Higher Tech Species: Lots of them, arguably. The Imperial member species are this for most, if not all, of the Associated Worlds. The elder races – which, despite the technical definition based on the information entropy of their communications, in practice means “significantly older than the oldest of the current galactic mainstream” – are this to everybody, although nearly all of them aren’t particularly active any more, and have, for example, retreated into a virtual civilization in their own “Happy Fun Ball” (for which read, the matrioshka brain about eighty light-years to nadir of the Cordai Gap). And finally, of course, the Precursors, who would be this to everyone except that they’re simply Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
I saw a link today to this article, concerning the prospect of engineering predation out of the ecology in the interest of eliminating suffering (see also the Hedonistic Imperative), and was reminded of this particularly marvelous quotation from Terry Pratchett (Vetinari speaking):
“I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log.
“As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children.
“And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”
This, of course, is peculiarly applicable to the Eldraeverse in explaining both their identification of entropy and evil, and in quite why so many people and organizations in the Empire are quite so comfortable “playing God”. Someone has to, they might very well say, on the grounds that if anyone does hold that post already, the prevalence of this sort of thing in the universe demonstrates clearly – even before we bring up minor issues like the inescapable cosmic force of decay, belike – that the present incumbent is incompetent, insane, or quite simply monstrous.
High Class Call Girl: Absolutely all of them (see: Platonic Prostitution – but this applies even outside that market segment, say with the Eldinimieuthunimis offworld – Band of Brothels, and Unproblematic Prostitution). Given the local cultural attitudes, no-one is interested in servicing the hypothetical low end (at least in the Empire, those same cultural attitudes kill the demand side down here, too) of the market.
Unproblematic Prostitution: Played absolutely straight in the Empire for all seven of the listed common elements – and mostly straight in those offworld locations the Eldinimieuthunimis is operating in the negotiable affection business and enforcing their cultural prejudices with a will – but it is to be noted that this is very much a product of local cultural prejudices, including but not limited to the lack of our wacky hangups about sex in either direction, intense respect for the perquisites of one’s fellow sophs, that pure/direct sex sales represent a small market segment (see: Platonic Prostitution), great respect for professionalism (see: High Class Call Girl), and the local nonexistence of our creepy primate dominance kink.
Elsewhere, your mileage varies greatly, from places that are prepared to be just as self-consciously civilized about it, to places where it is as problematic as it is on Earth (including the really unpleasant bits, like drug addiction as a control technique and sophont trafficking), to places where it is considerably more problematic. As ever, the Cultural Clash abounds.
DROPSHIPS: EMPIRE OF THE STAR
The final entry in this section, affectionately known to the Imperial Legions as the “Big Ugly Breakfast 1” – and less affectionately known to almost everyone else as “Good gods, what is that thing?” – is the Flapjack-class cavalry dropship (Eye-in-the-Flame Arms/Artifice Armaments). Uniquely among Imperial starship designs, the Flapjack has adopted the rare “disk” or “saucer” hull form. It does this because the Flapjack-class is equipped with not merely a single, but a pair of nuclear-pulse drives, using the relatively environmentally friendly laser-fusion or (in the Flapjack II) antimatter options, the descent and deceleration drives; the dorsal and ventral hulls of these ships are in effect simply the pusher plates for these drives. The main body of the vessel, suspended between these on hydraulic dampers, is a short, wide cylinder, heavily structurally reinforced and itself surrounded by “sidewall” armor as thick and refractory as the pusher plates.
The intended usage of the Flapjack is orbital insertion of armored vehicles, en masse, into hot zones. To enable this, after being decoupled from a carrier in the high orbitals of a planet under attack, the Flapjack uses its descent drive to accelerate downwards through the atmosphere, minimizing dwell time within range of orbital and anti-air defenses. In addition, while the descent of a Flapjack obviously has far too bright a sensor signature to be concealed, the combination of the radiation hash from the descent drive’s thrust bombs and the plasma sheath formed by its hypersonic atmospheric transit together render it extremely difficult for weapons systems to attain successful guidance lock, and terminal guidance (especially to the fine degree necessary to insert a weapon into the narrow window of vulnerability between the pusher plates and the sidewall armor, even if the weapon is capable of surviving and maneuvering in the immediate environment of an active nuclear-pulse drive) virtually impossible.
