Trope-a-Day: Space Whale

Space Whale: Not naturally, at least – so far, no-one’s found naturally evolved space-native life – but, y’know, once they’d got around to uplifting cetaceans it was close to inevitable that some of them would take an interest in that other endless three-dimensional environment (not to mention being better instinctually equipped than most hominids to serve as a starship’s sailing master), and between them and hydrogen-breathing gas giant life and ambitious genetic engineers, it was equally inevitable that people would engineer actual Space Whales, equipped to swim-sail the vacuum (with biosolar sails, mostly) and harvest volatiles where they can find them.  Just how it goes.

And then there are their cousins that prefer to dwell in the solar corona…

Trope-a-Day: Portal Network

Portal Network: The stargate plexus, which is the collection of all the stargate pairs in the Associated Worlds.  Pretty much every civilized system, except for really newly discovered ones, which may not, has at least one stargate in it.  Overall, the network vaguely resembles a spiderweb – the nodes being clusters of a few dozen systems (called constellations) linked together by a cluster of short-range wormholes, then hooked to neighboring clusters by longer-range wormholes.  The stargates themselves serve both to maintain the wormholes and act as communications relays for the extranet. Unlike many SF universes, these aren’t precursor gates; the system was established by the current polities, although only a few of the largest powers in the Worlds can manufacture their own gates – the Empire (and more specifically Ring Dynamics, ICC), and the Voniensa Republic (who make a point of maintaining their own state-run Portal Network – the Empire’s network, which forms most of the framework on which the Associated Worlds are based, they generously let the Accord of Galactic Polities treat as a common-carrier system, in exchange for, shall we say, consideration?) being the biggest two.  Almost everyone else piggybacks off theirs under the aegis of the Accord. While expansion used to be manual and painstaking, with improved automation making the Mark III Stargate more or less perpetually autonomous, most of the expansion of the network these days is being done by von Neumann wormhole-layers with only a little guidance from head office, so there are connected yet unexplored systems out there in the Periphery, and it’s entirely possible that the arrival of a stargate in their outer system, rather than that of explorers, will be many species’ first introduction to Life Out There.

Trope-a-Day: Standard Sci-Fi Setting

Standard Sci-Fi Setting: Taking this collective trope point-by-point, and marking off positive matches and negative differences:


+ Easy FTL: Check.  (Although the Portal Network is contemporary, and still being expanded – and getting to places that aren’t yet connected to it, including to connect them to it, is neither easy nor FTL.)

Space is an Ocean: Definitely not.  (See the above trope… later.)

– Mystical/Metaphysical elements: No Life Energy, no Functional Magic (although there is Sufficiently Advanced technology), and, in general, very little that would contradict a materialist’s (and nothing that would support a supernaturalist’s) view of the universe.

(While there are some Psychic Powers, since their operating principle is essentially WiFi, they don’t count against that principle here.)

– Plenty of The Singularity (lots of regional soft singularities), and the exact opposite of No Transhumanism Allowed; indeed, it’s mandatory.  And there’s probably more Fantastic Racism against the remaining baselines.


– No humans at all, in fact; while they may well exist, it’s somewhere in the Beyond, as a worldbound species not of any particular galactic relevance.

+ Neglectful Precursors, if only by default.

– The truly proud Proud Warrior Races are too proud to indulge in this sort of Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms posturing, because they know how big an idiot it makes them look in front of everyone else out there.  And while there are some others who’d like to act this way, none of them are significant enough, galactopolitically speaking, to be the ancient and hidebound proud warrior race – just a scattering of minor powers.

+ The only seriously genocidal alien race around (the skrandar) are all very dead, and it is almost certain that anyone else who gets similar ideas will receive much the same treatment.  (And while it’s at least possible that the galactic equivalent of the Mongol Hordes crossed with Space Nazis are lurking somewhere beyond the Periphery, as the creator of the universe… Word of God says I’m not planning on it.)

Played straight although not genocidal with the Leviathan Consciousness, though, a hegemonizer (i.e., The Virus) which would happily subsume and optimize your mind-state, given half a chance.  (And the known galaxy is, for the most part, united in the belief that they’d rather not give it one.)  But it, for various reasons, is not the sort of thing that’s likely to turn into a clear and present danger unless the Associated Worlds take their eyes seriously off the ball.

