Trope-a-Day: Blood Sport

Blood Sport: This, obviously, gets much easier when you have noetic backup technology to ensure that you don’t run out of people quite as fast as you otherwise might. Even so, in the Empire and other civilized polities, this is usually limited to martial arts competitions where death is mostly accidental, and minor outgrowths of duelling culture.

Elsewhere, some downright horrifying examples also exist thanks to the export versions of the tech… but what can you do? Barbarians gonna barbar.

Questions: Spite, Amendments, Nomic, Favor-Trading

So what’s the eldraeic take on spite? (In both the game theoretic and emotional senses.)

In the former, that it’s pointless and self-defeating, inasmuch as it’s a negative-sum interaction. You lose, they lose. The best you can do in a spiteful interaction is come out relatively better off because they lost more than you did, even though in absolute terms you end up worse off yourself. Simply walking away or minimum-cost defensive action wins every time.

(Humans are prone not to think of it this way because exchanging absolute losses for relative gains makes sense if you’re operating on primate relative status instincts; you get a larger piece of a smaller pie. Eldrae, contrariwise, tend to think of relative status games as perhaps the single dumbest notion the universe ever came up with, and so recognize that they’d be worsening their own position right off the bat.)

So far as the emotional sense is concerned, it’s spiritual entropy. The sort of thing that chews away at the soul, and if indulged or unless corrected, likely to end up leading you directly into one of the Antithetical Heresies, probably the Defiling Nihility with a chance of the Obstructive Naysayer.

More pointedly, what’s their take on Hamiltonian spite?

It has all the negative qualities of Wilsonian spite, with the additional fillip that it’s pure-quill “To improve my position it is sufficient to worsen someone else’s.” In their above-mentioned paradigm, that qualifies as both stupid and evil, as well as unsatisfying (the one-eyed human king might be able to derive satisfaction from seeing better than all his blind subjects, but it would never occur to the one-eyed eldrae to use other people as his yardstick in the first place).

How amenable is the Imperial Charter to amendment or revision? We’ve been made aware that it’s possible, but how does the amendment mechanism itself work?

The amendment mechanism is a spectacular pain in the ass. Of course, that’s by design; if you can’t push whatever amendment you wanted to make through said spectacular pain in the ass, it almost certainly wasn’t both important and generally agreed with enough to be an amendment. Specifically to quote:

Article IV: On the Amendment of this Charter
After the ratification and implementation of this Charter, amendments may be proposed for consideration in three ways:

  1. By a two-thirds vote of each of the Chambers of the Senate; or
  2. By a proposal put forward, concurrently or consecutively, by two-thirds of the demesnes of the Empire; or
  3. By a citizen proposal, put forward in the same manner as an initiative, which achieves the support of one-third of the citizen population.

Any amendment proposed for consideration by either of these methods shall first require a substantive vote of each of the three Chambers of the Senate for ratification;

And, this having been achieved, shall then require a three-quarters vote in a plebiscite of all citizens of the Empire for further ratification;

And shall then become effective on the first day of the next year, following this final ratification.

A substantive vote, incidentally, means a 5/6ths vote rather than a 2/3rds vote of a substantively quorate Senate. So in order to approve an amendment, you have to win 2/3rds of each of the three Chambers of the Senate, or 2/3rds of all the constituent nations, or 1/3rd of the citizen-shareholders; then win 5/6ths of each of the three Chambers of the Senate; then win 3/4s of the citizen-shareholders (total, not just voting).

There’s a reason it’s only been amended 12 times in over 7,000 years.

Also, there are some parts that can’t be amended at all:

Article V: Irrevocable Provisions
The provisions listed here within shall not be amended, nor shall their amendment be proposed. They shall remain above all power of amendment or repeal.

  • Section I, Article I: On this Charter
  • Section I, Article III: Limitations of Imperial Government
  • Section I, Article IV: On the Amendment of this Charter
  • Section I, Article V: Irrevocable Provisions
  • Section I, Article VI: Dissolution
  • Section III, Article III: Fundamental Rights of the Sophont
  • Section III, Article VI: Nonrestriction
  • Section III, Article VII: Equal Protection
  • Section III, Article X: Renunciation
  • Section IV, Article I: On Sovereignty
  • Section IV, Article II: Full Faith and Credit

For various reasons. Not kicking away the latter you’re standing on while you’re on it (I.I, IV.I), because the governance shouldn’t invent new roles for itself without going through the proper procedure (I.III), because amending the amendment rules or the irrevocable sections would defeat the whole point of having them (I.IV, I.V), because when they said inalienable they meant it (III.III, III.VI, IV.II), because there shouldn’t be special privileges in ethics (III.VII, IV.I again, IV.II again), and because people shouldn’t be deprived of their right to wind up their collective body (I.VI) or their right of exit (III.X).

