Trope-a-Day: Curb-Stomp Battle

Curb-Stomp Battle: Happens quite routinely to new members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, many of whom explode off their worlds with a tremendous sense of hubris as yet unblemished by a realistic threat assessment of current galactic civilization.  This attitude is, ahem, corrected quite swiftly.

For example, this is going to happen to the Trikhad Conquest Real Soon Now.

First First Contact (4)

CS Extropy Rising, entering Galáré system.
Core, Command Bridge

Two hours later, Svínif looked around the conference table, and wished his old headache back.

“Preliminary reports. Let’s see what we have. Comms?”

“EM emissions from our target world, just as the exception said, all over from log-8 to log-10. Nothing even resembling a standard format, so I’d say they haven’t invented a stardrive while we’ve been in transit, but apart from that…”

“No chance it’s a natural phenomenon?”

“No chance at all. Definitely non-random, and the information entropy’s too high. It’s got to be sapient transmissions. My filters can’t find anything that looks like recognizable audio or video modulation – most likely data, and of a high order.”

“Sensory?”

“Nothing new, yet. We should be getting some good images back from the orbital probes in the next couple of hours, though.” She hesitated. “I canceled the launch program for the ground probes. I thought it might look hostile, dropping them planetside without asking.”

“Good thinking.” Svínif looked around the table again, mentally tallying the officers. “As nothing else has been flagged up as urgent, let’s hold the routine stuff for now.“ His head hurt abominably.

“Well, gentlesophs, this is quite the situation we’re in. If they’re as smart as their comms suggest they are, they’ll have spotted us by now, and have a fair idea what we are. And unless any of you know the universal signal for ’Excuse me, soph, could you spare a megaton of deuterium?’, it’s not like we can turn the ship around and go home.”

“If we stopped the entry burn right now,” the Flight Director confirmed, “We’d have enough Δv to swing around the sun onto a return vector. No fuel for a burn, though. Our frozen hulk would make it home in, oh, 3,500 years or so.”

“So, let’s hope the locals are friendly and don’t take our turning up with a shipload of frozen colonists too badly. Dig out the first contact set, Comms, and — wait, none of that traffic was directed at us yet?”

“Not that I can tell. Maybe they’re waiting for us to make the first move.”

“Well, send them the first sequence-set on the hydrogen line, broad-angle, and we’ll see what we get back. Until then… by the book, gentlesophs, by the book. Assume we’ll be making orbit as planned unless we hear otherwise somehow. If nothing mishcrit comes up, send your status reports to my terminal. Thank you, all.”

As they dispersed to their consoles, he rested his head for a moment on the cool vitrine tabletop.  Well, you’re in the history books now. Just – let it not be for starting the first interstellar war.

Trope-a-Day: Culture Clash

Culture Clash: All.  The.  Time.

The really big ones, like between the Imperials and the Hope Hegemony or the Equality Concord at one end of the spectrum, and between them and the Rim Free Zone at the other, and between the Photonic Network and all meat intelligences everywhere, etc., are just the most obvious, but when you wander away from the rough consensus of the CSP, CEP, and trade protocols of the Accord, well, these are cultures which may not be completely alien to each other, folks, but they can get pretty close.  What were you expecting?

How Unlikely Are We?

“The difficulties of interstellar travel are widely underestimated.  Within the stargate plexus, even simple ships — capable of only relatively low accelerations, capable of being built by cultures little more capable than those which have developed orbital flight, and requiring no extraordinary skill for a single sophont to pilot and maintain — can travel between star systems in a matter of weeks or months.  The capital and operating costs of such ships are high, but are not out of reach of a small consortium or well-off individual entrepreneur.  As such, worlds and cultures throughout the constellations connected by the plexus have blossomed, spreading civilization across the Associated Worlds and out into the Expansion Regions; and those cultures and their people which possess basic spaceflight capability can indulge freely in interstellar travel freely for colonization, trade, exploration, even tourism, at costs which are low enough to keep it from being the exclusive preserve of an elite, wealthy class.”