+-? The eldrae might well qualify as the wise/spiritual race with the Crystal Spires and Togas (although not the togas), and their ships are sleek and blue (well, indigo, and government ships, that is, since private vessels are painted in all kinds of colors), although being asupernaturalists many would dispute spiritual (and also, there goes the metaphysical), and at least as many would look at their dedication to libertarianism, decadence, and Mad Science and dispute the heck out of wise, too.  (Also, no “Dark” faction, just a scattering of Renegades.)

+-? While they also might qualify as having the Space Babes, the Uncanny Valley (and/or unfortunate resemblance to The Fair Folk) may well be in play, here.  Or so I might speculate.  In any case, just about every species in the rest of the galaxy are nonhumanoid, so.

– No Greys, no Little Green Men, no Reptilians.

+ Plenty of other races, most of them at least a little more consequential than that, but never mind.  Robots, heretics and slavers all included, maybe even Eldritch Abominations if you count blights and perversions, but a distinct shortage of zombies of all kinds.


– Neither the Voniensa Republic (The Federation) nor the Empire is human, in the habit of fielding giant grey ships or little grey fighters, or descended from the Precursors.  Nor do either of them have noticeable rebel factions engaged in active warring against them – the Voniensans have their escaped digisapience slaves (a decent proportion of the Silicate Tree) and some scattered colonies of kalatri and others who left to form non-Republican colonies in the Associated Worlds, and the Empire has its Renunciates as individuals, but neither is organized into a political faction, and neither prosecutes active war.

+ Yes, there are Space Marines.

+ There are occasional Space Pirates, most of them not the traditional sort.

+ And yes, there are occasional corporate states.


– The Standard Sci-Fi History does not apply, inasmuch as there was no World War III stage, and the Decline and Fall and subsequent stages have yet to happen, if they’re ever going to.  Also, there’s never been an ecumenical civilization, Empire or other.

– And if there is an epic Space Battle upon which the gross future hangs in the balance, a great many people in the sensible and non-risky solutions business are going to be very, very disappointed.

SFFS: Balance

SFFSat logoBehold, my first snippet – plucked from my deep internal slush/ideas pile – for Science Fiction & Fantasy Saturday, an authorial web-ring I’ve seen here and there in the past, and thought I might contribute something to from time to time. Welcome to all new visitors from thereabouts, and do click through here if you’re not a new visitor, and take a look at the snippets of the other participants!

“Quadrant 45 primary ballast transfer booster pump, main and aux bus.”

“Check, check.”

“Quadrant 135 primary ballast transfer booster pump, main bus and aux bus.”

“Check, check.”

“Quadrant 225 primary ballast transfer booster pump, main bus and aux bus.”

“Check, check.”

“Quadrant 315 primary ballast transfer booster pump, main bus and aux bus.”

“Check, check.” The tech glanced down the row of warm amber lights on the newly installed panel, flipped the associated command switches into ‘auto’ with the flat of one hand, watched the lights flicker into blue-enable, and closed the wiring case. “What’s the deal, Cal? We’ve been behind on getting these things installed for three months, so what’s made ’em so urgent now?”

“Flash mobs.”

“Flash mobs?”

“Yeah. Scuttlebutt has it that Elalie Celestial’s coming here in a couple of weeks to do some filming. The spinmaster was very clear that if he couldn’t pump twelve thou soph-equivalent-masses to wherever on the rim she wasn’t faster’n her fans could storm the transpods, we’d all be on triple-shifts for a year rebalancing the bearings and tryin’ to clean up the mess.”

Trope-a-Day: Homosexual Reproduction

Homosexual Reproduction: This is a trivial matter of routine bioengineering.

(Says it all, really.)

…actually, since this is so short and so is the one that linked to it, here, have that one too…

Has Two Mommies: See Homosexual Reproduction.  Obviously, this happens a lot, as does its Spear Counterpart.

…and to add…

And when I say routine, I mean: off-the-shelf exowombs and off-the-shelf gengineering. They let the newly minted journeysophs do it. It’s easy.

