Trope-a-Day: Alternative Number System

Alternative Number System: The eldrae, and thus the Empire, use base 12 – mostly because the common numeric base was agreed on by the same collective of the philosophically inclined that standardized the language, and they saw no particularly good reason why you should pick a number base just because that’s how many fingers you have when you can pick one based on something more useful, like its plethora of convenient factors.

There was a brief flirtation with base 16 (the Great Hexadecimal Reform) during the reign of the Online Emperor, but despite being more convenient for computational purposes (a base 16 digit converts into a whole number of bits, which a base 12 digit does not), it proved quite unpopular with the public and was later quietly dropped.

And, of course, other species have been known to use quite a large variety of numeric bases – 8, 10, and 16 being probably the most popular, but others far from unknown.  Base 16 is commonly used for interspecies communication (outside the Empire, in the Worlds), though, mostly because everyone who uses computers is at least somewhat comfortable with power-of-two bases.

Trope-a-Day: Almost Out of Oxygen

Almost Out Of Oxygen: Still happens occasionally, despite every spacecraft’s emergency kit carrying an ample supply of oxygen candles and lithium hydroxide (because CO2 poisoning is what’ll actually get you; or, well, if the thermal management system isn’t running because of the same problem that’s taken out the life support, you’ll cook) – or the appropriate equivalents for non-oxygen breathers – against exactly this contingency.

Of course, given the realities of space distances that we covered back in Escape Pod, if you should find yourself playing this straight, it almost certainly means you’re dead, or at least your current set of bodies are.  So it goes.

Of Kerbals and Prokrastination

Sorry, no fiction today.

This is because of the release of KSP 1.1 preview, and consequently my spending the entire day testing out its new many-parts and many-mod 64-bit support by resurrecting working versions of my BehemothMegalodon, and Surprise Eclipse! 10m-parts-as-liquid-fuel-boosters-for-an-Orion heavy-lifters.

I’d apologize, but honestly, I regret nothing and you wouldn’t believe me if I told you otherwise.


Grand Theft Identity

Vinwi Cyberdemocracy: Does not exist.

(The year 6829 marked the collapse of the Shrouded Suns Selfdom’s most successful identity fraud operation, in which they used an automated botnet of false identities, reputation bots, and infojacked social networks to produce and cross-verify almost one million false identities purportedly originating in the Vinwi Cyberdemocracy, stated to be a single-system polity located in the fringes of the rimward Expansion Regions – and inserted as such by a considerable feat of system-cracking in several galactic volumetric registries.

The Worlds’ authentification systems being more attuned to conventional fraud, misappropriation, and database manipulation than to non-existent polities, these identities operated successfully for nearly a decade before being invalidated.

Occasional identity-claims purporting to originate in the Vinwi Cyberdemocracy still surface from time to time across the extranet. If you should encounter such a claim, please report it forthwith to your local information security center or to Conclave Security, Network Operations Division, as appropriate.)

– Polities of the Associated Worlds, 882nd printing

Trope-a-Day: Aliens Steal Cable

Aliens Steal Cable: Sort of true – despite the various technical problems mentioned in the trope, it is a very popular way to acquire a linguistic and cultural corpus from worldbound civilizations before making contact. But it involves both (a) studying their technology to figure out the signal encoding, and then (b) parking a probe somewhere close in to their system and/or placing a tap on their Internet-equivalent to gather uncorrupted signals. You can’t just do it easily over interstellar distances, especially if you don’t know that it’s there.

Trope-a-Day: Aliens of London

Aliens of London: Well, since no-one ever speaks English, it’s a little hard to say – especially with regional variations – but I suspect a native Eldraeic speaker attempting to speak English without benefit of a translator –

(Which depending upon locale configuration would probably produce either Broadcaster’s Mid-Western or Received Pronunciation.)

– would arrive at an accent somewhere halfway between a Southern drawl and Londo Mollari.

A to Z – Get Your Words In!

A2Z-BADGE_[2016]Hey, readers! This challenge that I did last year?

It’s starting REAL SOON NOW. As in LESS THAN A WEEK.

So if you didn’t take the opportunity to nominate a word to prompt me with last time, you’d better hurry.

Just for your reference, the letters we currently have suggestions for are A, B, C, K, M, R, and S – so you have a whole NINETEEN untouched letters to make suggestions for. So there’s plenty of room.

Hit me!

Click here to suggest!

No limits on how many or how few letters you may submit for, or how many suggestions you may make in total – just send ’em in, and I’ll take a look at them.

(No promises, either, for the person already thinking that “quetzalcoatl” is a word deeply underused in science fiction writing. But I’ll at least try to use suggestions.)