“Further, the stargate plexus binds the Associated Worlds together, in what may be an even more significant way, by acting as a carrier for the extranet.  While not instantaneous, since the Luminal Limit still applies between gates in the same system, communications can cross the entire width of the plexus in a matter of weeks rather than centuries, and most delays within polities are mere hours or days, even if not ameliorated by broadcatching, caching, and the use of AI and fork agent-proxies.  While light-lag and other delays and inconveniences in communications maintain separate cultural regions even within individual systems, as well as across the Worlds as a whole, that such communication, broadcast of media, and free exchange of information are possible and within the ready grasp of almost anyone in the Worlds with access to any sort of terminal does a great deal to create a common metaculture and understanding from core to Periphery.  (An effect which is only enhanced in those polities whose citizens have access to and cultural mores permitting the use of mindcasting to travel as data, at extranet speeds.)”

“All of this is to forget that in order for this to be possible, the stargate plexus had to exist already.  Let us examine how unlikely this truly is: the construction of artificial wormholes requires simultaneously an advanced scientific and technological culture, enough wealth to invest in the construction of multi-trillion-exval stargates and the new industries required to enable their construction, an adequately long-term viewpoint to make such investments seem viable, an existing lighthugger technology able to transport the distal wormhole terminus to its destination, and, most unlikely of all, such a multi-millennial genius as Imogen Andracanth to make the particular breakthrough permitting controlled wormhole inflation and stabilization without first possessing a mature ontotechnology.  Of all the thousands of civilizations known in the Associated Worlds and beyond, only two have ever made this discovery independently – the Empire, and the Voniensa Republic.”

“Without these miracles – I do not believe that this understates the case – could an interstellar civilization be possible?  I will not say that it would not; it would be possible to imagine a loose confederation of worlds, or a meta-empire, held together by slow light-bound trickles of information and low-speed lighthuggers bearing high-value data, supremely precious low-mass cargoes, and the occasional colonization mission – at least among the immortal or extremely long-lived.  But with only lighthuggers available – ships the size of mountains available only at high capital cost, requiring millions of tons of antimatter and deuterium to fuel at the cost of billions of exval, with large and skilled crews making much longer commitments in terms of wall-clock time and even more yet in empire time, no thriving, cosmopolitan association such as we now enjoy could have come into being.”

– Linde Valentinarius, An Overview of the Flowering

Trope-a-Day: Cult Colony

Cult Colony: Averted initially, because sublight colonization was so ludicrously expensive that “cults” couldn’t possibly have afforded it.  Played straighter once the stargate plexus made it easier to get to new worlds, with a side-note that the failure rate – for which read death rate – of these is particularly high; planetary colonization requires a great deal of scientific acumen, technical skill, and mental flexibility, which are not common qualities attributed to things normally described as cults.  (Just look at how many pioneer colonies failed in Earth’s history – now add that you have an alien ecology to deal with and there’s a good chance that you can’t breathe the air.)

Much the same goes for cult habitats, to – well, a lesser extent on some factors, a greater one on others, but the net effect is much the same.  Most cultists aren’t good with sophisticated technical infrastructure.

Trope-a-Day: Cryonics Failure

Cryonics Failure: While not nearly as bad as some of the examples given under the trope – for example, with the exception of the ill-fated Valiár (Thirteen Colonies) mission, whose failure was the result of engine defects rather than cryonics problems, virtually all of the cryostatic colonists were revived safely on their arrival at their destination – cryostatis always posed some problems (due to cracking and ice crystallization damaging cells), resulting in difficult and medically intensive revival processes and often-severe “revivication sickness”.

Which is why, once it was invented, it was very quickly replaced by the more advanced nanostasis process, which replaces freezing by the emplacement of a “vitrification scaffold” which preserves the body over long durations, does not require extreme cold for maintenance, and is optimized for the stop and restart parts of the process.  Much more effective, especially when you can store the mind outside the body just in case.