Moments in History (3)

Red Planet, Blue Sky?

The news on everyone’s lips today here in Orbitfall, as well as back home, is the televised deployment of the new soletta array here in Talentar orbit. While not the first step taken, the soletta is the first tangible result of the comprehensive ecopoesis program announced last year by the Spaceflight Initiative, Project Redblossom, which will allow eldrae to walk on the blue-green surface of lowland Talentar without respirators within three centuries. Present with the project lead and the colonial legate at the unfolding ceremony today were representatives from several of the Empire’s constituent nations most represented in the Spaceflight Initiative, and from the newly formed Orbital-Seléne Alliance.

The soletta array is the first and principal orbital mirror in an array which will be deployed in synchronous orbit, reflecting the suns’ light as part of the ongoing effort to warm the planet. Smaller mirrors will also be deployed for use in melting the planet’s surface rock and liberating some of Talentar’s hidden water, presently locked in frozen aquifers.

But not everyone is happy with the ecopoesis program. Diplomatic protests have been lodged by the Cerenaith Alliance, both here and back home, citing lack of consultation and concerns with the potential use of the mirrors as orbital battle platforms. I spoke to one of Project Redblossom’s senior engineers:

“Seriously? If they’re going to complain about the mirrors, what are they going to do when the ice asteroids get here? Lyricen Lacus isn’t going to carve itself, much less fill — this is off the record, yes?”

– from the Imperial Infoclast, summer 2273

Question: Useless Machines

Specialist290 asks:

So what do the eldrae make of the idea of “useless machines”?

The most famous example, of course, being the machine whose sole purpose, once turned on, is to turn itself back off. (Like so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z86V_ICUCD4 )

Insert usual disclaimer about the reliability of capsule summaries of the opinions of over a trillion sophonts.

Well, for a start, they aren’t “useless machines”. Useless machines manifestly fail to work properly. These are “amusing mechanical follies”, like Rube Goldberg designs, which are… amusing. Also decorative.

(The ur-example of the class *there* is actually a Precursor artifact, nicknamed “The Uncrater”, a black-box widget whose sole function appears to be declining to be packaged up in the current local language, then quietly disintegrating any packaging material used to attempt to do so.

You’ll find it indexed under “Amusing Mechanical Follies”. Also under “Suspected Precursor Practical Jokes”, and “Seriously, Guys, What The Hell?”)

 

A Musing & the FAQ

On the evergreen question of what about us, Earth-now, the Imperials might find worthy of a little respect, a recent rewatching of Apollo 13 reminds me to mention that our space program, especially of the Apollo era, definitely qualifies.

Bear in mind, for one thing, that for various reasons involving their homeworld’s quirky perversions of physics, that their moon program, Project Silverfall, didn’t reach fruition until they were already a mature information-age society, and so Moondancer and her sister ships, along with Oculus Station and so forth, were all equipped with fancy, modern integrated network systems, and other technology of similar advancement, with the controls looking rather more like a Dragon V2 touchscreen-and-voice UI than anything else. (And, of course, it was a roomy Orion ship, not a capsule that barely fits its crew.)

So, y’know, it wasn’t quite “In a cave! With a box of scraps!” from their perspective, but getting to the moon with slipsticks and core memory, in a vehicle smaller than Moondancer‘s bridge — that’s remarkably impressive by any standards. And, of course, there’s simply no way you can’t respect any of the sodality of folks willing to strap their asses to a cannoboom and ride it into glory.

(On the other hand, the way the program was abruptly terminated after having served its political purpose of being a stick to beat the Soviets with pretty much confirms all of the negative stereotypes in the book, or at least the ones indexed under short-sightedness, Obstructive Naysaying, democracy, cratic government in general, and so forth.

Never mind all the people saying “What’s the point in going to space?”, then and now. I mean, it’s not like the Empire has never had any mental cripples, but by and large, they don’t give them column-inches or seats in the Senate.)


On another note, I am contemplating adding a FAQ page for the benefit of new visitors to the site. As such, I welcome nominations for Qs that are FA – which doesn’t mean a free for all in re new questions, I stipulate; nominate from questions already answered or posts which answer unspoken questions, please!