At the end of its descent trajectory, the Flapjack uses the more powerful thrust bombs of its deceleration drive to perform a “suicide burn”; i.e., maximal deceleration at minimum altitude, compatible with lithobraking in a manner which preserves the integrity of the ventral pusher plate. This deceleration burn serves the additional functions of preparing the drop zone for the arrival of the dropship by flattening any structures or prepared defenses, and eliminating any but the most heavily armored, secured, and radiation-proofed resistance in the immediate area. Once the ground is reached, multiple armored cargo access doors with integral ramps and excavation drones permit the Flapjack to be actively discharging combat vehicles within minutes of a successful landing.
A proposal for an infantry dropship along the lines of the Flapjack, tentatively designated the Pancake-class, has been advanced by Eye-in-the-Flame Arms, but at the present time the high-radiation aftermath of such a vessel’s landing is not considered viable for personnel wearing M-70 Havoc combat exoskeletons or N45 Garrex field combat armor, the current legionary standards. While this would not be a problem for troops equipped with the specialized N45r Callérás high-rad field combat armor, its associated disadvantages and the expense of refit ensure that, for the foreseeable future, infantry will continue to be landed via drop shuttle (q.v.)
– Naval Starships of the Associated Worlds, INI Press, Palaxias, 421st ed.
1. A statistically improbable number of combat drops take place at planet dawn.
Village Planet: There are a decent number of these – people who have seen the greater Galaxy and decided that they’d prefer not to have anything to do with it – and they’re often appropriately hard to get to, since most of them exist in systems that don’t have stargates, meaning you have to go on a very long relativistic journey to meet the people who would prefer you stayed away. And further, as you might expect, most of them have a fairly lousy reputation, due to the only people from them the greater Galaxy sees being the exiles and renegades.
By and large, said greater Galaxy is happy to leave them to rot til’ they decide they want to play well with others.
Hidden Depths: Demographically, in immortalist civilizations, the average person you meet has centuries of personal history behind them. A lack of hidden depths is really more unusual in those parts, and requires some considerable effort to live out the same decade again and again and again and again…
(This has absolutely nothing to do with my writing, and everything to do with the fact that I play far too much Kerbal Space Program, and am ridiculously susceptible to earworms.
And maybe writing it down will at least help with the latter.)
The Minmus Colonial Anthem
(ttto: the South Park theme music)
We’re going up to Minmus,
Gonna have ourselves a time.
Kethane drilling everywhere,
Shuttlecraft from every station.
Going up to Minmus,
Gonna leave my woes behind.
Parking orbits day and night,
Asteroids without rotation.
Headin’ on up to Minmus,
Gonna see if I can’t unwind.
Gene & Wernher von Kerman
[couplet in Kerbalish]
So come on up to Minmus
And help us build a mine!
It seems perhaps worth, in light of that last trope, describing one of those situations in which the Empire leaves people free to pursue their own foreign policies, if they so desire, so let’s skip right to the big one. It is, if you will, an argument in two parts. The former runs like this:
1. It is an established principle of ethics that there is no alchemy which grants to groups greater (or lesser) rights than the sum of those of their constituent individuals. The form of their exercise may change; their essential nature does not.
2. The sovereignty of a polity, therefore, is no more than the collectively-exercised sovereignty (self-ownership) of its citizenship.
3. The right of a polity to make war, therefore, is no more than the collectively-exercised right of an individual to engage in the use of force, and is legitimate for equivalent purposes: namely, the defense of his own/their own sophont rights and/or the sophont rights of others. (Wars carried out for other purposes, as in the case of individual use of force for other purposes, are eo ipso illegitimate.)
4. By simple equivalence, an individual sovereignty (whether or not part of any polity) also possesses “the right to make war” on his own behalf for the defense of his sophont rights, inasmuch as this is ethically equivalent to any other use of force.