Trope-a-Day: Harmony Versus Discipline

Harmony Versus Discipline: Discipline, all the way.

The essential thesis of the (Imperial mainstream) Church of the Flame, after all – and that of several related secular schools of ethics – is that the universe is fundamentally broken, and the job of sophoncy is, essentially, to learn to emulate the abstract incarnations of perfect principles by way of discovering how, and then to use that (science, progress, agorism-capitalism, engineering, art, and tireless pursuit of awesomeness) to take the universe apart and put it together better.  Perfected.  In short, to immanentize the eschaton.

The notion that nature knows best and should be accepted as it is doesn’t appear on their radar anywhere.

Money, What Does It Look Like?

So, this is something that I posted to one of the worldbuilding lists I’m on, for sundry reasons, and so I thought I’d post it here too: if you’ve ever, at various times in the past when I’ve mentioned money, or at least physical money, wondered just what it looks like – well, now you know.


Despite the modern prevalence of virtual, digital currency, the Empire still issues ‘paper’ notes and coins. The current issues are designed to be difficult to counterfeit, to be long-lasting, and to be convenient to carry. This physical currency is produced in three media: coins, bills and certificates (a.k.a. super-bills). For these purposes, the standard unit of currency is the esteyn, divided into twenty-four lumenis, each divided into twelve selenis each (288 selenis to the esteyn). There is also a larger denomination, the arien, equal to six esteyn.

Each esteyn coin, bill, and certificate is imprinted with the legend, “By Our Imperial Word, One Esteyn” (or whatever the denomination happens to be). Most people leave it there, but were you to go to the Exchequer and ask, “Ah, what word exactly?”, what they would tell you is that the guarantee is that what Yesterday’s Esteyn would buy, Today’s Esteyn will buy, and what Today’s Esteyn bought, Tomorrow’s Esteyn will also buy; that is, that it’s a reliable store of value that doesn’t have an accidental or deliberate inflationary or deflationary trend to it.

Each of these possesses a unique digital signature embedded within the medium; a v-tag – designed to only be operable at short range to prevent thieves from using it to detect concentrations of money – can return the unique signature of each currency unit, including its denomination as well as its serial code, when queried, and each unit can also be checked for validity against the Imperial Banking & Credit Weave.


Coins are used for all denominations below and including the arien. These coins are struck from a proprietary coin-metal alloy by the Office of the Mint; this alloy is extremely hard and readily takes tinct, and contains signature trace elements designed to be unique to Imperial coinage. The coins themselves use size and predominant color to indicate denomination, and incorporate the standard currency v-tag and embedded anti-counterfeiting technologies.

Each coin contains a delicate line-work etching of the Imperial Couple (in whose reign the coin was minted; there are usually a dozen variants in circulation at any one time) on the obverse, with their names and titles encircling the portraits in elaborately scrolled cursive text. The value of the coin is given at the base of the portraits in simple figures, and by a series of raised dots in the upper right quadrant.

The reverse of the coin is marked with a number of different designs, depending upon the coin’s denomination, as listed in the table below (primary denominations are tinted); note, of course, that these represent the current mintings and historical coinage may differ. On the milled edge of each coin is inscribed the Imperial motto, “Order, Progress, Liberty”.

Denomination Color Design
= ¼ selenis
= 1/48 lumenis
= 1/1152 esteyn

Brass tinct. An upraised hammer.
= 1/12 lumenis
= 1/288 esteyn

Copper tinct. A single ripe peach.

= 2 selenis
= 1/144 esteyn

Copper tinct. Sword and rifle, crossed.

= 4 selenis
= 1/72 esteyn

Copper tinct. A stylized atom design inside a laboratory flask.

= 6 selenis
= 1/48 esteyn

Copper tinct. An ékaláman (Eliéran wyvern) in flight.
= 12 selenis
= 1/24 esteyn

Silver tinct; gold inlay on the sun. Crescent moon and sun.

= 2 lumenis
= 1/12 esteyn

Silver tinct. A portrait; traditionally that of someone whom the Imperial Couple wish to honor for some act of note. This portrait is frequently changed, often as frequently as four or five times per year, and so double-lumenis of many different issues circulate together.

