Birthday Present

Peréä System, far orbit, 4016

“Now?”

“Okay, go ahead and open your eyes.”

“You got me a giant laser! Wait, where did you get me a giant laser? … And, um, why did you get me a giant laser?”

“In order: yes, the Laserider Network’s fire sale, and –”

“Fire sale?”

“Yeah. It hasn’t hit the public ‘weave yet, but word from the Deep Space Relay is that someone back Home has cracked the fittling problem and they’re sending us the necessary, so the interstellar light-sail network concept is dead in space. Helén Inuriannon is taking the news about as well as possible for someone whose reason for being here just took a long walk out a short airlock, but they’re in full close-it-out, sell-it-off mode already. I picked the main laser array up for a short song and a handful of considerations.”

“We have FTL now –  no, never mind, in a minute. So why do we – I – whichever want a giant laser?”

“Think of it less as a laser and more the prospect of being independently wealthy.”

“Right now I’m thinking of it less as an explanation and more the prospect of being annoyingly smug.”

“If they have FTL, we’ll be getting more colonists, more quickly. That means the ecotects are going to be even hungrier for metal than they are now. And that laser…”

“…is going to be a thousand sideritic asteroids smelted down and put on the market first.”

“So, you like it?”

“Be as smug as you want today, love.”

Trope-a-Day: Our Weapons Will Be Boxy In The Future

Our Weapons Will Be Boxy In The Future: Averted in most cases; most guns, while still being fundamentally gun-shaped (ergonomists cringe at the thought of trying to actually hit something with the remote-control-styled ST:TNG phaser, for example) as appropriate to the manipulators of the species they’re designed for, still follow The Aesthetics of Technology in being sleek, curvy organic shapes.  After all, they’re nanofactured – grown, not assembled – and all the field-replaceable parts are modular, so…

Played absolutely straight in just one case by the S-11i Mamabear heavy sluggun, because the Mamabear is a brutally overpowered weapon designed – well, the designers appear to have been thinking about building a weapon to fight kaiju at close range. It looks like a large vaned metal brick with a stubby barrel sticking out of one end because that’s precisely what it is; the mass driver is sufficiently overpowered that the whole mechanism of the thing is built into a giant heat sink to keep it at something close to a reasonable operating temperature. Although if you fire the thing multiple times in close succession, reasonable operating temperature means “only radiating in the red”.

(It has some other disadvantages too, like small magazine size, slow reloading rate, inaccuracy at long range, and a recoil that inflicts compound fractures on anyone who fires the thing whose bones aren’t reinforced with hard-wearing synthetic composites, but sometimes that’s worth it for the ability to one-hit kill damn near anything you’ll ever find yourself staring down the barrel at.)

Aftershocks (3)

From Elyse Corídatry, Psychedesigner Excellence, to Advisory Panel, Involuntary Dysfunction Eleemosynary COG, and Adm. Gileon Cularius, Imperial Navy, greetings.

Gentlesophs, I understand the urgency of your desire for good news concerning the status of the 14,934 mind-states entrusted to the care of the COG by Adm. Cularius, but must regret to inform you that this is an extremely complex piece of repair work. The changeling AIs used by the Iltines in their weapons systems were produced by methods that are, by our current standards, extremely crude as well as grossly unethical.

While I remain confident of eventual success, the Iltine weapon-programmers were, if you’ll pardon me, a bunch of semi-competent butchers stacking wire-and-tape jobs twelve deep. None of these are capable of operating in an organic, robotic, or even infomorph ‘shell at this time; this is the easiest of the problems to repair, since motor and sensory cortices can be patched with standard models. However, aversive and proversive conditioning have garbled the emotive-promotor loops all to dark and hash, and there’s noise all through the supporting structures. The majority of pre-installation memory is nothing but garble to wipe, and the rest of them will take considerably longer to unthread and reroute back to something resembling sanity, and as for the primary personality encoding structures, well, I can’t patch over the problems in those if you give a damn about who you’ll be instantiating at the end of this process.

Give me six months, and I’ll tell you if it can be done at all. A year after that, you might start seeing results.

(Unless there’s any chance you can get me one of the Iltine project team’s mind-states…?)

Question: Terrorism and Open Societies

Here’s another one from the question box: I received a link to this article from a skeptical reader who questions how – or indeed if – the sort of open society I describe could possibly cope with this sort of lone-wolf, home-grown terrorism by individual extremists, needing few contacts and little equipment.

First, just because you have an open society that, by and large, is not interested in investing a lot of time into controlling what people do doesn’t necessarily mean that your security services suck. (Indeed, one could convincingly argue that they ought to be better, inasmuch as they can spend all their time concentrating on things that are actually mala in se rather than wasting a lot of time on authoritarian-moistening bullshit.)

Suffice it to say, canonically, while greatly restricted in what they can do to people who haven’t committed any sort of crime, the Watch Constabulary and the Fourth Directorate are nonetheless very good at what they do.

Second, of course, is that the Empire is rather picky about who can get citizen-shareholdership in the first place, and extends this particular pickiness even to people who were born there. You don’t get it for free just by accident of birth; it comes with responsibilities as well as rights, and if you cannot sit under an alethiometer and honestly declare that, yes, you do intend to honor the Contract and the Charter and all their implications (something that your homegrown radical could not any more than a would-be immigrant one), no citizen-shareholdership for you. And if you fail that test badly enough, well, here’s a ticket, now get the hell out.

(This is naturally decried as extremely culturalist, which it is; the standard response to such criticism is that no, it’s not prejudice, they have a perfectly valid postjudice against cultures that don’t respect the sophont rights of others, and in any case, the opinions of a of bunch of self-asserted advocates for thugs, thieves, slavers, defaulters, and other such degenerates will be filed in the appropriate receptacle.)

