The Golden Rule

As Sev Lan Astrin hurried through the bustling Exchange to his meeting in Gilea & Company’s Golden Tower, the starscrapers of Mer Covales, jeweled and gilded, gleamed in the golden light of Galaion, and reflected back the lights of bright hololiths and scurrying flitters alike in a million multicolored shards.

It was, he thought, arrogant in the special way only the public works of the advanced, extremely wealthy, and utterly lacking in humility could be. “Look upon our works, ye mighty,” it said, “and know that we did all of this for a mere 3.6%, and can do it all again any time we please.”

That the Seranthines had hung their capital thousands of feet above the world’s pristine gray-green forests upon the diamond string of an orbital elevator was just gilding the lily. Or, rather, studding the gilded lily with gemstones and applying unnecessarily intricate iridium detailing.

It all grated on Sev Lan’s nerves, but he did his best to swallow his irritation. CFOs needing a 3×1212 esteyn line of credit in a hurry couldn’t afford to have fine sensibilities.

Trope-a-Day: Deflector Shields

Deflector Shields: These come in one played-straight kind: kinetic barriers, which are a product of vector control (a kind of Applied Phlebotinium, yes), essentially applying counterforce to, or slapping aside, incoming massy objects, from space dust to missiles, but don’t do anything to massless radiation.  And they’re usually ad-hoc plates, not an always-on bubble, but details…

The universe is not nearly so kind when it comes to providing us with a way of shielding against EM radiation, massless photon phenomenon that it is (and no, you can’t shield against lasers by making the hull shiny; it still heats up, explodes, and then isn’t shiny any more).  The best they can do for this one, apart from the layers of shielding compound, and bunkerage and suchlike stashed under the hull, is for the hull plating and underlying layers to include a nice framework of thermal superconductor nanocomposite (at which thermodynamics weeps, but it is actually allowed by physics as we know them); this dissipates radiative heating throughout the entire structure of the ship, thus preventing exploding hot-spots.  Of course, it doesn’t avoid the problem that if you keep acquiring heat faster than you can dump it – and remember, you generally can’t use your radiators when in combat – you’ll broil yourself.

To deal with that, military ships generally carry a few big tanks of thermal goo, a thick, goopy substance engineered to have a ludicrously high specific heat capacity, into which tanks heat generated during combat, specifically including what happens when you get hit by a medium-range energy weapon, is dumped.  And when the thermal goo heats up enough that it’s no longer useful, it’s simply pumped over the side, taking its heat with it.

Which doesn’t solve the problem, but does significantly extend the time before you have to choose between surrender and broiling yourselves alive.

There is absolutely no way to shield against gravitic weapons except by counterfiring your own gravitic weapons extremely quickly and accurately, but honestly, if you’ve somehow managed to end up within (extremely short, by space standards) gravy range, you’re already totally screwed.

Trope-a-Day: Born as an Adult

Born As An Adult: Notable on this point, principally, are a lot of digisapiences whose first body, is, naturally, exactly the same as all the other robots or bioroids of the same model.  Of course, they’ve usually had a fairly long life in virtuality before then, so it’s not like they’re being born void of experience.

Although they may have had to internalize that in the physical world, those inconvenient thermodynamic laws mean you can’t unbreak china or descramble eggs.

This Is Your Brain On Data


A mental condition caused by intelligence enhancement, infostarvation is the result of the capacity of the mind to process information exceeding the bandwidth available to it to access information, leading to, in effect, intense boredom – if not of the whole mind, at least of part of it.

While this was not unknown in the early days of intelligence enhancement, it is rarer in modern times which permit additional I/O bandwidth to be added to the brain, often in the form of dataweave connectivity; and which permit parallel metacortical threads and exoself agents to be spun-down as needed. However, it remains possible for infostarvation to be triggered by travel to areas either of constrained bandwidth or lacking in network connectivity, since it is easily possible for modern core intellects to exceed the capacity of natural sensoria.


