A Rule With Teeth

“Know, O traveler, that you pass through dedicated lands; these places are sacred to the Blue and the Purple, and to them alone.”

“Drink deep, eat well our fruits, hunt for your meat; but light no fires, claim no holds, and harm nothing that grows. Those who pass freely may reap the forest’s bounty; those who despoil shall fall to its claws. Blood for blood, sap for sap, to transgress is to be our prey.”

“Thus speak those who acquiesce to Sylithandríël Leafcloak, the Twilight Mother; thus speak those who clarify Sylithandríël Leafcloak, the Twilight Mother; thus too speak those who acquiesce to Gáldabar Wildlord, the Red-Fanged Hunter; thus too speak those who clarify Gáldabar Wildlord, the Red-Fanged Hunter.”

– translated from a pre-Winter runestone, excavated in modern Veranthyr

We’re the Phone Company

Lhaegár Rhuanhz, Vice President of Operations for Bright Shadow in the Hanth Cluster, looked around her office, eyes passing lightly across a dozen network status displays, a reassuring blue overall with normal local traffic and the brighter datatrails of the Selvaciy and Synnecy backbones, before returning to rest on the extranet map that hung over her desk, a mesh of links between systems with five ugly black spots near its center – shut-down interchanges in the middle of the Hanth ‘net.

On cue, two incoming trinet images shimmered in next to it, flagged with special governance-priority, supersedence, and shutdown-override codes, and already engaged in an argument that had evidently been going on for some time.

Lhaegár very deliberately folded her ears back flat, and bared her teeth in what, she was confident, could not be mistaken by even the most parochial as a species-specific smile, before keying acceptance of the call.

“I regret that you have not been called here to address your complaints, gentlesophs.  That does not call for the attention of one of the Directorate – and you are both, of course, entirely aware of what underlies your complaints, since your intersystem data service has been suspended.”

“Rather, you are here to address the violations of your extranet service agreement.  Specifically, you are here, Prince-President Rsh-t-t-n-tf-g” – she gazed at the mists enshrouding the rntrugg – “because one of the agencies of your government endeavored to disrupt communications for your enemies by introducing a data plague into their Xan-Rak-Han system network.  Ordinarily such activities are beneath our concern, except that you overreached when you had it target the extranet infrastructure itself.”

“And you, Gene-Archetype lant-hak-nint” – her gaze shifted to the shifting disks of the aklaknak colony – “overreached yourself even further when you went so far as to land a force on the surface of the Tttnfl-Fgflln stargate itself, and attempted to physically disable the extranet router there.  Our cousins from Ring Dynamics, I believe, also wish to address this with you.  In either case, either of these acts are clear violations of your service agreements and our property both.”

Silence fell.  Mists and disks alike shifted uneasily.

“Very well, we admit our… mistake,” Rsh-t-t-n-tf-g hissed.  “Yes, some of our agents were zealous.  They will be corrected.  What is the cost of this error to be?  How soon may we be restored?”

“And how much more must we pay to ensure that they are not?” lant-hak-nint added.

“I fear you mistake your negotiating position, inasmuch as this is a negotiation of any kind.  There are costs, certainly, incurred by us and our clients both.  Your mutual efforts interfered with approximately 3% of the traffic along the Selvaciy backbone for almost a kilobeat; reparations for the substantial economic and other losses involved, as well as the costs of redirection along secondary routes and system repair and revalidation are being assessed.  These you will pay; this we require of you absolutely under the terms of our existing contract and the Accords.”

“In addition, however, we require an end to your war.  You will each withdraw from the claimed territory of the other within one month of this date; you will further both resign all claims you have in the Fgflln/Lak-Han-Tar system.  In order, you understand, to prevent further zealotry from infringing upon Bright Shadow corporate sovereignty.”

“The money, yes, but you have no right—“

“You can’t dictate to nations—“

The rntrugg and the aklaknak glared at each other, neither willing to allow the other to speak first.

“This is not, you understand, a demand or an ultimatum.  As a neutral commercial organization we are not in the habit of issuing such things.”  She bared her teeth again, without humor. “It is merely a condition we attach to the continuation of your contracts.  Should you believe yourselves able to find or contrive a viable alternative to our extranet service, you may feel free to continue your war. Perhaps a particularly large courier fleet?”

“I will contact you again in – shall we say one hour? – to hear your decisions.  Bright Shadow, clear.”

Trope-a-Day: Emotions vs. Stoicism

Emotions vs. Stoicism: Mastering talcoríëf (literally cold-mindedness; metaphorically, cool reason and mastery of passions) is very, very important to the eldrae.  There’s a reason why their deep history were days of Glory and War and Wonder and Strife and Terror, and they don’t want to revisit those any time soon.

(Which is not to say they behave like Vulcans; clearly, even to human eyes, they do emote – just have a Stiff Upper Lip, old chap, except among the closest of friends, and would certainly think we desperately need to get in touch with our rational sides.

