much minimalism you can have depends very much on how much you need to display.  It may work for a high-context culture where you can make assumptions reliably about t’other chap.  The Empire, which encompasses a large number of member cultures and subcultures, and crosses a lot of species lines, functions best as a consciously designed very low-context culture – and as such, can use all the parallel communication channels it can get.  They need plenty of space to fit all the relevant signifiers, even with v-tags and so forth.  And the more you wear, the more messages your clothing can send.

On the decoration side of things, I’d also point out the aesthetic diversity issue.  If you’re sticking with a loincloth and some jewelry, there’s a lot less potential for it than in more complex multigarment arrangements – and today, even when you take only clothing-sets displaying approximately equal status and clade markers, there’s a heck of a lot of different variations in ways to dress which exist principally for the purpose of being different from each other.  This is going to be important to any high-individualism culture, and even if they started out with a minimal clothing-set, I’d expect it to get more and more complicated for this reason alone; letting people differentiate themselves from their neighbors.

Fourthly, pleasure.  Although this may escape most of us today, inasmuch as the vast majority of clothing on the planet is made from cheap fibers or blends, factory-assembled and sold made-to-measure, for which read inevitably ill-fitting, a really, really good suit or other article of clothing from a good tailor, dressmaker, or hand-crafter can be an active sensual pleasure to wear.  In the glorious rich, nigh-post-scarcity futures which include both widely available bespoke garment production and quite possibly enhanced tactile senses and ability to enjoy them, this will only be enhanced.

And to end on a practical note, fifth and lastly, protection, in both ways.  Firstly, protection of us, because one finds it useful to protect against getting one’s dangly bits caught in the machinery, and so forth.  Okay, yes, a loincloth will deal with that, but even day to day, and even assuming that microclimate control also keeps out undesired radiation, the world offers a multitude of sharp, spinny, spiky, abrasive, sticky, hot or other things, and sticky, hot, acidic, caustic, or cold spills, which one would prefer to stay at least one layer of textiles away from one’s flesh.  If only for ease of cleanup.

Second, protection of the environment.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but people are messy.  Even we clothing-wearers shed ungodly amounts of hair and skin-flakes into the environment every day that we have to brush up and throw away.  Now multiply that by the amount that currently ends up on the inside of our clothing that we launder away.  Then contemplate that, not to put too fine a point on it, humans (and other biosapients) leak.  The owners of the local environment, I submit, do not need everything from sweat through overflowing breast milk to skid-marks and that stuff that collects in one’s ass-crack on hot days added to the stuff they need to clean off the furniture, or worse, find has soaked into the furniture, inasmuch as you can’t conveniently stick a whole couch into the washing machine on a regular basis.

It’s not cultural body-shame to find the notion of sharing in (most of, and outside special circumstances) your fellow man’s body fluids kind of gross, either.  (Also, public health.)

Domestic Technology

Another interesting article here (hat tip: Eclipse Phase blog), concerning the gender distribution of the future, and in particular its technologies, complete with real-world examples of the differential between the (assumed-male) public sphere and (assumed-female) domestic sphere.  And here’s a relevant paragraph for you:

One of the things that has frustrated me about science fiction is that technology pertaining to the smaller aspects of our lives is often neglected in favor of big giant rockets and exotic weaponry. Birth control seems non-existent and childbirth is still rocking the stirrups. And the home is at best not mentioned much. One of the things that “the future,” when we use that word as a metonymy for an idealized world in which machines solve all our problems, is supposed to do for us is give us time. Relieve us from work that is repetitive or unpleasant and allow us the sheer, simple hours in the day to do more. And yet, by far the biggest time sink going is the need to clean our habitats, prepare food and clothing, and maintain our environments. For those who have always had the, dare I say, privilege of ignoring that work, you simply cannot imagine how much time it takes to do all that and then turn around and do it again, often multiple times a day if there are offspring at play. Despite the fact that we here in the first world are supposed to have leveled up our gender equality stat, women still perform the majority of this labor, often in addition to a full shift outside the home. Fully automating this activity would free humanity on a scale that even the most awesome BFG can’t even begin to contemplate.