And thirdly, the Eupraxic Collegium does have a compelling interest of ensuring that the ungoverned, self-organizing public are, well, sane and rational, that being what permits a free society like this to exist in the first place, and are well equipped so to do.

But lastly, of course and for the major part, is the difference in attitude.

As has been mentioned before, I believe, the Imperial legal view of self-defense (or, rather, self-and-others defense) is somewhat different than ours, in that one is not, for example, obliged to wait until someone actualizes a threat in order to respond to it. You are entitled to take people at their word: if someone threatens you or someone else nearby, you can preempt their attack with your defense all you like. There is absolutely no duty to retreat: someone who attacks, or threatens to attack, is by definition, eo ipso, etc., in the wrong and invited the painful consequences that are about to ensue. And, for that matter, they think “proportional response” is the damn silliest idea they’ve ever heard of (with the possible exceptions of fighting fair and telling the enemy that you’re coming), so if you have to put someone down, you’re entitled to make sure that they don’t get back up.

The Imperial Rules of Civilized Warfare mirror this pretty much exactly on the group level, as you might expect.

In the above article, one quotation given is:

“Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict,” an Islamic State spokesman said in a September audio speech. “Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.”

…you can say that kind of thing relatively safely on Earth.

Hell, you could say that thing kind of safely to a lot of people in the Worlds who share similar attitudes to people on Earth.

But if you say that thing to or about the Empire, or Imperial citizen-shareholders, that’s a preemptive self-and-others-defense casus belli right there, and it’s probably even the kind that invokes the “we don’t need no steenkin’ central ruling, this is covered under ‘imminent threat that will not admit of delay'” clause that lets any local commander act on their own military authority.

There, you say that sort of thing from any sort of position of authority, and shit is going down. Hell, you just sent said shit a gild-edged, engraved, heavy-bond-paper invitation to come party at your place and bring all its implements of destruction.

And so, when it comes to another illustrative quote:

“They’ve realized, hey, if our intent is to scare the s–t out of people—to trigger heavy-handed responses by government, to force isolation of the Muslim community, pushing them to more radicalization—what do you have to do? Take two guys into a mall, shoot it up, and you’re done. You’ll be out of there in 15 minutes, and we’ll be talking about it for days and weeks and months.”

Well, it’s true that that would be an excellent way to trigger heavy-handed responses from the Imperial governance, yes. The problem, however, is that so far as opinion there is concerned, our idea of a heavy-handed response is so much self-harming (because tightening security inflicts pain upon many-n of your own people for every n bad guys it catches, even before you start counting false positives) theatrical bullshit.

The way you do a proper heavy-handed response to polity-encouraged terrorism is to send out Admiral Cluster Bomb to turn Mister-Likes-To-Make-Threats-And-Encourage-People into Mister-Ash-At-The-Bottom-Of-A-Glass-Lined-Crater, preferably before anyone actually has a chance to make good on any of said threats.

In short: what keeps terrorism out of the Empire’s open society is that, by and large, would-be terrorists’ sponsors and encouragers have much easier targets to pick on than the one that will murderize, tenderize, and vaporize you from orbit the moment after you open your mouth and then pat itself on the back, standin’ up for civilized values and all, for doing it, not a twinge of conscience needed.

And it’s not like this is a hidden or an inconsistent policy. They’re very open about this policy and they do it every time, and have been doing so for ever, which has the decided advantage of ensuring that it’s a very rare occasion when they have to do it at all.

Trope-a-Day: Our Showers Are Different

Our Showers Are Different: Averted, for the most part. Water has enough other uses, starting with radiation shielding, and is prevalent enough in space – and, of course, being built in space, or launched using nuclear pulse drives, there’s plenty of room in the mass budget for the relevant equipment – that most spacecraft and habitats have plenty of water available for real showers. Or even baths (although microgravity baths are relatively small, closed chambers that fill with water, requiring you to use a breathing tube – at least, if you aren’t equipped with those nifty hemocules that let you hold your breath for a couple of hours, anyway.

There are microbot swarms that will clean you quite satisfactorily (a close relative of decontamination mist) without needing water, or indeed requiring you to undress, but those aren’t there because of water-lack; those are there for people in too much of a hurry to enjoy it.

And a “sonic shower”? Well, that’s just a fancy shower-head that helps you scrub.

Unwanted

ALL SECURITY SITES // INFRARED TRANSPARENT
ROUTINE
RED LIST // ANATHEMATIC // UPDATE 7122/03/11

WANTED: Misent yilFerish hinGastref (any and all instances)

DULY OUTLAWED IN ABSENTIA BY WRIT OF THE COURT OF CLAIMS

FOR: reputation gaming, identity theft, forknapping, brainspiking, semislavery, enslavement, sophont trafficking, sophont farming, non-consensual redaction, p-zombification, and sundry other crimes against sophoncy.

BOUNTY: 100,000 esteyn for a derivative fork; 1,000,000 esteyn for a full fork; three-quarter paid for proof-of-kill alone (no intact mind-state); negotiable-upwards for information leading to capture of the primary instances.

AFFILIATIONS: Shrouded Suns Selfdom; Theomachy of Galia intelligence services; gkx-net.

LAST SEEN: outport, Trinmac (Charred Waste), 17 days before publication.

SUBMIT TO ANY OFFICE OF THE FOURTH DIRECTORATE.

Trope-a-Day: Our Founder

Our Founder: Lots of them in various places, of course, but the several-hundred-foot high statues of Alphas I Amanyr and Seledië III Selequelios that flank the main building of the Imperial Palace are the ur-example of this trope.  (The mountain range to the east of the capital that is slowly being carved into representations of the line of the Empire’s Most Significant Historical Figures would be the largest.)