Also, it should be noted, it is extremely unwise to forget that under the talcoríëf, they still burn.  Those who forget this fact, especially if they think they can take advantage of it, tend to swiftly learn that ice destroys even more thoroughly than fire, if not as swiftly.)


The half-grown hasérúr dashed through the threadbare forest, and Hanych followed, stumbling in the dim light of the storm-wracked sky.  His breath was loud in his ears, the pain in his side nearly quieting the acid burn in his belly.  Snow and old ash scattered at their passage, he and Daeych at his shoulder, the promise of food more than – yesterday’s? two days gone’s? – meager meal of scavenged argor tubers, half-rotted.

Howls rose from left and right. Bancrach. His fist clenched on the haft of the axe he carried, a priceless relic of the time before this endless winter. It is not yours!

The howls again, closer now on the left. The hasérúr jerked and turned aside, sending them stumbling up the remnant of an old pathway, stones breaking apart and sinking into the mud, sliding underfoot. Bones crunched too beneath his tread, and Hanych hissed Elmir’s curse upon the azg-darath, as quickly renounced. They had no more choice than any when the star fell, and if the stonefolk hadn’t learned to eat rock down Below, they’d be as starving as any by now, too.

A cliff loomed before them, rocks and earth spilt down its length over the old azg door; the hasérúr turned to scramble up the precarious slope. Daeych’s knife flew from behind him, skimmed past head, and struck stone. It started in alarm; a moment’s hesitation only, but enough for Hanych to sink his axe into its neck.

A moment of triumph only, for the howls now came again, closer, and Hanych beheld the bancrach for the first time; an older male, still half-man-height for all his ragged, hungry look, perched on a low cliff-ledge, and two smaller shapes hidden in the shadows of the path. Hanych turned at bay, gripping his axe – three bancrach and two el-daratha was a hard fight always, but all half-starved, long-ran, and desperate… but without food, would they even last the night?

They are as hungry as you, as kin-loyal as you.

If they had not turned the hasérúr, you’d have lost it at forest-edge.

And still they have not attacked us.

A favor for a favor; that is the law.

Hanych’s axe rose and fell, once, twice, severing two haunches from the dead hasérúr, and a last effort thrust the remaining meat toward the shapes in the darkness; stiffly, the old bancrach jumped down from his ledge and dragged it away to his pack.

Triumphant howls rang in the darkness. A moment later, Hanych and Daeych’s yells joined them.

Trope-a-Day: Emergency Transformation

Emergency Transformation: This is another thing that tends to happen a lot – not so much for the Imperials themselves, who are used to changing bodies, and for that matter substrates – “at home I’m a humanoid; at work I’m a squidbot” –  like other people change suits, but as you might expect from people who do that, they do keep the appropriate scan-and-compile machinery around when a friend of theirs seems to be about to get dead, because, well, the standard medical treatment for that is to have your brain scanned, your mind-state compiled, and your selfness reinstantiated in another body equipped with proper universal noetic architecture.

This works about as well as you might imagine when you consider the number of people in the universe who remain fundamentally uncomfortable with the algorithmic view of mind (“souls are software objects”) even if they aren’t actual biochauvinists/carbon chauvinists, or who are concerned that some immaterial essence isn’t going along with the transfer, or some such.  And, of course, the Imperials are about as equipped to deal with this one as they are the Cloning Blues (“What sort of fucked-up society spreads memes like this around anyway?”) in the sense of not really having much empathy for any position quite so weird.

And there’s only so far slapping people upside the head with science will go.  Or explaining yet again that if you think you’re you, and remember being you, and act like you, then you are you to within all relevant standards of you-ness, ‘kay?  And, hey, you got immortality, light-speed-plus travel and optional superpowers out of this deal, so could you maybe stop whining for a minute and learn to enjoy not being dead already?

Yeah.  Like that.

Trope-a-Day: Eloquent In My Native Tongue

Eloquent In My Native Tongue: Eldraeic native speakers tend to come across this way, tending to be either stilted and concise (if they’re aware of it and overcompensating for that by grotesquely simplifying everything, Eldraeic being, ah, very enriched in language features indeed – an approach which is somewhat shameful, but possibly the best compromise they can manage between perfection as defined as accurate communication and perfection as defined as proper use of the foreign tongue) or verbose, over-precisely and redundantly qualified, and pedantic (if they’re simply letting the translator run away with it) in other languages.

(See also: Call a “Smeerp” A Rabbit, Curse of the Ancients, I Do Not Speak Nonverbal, Japanese Honorifics, Mathematician’s Answer, Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, Sophisticated As Hell, Spock Speak, Starfish Language, and Translator Microbes.)

