So, it occurred to me that in my comments on sports here I missed one very large elephant in the room that makes competitive sports… difficult.

Namely, the number of species, and then the number of clades of those species, and that’s before we start getting into individual-level modifications, which leads to truly astonishing levels of ability divergence in various areas, many of them qualifying as “special abilities”.

To some degree, as we do, you can try and level that with rules, but that’s limited in the first place unless you go for a blanket “only baselines, or at least only alphas, of one single species, can play” – which very much limits the number of players and amount of interest you’ll get – you’re dealing with an entire culture of people whose natural inclination is to exploit the hell out of loopholes in anything that seems “unfairly restrictive”.

And it’s not as if this “ain’t no rule” attitude wasn’t giving referees plenty of headaches long before there were any other species around. “Yes, the rulebook says that the ball must be in a player’s possession when it enters the scoring zone, but there Ain’t No Rule that says another player can’t PK-throw the possessing player into said zone, right?”

(Minor plot point from the Contact Novel That Shall Never Be Written: the first football team to come up with the notion of hiring a kaeth fullback. After the ensuing (mostly metaphorical) carnage, it didn’t take the NFL long to come up with the “must weigh under 400 lbs.” rule.)

As such, those attempts at competitive sports leagues which do exist tend to have rulebooks the approximate size of the unabridged Encylopaedia Britannica, and add about a chapter to their length every game as people find new, obscure abilities or new, not-yet-forbidden synergies of abilities to exploit.

Or they go the free-for-all route, but that’s less “competitive sport” and more “exhibition grand meleé, specializing in deviousness”.


Freight Containers

Since the contract I’m working at the moment has gone into crunch mode, in the interest of keeping up some content this month, have an extra question answer:

I have a question…

As you say: a Hariven’s hold is sometimes cobbled together from eight standard shipping containers.

Are we talkin’ about eight 4m by 4m by 15m units, or eight 8m by 8m by 3.75m units?

Well, it’s not like they use metric. But while the Imperial “foot”-equivalent unit isn’t quite the same length as an Earthling foot, you can assume it’s not too far off when I tell you that they’re – or at least the most commonly seen 4B08 variant are – 12′ x 12′ x 48′ units.

While I’m at it, here are some more fun facts about the standard Imperial intermodal shipping container:

They’re designed to be light structures (typically made from glassboard, which is a sandwich of foam quartz in aluminum, easy to manufacture from regolith and an excellent insulator) with a thin protective coating of hardened steel, and are hermetically sealed (so they can be shipped without needing a pressurized cargo hold). The corners are slightly rounded to better hold pressure; and as a convenient side-effect, if they’re washed overboard on a wet ship during a storm, they tend to float.

Since this is long past the age of the Internet of Damn Well Everything, each one comes with a built-in microcomputer and WDMRP-compliant transponder, which tracks everything inside the container using their v-tags, controls entry, broadcasts a manifest tag indicating what’s in there, and keeps a write-only audit log of all this information. It also controls digital-ink stripes along the side of the container displaying its current routing code, proper orientation, handling instructions both ordinary and special, hazard markings, and so on and so forth.

And finally, there are some little inspection ports on them (which link together when the containers are stacked) designed to allow microbot swarms to enter and exit the container for performing inspections, for the convenience of customs, transport security, and transshippers routinely checking the contents against records and manifest to look for worrying discrepancies.

Also useful if there’s a fire or some other cargo emergency in the middle of a big stack.


Questions and Answer Time Again

Yes, it’s that time again.

Before I get started on the actual Qs and As, though, I said to myself that I was going to link to this: Current Affairs’ “Some Puzzles For Libertarians”, Treated As Writing Prompts For Short Stories, over on Slate Star Codex, in which Scott Alexander takes the usual collection of weak-man arguments and beats them to death with a rather witty shovel. I approve, and so do the people in my head.

A random thought that occurred to me: Given that the eldraeic lifespan is such that such matters could theoretically come into play, does Imperial property law account for continental drift and other such tectonic activities?

To an extent. Certainly it includes guidelines for resolving issues brought up by more common and minor tectonic activities – earthquakes, volcanism, fault-slip, erosion, and so forth. (One presumes, although I haven’t looked into it, they have some procedure for resurveying property lines in California when the San Andreas jiggles its way along another foot of displacement, and it’s probably like that. If they don’t, please don’t disabuse me of the notion; I’m enjoying the delusion of competence.)