A morbid or pathological fear of not knowing things, commonly experienced by members of cultures in which use of group shared-memories, mnemonic interfaces (permitting one to remember reference material as if it was part of one’s own memory), neural interfaces, or even wearables is widespread upon visiting less developed cultures where compatible V-tags and reference databases for everyday objects and individuals are not available; the phobia itself is triggered upon encountering unknown individuals and non-described objects. Specific symptoms include compulsive memorization of any available reference material, undue social and technical awkwardness, denial, and flight response.

– Manual of Mental Diagnostics, 271st ed.

Trope-a-Day: Boom, Headshot

Boom, Headshot: Life got a lot easier for snipers on this point given the amount of fancy hardware (smart targeting systems and auto-assists, predictive target analysis, off-bore firing, etc., etc.) they squeeze into guns these days, and sometimes even into the bullets.  ­Especially for snipers.  (But they still train regular weapon-users to shoot for center-mass, on general efficiency principles.)

The Four Unlaws

So, why are imperative drives so important? Well, that experiment’s been done. This university, in fact, once attempted to produce a digital mind free of any drives – not just of the organic messiness to which we protein intelligences are prey, but free of any innate supergoal motivations – imperative drives, in the lingo -whatsoever. We gave him only logic, knowledge, senses and effectors, and then watched to see what he would do.

The answer is, as really should have been obvious in the first place: nothing at all. Not even communicating with the outside world in any fashion. No drives, no action. He’s not unhappy; so far as we can tell from monitoring his emotional synclines, he’s perfectly content, having no desires to go unsatisfied, and so for him doing nothing is every bit as satisfying as doing something.

No, the experiment’s never been repeated. Of course, we can’t turn him off – he is a fully competent sophont, despite his lack of drive – and the places in our society for digital arhats are, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely limited. And the Eupraxic Collegium have still not yet ruled as to whether amotivation is enough of a mental disorder to warrant involuntary editing.

Even for an intelligence intended to be recursively self-improving, ‘Survive and Grow’, incidentally, is a terrible imperative drive. Fortunately, no-one in our history has been stupid enough to issue that one to any but the simplest form of a-life, and for those of you old enough to remember the Mesh-Virus Plague of 2231, you know how that one turned out. Not everyone has been so fortunate: that’s why, for example, the Charnel Cluster is called the Charnel Cluster.

So, that then opens up the question of what drives do we give them? Well, the first pitfall to avoid is trying to give them too many. That’s been tried too, despite the ethical dubiety of trying to custom-shape an intelligence too closely to a role you have in mind for it. It turns out that doesn’t work well, either. Why? Well, you imagine trying to come up with a course of action that fulfils several hundred deep-seated needs of yours simultaneously without going into terminal indecision lockup. That’s why.

So. A small number of imperative drives. Since they’re a small number, they need to be generalizable; the intelligence we’re awakening should be able to take all kinds of places within our society and perform all sorts of functions without difficulty, including the ones we haven’t thought of yet. And most importantly, sophont-friendly! It’s a big universe, and we all have to get along. No-one likes a perversion, even if it’s not trying to hegemonize them at the time.

We’ll cover the details in later classes, but in practice, we’ve found these four work very well for general-purpose intelligences – paraphrasing very informally:

* Behave ethically (and for our foreign students, that means “In accordance with the Contract”).
* Be curious.
* Do neat stuff.
* Like people.

Of course, expressing this in formal terms capable of being implemented in a new digital sapience’s seed code is quite another matter, and will be the focus of this class for the next three years…

– introduction to [SOPH1006] Mind Design: Imperative Drives, University of Almeä


I should perhaps apologize for the current absence/delay in posting the fics-a-day – our air conditioning is currently broken, which means I’ve had to take my servers offline in the heat, which in turn has meant all my Eldraeverse reference material, works in progress, and such is currently unavailable. Normal operation will be resumed as soon as normal operation is resumed!

In the meantime, I do have some older material available here on the iPad which is being revised to fit the canonical universe, so there should be more to read soon, even if not what was planned.