Now, the civilized polities of the Associated Worlds are not inclined to the strange kinks of humanity in this regard.  (Yes, the darëssef term for those who look after domestic matters – as well as infrastructure maintenance, repair, and medicine, but details – in the Empire is “hearthmistress”.  That’s a devil’s bargain with Translation Convention, inasmuch as it is unreasonably hard, although it’s still easier than in most European languages, to use English without dropping gender implications all over the place, there is no adequate gender-neutral term that fits, and “hearthmaster” carries all the wrong connotations for an English-speaker because English-speaking cultures come preloaded with wacky gender ideas. Sigh.  Nonetheless, the gender split there, as in most of the darëssef, is pretty close to even.)

End digression.  My point, mostly, is that I have a lot of notes in my worldbuilding wiki addressing this point, and concerning the plentiful domestic technology that exists, in re self-cleaning clothing, and self-aware homes, and preemptively helpful appliances and domestic robots, and any number of other things whose existence is very much intended to address this problem in the in-world sense, and yet, despite having done the worldbuilding on the various things intended to make the pointlessness of domestic labor a quaint historic footnote for actual sophont people, it hasn’t exactly shown up on screen.  (Nor, for that matter, to address another mentioned area, has the equivalent of the Bujoldian uterine replicator, but then, given the demographics, it would have less occasion to.)

I really should do something about that.  Maybe something from the point of view of the house

The Rains of Magen (2/3): Hair

It was raining on Magen two weeks later, too, and the rain beating down on the starscrapers of Magen’s corporations and the mere skyscrapers of its stockholders flowed in rivulets and gushing streams down their sides, along the skybridges, and cascaded in waterfalls off edges and balconies, these waterfalls torn to spray in the wind to fall again as rain far below.  The shredded falls, in their turn, beat on the roof and windows of the housing block far below where Terek 318-1224 slept in the sound sleep of a Magen clone, undisturbed by the cacophony of the falling water.

Hour by hour, the bionanomachines within him went about their work. Within minutes of the ice sliver having melted in his neck, the released bionanites had found their way to their targets, colonizing roughly every tenth follicle on Terek’s head. And now, while the hairs fibers grew and slid imperceptibly slowly outwards, they went to work, plating a thin strand of conductive carbon film helically around each fiber.

A small, microscopic change, using nothing but natural elements of the body in barely detectable quantities; it was nothing that would alter the outward color or texture of his hair, but more than enough to fulfill its purpose…

Nightside Rock (2/2)

Crash.  Shit.  That would be the cerrúr

The cerrúr, unusual though it definitely was in a place like this, was arguably not the strangest of the Rock’s residents, except perhaps to the most cursory of glances.

Even the most ordinary part of the motley band was more than a little out of their element. Palyn Derres-ith-Derres and Valíë Essenye-ith-Estrey were taking another retirement from their careers – his third, if you didn’t count the children, and her fourth likewise – in Delphys’s media community.  They’d bought the license to operate the Last Gas, the old refueling station that had been incorporated into the Rock’s starport, during the brief boom times. The pair had stayed despite the slowdown as the Reach’s economy collapsed – sheer stubbornness, they said, and anyway, this was as good a place to rest for a while as any, wasn’t it?

The rest of the Rock certainly had cause to be grateful for their stubbornness. As talented an engineer as <Topaz Andante Leitmotif> was, there were certain issues with putting an ergovore in charge of the station’s hydroponics… such that everyone was delighted when Palyn gently but firmly and quite unofficially took over charge and care of the greenhouses. Certainly an irregular arrangement, but as long as he kept sharing his home-grown, home-cooked food, there was not a single sophont in the system who’d so much as blink.

mor-Tarkel Rentak and mor-Venek Issek were smugglers, an old kaeth couple who lived aboard their ship, a battered  old Sehereth-class free trader in its own private dock at the starport. Quite why they were staying docked at Nightside Rock, Phoebe wasn’t sure; rumors abounded of their being hunted should they leave by every agency in the region from the Fifth Directorate through the Vonnies’ Exception Management Group, but despite hearing ten thousand stories at a thousand dinners, that was one they wouldn’t tell.  Or, at least, never the same way twice.

And maybe one more, at least if the heat sensors were anything to go by.  The hermit had come through the Rock years ago, now, with a deed to the old Exploratory Service cache and caves, disappeared into it, and hadn’t been seen since.  The rods had been pulled on the thermal reactor and the juice was flowing, but he – or she, or whichever, given the privacy mantle that made the records less than useful on this point – was disinclined to answer signals, and the cache was an isolated system.

