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

Eldraeic Phrase of the Day: Tramézashíël Eslévár

el tramézashíël eslévár (n.): Empire of the Star; the largest and oldest eldraeic polity.

Broken up, this phrase reads: tra (DESCRIPTION OPERATOR) – méz (METAPHORIZATION OPERATOR) – ashíël (star) — eslév (empire) – ár (PREDICATION OPERATOR), which is to say in long-gloss, “the empire which is like unto a (metaphorical) star”. Replacing this with the English “of” is acceptably inaccurate for such an imprecise target language.

It should also be noted that eslév is linguistically unique, appearing only in this phrase (and abbreviations thereof: el eslév unambiguously refers to “the Empire”). It is not used to represent any of the other possible meanings of “empire”; the technical meaning of a union of multiple peripheral polities beneath one metropole, for example, is el vielmóniramóníë (loosely, “a commanding country-of-countries”).

It has no strict root-based etymology; rather, eslév is a nonce coined for its conceptual resonances: it resembles, for example, proto-Cestian words for “created” or “our creation”; Selenarian terms for “lunar crescent”; various Silver Crescent words with meanings approximating to “celestial”; a Veranthyran term meaning “propriety” or “high culture”, and so on and so forth.

A Brief Conversation About Death Games

Inspired by this comment:

I’ve always been of the opinion that, given the Associated Worlds’s existing tech base and attitudes towards continuity of personal identity and such, there must be a “small” subculture of thrill-seekers who deliberately expose themselves to lethal danger purely out of curiosity as to what death actually feels like — and more than a few probably get hooked enough on the “rush” to try it again.


“That’s what you want the Greater Immortality for? To kill yourself to experience death?”

“Well… yeah. I’ve always wondered, and you –”

“Have never experienced death.”

“Huh? You’re an orbit-diver. I’ve watched you burn up!”

“Because you can’t experience death, kid.” The speaker sighed, and crooked one finger for another drink. “You don’t exist to experience death. Something of a definitional problem in experiencing the experience of no longer having experiences, you might say. Now, the lead-up to dying, that you can experience – free clue, it feels like pain – but the very next moment you’ll remember is waking up in a nice white room and having your resurrectionist call you a moron. If you managed to kill yourself thoroughly enough, you won’t even remember why. And that experience? I can give it to you right now, right here, no charge.”

 

Paracoercion

“…as to your avowed intention to institute a Universal Income, we welcome such systems – as evidenced by our own Citizen’s Dividend – as an excellent answer to paracoercive states. (Para-, in this case, meaning “not really”, but having initially solved the ethical problems of true coercion, which is to say choice-theft, we may rightly turn our attention to the moral concern of those whose volitional phase-space is limited not by the actions of others, but the insufficiency of their own resources.)

“The difficulty, of course, is that one is not permitted to use unethical means in the pursuit of moral ends, for the one is mandatory and the other supererogatory, as is necessarily the case when ill means poison all good ends. For ourselves, the Citizen’s Dividend is a voluntary obligation accepted by all of our citizen-shareholders in their signing of the Imperial Charter, and since citizen-shareholdership is a privilege (which may be denied by the existing citizen-shareholders in Senate assembled on the grounds of philosophical incompatibility), those lacking properly enlightened self-interest or the generosity appropriate to a daryteir are merely denied that privilege.

“As a korasmóníë, of course, such a Universal Income in your case, if attained through political means, would be doing precisely that, inasmuch as it would be funded by institutionalized robbery on a mass scale. We would not, and obviously did not, find this acceptable in our own case. However, in yours…

“In your case, we must acknowledge reluctantly that local conditions do not always admit of the immediate implementation of ethically perfect solutions. I fear I am as unable to offer you advice on this matter as the old proverb would have it. While it is easy for me to advocate the construction of a system such as ours funded by infrastructure returns and externality fees, or one entirely funded by voluntary contributions in the manner of the Plurality, this depends on an existing consensualist governance, or at the least one which can be counted on not to interfere.

