How I Wonder What You Aargh

Cirys superzorcher (n.): A hypothetical weapons system in which the various elements of a Cirys swarm (q.v.) are equipped to function as the radiative elements of a phased-array laser. Such an array, with an effective aperture equal to the diameter of the swarm, would theoretically be able to deliver a substantial portion of the total solar output of the contained star in a single beam against targets located at interstellar distances.

Occasional peaceful uses for such beams have been mooted, including laser sail propulsion (although it should be noted that there is little call for such craft on a larger scale than existing propulsion arrays – which have the advantage of being mobile – can handle, and the ability to build a laser-sail craft capable of surviving such propulsion is questionable), long-distance, including extragalactic, communications (a matter of great interest to the Elsewhere Society), and even remote power generation and delivery.

However, while condemned by Cirys Aendyr himself – who is said to have wept when this application of his concept was brought to his attention – the most common proposal is to use the Cirys superzorcher as the weapons system implied by its name. The ability to place so much power on target (a figure of the order of 108 exawatts for a Hearth-class star) across interstellar distances, capable of vaporizing lithic worlds and severely damaging gas giants and stars, is peculiarly attractive to certain types of mentality, especially when it is considered that the purely photonic beam of a superzorcher is substantially more difficult to detect than a typical RKV, and cannot be practically intercepted or recalled.

As such, while the Cirys superzorcher requires a high degree of technological advancement and autoindustrialism to produce (a potential currently limited to the Empire and certain other Core Markets) and is in any case a prohibited weapons system (classified as a Tier I star-killer under the Ley Accords), an informal consensus exists among the Presidium powers that the construction of such a device by any polity, within or without the Worlds, may be reasonably interpreted as notice of intent to commit gigacide, and as such is a legitimate cause for preemptive defense of the highest order.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

24 thoughts on “How I Wonder What You Aargh

  1. So what happens when you send out a self-contained Cirys superzorcher construction package to a distant star, far away from where anyone is looking?

    Pick your target.
    Send self-replicating kit to a solar system or nine far, far away.
    Optional: install FTL comms to the superzorcher if you don’t want to wait years for the “open fire” signal to arrive.
    Arrange things so there’ll be HD cameras on location. It could be decades before anything happens after all, so who would suspect you?
    Take acting classes.
    Superzorcher(s) is/are built.
    Push the button.
    Go about your business.
    Enjoy fireworks.
    Act surprised/shocked/appalled as required in public.

    To avoid being blamed for this, make sure the self-replicating robots & superzorcher components etc look nothing like your normal technology. Have them be constructed along the system ecliptic until they’re all ready, so astronomers will find it difficult to spot until it’s too late. Finally, and if you’re worried about being blamed, hit one of your own worlds – one big enough to matter, and ideally close enough to the real target that whichever unknown power attacked might have mistaken it for a world of the real target (alternatively, pick a world that would be a natural choice for humanitarian aid to the real target). After all, who’d be insane enough to attack his own people like this?

    Finally, once the superzorchers have fired, their components should all dive into their star or otherwise self-terminate. Unless you want them to start anew in fresh systems, of course 🙂 …

    For anyone with Empire or Core levels of technology this should be a pretty nice low-cost means of crippling everyone you dislike. I wonder if you could also decapitate the Empire (and kill off much of the Transcend) this way. The only real problem is the ramp-up time, as starting from a single robot ship or three (got to keep the whole thing quiet, remember) and ending up with a Dyson swarm will take a while. But perhaps if someone had begun it some decades ago…?

    Also, on a completely separate note, have you tried a piece of software called “Dia” for mapmaking purposes? I found it quite useful when doing my own wormhole / tube station maps:

    • Short answer: They kill it, then they kill you. 🙂

      (Assuming the Second Directorate’s, et. al., gigacidal whackjob patrol haven’t sent assassins after you already. Quietly shooting dangerous nutcases in the head to prevent unpleasantly messy wars is, after all, a prestigious line of work with a long and honorable tradition.)

      Long answer: Well, to send out such a probe, you need a lighthugger and/or an interstellar launching laser. The notable thing about either of those particular technologies is that the people and organizations who have access to them? Absolutely infested with spies, for this sort of reason, along with other Clever Ideas people might have.