= 4 lumenis
= 1/6 esteyn

Silver tinct. A harp and quill.

= 6 lumenis
= 1/4 esteyn

Silver tinct. A pattern of interlocking cogs, ringed by lightning.

= 12 lumenis
= ½ esteyn

Silver tinct. The Borromean rings, traditional Imperial symbol of order, progress, and liberty.
= 288 selenis
= 24 lumenis
= 1/6 arien

Gold tinct. The fundamental unit of Imperial currency, the esteyn bears the Imperial Star alone.
= 120 lumenis
= 6 esteyn
White-gold / platinum tinct. The “constellation” formed by the stars of the original Thirteen Colonies along with the eldrae homestars.



Imperial bills, used for denominations of one arien (also minted as coinage) and greater, are constructed of a special plastic silk laminate that remains clean and has a very long use life. Bills are almost impossible to tear, won’t burn, and incorporate a large number of anti-counterfeiting technologies because of their unique method of manufacture. Plastic silk fibers are combined under high temperature and pressure and extruded as a rectangular bundle of great length. The differently-colored fibers form the pattern of the bill, not printed on but actually made a part of the structure of the bill. The bundle is then sliced to paper thickness, and a unique 14-character code and v-tag microtransponder is added for uniqueness. Bills are issued in denominations of six, twelve, twenty-four, seventy-two, 144, 864, 1728, and 20,736 esteyn.

The bills have been standardized at 2½ x 6 inches. They can be bulky in large enough quantities; a thousand bills stand two inches high and weigh one pound. Value is denoted by background tint color, face printing, and tactile impressions. Each bill has a portrait of the Imperial Couple in the left two-thirds of the obverse, the remainder of the space being taken up by the promise of value from the Exchequer and associated signatures, including the Imperial word. The design of the reverse varies, as indicated by the following table:

Denomination Color Design
Es. 6 / Arien

White Gilea Cheraelar, founder of the Invisible Exchequer and major figure in early Imperial banking, stands outside Worth House holding a merchant’s scale.
Es. 12

Blue The skyline of Calmiríë, centered on the Imperial Palace, with cranes on the wing above it.
Es. 24

Green A portrait of Sung Iliastren, the Father of Science, working in his alchemical lab.
Es. 72

Red Stane Vitremarvis, inventor of the Stannic cogitator, working at the console of one of the original “brass brains”.
Es. 144

Purple Calria Adae-ith-Adae and Airin Muetry-ith-Mirari, first sophs to land on the moon Seléne, standing at the base of the ladder of Silverfall Four.
Es. 864

Gold-yellow Symbolic representation of the process of nucleonic fusion that goes on in stars.
Es. 1728

Gold-yellow A portrait of Imogen Andracanth, inventor of the traversable wormhole, with a stargate in the background, through which a starship is currently making transit.
Es. 20,736

Gold-yellow A portrait of the economist Períne Cyprium-ith-Elethandrion, superimposed upon a fully-loaded Tyrnííché-class megafreighter.



Certificates resemble bills of denominations higher than 20,736 esteyn, but are a standard 4 x 8 inches, with extensive anti-counterfeiting technologies embedded in them. They are rarely circulated and are used primarily for bank to bank transfers, along with letters of credit, bearer bonds, and other negotiable instruments.

Asymmetrical Warfare

“You’re Liiriani, yes?” The recruiter eyed the tattered uniforms on those crowding into his prefab. “Ex-military. Wait… you’re Temple Guard? The ones left behind after the fall of Mantaniir?”

“Yeah. I was at Mantaniir. We all were.” The scarred veteran’s lip curled, and he spat. “Proud Mantaniir. Glorious Mantaniir. Mantaniir the Unfallen, Guardian of the Holies, all of that. Well, it didn’t fall, or we’d be dead. It was swept aside like it was nothing.”

“The first day could have been the last day. We –“

…were prepared, we were ready, we were the last line of defense for Iliir itself, and we knew they were coming at dawn. They’d told us that much. But we heard nothing. Saw nothing. Not until dawn.