“As for the other, you yourself must weigh in the balance the reduction of paracoercion against the increase in coercion actual in the context of progress towards your desired consensualist future, while bearing in mind the risk – I have attached a number of relevant clionomic models – that a nonconsensual Universal Income carries with it a substantial risk of becoming an instrument of mulcting in perpetuity.

“If I may offer a final thought: I would only remind you that “While certainty is best, where there is doubt, it is best to err on the side of the Excellences. For the enlightened sophont acting in accordance with Excellence can only be betrayed, and cannot do wrong.”

– Meris Ejava, Freedom’s Seed COG, letter to the Second Temne Seed

Storm

There were people on Phílae who had a sense of caution in the face of nature.

That was amply evident from the architecture of Lower Landing, which was all in the classical style of the first colonists; long, low, heavy buildings of stone and vitredur, aligned from sea to land, hunched and buttressed to withstand even the winds of a tropical Phílae hypercane, much less the mere megastorms that made landfall on polar Rokírvess, and able to be sealed with doubled doors and valved vents against their burial a hundred feet below the accompanying storm surge.

There are also people on Phílae with no discernable sense of caution at all.

This, in turn, is made amply evident by the citizen-shareholders of Lower Landing, who – under a storm-blackened sky lit only by the blue glow of the city’s kinetic barriers, lashed into incandescence by 200-knot winds and the coruscation of Éjavóné‘s best lightning without end, to the muffled sound of thunder and the syncopation of deep drainage pumps forcing seepage back out against the pressure of an ocean humped twenty, thirty feet high against the shimmering wall, filling the air with faint, salty mist – chose to throw a party on the beach.

Black sand, good food, excellent wine, a brief stretch of calm water – and the prospect of a watery grave should… well, should enough components of a triple-triple redundant system fail, and yet.

Sometimes, we can be a bloody stupid people. But, to our credit, at least it’s a glorious kind of stupidity.

– Cíënne Cassel, My Voyage Diaries

 

Cultural Crossovers #5: Captain America

You know how this works at this point…

  • Ooh, glowy cube. Wonder if it’s an actual tesseract inside?
  • Yeah, you can see where Tony got it from.
  • And this, gentlesophs, is what we call estxijir.
  • Ooh, we like her.
  • The culture that makes a point of the importance of spiritual values to the sentinel daressef is nodding along with Dr. Erskine here. They are, as it were, the hardest and most vital part.
  • So, on the topic of qualities one wins wars with… and hell, this civilization doesn’t even have vector stacks.
  • Impressive results. Now someone get him a steak dinner.
  • Even more impressive for someone presumably still suffering from ‘shell dysmorphia.
  • And that’s what happens to you when you Obstructive Naysay a supervillain.
  • And the audience gives a standing ovation to the local taste in musical propaganda, despite the waste of fighting talent. The idealist school always plays well.
  • The Red Skull, incidentally, makes a superb villain for this audience, even without knowing the local politics. It’s not at all hard to read in him the Renegade-perverting-technology-and-awesome-to-ill-ends archetype that all their best villains are made of.
  • Now that’s how you pull off a rescue!
  • Nicely unspoken, Colonel.
  • Vibranium, huh? For once we’re going to try hard to just roll with the impossibilium.
  • Got to give it to the old Crimson Cranium, the Valkyrie‘s a really nice ship. On the other hand, HYDRA have a ridiculous salute and a slogan that by rights should kill morale.
  • Manned bombs? Seriously? Are they trying to grow more heads?
  • And that’s why you should take great care when playing with paleotechnological artifacts.
  • It’s not that the Imperial audience can’t appreciate a heroic sacrifice, but at some point, I think, someone needs to explain to them why we have so many of them in our media, being generally in favor of Taking a Third Option themselves, which their media reflects.
  • Seriously, SHIELD? Lies do not become you.
  • (Although this, along with differences in how the us.gov has been portrayed here and in the previous movies, is really playing into a “lesser sons of greater sires” vibe in their eyes.)