And the Curia will throw out any proposals that are going to make the whole thing nonsensical due to innate self-contradictoriness, or suchlike.

But apart from that? Easy.

By extension, how comfortable are the eldrae with incorporating nomic mechanisms into games and contracts, as a general rule?

Perfectly comfortable… when used appropriately and properly scoped. A fully general nomic contract is a potential suicide mission, in the same way that a unilaterally, arbitrarily modifiable contract is, and no-one in their right mind’d consent to that. But building nomically adaptive contracts such that they can handle unanticipated changes within the essential scope of the contract – well, doing that is exactly how smart-contracts began in the first place.

Given how it’s an eldraeic principle that everything can be quantized in some fashion, can (and do) favors accrue “interest” in some fashion, just like monetary debts and balances?

They could, if the people involved wanted to set them up that way. In practice, they don’t: a debt carries interest because of the opportunity cost of lending money; namely, you can’t spend it while you don’t have it (and you risk losing it) and that deserves compensation. But unlike money, there’s not the same opportunity cost of having an outstanding favor.

Is there such a thing as “favor arbitrage,” where you can make arrangements to connect people you owe favors with people who owe you favors to resolve both at a profit to yourself?

In a manner of speaking. If A owes B and B owes C, connecting A and C transfers A’s debt to C, paying off B’s, and then performance pays off A’s, leaving no-one indebted to anyone.

Now if you happen to have collected a lot of favors, like, say, the Marquis de Carabas, and you happen to know people who could use certain favors from certain people, you can certainly arrange introductions there, at which point the provider no longer owes you and the recipient owes you one. And some path-pointers operate in this mode to transfer in one direction or another favors you can’t use or can’t fulfil, either way. But that’s not you doing it: that’s involving a third party, whom you owe for their trouble.

Also mainly in reference to favors, but with potential application to monetary debts as well: We all know by now the Imperial attitude to failing to discharge an obligation that you owe to someone else, but what’s their attitude about imbalances perpetuated by the creditor refusing to, say, take payment offered in good faith for an “early release,” or intentionally holding a favor in reserve to call in at an advantageous time?

Well, I think their first question would be “what imbalances?”

(I mean, in the first case, well, unless there’s an early release clause in the contract, it’s not like you have a right to early release – and if there is, they can’t refuse to take it. But even if there isn’t, if you happen to have the cash on hand to pay off the debt, principal and all interest accrued right up to the end of the normal term, and they still refuse to renegotiate for the same money offered earlier, there’s nothing to stop you from sticking that into an escrow account with a smart-contract attached and forgetting about it.

And in the latter case – well, since most people are going to call favors in when there’s an advantage to doing so, I’m guessing you mean “when it will disadvantage the debtor in some way?” But unless you’ve written and agreed yourself into a tight corner, it’s not like favor-repayment is so tightly defined as to demand specific performance right then, either. Unless you inadvisably promised to jump when they say “frog”, or you owe a life-debt to someone being hunted by assassins today, or something, you can say “Sure, but I’m getting on a lunar shuttle in less than an hour, so it’ll have to be next Tuesday, if that’s okay by you?”)

Or, I suppose, there’s the psychological factor of having a debt hanging over you, but – that’s another case of primate status hierarchies. It makes us feel all stressed and subordinated to have outstanding debts, but that plays on instincts they don’t have. So far as an eldrae is concerned, “a debt and its repayment sum to zero”. Unless and until they’re actually behind on servicing it or flirting with default, it’s no big deal, and no little deal either.

Trope-a-Day: Blood on the Debate Floor

Blood on the Debate Floor: It’s not usual.

That said, it has nonetheless happened and occasionally still does, especially in the early days when any hint of the sort of sentiments that led up to the Drowning of the People reoccurring would tend to lead rapidly to the defenestration of the misbegotten wight who proposed such a thing. (The Defenestrative Gallery is now on the public tour.)

And when particularly sensitive topics arise, some Senators – especially from more hot-blooded or kinesthetic species – have been known to start the odd brawl.