 

Question: Marlinspike

Phineas Imhoff asks:

I have heard mention of the “spacers marlinspike” several times, I am curious what exactly is it for? Does it serve the same role as a traditional marlinspike, just recycled in space. Or is it something else?

It’s essentially the same tool, albeit with some minor microgravity adaptations. While there isn’t quite so much rope involved in celestime sailing vis-à-vis maritime, there’s more than enough to make such a tool useful (especially in the cargo department, for lashing of breakbulk), and that’s before you get to its handy secondary uses for poking suspicious-looking objects and rapping miscreants soundly across the base of the skull.

 

Eschatofer Teaser

“So we’ve all laughed at Imperial warship design, even when it scares the hell out of us. Impressive, yes, but also flying hotels. Everyone down to the janitors gets private cabins. And we snicker at the Flight Commander’s private garden and jacuzzi, and the crew swimming pool, and the bridges dressed in heavy oak and polished brass, complete with leather seats and wet bar. All of that mass and volume they could have spent, we say, putting a few more weapons on it, or a deeper ammunition reserve.”

“And then they build this motherfucker.”

– Admiral Sef Elim Karmos, League of Meridian Navy

Things to See, Places to Go (10)

Ochemír Station: The first thing to notice when you board this massive skyfarm cylinder, parked in the Eliéra-Elarion L4 point, is the humidity. It’s downright wet. (A local fashion outlet, Ochemír Silks, offers a complimentary change of clothing to visitors, who are heartily recommended to take up the offer.) From docks and locks, through station control and the habitation sector, and even the factory torus, you can expect to feel moist, and see condensation.

It turns out that it’s very hard to avoid that, short of using completely separated life-support systems and internal airlocks, if you want to put a swamp in a space station.

For that is the purpose of Ochemír: as the leading supplier of dyanail and mahardyanail products to habs across the Orbital-Seléne Alliance and beyond, the main body of the station is an eight-mile cylinder whose floor is covered with shallow water and the finest synthetic mud, painstakingly crafted from selenic regolith and periodically refreshed with biowaste again imported from across the OSA. And that means entirely covered – even the windows, albeit the wet windows are covered in clear ponds, surprising visitors occasionally with the giant shadow of a koi swimming past, sun-side.

Of course, within the cylinder the station’s own products are widely used; paths of mahardynail separate the individual groves and towers of it hold sensors and cameras; water is recycled and special nutrients are added through pipes likewise; dyanail shacks house robot hotels and local facility nodes; and even the harvesting and maintenance drones run on dyanail rails.

Meanwhile, the factory torus processes the ongoing perpetual harvest into all manner of products: raw wood, laminate, bioplastic, ethanol, charcoal, and other carbochemicals, foodstuffs, paper, dyanail silk and raw fiber, and myriad hand-crafted products.

A fascinating visit for anyone interested in industrial ecology, wet-phase life support engineering and construction, spacer history, or merely unusual habitat designs.

 

Unseen Key

(Note: this is set a few years before the Core War.)

Palaxias (Imperial Core) System
CS Eádinah’s Bower

The Admiral kept a Variasotec double-scimitar on his desk, twelve feet long if it was an inch.

It wasn’t likely that the Admiral himself was Variasotec, of course – nearly three hundred planets and even more countries to choose from – but whatever the real face was hidden underneath the carefully chosen generic features of the day, no-one was going to dispute the right of a soph who used that as a paperweight to own anything he damn well pleased.

As the whispers have it, a couple of hundred years back, some contractor or other decided they’d double-cross the Shadow Fleet, and do it right to the old man’s face. They say he didn’t get through more’n a couple of treacherous words before the Admiral picked that blade up and stabbed him right through the heart, then went questing around for the backups with the sharp end. They’re only whispers – anything that happens at that level’s downright fuliginous – but then there’s that nick in the blade. Just exactly where it’ll catch the light if you’re sitting in front of the Admiral’s desk.