So, overall, yes – would work very well. Some cultural translation required, partly because the background does rather depend on having The War in your history, which this audience does not. Also, explaining why everyone seems to have a single-sex army given how much ass Agent Carter kicks right there on screen.

(And why you might not need to explain the concept of bullying, you might have to explain to the less cosmopolitan members of the audience why society at large doesn’t stomp on it with the vigor which they would expect.)

 

Approach Vector (2/2)

Turning to the Vector itself, it is, as we have said, the eighth planet of its primary, hot white Enlightenment. Ordinarily, one would not expect a planet so distant from its sun to be warm enough to be habitable, but the energetic history of the system and the star-forming region from which it was born blessed Enlightenment’s worlds in general and the Vector in particular with a bounty of radioactives. Thus, the Vector is heated to habitable temperature by its fiercely burning core and continuous vulcanism.

The Physical Vector

On approach, Resplendent Exponential Vector is a sooty jewel smeared with wisps of yellow cloud; its twin continents, far-flung Innovation and isolated Discovery black with millennia of layered volcanic ash, set amid esklav-dark seas, and gleaming in the night with traceries of red and blue-white – the red of flowing lava rivers, and the glimmering stars of civilization.

The atmosphere is breathable, rich with oxygen produced by the acidophilic phytoplankton found in the oceans, although the plentiful sulphur compounds therein wouldn’t recommend breathing it to those without appropriately resistant lungs. Nonetheless, this rendered it a prime colonization prospect, since the Vector’s domed cities merely require simple filters and pressurization pumps to maintain their internal atmosphere.

The native ecosystem of the Vector is sparse, simple, and robust: land plant niches are dominated by thermovoric, chemosynthetic fungi, including analogs to slime molds, truffles, mushrooms, lichens, and others, many bioluminescent. The animal niche is occupied by so-called “fungimals”; organisms with chitinous exoskeletons whose cells bear more resemblance to the mycetes than to more conventional animaloid lifeforms.

(To many of those selecting Resplendent Exponential Vector as a scientific colony, the nature of the planet held considerable appeal; agronomists were delighted with the potential of the nutrient-rich ash, while biochemists considered the fungal ecosystem to be a veritable treasure-trove.)

An unusual component of the Vector’s ecosystem is its wild mechanicals; the feral descendants of experimental robotic swarms with unusual low-level intelligences.

Planetary Orbit

The planet itself appears surrounded by a thin ring, visible even from the surface as a gleaming band of junklight; the legacy of millennia of orbital development. While never hosting as grand a labswarm as Phólarae, the orbital band is nonetheless rich with habitats, workshacks, orbital laboratories, research satellites, resource dumps, powersats, orbital mirrors, and other structures.

Of all these structures, two are the grandest. The largest station in the Vector’s geosynchronous orbit is the Tramaharav Kaernar, the “manufacturing warrens”. A group of engineering habitats, microgravity factories, and macroscale fabbers of various shapes and sizes strung together on loose scaffolds like clusters of beads, gathered around a hollowed-out former mining asteroid, it is here that much of the prototyping and assembly into the finished goods needed by the researchers of Resplendent Exponential Vector and for new facilities being constructed in the system is done.

The unquestioned queen of the orbit, however, is Axiom Station – the upper terminus of the Vector’s beanstalk, and the capital of the system.

Axiom Station

The golden gateway to this world of science, Axiom Station sits atop the four-stranded orbital elevator descending to the planetary capital of Asymptote, far below. A symbol, it is constructed in the shape of a giant atomic model from the dawn of modern science: the core of the station is formed as a nucleus of 6Li, six merged spheres, in which the protons are clad in shimmering gold chrysadamant alloy, and the neutrons picked out by the dark windows of park terranes and greenhouses. Around these spin the three habitation rings of polished silver, each bearing a teardrop representing the ever-circling electron.