Trope-a-Day: Alien Sea

Alien Sea: Obviously – not all oceans are water, y’know. Just look at Ólish, or Galiné, with their golden-black hydrocarbon seas. Or the molten metal lakes on Eurymir’s day face, or the reddish salty brine of terraformed Elémíre, or the literally wine-dark seas of rusty Talentar, or the colloidal algae-gelled oceans of Pentameir, or the copper-salt-blue waters of Daliethe, or…

…and that’s before we even consider non-terrestrial planets.


The book of Balances is one of the most significant segments of the Word of the Flame as it addresses the eldraeic character. To be specific, it takes the form of a lengthy debate between Kanáralath, Bringer of Clarity, the eikone whose concern is reason, logic, and truth unalloyed, and therefore that quality of spirit which we esteem as talcoríëf, and Elárion, the eikone representing liberty, individuality, and volition, and therefore the quality of valxíjir.

The debate dissects the question of these two qualities that lie at the heart of our nature as eldrae (q.v. the Parable of the Crystal and the Flame). At first, this is almost conducted as a duel, as Elárion praises our driving energy, qalasír, and the great deeds it has inspired, while Kanáralath speaks on the virtue of wisdom. Then, in answering each other’s points, Elárion decries (with appropriately fiery rhetoric) the bloodless contemplation of his counterpart, while Kanáralath coldly dissects the great tragedies of passion.

Both, of course, are correct. We are, as Elárion teaches, creatures of Flame, not mere creatures of clay, born to exert our will upon the world. But a flame untended runs easily wild, as the bloodier centuries of our history demonstrate in great depth.

The next section of the debate has the eikones discuss the interactions between the two – and the failure to balance them property – in detail. This section of the Word indeed describes six of the Antithetical Heresies, which such an imbalance can give rise to. A deficiency of valxíjir is the straight and narrow way to the Heresy of the Deedless Cripple, that of those who do not strive and depend upon others for their worth; while an excess leads one into the Heresy of the Uncaring Rider, who negligently exerts his will heedless of the rights and hearts of others. Likewise, a deficiency in talcoríëf is the path of the Thoughtless Churl, who obeys and enforces without understanding; while its excess delivers one to the Heartless Philosopher, whose contemplation paralyzes action. Talcoríëf curdled begets the Heresy of the Obstructive Naysayer, who disdains the thoughts and ambitions of others; while corrupted valxíjir is the way of the Defiling Nihility, who finds satisfaction only in exerting power, ultimately only to destroy.

The final synthesis of the debate discusses the empowering balance of passion and reason, and the way in which each quality must be fulfilled by the other. Reason superdominant is impotent: contemplation exalted to inaction, if not empowered with the will to use it. Overriding passion is dangerous: folly, destruction, and chaos alone come from action without mastery of the will exerted to give rise to it.

Reason, therefore, must be enlivened with passion; passion, ruled by tempered reason. The enlightened sophont seeks and rests upon the balance point from which both valxíjir and talcoríëf may simultaneously be affirmed. From within this place, they may make choices in cool rationality, neither ruled nor controlled by their passions, and then act upon those choices with an absolute and pure will.

– Commentaries and Insights, Vol. IV,
the Luminous Sessily Arkonides of Atheléä

Trivia: Old, Older, Oldest

Something that came up over on G+ – in the course of discussing how many pre-spaceflight eldrae are still around (answer: lots, even if you discount the deep-submergence infomorphs and Transcendent afterlife, and even if some of them spent a while as frozen heads) – which I repeat here for general edification:

Namely, the oldest eldrae currently extant would be Esitaria Cyprium-ith-Avalae Linlethar was born in -284, which makes them 7,406 at the time of the Core War. (Imperial years – call it 7,322 T-years, once you correct for different orbital parameters.)

For scaling purposes, that’s like having someone born, let’s see, post-Alexander and pre-Rome. Or, since they never had a set of Dark Ages there, approximately 1,000 years before the fully-functional steam engine.

(Non-exo) archaeology and history are a very different disciplines, at least until you get well into the pre-Imperial period.



SLABTON, KALACHA ETH (BANNERS) – An attempt by a local consortium, ReClamation, ICC, to set up a recycling and resource extraction outpost upon the Magen “garbage world” of Brak Tífel ended today with the full shutdown and withdrawal of corporate assets and personnel. In a statement to the financial press, the CEO of ReClamation, Malk mor-Tirek, specifically denied that the withdrawal was related to developments in the ongoing lawsuit pressed by the owners of Brak Tífel, Impalpable Waste Management, JSC, and added that a further attempt would be made in the upcoming year. On being pressed for further details, he offered only the following laconic statement: “Not enough gun.”