We’d never fought a space war before. No-one understood what it meant that we’d lost the high orbitals. Not until the k-rods started falling, and then it was too late to help us. The minefields down-valley went in the first wave – to give us time to see what was killing us. The flak towers went in the next, along with communications and sensors. Then they started drunkwalking their shots around the valley, blasting walls, barracks, everything left of the fortress flat. What was left of us had run for the bunkers by then, and down through them into the deep tunnels. Couldn’t so much as get a shot off. We were down there for days – any time someone made a run for it, or poked so much as a nose-tip above ground, they dropped a k-rod on them. We had no power – if any generators started up, that bunker got a k-rod within minutes. Just hiding in the dark.

And then the machines hit us, wolves and spiders. From both sides – we heard later that their stormtroopers bypassed us and dropped on Iliir directly. Wolves, the little ones, ‘bots that run in packs, wall, ceiling, or floor, see in the dark, spit bullets or tear a man’s leg off themselves. And then the spiders, big eight-legged bastards with fire and cutting torches and rockets. All howling to each other like the gods below. And they wouldn’t die! Enough explosive might stop one, but if it wasn’t torn apart, it’d fix itself – or the rest of them would – and come after you again.

So we surrendered. The spiders herded us outside again, up among the craters, and fenced us in with electrowire. A couple of us tried to make a break for it. They didn’t get past the perimeter. Spiders didn’t care – they just sat there watching us, day and night. A couple of days later, one of their armor boys came by to look us over, and left us a crate of rat-bars and a medkit. Then he left us there with just the spiders to watch us. That was the only enemy we saw in the entire battle.

Two weeks later, we got word that the war was over, the Council had been captured, surrendered, were killed, one of those. The spiders all marched back into a shuttle and left us alone, then, so we scavenged what we could, tried to stay alive. A week after that, the new Council had all of us who’d let Iliir fall through our ‘heretical incompetence’ shoved aboard an old ore freighter and dumped us on this craphole planet.

“- are what’s left of the Liirian Temple Guard, yeah. Seventh Fist Ileer, commanding. And me an’ the boys’ll fight for you. Nothing else left for us now. But only if we’re fighting men. Nothing that don’t bleed and won’t die.”

– Sagivv’s Company recruitment interview, Márch, eight months after the Liir Conflict


Trope-a-Day: Happiness in Slavery

Happiness in Slavery: Played with – Imperial law, despite the extreme cultural aversion to slavery, does permit voluntarily contracted indenture as a way to get out from under unrepayable debts without resorting to bankruptcy, and suchlike.  It’s not exactly happy – indeed, by local standards, it is ridiculously humiliating – but it’s probably better than most of the alternatives; and most cultural Imperials would see it as infinitely better than default.

(The kicker: with the exception of not being able to quit until the contract term is up, we would find the ghastly state and working conditions of what the Empire calls “indenture” very familiar indeed.  We call it employment.)

Averted pretty comprehensively with actual slaves in the darker and more hideously backward parts of the Worlds, though.

Trope-a-Day: Hand Cannon

Hand Cannon: You can, indeed, fit some bloody powerful mass drivers into handgun-sized weapons, these days – although even with recoil compensation, etc., it helps to have some of those military-grade musculoskeletal reinforcements – and some way to brace yourself – if you plan on firing the things comfortably or with any reasonable degree of accuracy.

There are even a couple of handgun-sized slugguns on the market, if you feel like a one-handed gyroc-grenade launcher is just what the doctor ordered.  (And Eye-in-the-Flame Arms, outré as ever, sells a sluggun derringer – which, yes, you could theoretically load with an slugfire antimatter grenade – although even by the Empire’s loose standards, the crossover market between “small, concealable suitable-for-waistcoat-pockets-and-ladies’-purses gun” and “can snipe buildings” is… not exactly huge.)

[As a side note, while it is entirely in keeping with the Eye-in-the-Flame design process – which is to say, getting as high as possible on creativity-enhancing nootropic drugs and ignoring entirely the coquetries of practicality – I was a mite concerned about the reader-credibility of this particular example of their products.

Then I learned about this real-world product, a derringer chambered for .81/20 mm, which is to say the type of shells used in Vulcan autocannon. And that they’re planning a 30 mm version.