The Guardians of the Senate always finish it, though. What, you thought those weapons were ceremonial?

Although when it comes to protecting the Senate from itself, at least they usually stick to the electrolasers.


The Love of Money is the Root of Reliability

mercenary (n.): A source who is working for us in exchange for money (typically discreetly delivered cryp) and detailed explanations of where all their body parts are likely to be found in the event of a contract default. A pleasure to work with, relatively speaking, because all the cards are on the table.

idealist (n.): A source who is working for us and betraying his putative employers for ideological, religious, patriotic, etc., beliefs. Widely considered unreliable, especially compared to mercenaries, since anyone who’s turned their coat once may do so again if they change their mind. Consequently, the first step in handling an idealist is to secure a firm yet invisible grip on their gonads, or failing that, a half-gram of KL-8 implanted in one of their heart valves.

– excerpted from Rilial’s Informal Dictionary of Intelligence and Security Terminology

Non-Canon Parody: Travel Advisory

So, I was chasing links this morning and ended up at a State Department travel advisory, and then this just wrote itself, really…

“The Ministry of State and Outlands alerts Imperial citizen-shareholders that the quadrennial elections are scheduled to take place in Blatantly Obvious Expy near the end of this year. The opening engagements have already begun, and related activities are expected to only intensify in the coming months.

“As such, the Ministry of State and Outlands recommends that citizen-shareholders avoid travel to Blatantly Obvious Expy until the second quarter of the coming year, due to the high risk of nausea, rage excursions, and self-inflicted head injuries.

“The Ministry regrets that there’s really nothing it can do to help you if you insist on visiting during this period of crisis and localized brou-ha-ha.

“For further information, see publication SO-2961 – Seriously, What The Fucking Fuck?: Coping With Barbarism Through Alcohol Consumption.”


Trope-a-Day: Blade Below the Shoulder

Blade Below the Shoulder: Some types I and II exist; the former because a strap-on “weapon pod” is a standard accessory for quick-draw weapons, some of which might as well be blades, and the latter because – well, while they’re as impractical as concealed weapons as any other cybernetic implant, X-rays being a thing, and probably not the most useful thing you could stash inside your arm anyway, some people have funny tastes and like the notion of weapons attached to them.

Type III is certainly possible, but it not being considered an idiotic self-handicap probably isn’t. That discourages people.


The headquarters of Nucleodyne Thrust Applications was not, it was widely held, the most elegant of the habs in close orbit about Melíeré. The double-torus housing both the living spaces and the corporate offices, adorned about the docking hub with the stylized silver atom over flaring golden sun of the corporation’s logo, to be fair, might have qualified on its own – and did, in publicity pictures carefully shot to contrast it with the ruddy gas giant it orbited and to conceal the remainder of the station.

That remainder being the research section, an incoherent conglomeration of laboratory modules, floatways, power reactors, fuel storage tanks, construction slips, storage temps, and less identifiable machinery strapped along the massive truss that protruded from the rear of the docking hub, a messy tangle unconcealed by an aesthetic shroud, harkening back to the earliest days of space.

No, Cherac’s Breath Station was not an elegant construct.

* * *

The same, however, Melíändre Steamweaver thought, could not be said for the products they built there.

Dwarfed by the size of the construction bay it floated within, still gleaming in places with the fine buffering oil the nanoassemblers used, the prototype of Nucleodyne’s latest fusion torch drive was a case in point. Its clean lines breathed elegance from tip to tip: from the petal-like shrouds encapsulating the tangle of support machinery where she would attach to her ship, studded with molycircs gleaming like jewels in the bay lights; through the clustered cylinders of the injectors and beamers, surrounded by the polished, reddish orichalcium rings of the buffering accumulators; through, too, the silver ellipsoid swelling of the fusion preburner, surface marked with eloquent scrollwork depicting the fields within; though the golden toroid of the magnetohydrodynamic accelerator and the magnetic couple; and finally to the graceful outward sweep of the magnetic nozzle retained by that couple, blade shields of muonic iron glistening an impossibly bright white.

She turned to the head of the assembled engineering development team. “Beautiful work, Aurin, as ever.”

“She’s the smallest we’ve ever built. Half the size of a Little Sparky… We still need a type name for her.”

“What’s the current designation?”

“K64 pinnace-class torch, revision 3.”

“Hmm.” Melíändre turned, and headed for the airlock leading back to the hub junction. “If she passes static fire and flight tests, designate her Firefly.”