Things to See, Places to [Not] Go (6)

Brak Tífel: A gas giant moon in the Rilni (Magen Exodus) system, Brak Tífel was once a promising terrestrial world in development, until errors in its late-stage ecopoesis led to it becoming a world which was entirely livable, but not particularly desirable: an erratic diurnal temperature cycle that gave it both days too warm for practical habitation and nights too cold likewise, desert terrain broken only by the most resilient and hostile scrubby brush, and so forth.

These errors could, perhaps, have been corrected by further work, save that Brak Tífel had the misfortune to be located near the borders of the Magen Corporate. Seeing an opportunity for profit – and a loophole in the Accord on Colonization which, at that time, established no ecospheric protections for ecopoesed worlds – Brak Tífel was acquired at a bargain price by a Magen corporation, Impalpable Waste Management, JSC.

Since then, daily loads of garbage rain down upon Brak Tífel’s surface: while most polities in the Accord have learned to take care of their planets, there remain a regrettable number that lack suitable recycling technology of their own, are unwilling to suffer the expense of purchasing or operating offworld recycling technology – or have technophobic or regulatory objections to such – and are quite happy for externalities to exist so long as they need not look at them.

Thus, Brak Tífel is today a grotesquely polluted, highly toxic wasteland of space junk, radioactive, biological, nanological, and chemical waste, scrapped machinery, abandoned cargo, ore slag, and anything and everything else that people will pay to have put a long, long way away from anywhere they’d have to care about, whose lye-choked seas and foggy green atmosphere should be taken as a warning – as indeed they are by those commanding the garbage freighters, who prefer to offload their cargoes without the necessity of landing.

The inevitable local population consists mostly of unbonded mercenaries doing hostile-environment training, and squatters with nowhere else to go that even Márch won’t accept. The former have protective equipment and attitude problems; the latter have tumors and previously unheard-of diseases. Neither make for good company unless you’re looking for someone to shoot, and even then, the planets in Chapter Three offer the same with less chance of unwanted teratogeny.

– Worlds Not to Visit: The Galaxy’s Worst Places,
Grotesquerie Press, 7719

Trope-a-Day: Adam and Eve Plot

Adam and Eve Plot: The colonization of Valiár (Thirteen Colonies), in which the catastrophic failure that destroyed the majority of the colonists in cryostasis aboard the Swiftrunner left a first-in team half-a-dozen strong as the only people around – and it’s not like in subluminal colonization you get to turn around and go home. You colonize or you die.

Subverted inasmuch as they knew perfectly well that their genetic pool was in no way up to the job, even for such fine examples of genefixed Eldrae anthalis as they were. As such, after maximizing the genetic diversity that was available, it was time to send in the clones [1]; and Valiár today remains almost entirely populated by serially cloned descendants of the original set of archetypes.

[1] Yes, they could handle this differently NOW, but they could not THEN, and NOW NOW is based on THEN THEN.

Worldbuilding: Immigration and Religiosity

A thought or two inspired by part of this comment seen via /r/bestof, said part being:

Where it gets extremely tricky and sensitive is how non-fundamentalist Muslims fit into the picture. The same for non-fundamentalist Christians, or Jews. Because the fundamentalists would argue, and in a way I agree with them, that the beliefs of these people are so far removed from the original message and meaning of the religion that they are not truly Muslims, or Christians or Jews. In order to achieve a form of Islam, or Christianity, or Judaism that is acceptable to ‘Western society’, you have to reshape and twist the doctrine of that religion SO MUCH that it can start to not make sense at all.

(You may also want to read the surrounding paragraphs for context, but I don’t think you really need to.)

…and which, in the finest spirit of “everything gets used for worldbuilding”, I shall now use to illustrate something of the nature of non-native religiosity in the Empire and one particularly characteristic problem people run into at immigration.

‘Cause here’s the thing.

The Empire is an unabashed ideostate, neither an ethnostate nor a volumetric geostate. It is the contractual association of the Freest of the Free, which certainly anyone is permitted to join – the advertised immigration policy is, after all, “just turn up” – but they do have to  be able to sign the associative contract in good faith. Like so:

I, affirmer’s full name and/or identifier, hereby affirm my agreement and attachment to the principles of the Fundamental Contract; that all sophonts are endowed with certain absolute and inalienable rights; that these rights are to life and property, liberty, and the pursuit of eudaimonia; that all sophonts are equal in their exercise and retention of these rights, without privilege or priority; that sophonts cooperate amongst themselves in separate and coadunate action to secure them; and that they do so freely and by their own sovereign will.

Therefore, as a free and self-sovereign sophont of recognized competence, I hereby agree, consent and reaffirm my binding to the rights and obligations of the Fundamental Contract which underlies the civilization of the Empire, on my own behalf as well as that of my guardianship; consenting to be guided first in my actions by the Rights of Domain, of Defense, of Common Defense, and of Fair Contract; and accepting freely the obligations attached thereto to guard the absolute and inalienable rights of my fellow sophonts as my own; and in full understanding that should I Default from this, my own rights shall therefore be abeyed until the default is amended.