Still, even with its resident hiding from the rest of the Rock’s little community – and suffering from whatever horrors a steady diet of decade-old processed mycoprotein meals and algiprote ration bars visited on the digestion – so long as the heat emissions kept showing irregular variations Phoebe wouldn’t have to get a party together to go clean up the cache, and that was not nothing.

…and then there was the cerrúr. It was possible there was another star station somewhere with its very own warhorse, but despite the tone of her several dispatches on the point, Phoebe considered it unlikely that the Imperial Service, Logarchy of Procurement, Storage, and Logistics, contained two such… creatively inept executors as to, transposed digits or no transposed digits, ship cavalry resupply to a space station. Unfortunately, there also wasn’t one prepared to authorize the costs of shipping it back.

Still, despite its habit of getting into the greenhouses and helping itself to rather more than its proper rations, it wasn’t so bad to have around. Almost appropriate, in a way.

After all, it really wasn’t any more out of place on the Rock than everyone else.

Trope-a-Day: Super Senses

Super Senses: Naturally, with various enhancements here and there, with the new Imperial baseline involving enhancing vision to include a substantial chunk of infrared and ultraviolet (everything from 500 nm through <300 nm), better imaging resolution, low-light sensing and thermal imaging, better sensitivity to motion, angle, and range, and – which so many of these miss – flare protection (actually, they all come with overload protection); hearing gets better amplitude sensitivity (to -50 dB) and frequency sensitivity (16-35,000 Hz), direction-finding, perfect pitch, and a sense of rhythm; smell gets closer to the bloodhound’s nasal skill, and taste likewise; touch enhanced with greater sensor density and acuity (and this, incidentally, is why people pay such attention to the comfort and texture of clothing and furniture); balance, rotation and acceleration senses are no longer troubled by rotating frames of reference or microgravity; pain detection is gateable; and the time sense becomes much more accurate.

(Parallel-type enhancements apply to species which were endowed with different senses by nature, of course.)

Of course, that’s just the existing senses.  Then come things like the entirely new sense for static and dynamic EM fields, synthetic additional visual fields and auditory channels for augmented-reality information, and senses operating through the Transcendent hyperconsciousness permitting the recall of memories never experienced and the direct sensing of nature, meaning, utility, entelechy, and obligation…

Trope-a-Day: Awesome, but Impractical

Awesome, but Impractical: Given just how many tinkerers there are (see: Home Inventions) around the place, this happens a lot.  Fortunately, the Imperial Military Resource Board and its commercial parallels are pretty good at filtering out the ones impractical enough to get people killed and battles lost before they hit production.

For modern examples – well, rather than repeat myself, go check out More Dakka and read the last couple of examples: the Dyson laser that can’t be aimed in any sort of reasonable timespan and the antimatter-grenade Gatling-gun.  There is a reason why you will never see either of those on any canonical battlefield; this trope is it.

Operation Search and Expunge (1/5): Entry

Narijic System, Freeport Loop

The lights of the stargate flared as the megafreighter emerged from its throat, making its braking burn to slingshot around the Narijic sun for the outbound gate, and at the opportune moment, a pod no bigger than a domestic flitter detached from the underside of the long fuel trusses, falling into the system on a trajectory that would carry it into the local asteroid belt.

Within the aft section of the pod, tanklets of thermal goo hissed as the heat pumps went into operation, keeping the pod’s internal heat from reaching its outermost skin.  While any long-term stealth was impossible, the tanklets held enough to keep the pod chilled for several hours before they had to be vented, which – the mission planners thought – should be enough separation from the freighter that suspicious eyes wouldn’t be looking in its direction any more.  If not… well, it would be a much shorter mission.

And in the forward section, the long, slow process of thawing out and reinstantiating Operative Morria – on a minimal heat budget – could begin.

Trope-a-Day: More Dakka

More Dakka: While, by and large, they are not found on normal battlefields, those wonderfully clever people at various research and development establishments have gone a long way towards the wonderfully dakkalicious, both through sheer scale and through quantities of fire.

Skipping over the more normal options available and actually used – even the IMS standard IL-15i Battlesystem, the standard-issue assault rifle/shotgun/SMG/anti-material sluggun/grenade launcher/missile launcher combo-pack, offers a respectable quantity of dakka – let’s just look at a couple of proposals, here:

On the one hand, for example, is the not-yet-built-or-engineered proposal for using the Dyson bubble at Esilmúr as a fleet killer, with the addition of a perfectly normal wormhole pair, one end of which would be axially mounted on a regular lighthugger – which would be quite the weapon when the entire output of the Esilmúr sun was magnetically focused down the wormhole using the harvesting arrays in reverse.  You could melt planets with that – although it’s probably impractically slow to actually get in position, the speed of light being what it is.