Not so much for continental drift, mostly because it’s really, really slow, and so far hasn’t proven to be much of an issue on the ten-thousand year time scale that the Empire’s existed for (using Earth as an example, we’re talking sub-kilometer adjustments over that span, almost all at sea), or rather less on planets that have continental drift.

And it’s probable that well before it becomes a bigger issue, someone will want to fix the whole continental drift issue, anyway. While an active interior is good for a living planet, like so many things in nature, it’s consequences also bloody inconvenient and need to be taken in hand by somesoph who knows what they’re doing.

I was reading somebodies blog, and thought, literally

“this person is a Plutarch for people”

(in that they see a web of debts and transactions and operations, and seek to optimize in a way that generates value)

Is that facilitator or not-politician caste behavior?

That’s mostly an executor darëssef function (although hardly limited to them; see also, say, plutarch arbitrageurs and hearthmistress symposiarchs, et. al.), and specifically the profession of the path-pointers, who specialize in optimal go-betweening and xicésésef, which latter is very similar to the Chinese guanxixue, although without the negative implications.

Something that could serve as either a question or a “plot bunny,” at your discretion:

It is often said that “You cannot fool an alethiometer” — but that presumes that the alethiometer itself is functioning as intended.

So what happens when one is tampered with and / or breaks?

The self-test, anti-tamper, and external verification (as in, a physically separate verification system that you plug the thing into) systems all light up a pleasantly bloody shade of crimson, and go “eeeeeeeee”. These things are used, after all, to verify matters of great importance, and are designed, built, and audited appropriately.

Also, if you’re using it in any sort of formal proceedings and have an operator even half awake, the results will be off as you walk through the test question series. It doesn’t just give you a true/false indication, after all – it’s doing dynamic mind-state analysis in real time. If you’re going to tamper with it, you’ve got to do so in a way that generates a plausible alternative readout that matches all your observable actions and reactions, otherwise you’ve got the mental equivalent of bad lip-syncing going on.

(And if the questioner can smack your ass or insult your mother without generating the appropriate characteristic spike in the readouts, that’s all kinds of probable cause right there.)

Now, there are ways to fool basic alethiometric verification, especially when it comes to past events. (Sophont memory, in many cases, is fallible – look at human memory, which rewrites itself every time it’s remembered, and that aside, this is a universe in which memories can be edited, deleted, spliced, folded, spindled, and mutilated; or you can come up with some memory-duplication trick such as the one seen in Minority Report, or some other such device.) This is why the Curial courts don’t treat it as a sure thing and gather confirmatory evidence from forensics, alibi archives, Oversight’s public monitors, data trails left behind, etc., etc., and why sophisticated alethiometers will pull in some of that themselves to perform second-layer truth-checking: “Subject is telling the truth as he recalls it, but the public record actively contradicts this. Recommend deep scan for redactive signatures.”

But the weak spot to attack is pretty much never the alethiometer itself. It’s actually much easier – ironically enough – to fool yourself into not knowing that you’re lying, or knowing that you ever fooled yourself into not knowing that you’re lying, or…

(And leaving no traces behind in physical or data evidence, too, but if you can pull off the former, that should be easy!)

Segueing from the specific to the general: Do Imperial law and eldraeic ethics acknowledge anything approximating “non-contractual duties of commission” and “privileges of necessity” as expounded upon here: ? Particularly, do they have formal necessity defenses or anything like them in either tort law or criminal law?

On the former: no. There’s no such thing as a non-contractual duty of commission, because that would imply that you could be obligated by something other than your own power of contract, which we know is not the case; and everything not obligatory is supererogatory.

(There are certain things that might look similar – say, the Responsibility of Common Defense et. al. from the Charter – but those are actually contractual duties of commission which you obligated yourself to on signing up to join the community of civilized folk. A self-sovereign autonomous soph doesn’t have any of those.)

On the latter: there is a necessity defense, and also its close cousin the justification defense. With the exception of “necessity in the heat” cases (say, grabbing someone else’s shotgun in a life-or-death scenario, and giving it straight back to them), which in any case have the tendency of being settled non est over a beer, the courts look with a very jaundiced eye on necessity pleas, and you’d better be able to show that you exhausted essentially all your legal options first. If you plead necessity when you stole to feed your starving children, you’re going to need to be able to show that (a) your children are starving, and (b) that the local community is entirely devoid of employment opportunities, eleemosynary organizations, and people willing to help you when you asked. You did ask, right?