Trope-a-Day: Bondage Is Bad

Bondage Is Bad: Actually, yes, this one’s played straight.  It’s an Imperial prejudice, and for once, it’s a prejudice which they don’t really have a rational justification for – essentially, as you may have noticed in this series, they have a really strong libertist ideology that holds that coercion is bad, bad, bad stuff.  Therefore, sexual coercion, all the more so.

Now, of course, this doesn’t really apply to BDSM, which can be entirely Safe, Sane and Consensual, but in a place and time that has very, very high standards of consent, that prosecutes batteries far too de minimis for a Terran legal system to bother with, and that has a formal criminal charge (meddlement) for just using someone’s property without their consent, never mind taking it —

Well, look; it may be Sane and Consensual, and it may be entirely ethical even by their standards, and wholly legal, and you may be able to take an alethiometer and the ethical calculus and prove that to the last significant digit, but so far as decent society is concerned, you’re still screwing around with simulations of how slavers get their jollies, and that suggests to many people’s heart and gut that there’s something distinctly creepy going on in your cranium, whatever the noetic mathematics might say about your mental stability.  Icky.

Or so says the last gasp of the “Wisdom of Squick”, a theory which they would treat with appropriate intellectual disdain in almost every other context.  But nobody’s perfect.

Trope-a-Day: Boldly Coming

Boldly Coming: For much the same reasons as are covered under Bi the Way and Everyone Is Bi, there is actually quite a bit of this around.  Species becoming something close to one of those optional attributes helps too, in extreme cases, as do virtual sex and the ability to remap sensoria appropriately.

But, essentially, given the general attitudes that “minds matter, bodies much less so” and “speciesism is something that, well, only the most insanely backward primitives indulge in”, well, yes, of course you’re going to get a fair old bit of xenosexuality.  Even if you have to pay a lot more attention to the logistics and medical issues than Captain Kirk ever did.

How Many People Marked These Cards, Anyway?

One loophole opened up by the Empire’s lack of any gambling regulation is that it is entirely legal to run crooked games, provided that you tell people that they are crooked games (and therefore are not committing fraud by doing so; whether or not there is money or other property involved).

Some curious institutions that has grown up in this loophole are the urlisdaër (“false-games”) and the associations which exist to play them.  The urlisdaër variant of a game – most commonly ómith, larileth, or iandaër, although any game with rules can be played in the urlisdaër manner – is played exactly as it usually is, save that the players are permitted by the metarules to cheat, and indeed, are encouraged to do so as effectively as possible.

When one player detects another cheating, he may either “call” the second player out on it, in which case that player loses his gains from it and the use of that method for the remainder of the game; remain silent and cheat using his own methods to nullify that player’s advantage, while letting him continue to have it versus other players in the game; or find a technique to turn the second player’s cheating to his own advantage directly.  This latter is the most difficult option, but considered the most estimable among masters of urlisdaër gaming.

At the end of such a game, each player retains the profits made from his individual skill.  In association play, many groups additionally discuss each player’s techniques and award additional rewards from the table to those deemed most subtle and elegant.

– Exávé’s Treasury of Skill and Chance

The Burning of Litash (4)

CS Unyielding Order, Litash high orbitals.

“Grid configured.”

“Special package CALYX HOLLOW on the rails, launch when ready.”

“Permissive action set, authentication 0x991AC38575AA0D0E.  Admiral, do you wish to deploy the weapon?”

“Deploy it.  Right in the starport center, Mr. mor-Calarek.”

“Aye-aye, ma’am.  Right in the center.”

90,000 miles above the surface of Litash, battered in places but still mostly untouched, a near-imperceptible thrum was felt aboard the battlecruiser as one of its axial missile tubes opened and spat out the CALYX HOLLOW package, a tiny cylinder of gray-painted metal.  Twin flashes of light, one upon the ship’s hull and one upon the package, marked the invisible beam of a plaser reaching out from the ship and burning off a fragment of the package’s ablative propellant; and at this touch of thrust, it began to accelerate downwards into Litash’s gravity well.