Such is merely standard Imperial jurisprudence. Here, though, is where it gets messy:
1. By the principle of consent, as derived from the right of domain (liberty and property) and that of contract, no sophont may be obligated against his will.
2. From this, therefore, we know that every sophont comes into this universe free and unencumbered by any obligation whatsoever, since no individual can bind itself previous to its existence.
3. The legitimacy of a polity’s governance, therefore, rests upon the voluntary (and explicit) assumption of the associated obligations by its citizenship, in accordance with the principle of consent. These polities we refer to as Societies of Consent.
4. It further follows that where such obligations are imposed upon sophonts without their consent, such as by birthright citizenship, descent citizenship, annexation, majoritarianism, or other force majeure, such governance is illegitimate by reason of violating the sophont rights of all its claimed citizens.
5. And as eo ipso illegitimate sophont rights-violaters, such nonconsensual governances are therefore legitimate targets for the exercise of the Right of Common Defense.
Most people, perhaps fortunately for galactic stability, treat this particular piece of ethical reasoning in much the same way as we do our “yay, democracy! boo, dictatorship!” fillip – namely, as something that’s obviously true, and always good for a denunciation at the Conclave, and handy to tack on to whatever other casus belli you might have this week, but it’s not like it means they have to go out and rough up every example of the kind right now, any more than we here in the Western democracies feel the need to go to war with every dictatorship on the planet just because they happen to be one.
On the other hand, it is due to the small number of people who look at said argument and add:
6. (insert plan here)
…that the Empire still manages to produce the odd filibuster . It is, after all, not actually illegal *there* to make war on icky dictatorships and icky democracies and other tyrannical so-and-sos with no respect for the rights of the individual soph, and indeed, it would be a severe violation of the Contract and the Charter were anyone to actually try and make it so . As their delegation to the Conclave of Galactic Polities has regretfully explained on more than one occasion.
 It almost never works, mind. Experience has long since shown them that you can’t liberate people by force when they’re not free inside their heads, and so more practical types stick with subversion and snakeheading when it comes to kicking the slavers where they live. But even advanced, wise, and ultratechnological civilizations are not free of a certain quota of young, idealistic idiots who will convince themselves that surely it will work this time, even if it never has before.
 The very unofficial policy of the Imperial government, Navy, et. al., on this sort of thing is that it’s not illegal, no, but it’s also not official Imperial business and if you’re heading out to start something, you’ve pretty much voluntarily doffed the cloak of Imperial protection. If you deliberately pick a fight with a government and lose, it’s not their job to haul your ass out of the fire either – because you don’t have the right to potentially drag the rest of the citizen-shareholders into your private little war. You go a-conquering, you take your chances, win or lose.
Of course, where it all falls down is that that’s the way the Empire’s foreign policy is defined. Imperials’ foreign policies, on the other hand, often differ quite remarkably… and most of the more strongly governed states we’re used to would be appalled at just how much the minuscule and laissez-faire Imperial government lets the average yahoo get away with when it comes to defining their own interstellar foreign policy.
Heroic Lineage: Arguably exists, since the histories of virtually every eldraeic House includes an adequately large cast of heroic characters. Of course, it’s not In The Blood, as genetic determinism doesn’t actually exist, but it does rather inspire people to emulate their illustrious ancestors.
Henchmen Race: Not unknown, but highly discouraged in the Accord worlds on rights-of-sophonts ground, where it involves modifying or uplifting an existing species. Various people’s bioroids, on the other hand, may appear to play the trope straight, but as usually-non-self-replicating biological robots devoid of any threshold autosentience or self-will of their own, they probably don’t count as a race.
Hellhound: Some of the larger and more militant breeds of bandal are thought to fit this trope, like the Ancyr warhound, but really, they’re just particularly intelligent Big Friendly Dogs. (Unless severely provoked.)
Now, in the modern era, when the Imperial military fields entire legions made up of sapient (uplifted) dire wolves in power armor, you might have a point…
Man, I’m all about the follow-up posts today…
Another conspicuous omission from their list of rights, by our standards, is freedom of religion.