The legal principle *there* is not Necessity does not have a law, it’s Ill means poison all good ends, and if you argue that you’re the exception, you’ll need to hit legal standards of proof for that.

(Justification is even harder to get away with, since a plea of justification amounts to “I was right, and the law is wrong, and it should be changed by precedent in my favor”. It’s arguing “well, he needed killing” and having the court rewrite the rules on preemptive self-defense to include your reasoning. It has happened, but if you’re going to try out this one, have a really good argument ready.)

First off what would the Empire think of the Yeerks either as a fictional construct if a culture where to independently invent basically the Animorphs books or a real group if they were to encounter an actual species like that? If you haven’t read Animorphs or just don’t want to touch the copyright issues involved in mentioning them by name I want to know how they would react to a sophont species that is a sophont parasite and semi-obligate slaver. One that is basically a slug with the ability to take over a sophont host body. Most of them are fine with this set up, but a small minority will only infect willing hosts (they can act as muses/live in psycodesigners instead of living control collars) and a much larger group strongly want the ability to have bodies without slavery but are willing to infect unwilling hosts when that is what is available. Hope thats an acceptable question, will have more in the morning.

I’m not, alas, familiar with that ‘verse in particular, but as it happens, this is something I’ve thought about given another very similar species in functional respects, Stargate SG-1‘s goa’uld.

The thing is that semi-obligate is functionally equivalent to not obligate. (I mean, sure, being a sophont without much ability to do anything without a host body to possess means the universe has kind of handed you a shit sandwich, and yet.) Which is good, because that means you aren’t actually anathematic.

Since the rule is consensuality, they have no issues with those who go the Tok’ra route (of mutually willing symbiosis), and would be more than happy to sell non-sophont empty bodies by the gross to those looking for them. But if you go around possessing the unwilling, it’s not going to go very well for you. Best to leap on that first opportunity to get a non-slave body and throw yourself on the mercy of the court, belike.

Given the importance of consent and free will in the Eldraeverse, how are age-of-consent/ maturity test issues handled, when a self requires a development period before it can be fully autonomous?

Tort insurance; more here. Basically, when a tort insurer is willing – by virtue of your demonstrated competence and responsible nature – to let you self-sign a note large enough to meet the Insurance Quota for Independence, you are no longer a minor in the sight of the law. Not all things are directly tied to the IQI – for some activities your counterparties will want to know that you have rather more cover, if you didn’t figure out that it would be a good idea to have it yourself – but it’s the figure that the Empire wants to see before they let you become a citizen-shareholder, so it’s commonly used as the definition of “majority”.

(Specifically as regards age of consent, see the comments on the IQSC, here.)

So, question about Eldrae entertainment of the do they have something like this variety. In the Amenta setting that has eaten rationalist tumblr they have cleaning based entertainment as a distinct genre both as something that is added to other types of shows and as a standalone thing Given the Eldrae’s aesthetics about cleanliness do they have something similar? If not why not?

Damned if I know. Maybe?

(On one hand, I can’t think of any reason why it specifically couldn’t exist. On the other hand, cleaning is the sort of tedious and mundane activity best left to non-sophont robots; while it’s important work that has to be done, Lubricating and Checking Tolerances of Turbine Shaft Bearings: The Movie is not what you might call a potential blockbuster hit, either. On the gripping hand, a culture with high weirdness-support and a large population can support all manner of weird niche media. So.)

I gather that Imperial guns have more penetration ability than modern firearms, but how much more? In particular can military longarms like the IL-15i punch through enough things to meaningfully change infantry tactics by making it impractical to find cover in many environments? Really more compare and contrast of legionary tactics vs modern ground warfare would be interesting, but the cover thing jumps to mind as a potential major change.

To some extent: while penetration ability has increased, materials science has also made a lot of objects tougher than they used to be. So there’s less cover around, given that former light cover now isn’t useful as any kind of cover, but it’s not as drastic as it might be.

Another side of this is that there’s a limit to how much you want to dial up the penetration (although this varies a lot between weapons); the problem being that if you make an ultra-penetrant weapon it has a nasty habit of passing right through its target and expending most of its energy on the distant landscape, whereas you might prefer that it did more damage to the target and less to the collateral. (Similar to the superiority of soft-nose or hollowpoint rounds to full metal jacket for killing vs. wounding.)

(As a side note: the most immediate thing I suspect we’d notice that affects legionary tactics – well, apart from the clouds of drones and semi-autonomous mechagrunts doing the heavy lifting – is the death of most camouflage. Given the signature of even light infantry power armor, there’s not a whole lot of point in visual stealth, except for specialized units, and so there has been something of a return to the age of military bling and dressing to intimidate impress.)