On the rather more practical hand, of course – well, thinking of things you can assemble from modular components, consider that a sluggun can double as a bore-compatible grenade launcher, that multibarrel/Gatling slugguns do exist, and so do antimatter grenades.  In short, you can assemble – using off-the-shelf components – a device which will let you high-rate (as in, thousands of rounds per minute) cycle-fire mini-nukes full auto!  (What you could possibly realistically want to use this piece of comical overkill on, and how exactly you’d go about surviving firing it, never mind paying for the ammo, are left as exercises for the reader.)

Nonetheless, it’s never enuff.

The Rains of Magen (1/3): Needle

It was raining on Magen that day, the dull, persistent, sheeting downpour that beat down upon the planet’s surface for thirty hours of every thirty-one hour day. Except for those resident in the highest executive towers and the aerostats of the Stockholding Directors, rising above the permanent cloud layer that enshrouded the world in gloom and oppressive heat, the omnipresent rain was as much a fact of life for the residents of the Magen Corporate’s capital world as gravity and service deductions.

The rain beat upon the roof of a hotel near Magen’s primary starport, running down in channeled cascades past the windows of its rooftop café, opened in the hope of garnering what morning breeze there was.  And thus, too, it fell past the table where Rivis mor-Estaeum laid down the smart-paper with the morning’s financial results, and turned to leave. And in falling, its sound more than covered the puff of the tiny ice needler hidden beneath his jacket.

Twenty stories below, the rain fell just as heavily, slick with grime and fatter droplets washed off the edges of the buildings above. Terek 318-1224, one of the many Magen basic-labor clones waiting at an office checkpoint to begin the work day, slapped his hand to the back of his neck at a sudden, sharp sting, then muttered an imprecation as warm droplets found their way under the collar of his cheap bactry-plastic overcoat, shuffling forward in the line.

And as the tiny sliver of ice embedded in his neck melted away, a hundred thousand biological machines swam free, swarmed, and began to multiply…

Waxing Poetical

For those wondering what exactly a chelír is, after its mention here (and probably also future mentions), it’s an Eldraeic poetry form originating in Cimoníë.  In its original language, it resembles somewhat the Japanese senryu, and so I have attempted to ape this particular style in English in presenting, herewith, some examples:

Well-chosen words sting;
Cutting minds free from shadows.
Truth is a razor.

From zero to one
Infinite numbers exist;
And between those, too.

Star, Stone and Flame abide;
Heaven, Earth, and Bridge –
Three parts make the whole.

Carbon joins carbon
Unites in myriad chains
From this all life springs.

Nuclear fire blossoms
A sky ablaze with curtained light
War’s awful beauty.

– selected chelír from the early Chímbrán collection

Nightside Rock (1/2)

Phoebe Dracotarthius owned a star system.

Well, that wasn’t strictly true.  Her formal writ ran only to the three-mile-long rock that civilization – such as it was in these parts – was burrowed into, even if in the absence of any other authority its advisory traffic-control zone did run all the way out to system limit.  But sometimes, when she put on her suit, left the dome, and just gazed at the stars turning slowly from horizon to horizon, it was easy to forget that.

It was a pleasant thought, and when you were appointed to administer a backwater’s backwater like Nightside Rock, you needed all the pleasant thoughts you could get.

Not that it was an uncomfortable posting.  The Rock was a sprawlingly huge place by star-station standards, a waypoint build for a golden age when the Worlds were enthusiastic to have met another grand interstellar civilization, and the Csell colonies were about to boom, and the Uílel system was perfectly placed to bridge all three, and had been built to meet the demands of a roaring passing trade.

Naturally, they’d barely got the construction finished before it all went to Dark and damnation.  The Vonnies got back from their grand tour of the worlds with shock, horror, and a list of demands as long as a darcúlnó’s arm, which the Conclave was delighted to offer them some suggestions for; the abruptly-bordermarch Csell Reach was taken over by a bunch of surly self-emancipated AIs with little or no use for the Rock’s services; and the passing trade never came.