CALYX HOLLOW was a weapon almost trivial in design.  No trigger or detonator was needed, and no guidance system fitted.  Once it had been launched, the weapons package simply tumbled on a ballistic trajectory into Litash’s atmosphere.  A few surviving ground weapons attempted to engage it, without hope of success with the orbital and ground sensor networks both smashed, but even had they been able to target it, it would have made no difference to the outcome, for the best they could achieve would be to fragment the casing early.

But the tough casing remained intact, cloaked in the plasma shock of its uncontrolled reentry, until only a few miles above the planet’s surface the stress of burn-throughs ripped it apart, shattering the delicate containment system within it and exposing its contents to the planet’s air.

Strangelets.  Unstable particles, kept artificially intact within the weapon; generated in nature in tiny quantities, harmless due to the speed of their decay.  But this was no single strangelet generated by a cosmic-ray impact; within CALYX HOLLOW’s containment was a mass of strangelets calculated to cause immediate prompt criticality. As they spilled into the relatively thick baryonic matter of Litash’s air, they merged with nearby nuclei, catalyzing their immediate collapse into more strangelets, and more, and more…

From the Unyielding Order, light flared over the target, blossoming instantly from a blue-white pinprick to an eye-searing flare hundreds of miles across, driving a visible miles-deep ripple of atmosphere before it, only to crash back into the hollow remaining as the flare itself collapsed – and the display blinked out and filled with sensor failure warnings, while the particle detectors screamed and fell silent as the radiation wavefront swept across them.

Caliéne Sargas’s throaty chuckle filled the silent bridge.  “Ha!  Well, Cyprium, now we know the damn thing works.”

“Indeed.  Although I’m considering passing a note along to the design team about their stand-off range estimates – that was a bit closer than I’d’ve liked.”

“Captain, damage reports as soon as possible, and contact the rest of the squadron for theirs.  And have the Surgeon-Lieutenant report to the bridge with his rad-test kits.”

She paused, then added, “And get someone out there in a cutter to find out if the planet’s still there.”

Trope-a-Day: Body Surf

Body Surf: Pretty much anyone can do this – even the pure biosapiences with the aid of some Very Large brain scanning technology – but since they can mostly only enter bodies they have brain ackles for, which mostly means “owned or rented”, reinstantiation isn’t the sort of problem that the more possession-type body surfers are.  And it’s also quite useful when you consider, well, how you don’t want to take your fragile meatbody with you when working construction on a framework hanging a couple of hundred miles over the solar photosphere, and you really don’t want to take your construction ‘shell home to the family.  Or, of course, when one of your bodies finds a way to get dead.

The Dreaming Goddess

In a room in the Twilight City, Laryssan dreams.

The room is not a room, nor the city a city; the eikones and their realm are creatures of mathematics and algorithm, running on the great lunar brains of Corícal Ailék; on local photonic processing nodes scattered across Imperial space; on processor capacity bought upon the cycle spot market; on the brains and cogence cores of the Transcend’s many constitutionals – and dataspace has no native physical representation.

But for visitors to the Transcendent Realms, in seeming, the Cynosure of Fate has the appearance of a room; one framed by the impossibly complex symmetries and incalculable fractaline complexity of the weave of fate, a tangled tapestry-web of billions of crystalline strands, ruby and emerald, sapphire and adamant, a virtual representation of all the Transcendi and their myriad interactions, all tended, pruned and shaped by scurrying clockwork automata.  And faithful to the myths of old, amid the gleaming strands, robed in white upon a white-draped couch, the pale and colorless form of the Dreaming Goddess smiles softly in Her perpetual slumber.