      (It also helps that you can’t light off a lighthugger’s drive in any sort of stealthy way: you can see a pion drive’s highly distinctive emissions from a couple of star systems over with the Mark One Eyeball.)

      And, of course, the thing itself isn’t all that subtle even while in the relatively early stages of construction, and peculiar stellar anomalies (hello, KIC 8462852) are the sort of thing that get the Barrascán Array – with its 20 cm resolution at 2,250 light-years – or its bigger cousins pointed in your direction.

      At which point people start retasking their RKV deterrent fleets.

      Which is not to say it can’t be pulled off; just that the forces of People Who Want To Be Alive Tomorrow have made it cost more in time, cleverness, money, and hazard than just about anyone can afford to cover.

      (And that’s before you consider that actually using the thing is pretty much certain to trigger CASE SKYSHOCK RED as everyone launches civ-killer attacks at their entire current-and-possible enemies list just in case they’re next, whether on the potential target list or maybe already orbiting-dead planets on the beam’s-on-the-way list.)

  2. while condemned by Cirys Aendyr himself – who is said to have wept when this application of his concept was brought to his attention

    Given the society he came to being in, I’m somewhat surprised he didn’t anticipate that someone would think of weaponizing something of that scale right off the bat.

      • Given that we’re only getting that particular detail now, vis a vis the many lovingly crafted paragraphs about “What an Awesome Boomstick I Have” and “Why Violence Against ‘Barbarians’ Is Good and Right” scattered elsewhere across the site: Yes, it is surprising.

          • Alright, I’ll concede that it was new to me.

            Nevertheless, my counterpoint — that there are many, many more volumes of text on the various ways that the futuristic technology of the setting has been put to enthusiastic military use, and the many, many more paragraphs triumphantly extolling the use of naked force and even extermination campaigns against those they deem insufficiently virtuous — you’ll have to forgive me if I still have no sympathy for what I see as crocodile tears from a member of a species of self-admitted sociopaths.

            (Additional counterpoint: Admiral Caliéne Sargas “the Worldburner”)

          • Not only is this interpretation – since I do not subscribe to Death of the Author – not even wrong, but the underlying facts in evidence are also, well, not even wrong.

            Attentive reread recommended.

          • From my reading, the only group even loosely associated with the Empire that ‘triumphantly’ extols ‘the use of naked force and even extermination campaigns against those they deem insufficiently virtuous’ are the Blood of Tyrants, who are explicitly described as fanatical, mostly-Renegade terrorists proscribed by the Empire.

          • Additional counter-counterpoint: who is depicted as the Admiralty’s pet sociopath, very much the exception to the rule, and brought out only for necessary special occasions.

  3. Collateral question:

    What if you honestly do intend to build it for one of the peaceful purposes mentioned above?

    • Then an ambassador from the Empire arrives and very politely asks you not to 😛 .

      I wonder if the Transcend’s one can be retooled into doing this kind of thing easily? Quite aside from wasting hostile planets, this would make a nice system defence weapon against interstellar RKVs. Just fire lots of smaller (for a certain definition of the word) beams at any swarms of incoming missiles until they’re just rapidly expanding clouds of plasma.

      As a follow-up to my earlier comment, you’d better hope the spies are able to catch everyone, because otherwise a sufficiently amoral power (or even terrorist group etc) with a sufficiently high capacity to plan and act in the long term (that is, over centuries) could deliberately trigger Case Skyshock Red…

        1. Very much not. You don’t kill people with your brain, for that encourages people to shoot you in it.

        2. And, yes, you do have to make sure you can keep on top of the situation. Fortunately, like serious blights and hegemonizing swarms, this is the sort of thing that even mutually hostile intel agencies can agree to cooperate on.

    • Sucks to be you, doesn’t it?

      Unless you are a genuine, well-intentioned (let’s start with “consensualist”) who has gone to a whole lot of trouble ensuring that its security measures not only ensure that no-one can ever, ever use this thing as a weapon of gigacide, but also that everyone else knows that in real-time, the Second Directorate will be paying you a call. Politeness level varies between conversational and annihilatory.

    • And yes, that does imply that traditional states and organizations in the power of traditional states don’t ever get to have one.