While much of the space aboard Axiom Station is naturally given over to spaceport services and transshipment, the majority of the volume aboard is given over to the operation of system governance, with each of the three “protons” housing the offices beholden to a particular member of the Science Triumvirate: the Supreme Investigator, the Dean of Evidence, and the Sane Man.

A Note on Governance

The formal, conlegial governance of the Vector – the Science Triumvirate – is very much focused on the pursuit of science, engineering, and progress above all else. We will therefore spend little time discussing the routine functions of governance as they are performed everywhere in the Empire, save to note that these rest safely in the hands of the aptly-named Chancellor of the Mundanities, whose offices are located downwell in Asymptote’s Bay City dome.

As for the Triumvirate themselves, they each preside over a distinct segment of the scientific endeavor:

The Supreme Investigator deals with the first stages of the scientific process: in presiding over the Grant Council and the Project Execution Commission, along with Potential Applications and the tangle of other subcommissions beneath them, liaising with the Vector’s private and corporate sponsorship, and coordinating public and private requests for lab space, equipment access, and other limited resources, as well as maintaining the hypothesis bounty board, the Supreme Investigator sets the process of discovery in motion.

The Dean of Evidence concerns himself with the extraction of truth from all the science being done, all across the Vector. As such, the research prediction markets which drive the Evidentiary’s activity are under his purview, as are all matters relating to confirmatory and replicatory experimentation – and by the Vector’s charter, no research conducted there may be published without the Evidentiary’s imprimatur. It is the Evidentiary which arranges for confirmatory experiments funded by the research predicatin markets, and further replications as necessary, all carried out either by the Evidentiary’s permanent staff of consultant replicators, or by scientists willing to carry out experiments – in areas unrelated to their own research and in which they have no investment, to ensure a lack of bias – for compensation or additional priority with the Supreme Investigator.

And the Sane Man endeavors to ensure that the entire system – and, for that matter, the entire System – does not explode, supervising a range of departments along the lines of Laboratory O&M, Range Safety, Precautionary Mandates, Tort Insurance Liaison, Existential Threats and Doom Avoidance, the Science Constabulary – not a police organization, but rather iatropsychic specialists in talking highly-strung geniuses back from the edge – and the Bureau of Mandatory Fun Weeks, and when those fail, with access to certain last resorts, including a peremptory veto on research exceeding the Vector’s indemnity coverage, and a small arsenal of antimatter warheads to terminate prompt experimental excursions.

Asymptote

Asymptote is the Vector’s planetary capital, located in the crook of the “L” where northern and western Innovation meet to form a wide crescent bay almost exactly on the planetary equator.

The city itself is divided into five multi-mile-wide domes; two – Gleaming Children and Evolutionary Park – sit on the bay’s southern edge, while Everlasting Science Fair and the Apparatus Agora lie to the east. Between these, the river of lava originating in the Knucklebones, far to the south-east, oozes its way past the heat exchangers of the Stonefall Geothermal Power Plant and beneath the city’s famous Glass Bridge to a steamy end in the city’s deep lagoon.

(The many small cafés scattered along the bridge, where the ruddy light of molten stone below meets the twilight provided by Asymptote’s dedicated solettas, it is worth mentioning, are the city’s most popular spot for clandestine rendezvous and romantic tete-a-tetes.)

The descent from Axiom Station on the orbital elevator provides a spectacular view of the city. It descends into the center of the bay, and through the apex of the Bay City dome directly into downtown. Passenger arrivals are usually routed via the south-east strand, such that the windows of the descending capsules are afforded a spectacular view of the other city domes, and of “Aspiration to Utopia,” the city’s centerpiece – a huge sculpture upon an island at the mouth of the lava river celebrating the spirit of Imperial progress, a stylized man and woman grown from gleaming spinmetal, standing together and reaching up to claim lightning from the heavens.