This is on what they would deem the perfectly reasonable grounds that religions tend to include an ethos in the package, and if you can’t tell obnoxious ethoi where to shove it, nothing but trouble ensues.
So if a religion contains lovely doctrinal claims that, say, gay people aren’t really proper people and should be forbidden rights afforded to everyone else, or that women are the cause of vice and legally worth only one-fourth of a man, to pick a couple of examples from a very wide sea of obnoxiousness, or any other such things that are blatantly antithetical to the liberty and ethical equality of all sophonts asserted and guaranteed by the Contract and Charter, the Empire has absolutely no problem in saying to immigrants and converts: “You cannot simultaneously believe both of these things. Pick. One. (And if it’s the other one, get the hell out.)”
(This is perhaps a little unfair to people like – well, like many modern believers who have no difficulty at all performing some mental editing and selective reservation when it comes to the differences between their personal morality and what the doctrines of their religion actually say, but among the many things that the modal Imperial has very little patience for is cognitive dissonance.)
And just one more thing…
Actually, it occurs to me that there’s one other quirk worth mentioning.
Their version of freedom of speech doesn’t cover fraud.
Now, ours doesn’t either, to an extent – at least when it’s monetary fraud, and when it’s addressed to some distinct identifiable subset of individuals. But if you’re deceiving everyone, or doing so in a blatantly non-commercial manner, it’s pretty much fair game.
The Empire’s version, on the other hand, while wide-ranging in many ways, maintains as a fundamental legal principle that the freedom to speak is not the freedom to deceive. So you can talk as much as you want about what you believe, as a matter of faith; you can have whatever opinions you like, no matter how bizarre, unpopular, repulsive, hateful, or vile, and publish them to your heart’s content; you can take provisional positions on the unknown; and you can be mistaken, provided that you’re willing to accept and acknowledge correction.
But the moment you appear to be deliberately lying about, misrepresenting, or otherwise playing silly buggers with a matter of fact, the Curial courts will nail your ass to the wall on criminal “Intentionally Wrong Calculation/Falsification of Information” charges, and those charges will stick. That you’re defrauding millions of people instead of thousands isn’t an ameliorating factor, it’s an aggravating one.
(That strict application of this would result in maybe 99% of most polities’ political, lobbying, and activist establishments and maybe two-thirds of their journalists being immediately condemned to vigorous and stringent meme rehab and recon is something the average Imperial finds funny as hell. And kind of depressing, but mostly funny.)
A question asked on my worldbuilding list:
Any strange or even silly rights enshrined in law in your cultures?
Alas, most of the rights found in the Empire are relatively conventional; for the strange and silly, it’s much easier to look in the realms of bizarre tradition and ancient, yet still operative, contracts. Of course, there are some elaborations which might strike us *here* as a bit peculiar…
The four fundamental rights (Domain, Defense, Common Defense, and Fair Contract) are all pretty straightforward and familiar to us, pace the way that they manage to wrap life, liberty and property up into one single concept. Most of the charter rights (the ones you get by virtue of being an Imperial citizen-shareholder) are also fairly familiar (Person and Property, Knowledge –
Although we might find it a little odd that in their version of that right, access to information comes first, followed by freedom of research and inquiry, with freedom of speech and the press coming in third behind them. Also, our version of freedom of speech hasn’t so far had the need to state “save when such information or speech constitutes, in whole or in part, infectious or self-executing code”; nor does our version of freedom of assembly qualify itself by saying “subject to the availability of free public volume in which to assemble” – no blocking the streets or occupying buildings and calling it free assembly! – or “and the capacity of the local environment to sustain life”, ’cause air ain’t free and the ability to generate it isn’t unlimited.
– Arms, Association, Trade (which is familiar, even if we mostly don’t have it), Petition and Appeal –
Including, Roman-style, the ability to appellatio your way right up to the Imperial Couple if you think you have a case, although abusing this particular right tends to have… consequences.
– Voyage, and Justice.)
But there are some rather unusual entries at the end of the list. The right to walk around in whatever body you want:
Right of Self-Mutagenesis: The Empire shall respect the right of each and every sophont of self-ownership insofar as, but not limited to, each citizen-shareholder’s inalienable right to modify their physical substrate as they shall see fit, through genetic or cybernetic technologies or through any other means, including the right to transfer their mind-state to such replacement physical substrates as they shall see fit.