Trope-a-Day: Translator Microbes

Translator Microbes: More or less ubiquitous, in one form or another, and pretty much essential to sustaining galactic culture. Advanced cultures use neuroprosthetic translators, which are embedded directly into the language center of the brain (or are software run on more sophisticated brain implants) which provide real-time translation between ear and thought, thought and mouth, with a thinker-class AI to provide seamless, real-time (you hear the alien language; you just understand it), and meme-level translation; less advanced ones rely on handheld devices, or translators built into clothing or jewelry – which repeat, rather than go in real-time – and lower standards of translation quality.

Either way, there’s no such thing as a “universal” or “self-teaching” translator; the translators generally require the software and database package (the “linguistic corpus”) to be obtained and installed for every language you expect them to handle, and producing those in the first place requires a lot of time and work from professional linguists.  Fortunately, two people with translators that both work to/from “Trade” – for all intents and purposes, a simplified Eldraeic I  pidgin – can communicate enough for most simple purposes.

Out-of-Sequence Trope-a-Day: Space Marine

(Reason for out-of-sequencing: to express, in the light of this story, the sentiment that GW can kiss my authorial ass, too.  Along with everyone else who has ever used the term, whose earliest usage that I am aware of dates to the 1920s.  Come sue me, melonfarmers.)

Space Marine: Yep.  Except, as we said back in [will in the future say in] Space is an Ocean, they’re just regular legionaries who happen to be assigned to ships, habs, drifts, etc. in space, so in practice, the entire ground-based military of the Empire are Space Marines, or at least one assignment order away from it.  (When so much of your territory is, well, space, why would you even bother training troops that can’t operate in it?)

And, yes, they all wear some kind of Powered Armor, but the heavy legionaries play this to the max with their walking-tank-style combat exoskeletons.

Trope-a-Day: Spock Speak

Spock Speak: …partially.

To some extent, it’s the nature of the language.  Eldraeic doesn’t have contractions (although some words are coined as portmanteaus, more or less), and is designed to match the preferences of its creators (by both species and profession) for low-context, high-precision communications (spurred on, perhaps, by the universality of contracts and/or the nature of, say, spacer or underground society not rewarding sloppiness of mind at all) – or, circumstantially, to provide plenty of scope for wordplay, circumlocution, necessary etiquette and protocol, and occasional out-and-out wilful obscurantism.

(Also, indeed, the tendency of the Empire’s supply of rampaging intellectual elitists, meaning everybody, to prefer $5 words and up.)

While it and its speakers are quite capable of jokes, sarcasm, slang – although the slang would also qualify, by and large, as high-precision, low-context – and metaphor, at least the last three are flagged explicitly by register (and, in metaphor’s and some slang’s case, by grammatical particles); and while it is not required by the language, a care for mélith and appropriate management of one’s valëssef does tend to lead to underplaying of emotions (despite the language’s rich attitudinal/affective vocabulary) except in moments of stress or exceeding frankness.

And ixéren (“indeed”) is indeed a Very Popular Word.

No Ludicrous Precision, though.  Ludicrous Precision is, ah, imprecise.  (And see also Sophisticated As Hell.)

Trope-a-Day: Sophisticated As Hell

Sophisticated As Hell: The rather sophisticated system of registers and inflections for differing degrees of politeness and formality in Eldraeic would make this sort of thing really quite easy to pull off, for native speakers, and so it seems a crying shame not to use it on appropriate occasion.  Translating it both faithfully and realistically into English, on the other hand, could be something of a bugger.

Fic-a-Day: Mutual Ambush

(To illustrate some of the issues.)

As the classic example of the effects of physics upon interstellar relations, consider the short and inconclusive conflict known as the Odeln Extrality Incident (from the Imperial perspective), or the First Border War (from the Republican perspective). It is generally agreed that the cause and first engagement of the conflict was the mutual destruction, a short distance outside the Odeln system volume, of the Imperial destroyer CS Joyful Dirge, and the Voniensan battlecruiser VNS Deliberative.

The causes of the incident remain obscure, beyond the rising post-contact tensions in the Seam, and even the details of it are disputed. Many of the ensuing skirmishes and inconclusive negotiations can be attributed to the relativistic nature of the engagement; the consensus of the Imperial observers, computed according to the empire time reference frame, was universally that Deliberative fired first upon Joyful Dirge, while the consensus of Voniensan observers in-system, operating in reference frames tied to Republic Universal, was that Joyful Dirge fired first upon Deliberative. It is the unfortunate nature of relativistic space-time that all of these observations can be simultaneously truthful and true.

Such are the difficulties of the strategos, the diplomat, and the historian in a non-Callaneth-compliant universe.

– Larjyn Calcelios-ith-Calithos, Perspectives on the Early Interstellar Era


Today’s cross-infection between professions: since I’m mucking about with date/time libraries in .NET as the moment in my day job, wondering what a relatively (heh) simple type like, say, System.DateTime would look like in the Eldraeverse, where convenient assumptions like sharing the same concept of “now”, rate of passage of time, and event ordering with the other systems on the network are trivially false.

(For everyone, not just people coding for NASA or GPS systems.)