      Being a kórasmoníë pretty much disqualifies you from the well-intentioned club, by definition.

  4. So lasersails are considered impractical but amat propulsion isn’t?
    And amat-propelled spacecraft aren’t considered WMD’s despite having fewer peaceful applications than a Nicoll-Dyson beam?

    Your setting, your choice. But I’m sceptical.

    • You’re misreading. Lasersails are practical, there’s just no need for quite so big a laser, as the craft it propels would either have to be absolutely huge, or the acceleration (and requirements on the structure and ablator) would be insurmountable.

      Probably both, actually.

      As for lighthuggers, they stay out in the kuiper belt for exactly that reason. You might think about pointing them at a star system, but your drive is very bright, and if you fail to flip over at turnaround, you’ll probably get a lot of ordnance thrown your way in a hurry.

    • Ah, not sure where you’re getting that from. Laser sails are entirely practical – we see an exploratory probe laser-launcher in , and developed systems routinely use them to exchange tanglebits – and widely used. This is just pointing out a strong norm against building things indistinguishable from planet-melting superweapons when you don’t have any real need for them to make your laser sails work.

      Also, the WMD potential of a lighthugger is acknowledged here – – which is why they’re limited in where they’re allowed to go; but the thing is, even a purpose-built RKV is interceptable. An NDB is not.

      (And if you’re trying to move moon-massed objects across interstellar distances in useful time, you’re really going to need that pion drive.)

      • (And if you’re trying to move moon-massed objects across interstellar distances in useful time, you’re really going to need that pion drive.)

        I wonder about that. An AM engine has all sorts of problematic issues; if nothing else, manufacturing all that AM is generally quite inefficient (and I don’t recall you mentioning that the Eldrae have access to more exotic things like Q-balls, though perhaps I misremember).

        A hefty sailbeam installation on the other hand seems like it would do a good job of imparting an awful lot of momentum without the whole issue of having a gamma ray source with a kardashev score >1, which is the sort of thing you don’t want near your loved ones when it leavs or arrives.

        (on another note, if you’ve got a planetary-scale engine, you’ll have no problems making a vast parabolic reflector out of muonic metal and clawing back another big of the annihilation energy for useful purposes, so it wouldn’t be a pure pion drive)

        • I’m not planning to disclose the mechanics of the contraterragenesis carried out at Esilmúr just yet (spoilers!), although inasmuch as the roughly-50%-efficient singularity inductors are a freely offered export tech, that gives you a baseline for what they’re beating.

          But the most relevant thing, perhaps, is that Esilmúr is a Cirys bubble, which means that economies of scale kick in hard. Out there, they store their antimatter in planet-sized blobs of antideuterium slush, and they’ve got lots of ’em. No-one’s going to run short any time soon.

          (The specific objects in question, by the way, are stargates. Pushing that heavy kernel around needs considerable oomph.)

          • Its more that the inefficiencies can stack up quite fast in antimatter rockets. Once you’ve made the stuff, there’s plenty of scope for losing energy in the annihilation reaction, though.
            – You’ll waste some energy if your magnetic nozzle is too small. Needs to be 2km+ long if you want to harvest the energy of those charged muon decays, though if you’re throwing moons around that probably isn’t a problem.
            – Your magnetic nozzle has a maximum efficiency of ~80% anyway.
            – You’ll waste some energy if you can’t reflect gamma rays (which your muonic metals may or may not be able to do; that’s beyond my meagre physics skills to work out).
            – You’ll potentially waste quite a lot of energy in the acceleration and decceleration phases, as the propulsive efficiency of beam-core drives (Ve 0.3C) pushing slow objects is pretty low.
            – If you’re fuelling up your spacecraft ahead of time, you pay a big cost in accelerating all that fuel. You could deliver fuel via laser sails mid flight, of course.

            If you’ve got more energy than you know what to do with, then this isn’t really an issue of anything other than aesthetics, and who cares about those? 😉

          • I don’t want to get into all the fiddly details of their pion drives right now, but suffice it to say that there are lots of interesting ultratech widgets in there optimizing the reaction…

            (And initial acceleration/final deceleration tends to involve some regular old fusion burns.)

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