Bay City itself is constructed on an artificial island, floating in the bay amid the other domes. Aside from the groundside terminus of the orbital elevator, it is the most cosmopolitan of Asymptote’s domes, containing most of the city’s housing, hotels, and other basic functions. A fleet of environmentally-sealed charterboats provide transport back and forth from Bay City to the quays of the other domes.

The Everlasting Science Fair dome is centered around Resplendent Exponential Vector’s largest exhibition hall and conference center complex, which hosts a never-ending series of presentations by the Vector’s sponsors and many of its leading researchers. The remainder of the dome, however, which gives it its name, is exactly that: a vast, sprawling plaza filled with exhibits demonstrating the principles of science and technology, from the simplest natural phenomena to the most complex of ontotechnologies, a dynamic and joyful collection of knowledge.

(While this does generate a considerable portion of the Vector’s tourism income, it is visited every day by many of the local researchers, who report finding the atmosphere remarkably restful.)

Gleaming Children is Asymptote’s corporate sector, a labyrinth of office plazas and secondary businesses radiating out from the spike at its center, the topaz-and-emerald tower piercing and surpassing the dome’s apex: Exogenesis Plaza, the radiant headquarters of Exogenesis, ICC, most prominent among the Vector’s original corporate sponsors. A full sixth-sector of the dome is owned by them and sublet gratis to their prized “garage inventors”, lending it the nickname “Sponsored By Exogenesis!”.

Also prominent within the dome are Extropa Energy’s twin glass skyscrapers, illuminated from within by the blue glow of the vertically-stretched, transparent fusion cores at their hearts, and from without by arcing lightning between the towers, a living symbol of their function; and the Vault, the Probable Technologies facility housing thousands of paleotech artifacts recovered from all across the Worlds, made freely available to interested researchers.

Evolutionary Park is Asymptote’s glass-garden dome, receiving additional illumination from solar-spectrum lights built into the dome’s framework. Around the fringes, some areas are given over to specialized farming projects, but the majority of the dome is a vast botanical garden and park, an ecosystem woven together from hundreds of Imperial worlds and accented with the finest products of the Vector’s biosculptors; a calm and peaceful oasis amid the city’s bustle.

The Asymptote Maglev Terminal is attached to the outer edge of Evolutionary Park, this garden dome providing, in the view of the city governance, the best and most relaxing introduction to the planetary capital.

Finally, Apparatus Agora is the last dome, and one dedicated entirely to commercial pursuits. The eastern half of the dome is the Supply district in which virtually any apparatus, component, or other item needed by the Vector’s researchers – in any field – can be purchased. To the west, in Demand, a variety of small bazaars offer the fruits of science and invention for purchase, including access to prototypes and experimental models offered on the condition that the purchaser provide detailed reports on their use in the field.

Other Cities

The Vector, of course, has many other cities, primarily scattered across Innovation and linked by a maglev web. Discovery is lightly populated, principally with localized research habs, with much of the continent held in fallow reserve.

The other cities of Resplendent Exponential Vector are, of course, particularly focused on research. These tend to be intentional communities focused on a particular field or area of research. Some of the best known are these:

Cog, a specialized robotics community, whose entire infrastructure is constructed as a dynamic sculpture of interacting gears;

Fusion Pulse and Gravity Resonance, twin cities for the study of astronomy and astrophysics, and centers for the analysis of data from the Empire’s large-baseline arrays;

Memento, the library city, and home of the planetary branch of the Repository of All Knowledge;

Modular Future, a swarm of self-reconfiguring buildings, home to ongoing studies of emergent behavior, coordination, and complexity disciplines;

Volatile Enterprise, the semi-subterranean center for the study of explosives, nucleonics, and propulsion technologies;

and Ascension Praxis, the birthplace of the Transcend itself, and a continuing center for the development of seed AI and trans-singularity thought.