I rest my case.]

Trope-a-Day: Half-Identical Twins

Half-Identical Twins: Much more common in the Eldraeverse than in real life, while still not exactly common, since this sort of minor zygote-split with sex-chromosome flippery is very much on the list of Easy and Fun Genetic Manipulations You Can Do At Home, or at least if you think it sounds neat.  And yes, arguably, this makes them a type of Opposite-Sex Clone.

(NOTE: Yes, I know the trope name doesn’t match the scientific definition of the term. Don’t write letters.)

Ladies and Gentlemen…

In a post elsewhere, reference was made to this trope page, and the generic problem of saying “ladies and gentlemen” when addressing a group of people which may include those who deem themselves members of neither category. This, of course, is a problem which my universe had to solve a long, long time ago, given the presence of large numbers of people who are neither of those genders right down to the chromosome-equivalents – for values of solve equal to “didn’t give itself this problem before it occurred”, at least – and since it came up, I found myself writing a quick paragraph on what people do say by way of collective address:

Namely, this:

Well, with six grammatical genders – not counting the default of “not specified” – mapping to an arbitrarily large set of the non-grammatical kind, it would get… rather messy if one had to name ’em all, wot?

As Amy says, the general term there is daryteir , glossed “gentlesoph” from its literal translation of “sophont of honor”, darav i-teir , and possesses no gender affices at all. In opening collective addresses, since the pluralization lies entirely in the article-equivalents, one would probably go with elen daryteir – “gentlesophs all” – if being polite, or if less convinced of the decent-chapness of one’s audience, simply elen darav – “sophonts!”. ( Darav , incidentally, is a word which I usually gloss as “sophont” but which I could equally well gloss as – and is used in the equivalent contexts as – “person”, so “people!” .) One might also hear elen valmirian , which would be “citizens!” . Well, “citizen-shareholders”, technically, but that’s a lengthy construction in English.

(If one really wanted to say “ladies and gentlemen”, one could always say elen daravion ap elen daraviel , but that would just leave your audience wondering why you were deliberately excluding the herms, neuters, and prenuptial and postnuptial catalysts…)

Trope-a-Day: Opposite Sex Clone

Opposite Sex Clone: Fairly trivial, for an Imperial level of bioengineering (X-doubling, made easier by earlier eugeneering out of bad recessives, or synthetic X), and done (a) on a relatively infrequent basis for reproduction and (b) rather more often to produce spare (empty) bodies of the other sex.  See Gender Bender.

It is also probably worth noting that “opposite” is a little inaccurate, since “herm” and “neuter” are among the common possibilities…

(If you’re planning to Screw Yourself, on the other hand, you’d better take option (b) and occupy your clone’s brain with a fork of you, since if you make a new person and you’re the one who raised them, you’re going to run straight into major consent problems of the intergenerational incest kind, which is very, very much an ethical and legal no-no.)

Trope-a-Day: Half Human Hybrid

Half Human Hybrid: Even generalizing this to allow for the lack of humans in the known part of this universe, and even taking into account the amount of xenosexuality going on (refer back to Boldly Coming and  Interspecies Romance) – no.  Just no.  There are absolutely no half-anything anythings wandering around, because these aren’t just different species, they are the fruit of entirely different evolutionary trees.  Ain’t going to happen.

If a mixed-species couple really wanted to have children this way, yes, in theory, they could spend millions of currency-units on paying for the design of an entirely new neogenic species incorporating features of both of theirs – but, of course, the child would then be a unique member of a completely new species.  Unsurprisingly, this is not exactly a popular option.  Instead, most of them just have (through technological assistance) children of one or both of their own species, with the option of engineering in some parallels of the traits of the non-matching parent, contributing genes through memes, as it were.

Trope-a-Day: Interspecies Romance

Interspecies Romance: See under Boldly Coming, essentially, with a little more long-term in the relationship and somewhat more effort to put into appreciating or overcoming, as necessary, one’s differences.  But since I am of the opinion that, inasmuch as they all occupy the same universe with the same concrete and abstract parameters, and therefore there are certain limits on the phase-space of likely minds, and therefore emotional compatibility between species is actually rather more likely to occur than physical compatibility, well, yes.