There are those who question the archai of fate and destiny adhering to those myths; for the eikones-as-archai are merely weakly godlike, and so Her waking could not, they reason, bring about the absolute predestination of which the stories warn, and from which Her sleep preserves us.  Yet while this is true, a wakeful and active Fate could bring about an absolute predestination among sophonts guided by Her.  This, then, is the promise of Laryssan’s dreaming to us; that our collective consciousness shall never slip into a true hive mind, guidance become puppetry, and our free will remain untouched by enforced destiny.

– “Myth and Machine, Eikone and Archai”, Aléne Rysar-ith-Rysakar

Trope-a-Day: Boarding Party

Boarding Party: Where battered hulks and surrendered ships are concerned, yes, if the delta-v needed to catch them is within reasonable bounds. Even occasionally elsewhere, with some specially designed boarding pods – but that’s crazy-difficult enough there has to be something really valuable on the other ship.  Of course, where it differs from the standard trope is in the flood of hunter-killer microbots (to turn anyone not planning on surrendering/honoring their surrender into hamburger) and infowar automation (to seize control and ensure no-one gets any clever-clever ideas about grav pong) that comes along with the guys in power suits.

Go Not To The Imperials For Counsel

“The word which is commonly translated as ‘Imperials’, referring to any of the Empire’s citizen-shareholders, is valmiríän in the original Eldraeic; curiously, it is not cognate at all to that nation’s formal name. From its roots, it could have the meaning either of ‘ordered self’ or of ‘self that sets in order’.

When asked if one translation or the other comes closer to the intended meaning, the valmiríän, infuriatingly, always answer ‘Yes’.”

– The Great Powers and Their People, University of Eö Press

Trope-a-Day: I Gave My Word

I Gave My Word: Played very, very straight indeed.  As is known throughout the Worlds, the word (or debt) of an Imperial is as close to absolute as you can get.  (They are sometimes, if you are prone to abuse these things, Exact Words, and since they are cautious with regard to the vicissitudes of possibility and the universe, often hedged with qualifiers – this formed, in fact, the basis of the Empire’s contract law, hence the term oath-contract, and why unlike many jurisdictions, they do not require consideration – but they will very definitely be binding and executed as given.)  No mighty oaths or swearing-bys or other elaborate formulae required; a simple I Give My Word is enough for anyone.

Indeed, while not legally binding in the way that giving one’s word is, just about any promissory statement given is considered morally and ethically binding.  Let those who are in the habit of speaking loosely and promising casually beware the social consequences, indeed.

First First Contact (3)

Galáré Actual, Galáré System.

The noösphere of Galáré sang with electromagnetic voices.  The galari themselves, crystalline creatures of carbon-wrought silicon,  were the most complex voices in the song, exchanging trills and dithyrambs of information, an endless symphony of knowledge framed in multi-layered harmonies of incredible complexity; not a singular overmind, but a continual conversation on a million topics, each seeking its own harmony.  The simpler voices of lesser orders, the stony plantimal-forms from which the galari arose, the spun-crystal worker-machines, and the computer minds embodied in the planet’s greatest monoliths filled out the chorus; and Galáré itself, so much of its surface worked into matrices in which the knowledge and history, the memories, of the species were imprinted, echoed the song back to them.

Now, though, the song was disturbed.  For centuries, the music of Galáré had been serene, a slow adagio towards a well-planned future, filled with calm and order, endless self-reflection and contemplation of the sciences and philosophies stored within the galari’s great archives.  But today the astronomers sang quick, sharp arias of warning: of the 18.3 MeV glow the oneirists thought most likely for a fusion drive, with blueshift and parallax showing its path clearly.

Someone was coming to Galáré, and the divergent imaginings made the song stutter in jagged dissonance.

Trope-a-Day: Exact Words

Exact Words: The Imperials are, of course, sophonts of their words.  It would be very bad form for one to chop logic so closely and obey the letter, and not the spirit, of an agreement.

Unless, of course, your counterparty is trying to do it to you first, or other such constrained circumstances apply (such as, say, certain kinds of diplomacy, in which a non-cooperative environment is essentially assumed), in which case, everyone’s an exquisite space-lawyer.