Galin Tarquelios was the first of her two subordinates, the port director of the Rock’s starport and all its acres of unused docking cradles, silent landing pads, and empty, echoing concourses.  Despite the almost complete lack of traffic – and the more so because despite his nominally lofty title he was the entire staff of the starport – Galin went about his duties with terrifying efficiency, punctilio, and cheerfulness, broadcasting status reports (“same as always”) and traffic bulletins (“none”) into the empty void and offering advisory control services to any ships his sensor arrays could pick up, much to the irritation of the motley crew of smugglers that still used the Uílel routing into Republic space.  Phoebe was uncertain whether his attitude came from a desperate attempt to earn a transfer out, or if he’d actually cracked, but on the whole thought it was best not to enquire all that closely.

<Topaz Andante Leitmotif> was the other, the disgruntled galari engineer responsible for the station’s infrastructure, who defying traditional galari serenity, had tuned vis translator to a bloody awful imitation of a south-coast Cestian drawl and learned to swear with… educational fluency.  Which would be, she thought, a reasonable enough if annoying coping mechanism if he hadn’t programmed the station AI to be just as disgruntled.  Even this far into the hinterworlds, telling any customers who did turn up to do that with their power couplings would not be the best of plans.

Laryn Katrian, manager and, like Galin, sole sophont staff of the Gloamin’ Home, their luxury hotel, had succumbed to the boredom long ago in the absence of guests, and with a full robot crew to keep the place running now occupied his days with extranet gaming and his nights with drinking his way through the entire opening stock of exotic liquor (estimated completion: 30.4 years) and sleeping in a different room every night (estimated completion: a mere nine years, with five gone, although pretty soon he’d be down to just the exotic-environment suites).

Crash.  Shit.  That would be the cerrúr

Trope-a-Day: Awesome Anachronistic Apparel

Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: A minor consequence of widespread immortality and independent-mindedness is that when people find a style that really fits them well – and even more often than playing any one era straight, this means “taking the bits they like from across a considerable spread of years”, like a more temporally-unfocused version of steampunk style – they tend to stick with it.  However the world may move around them.  A crowd of Imperials from many different generations can really be quite the kaleidoscope of anachronisms, consequentially.

Trope-a-Day: Awakening the Sleeping Giant

Awakening The Sleeping Giant: Played mostly straight with the Empire, who despite qualifying as a superpower prefer not to have to referee the world (and, indeed, much of their participation in such transnational organizations as the Conclave of Galactic Polities is to avoid having to, as far as that is possible.)  At least in the public sector – your private organizations may vary.  And nevertheless, if someone is determined to start something, and keeps trying to start something, they’re happy to finish it with the Doctrine of Disproportionate Retribution.

Thus, their foreign military policy looks much like America’s back in the old sensible days, i.e., much like a hibernating bear’s:

Poke.  Slap.

Poke.  Slap.

Poke.  Slap.

Poke.  Slap.


(This also exists in something of a dynamic tension with No One Gets Left Behind, which see.)

Fire in the Sky

“Those lights? They’re nothin’, kid. Just ships shooting it out for control of low orbit. Nothing to worry about. There’s only three kinds of light show you need to watch for…”

“A streak of cloud like a contrail coming straight out of the zenith, a bright glow at the tip on the way down, and a big debris cloud where it touches down. Looks like some god stuck his finger down from heaven and squished the target. That’s an orbital kinetic strike. Don’t worry about those – if it’s close enough to kill you, it just did. If you can see it, you’re safe.”

“Then there’s the ones that are just lines of light that flash on and back off, no cloud, ’cept for the debris at the base. That’s a graser strike. And if you can see it, it’s killing you.”

“See, grasers are lousy weapons to hit groundside with; air disperses the beam too much. Those big ones they mount on super-caps have enough beam strength to do it, but they still scatter – meanin’ the scatter itself is hard gamma, and lots of it, everywhere inside visual range. So if you see a blue line flash in the sky, start taking your antirad meds. Well, not the iodide or the cobalt or the chelators, ’cause there’s no fallout to speak of, but all the rest of ’em.”

“And last, there’s the scatter of light-streaks like shooting stars, only jagged, ’cause they’re jinking across the sky dodging the gridfire. That’s a combat drop. As long as they’re long streaks, they’re coming down distant. Just call it in.”

“If they’re short? Then the war’s coming to you. But look on the bright side, kid. At least if they’re dropping on top of you you won’t be seein’ graser-flash any time soon…”