Given under my hand this day date,

affirmer’s signature

Witnessed this day by witness’s full name and/or identifier, who, as a citizen-shareholder in good standing of the Empire and an adherent of the Contract, pledges surety in the light of the Flame for the competence of the signatory and the validity of this Affirmation.

witness’s signature

In good faith, for these purposes, implies “under alethiometric analysis”. Which is a problem, if you believe in the fundamental doctrines of many religions, ’cause however in good faith you may feel you’re being because obviously such considerations couldn’t possibly be meant to apply when you’re quarter-valuing women, abominating homosexuals, or stoning those buggers who wear mixed fabrics, your mental reservations will light the alethiometer up like a Christmas tree.

(We pause briefly while the House of Exemplars pats itself on the back for its collective foresight, inasmuch as everyone from Merriéle Herself [1] on down to the present day were careful to note that they were just writing down their best perception of what the eikones wanted and expected ongoing contemplation and future generations to revise accordingly with the benefit of further thought – and thus avoided binding their seven-millennia-later successors to a bunch of Bronze Age mandates labeled the ineffable, eternal, unchangeable TRVTH. Dodged a bullet there, eh?)

But here’s the catch-22. There are also a lot of non-fundamentalist people around who would pass that test, because they don’t literally believe in the aforementioned things, but they’ve never really repudiated them either. They exist in the shadowy doctrine-twisting world in which, sure, this is the ineffable word of God and the scriptural basis for our religion, except that it obviously doesn’t mean what it says and what He really wants is peace, love, charity, fluffy bunnies, and other things more in accord with modern thinking that don’t explicitly punch the Contract in the face.

…yeah, that won’t get you in either. Because regardless of how self-aware you are about it, that is going to light up the alethiometer with the information that you, sir, ma’am, herm, or neut, are someone who espouses Serious Philosophical Commitments to Ideals and then ignores said Ideals for some stuff you and your chums just made up, belike.

That doesn’t play very well with people who take notions like “obligation” and “self-integrity” and so forth seriously. And it plays even less well with the Imperial Guard of Borders and Volumes – being the people asking you to affirm a Serious Philosophical Commitment to an Ideal – who will bounce you and your admittance request right back out the door and onto the next starship to Hypocrisia.

Which leaves as admissible only those whose ancient theogonists happened to luck out and hit enlightened libertism – or at least values that don’t gratuitously offend enlightened libertism – by chance or revelation, or else those religions flexible enough to engage in theologically supported reform as they go. (There are more than a few Christian sects that would qualify under this clause, because what they believe and what they espouse are aligned with each other, and that theological and doctrinal evolution were intended; equally, of course, there are more than a few that wouldn’t.)

The combination of these effects leads to both a tendency to cooperative niceness where non-native religiosity is concerned, and to many-much vigorous denouncing from outworlders. But then, they’re used to that [3].

[1] Whose own writings reflect a certain willingness to argue with the divine, and indeed to look Heaven in the eye and judge right back. The Church of the Flame followed [2] in this initial tradition.

[2] The ripple effect this has had on ecumenicalism and religious diplomacy by producing a religion whose representatives, while more than happy to go along with civilized polyhenotheism, also have no problem whatsoever with saying out loud the equivalent of “Man, your god’s kind of a giant celestial asshat, huh?”, is left as an exercise for the reader.

[3] A standard cadet exercise at the Stratarchy of Warrior Philosophy is constructing memes to get the people denouncing them on the extranet for being tolerant and the people denouncing them on the extranet for being intolerant (of the intolerant) flaming each other instead. This is both good introductory-level practice and kind of funny, so.

Trope-a-Day: Ace Custom

Ace Custom: Happens a lot, aided and abetted by the highly modular and modifiable nature of Imperial technology. (Indeed, both the Navy and the Legions positively encourage the practice – as long as you stick to the standard interfaces and thus do not muck up the supply chain, or drop below the baseline performance – on the grounds that they enjoy keeping their opponents in a state of perpetual confusion and disorientation with regard to what can actually be expected out of their hardware.)

Trope-a-Day: Ab Urbe Condita

Ab Urbe Condita: The definition of the Empire’s Harmonious Calendar is this, counting from the founding – or, rather, counting from the winter solstice [1] that immediately preceded the founding (which was in the mid-to-late spring) in order that the start of the calendar year should be in a sensible place. And, technically, that year is numbered zero, not one, because discontinuities in the number line of years are annoying.

[1] If you were wondering how this ties into Eliéra’s non-standard what’s-axial-tilt-ness, consider it semantically equal to apodeuteros.