The right to alter your mind as much as you want, however you want to do it, so long as you don’t go the bad kind of crazy:
Right of Gnosis: The Empire shall respect the right of each and every sophont of self-ownership insofar as, but not limited to, each citizen-shareholder’s inalienable right to modify their mind-state as they shall see fit, through noumenal pharmacy, psychedesign, noetic modification, or through any other means, provided only that such modifications do not constitute pernicious irrationality threatening the public order, the public safety, or the public health.
And the right to a guardian angel:
Right of Assistance: Inasmuch as the Eldraeic Transcend exists coextensively with the Empire, the Transcend guarantees to all Imperial citizen-shareholders, whether currently Aspects of the Transcend or not, the assistance and advice on demand of a Transcendent coadjutor.
Of course, being the sort of civilization that it is, the Imperial Charter immediately follows up the section talking about rights with the corresponding section talking about responsibilities, since for damn sure you can’t have one without the other – and besides, all of them would be illegal if people didn’t agree to them first up:
Article V: Responsibilities of the Citizen-Shareholder
To permit the fulfillment of the purposes of the Empire, as laid down in this Charter, all citizen-shareholders of the Empire agree and contract, by virtue of their citizenship, to fulfill the responsibilities here laid down.
Responsibility of Law: It shall be the duty of each citizen-shareholder of the Empire to abide by this Charter and respect its ideals and institutions; to follow the law of the Empire in such matters as this Charter shall provide for the existence of such law; and to uphold the sovereignty and unity of the Empire.
Responsibility of Taxation: Each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of paying such taxes as this Charter permits and as the Exchequer shall deem necessary, for the maintenance of the Imperial government and the fulfillment of its purposes herein defined.
Responsibility of Common Defense: Inasmuch as the Empire guarantees to its citizen-shareholders the right to, and the means for, the common defense, each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of participating in the common defense; to defend other citizen-shareholders when and wheresoever it may be necessary; as part of the citizen militia and severally from it to defend the Empire, and its people wholly or severally, when they are threatened, whether by ill deed or cataclysm of nature; and to value and preserve the rich heritage of our ancestors and our cultures both common and disparate.
Responsibility of Eminent Domain: Each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the necessity of transferring specific and enumerated items of property to the government of the Empire or that of a constituent nation when it shall exercise the power of eminent domain as set forth in and restricted by this Charter, provided that public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and when they shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.
Responsibility of Sortition: Each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of service, when selected, either in the Senate or in such local assemblies as the demesnes in which they are domiciled shall require, for the sound governance of the Empire; and to vote when called upon in plebiscites.
Responsibility of Self-Development: Each citizen-shareholder of the Empire is amenable to and accepts the responsibility of participating in the civilization, culture, prosperity, and progress of the Empire, and of educating and advancing themselves so far as shall be necessary to participate therein.
The existence of this responsibility shall not establish any governmental privilege to define the meaning of, or the terms upon which one may engage in, such participation, nor to deprive any citizen-shareholder of their citizenship for failure to meet such standards.
Another little quirk in the Charter is that it’s very clear that reproductive rights are neither inherent nor unlimited, because the about-to-be-born have rather more fundamental rights of their own, and not all parents are exactly pure in motive, and there are certain standards that people shouldn’t be created below:
Article XIV: Imperial Rights of Genesis
Inasmuch as its creation affects the incipient sophont as much as those responsible; and inasmuch as such incipient sophonts are often incompetent to manage their own affairs and defend their own rights;
And inasmuch as the Empire recognizes that no sophont should exist as an instrumentality for another;
Each citizen of the Empire is amenable to and accepts that the creation of another individual sophont, whether by inherent reproduction, biological cloning, logos iteration, duplication of mind-state vector, neogenetics, or any other means, and the development and education of that sophont to the point of independent legal competence, may be restricted by the Empire, either for the public health, or acting for that of the potential incipient.