Fortunately, I wasn’t a contractor, just seconded over from ISS, Second Directorate, and made more uncomfortable by body-adaptation than semiotic trickery. The only way into or out of the Shadow Fleet’s most-secret-death-before-disclosure-hush-hush headquarters, unless you’re being brought in to receive a reward either great or final, is mindcasting, and when your mind gets there – if you’re not permanent staff or some kind of specialist – they instantiate you in a generic synth-shell. No sense in growing custom bodies for anyone who’s only staying long enough to do some business, and if you’re here at all, that’s what you’re here for.

Which meant bipedal locomotion, binocular vision, bilateral symmetry, and assorted other things starting with bi-. I’m sure they were great advances when my proteinaceous cousins’ ancestors first thought them up, but really, in this day and age, they’re welcome to them.

With which grumbles I was occupying myself – or debugging myself, take your pick – when the Admiral telerepped in behind his desk, a different projection this time than the one that called my section chief and had me seconded – this one a blond, coppery lumeneldrae male, not the black-haired, pale eseldrae neuter of before.

I offered him an ISS-brand civilian-Service salute, “Agent-Minor Athné 0x411A7CB2, Second Directorate, reporting as requisitioned,” which got me a nod in return, while the Admiral lit up his desk and flicked virtual papers around the glasstop.

“So. Agent. The operational reviews for your previous missions appear quite impressive. Your section chief speaks highly of you.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

“And you are also qualified in technical archaeology?”

“Before joining the Directorate I worked at Probable Technologies for thirty years. That was one of the reasons I was recruited.”

“And presently unknown, to the best of our knowledge, to both foreign intelligence agencies and other domestic interests.”

“If that’s what my file says. What’s all this about, Admiral?”

“Hmh.” He gestured a trigraphic image into existence over his desk. “What’s that?”

I shrugged. “That? It’s a stargate. Ring Dynamics Mark Three.” I peered closer, but couldn’t see anything unusual about it. “Relays, projectors, traffic-control… Nothing visibly special about it. There must be sur-dodeciads of them, all over the Worlds.”

“And this?” A second image appeared, similar to the first, but bulkier, with cubes and angled edges where the first had smooth organic curves, seam lines visible crisscrossing its surface.

“I haven’t seen one personally, but since they’re the only other people building them in quantity, I’d say that that must be a Republic stargate. Am I wrong? Where’s this going, sir?”

“You are not wrong. How much do you know about the invention of the stargate, agent?”

“Just the same as everyone else. Imogen Andracanth’s Initiative was dabbling in exotic physics research. The way the later company history tells it, they stumbled across the key to inflating wormholes serendipitously, published, and a private consortium then funded them to reduce it to engineering practice. Once they did some demonstrations, they pulled together a huge influx of capital from all sides to reunite the Thirteen Colonies – and since no-one else has figured out that piece of engineering, and Ring Dynamics isn’t letting it out of their hands, they’re now one of the Big 26 and lease out just about everyone’s interstellar transport infrastructure. Except the Republic’s, of course.”

“Of course.” The Admiral’s voice was ironic. “How?”

“How? Presumably they discovered it –

“-the same way we did?”

“If we discovered it as a matter of chance –

“If we discovered it as a matter of chance alone, certainly. If. I can believe in the unlikely happening twice, Athné. I can believe that even that civilization must occasionally throw up the odd millennial genius on the scale of Imogen Andracanth. But what I will certainly not believe is that the serendipitous discovery of a millennial genius with her brain ‘laced, in symbiosis with self-improving thinkers, and hooked up to what was, in its day, the largest quantum computing cluster ever built can be reproduced using slaved AIs and brains running solely on baseline meat.”

“Something’s going on. Maybe they’ve just dug up an elder-race artifact, or found a simple wormhole recipe in some archive. If so, we can deal with that. But there are other options, ranging from bad to existential. Finding out which is going to be your job. We need to know, Second Directorate needs to know, and quite possibly Ring Dynamics needs to know, too.”

He slid a data rod across the desk towards me.

“Operation UNSEEN KEY. Memorize, encrypt, and burn.”