Trope-a-Day: Guns Akimbo

Guns Akimbo: Played straight in its single-target version, but not in its multi-target version; despite the modifications listed under Firing One Handed making this look possible, but for most people, unless you have some fairly radical improvements to your vision system, you’re still only going to hit one target at a time. And while those are technically possible, designate-and-forget smart weapons are a simpler solution to the same problem.

Starships Are Not Hotels

Seeing as I wrote a little earlier on why my universe is compliant with one of the common misconceptions about space travel, I figured I’d follow it up with a few words on the other one I bend all out of shape: Rockets Are Not Hotels.

Well, actually, I’m mostly compliant with this one. As the Atomic Rocket site points out, there’s no point in going to the trouble and expense and engineering difficulty of putting a pressure hull around the payload/cargo (which mostly doesn’t care), the fuel (which definitely doesn’t care, and on the off-chance that a cryogenic deuterium tank springs a leak, you want it to leak outside into space – never mind hydrogen’s awkward habit of diffusing through damn near everything), the engines (which also mostly don’t care; the engineers might, you might think, but they have maintenance robots to teleoperate and weren’t planning on making a personal acquaintance with the business end of a fusion torch anyway; it’s not good for the chromosomes), and so on and so forth. So the spaceships of the Worlds, by and large, maintain that large-framework-of-struts-with-everything-bolted-onto-them, sometimes with a nice shroud/fairing over the top  for purely aesthetic reasons and/or to support the radiators.

On the other hand, though, the habitable areas of Empire’s starships are at least as luxurious – in their own way – as the Enterprise, and have been for quite some time, mass penalty or no mass penalty. (Phoenix Zero, the first orbital flight, described as resembling “an explosion in a girder factory that had previously collided with a chemical plant, sitting atop a giant steel washer”, avoided this, but they’ve been getting steadily more luxurious ever since.)

There are four main reasons behind this:

1. While there is no escaping the Tyranny of the Rocket Equation entirely, it does start looking a mite less tyrannous when you start out with nuclear-pulse (“Orion”) drives as your launchers and move on from there to various other nuclear engines. Also, while you still have to suffer the mass penalty in operation, it helps once you get construction in space going and so don’t have to bring all that mass up from downwell in the first place.

2. Marketing. The Spaceflight Initiative was never a government or a government-supported program, in the Empire’s history. They knew their audience, investors, contributors, etc., and their tastes pretty well, and so they knew perfectly well that to keep the money flowing, it would help if they could make all their spacecraft look as sexy as, say, the Dragon 2.0.

I believe the technical term is "freakin' gorgeous".

I believe the technical term is “freakin’ gorgeous”.

3. Crew health. Compared to humans, eldrae need much more personal space. They build bigger to reflect this, ’cause living all piled up on top of each other like we do in cities – and in European cities, especially, in my experience – is just intensely stressful and unpleasant for them – a typical apartment size there, for example, is the quarter-floor or double quarter-floor. Which is one thing if you’re just making a relatively short orbital flight (although still hardly pleasant), but once you’re going to be asking people to live in a starship for weeks or months at a time, not making it big and comfortable is just asking for cabin fever to the point of outright psychosis.

And on that note, it’s also much, much cheaper to pay people to invent creative super-light materials like glassboard and aerogel, etc., than it is to pay the medical bills – or pay people enough to be willing to do it in the first place. The supply of people willing to put up with terrible conditions for the sake of going to space will always be smaller than the supply of people excited about going to space in comfort, which is important once your promises inevitably dwindle from “you could be the first soph on the moon!” to “you could be the 17th soph to service Geostationary Communications Satellite #5”.

4. Sybarites. The Imperials have been a decadent bunch of folks for as long as they’ve existed. Certain comforts and, y’know, standards of civilized living are expected as the default, and everyone knows this. So, if the Initiative is spending twenty-two billion esteyn on its lunar mission, its Directorate aren’t even going to think twice before signing the check for another two billion on top in luxuries, decent-sized cabins to put them in, and extra propellant to lift said luxuries and cabins, allocated to “crew comfort and marketing”. In their civilizational paradigm, it’s just good business.