Which gets elaborated on by later statute law concerning minimal standards of upbringing, genetic health, the ban on semislavery, etc., etc., the requirement that both the creator and the hypothetical reasonable sophont would find life within the parameters available to the created satisfying, and ultimately to the Prime Rule of Genesis, “You have the right to be created by a creator acting under what that creator would regard as a high purpose.”
Also worth mentioning by our standards is that the Empire doesn’t have a separate notion of “animal rights”, rather, there are sets of rules which explain how the rights of sophonts “trickle down” into the realm of the pro-sophont and non-sophont in proportion to their degree of sophoncy/sapiency/sentience, such concepts not being bright-line definitions in reality but, well, kind of fuzzy. Those expecting to be charged with animal cruelty may well find themselves surprised to be charged with straight-up assault, battery, and/or corpicide, depending on degree. (And if you are cruel to your pets, possibly also charged with infiduciarity, inasmuch as they enjoy essentially the same protections in law as other dependents.)
They take this very seriously. If a man kicks your dog, you can shoot him, same as if he kicked your child. And indeed, the Empire is possibly the only state in history to have a serious social movement campaigning for this trickle-down principle of rights to be extended to inanimate objects.
There’s also the notion of “virtual rights”, that process by which the rights of a given sophont are copied and conferred onto his partials, proxies, and software agents, while recognizing that they are the rights of the original, not of the proxy; a similar mechanism to the one that, *there*, passes through so-called “coadunate rights” from the member sophs to the branches, corporations, and other coadunations that they happen to be a member of.
Hellgate: The three long-range stargates leading to the Ancal Drifts and Koric Expanse constellations, home of the Leviathan Consciousness, an aggressively hegemonizing perversion that will eat your mind-state for breakfast on its way to devouring your entire civilization. Even civilizations otherwise at war with each other cooperate enough to keep making their contributions to the Leviathan Consciousness Containment Fleet.
Hegemonic Empire: The Empire, absolutely. Since the old days of the Consolidation Wars back on the homeworld, the consensus culture of the Empire (individual exceptions like the Imperium Bellipotent and a few grumpy occasional reanimators of the Doctrine of the Ecumenical Throne notwithstanding) is pretty sure that military imperialism has some awkward conflicts with their core values, and in any case is pretty much a pessimal way to grow.
The new plan is to seduce the universe – or “corrupt” the universe, if you are prefer to phrase it the way the Voniensa Republic, the Socionovist Association, and the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms do – and make everyone want to be part of it via Rule of Cool, manifested in such newfangled soft-power traditions as building and operating major infrastructure, being economically ubiquitous (thank you, All Good Things, ICC), potent cultural perfusion selling the Imperial Dream and other such notions (thank you, media studios of Delphys!), peddling immortality and personal enhancement to anyone who’ll buy them, etc., etc. And the good thing about this, say the people running the place, is that the only actual policies they need to have are (a) open immigration, and (b) mostly-open admission to any polity that asks for it – which by that time have almost certainly been quite “Imperialized” anyway. The rest is more or less self-driving, and would indeed be hard to stop even if they suddenly became of a mind to.
The success of this strategy is such that, discounting colonization of entirely unoccupied worlds and regions, virtually the entire growth of the Empire in its interstellar period has been via voluntary admissions – and it maintains quite the sprawling sphere of influence outside that.
Heavyworlder: Yes, but this universe is hard-SF enough that they do reflect the “compact, stout, and short” version of the trope. Of course, seeing as eldrae are all height-advantaged anyway, even the heavyworlder clades are still looking humans in the eye.
There are also lightworlders, of course, and Fan Service or no, they are that skinny.
Hearing Voices: If a regular person hears voices in their head that aren’t themselves, that probably means they’re insane. For any one of trillions of transsophonts, on the other hand, it means that they’re talking to their muse, that computer that lives in their head and works for them performing all manner of personal-assistant-type tasks. And for the Transcendi, Voice of the Legion included, it may also mean that one of the archai – although that’s time to start worrying, given what it tends to mean when one of them takes a personal interest – or your Transcendent coadjutor would like to drop you a word of friendly advice.