The charter posts give some info on how the cost of citizenship is set, but doesn’t say how much it is. Do you have an approximate number for the setting’s present/a feel for how qualitatively expensive it is for the average new shareholder?

This is an area where I try to avoid presenting hard numbers, mostly because that’s likely to come back and bite me on the ass, but feel-wise —

It’s not particularly cheap. You’re basically providing the investment capital whose resulting revenue stream is going to pay for your Citizen’s Dividend and most basic services for the rest of ever (although at least there’s not inflation), so in that respect, it’s like saving up enough money that you can live off the interest/dividends/etc. without depleting your capital. On the other hand, that’s less than it might be, because post-common-material-scarcity has brought the cost of living (in monetary terms, that is; in prosperity terms it means the living is exceedingly rich) down quite a lot.

To come up with a decent comparison – and I reserve the right to change this if I think I was wrong – it’s probably something of the order of buying a nice house in a good neighborhood, in some suitably average city *here*. Fortunately, it’s an investment that will more than repay itself over time.

(Most poorer immigrants either find a sponsor, or take advantage of the Empire’s laissez-faire immigration policy by spending some time as a non-citizen resident earning the money to buy their citizen-shareholdership. The Imperials like this option, because this helps select for people likely to prosper in their society.)

I was reading up on the Core War and had a passing thought: what kind of threat would be necessary to cause the Republic and the Empire to team up with one another (however reluctantly) and what would be the Imperial reponse should the Republic start getting eaten by say, a pissed-off God-sophont? Vice versa?

You’ve got an example right there in the form of the Leviathan Consciousness. Existential threats tend to focus the attention wonderfully.

On the latter: offer to help, ’cause ex-threat. As for what happens if they don’t want the help and yet obviously need it, both sides have plans for what amounts to “invade these idiots to help them out before they get themselves killed and us along with them”. The Admiralty calls theirs CASE LAMENTING OVERLORD; the Exception Management Group probably has something similar.

Addendum to my last missive: precisely what in the nine hells was the thing the Republic was making use of for their stargates? And has the Empire got plans to deal with such things aside from just buggering off into unknown space as quickly as relativity allows?

An archaeotech wormhole-maker someone working for the early days of the Propulsion Group mined from a dead weakly-godlike’s brain.

And most of those things don’t need dealing with at that level. Vulture archaeologists dig up archaeotech relics all the time, and most of them are relatively harmless, and even most of the ones that aren’t only cause localized annihilation.

Otherwise, though, of course. The responsible parties try to have response cases around for everything: CASE DEMIURGE EMBALMED deals with resurrection seeds, just as CASE DEMIURGE WILDFIRE handles active perversions, and that’s before we get into the exotica like CASE SCISSOR REVISION (hypothetical time travel that breaks the laws of time travel),  OPERATION VACUUM AVALANCHE (oops, physicists accidentally the universe), OPERATION EPOCH SHATTER (hacking the simulation to see if it is a simulation, with timing-channel attacks on quantum physics), or get as far off the map as OPERATION BLACKWATER BISHOP (Outside Context Problems, bearing in mind that all of the above are Inside the Context).

How does the empire treat sportsmanship? how much exultation in victory is considered appropriate before it becomes offensive to other competitors? Likewise are competitors expected to be stoic in defeat or does exceptionalism encourage declarations that you intend to come back and win next year?

Ah, well, to answer this one, I should start by dropping a reminder of the Imperial attitude towards relative measures of status/achievement (basically, it’s irrelevant) versus absolute ones, and for that matter identity-based status (even less relevant), and how that affects the sporting world.

Specifically, spectator sports are significantly less popular *there* than *here* (unlike participatory sports), and also most sports place much less emphasis, if any, on interpersonal competition. It’s not absent – inasmuch as you can’t have, say, a martial arts tournament without pitting people against opponents – but it’s not really the point.

Underlying this is that the eldrae find it very difficult to care about relative ability. Being faster, higher, and stronger than Joe, here, might mean that you’re awesomely excellent, or it might just be that you’re the least sucky schmuck on the schmuck-pile. They care about their absolute awesomeness, which means your modal athlete isn’t competing against other sophs, they’re competing against their past selves and the constraints of the universe.

So to bring this back around to the original question, you can exult all you want in victory, because you’re not exulting in defeating other competitors. The exultation is that in the past, you wished to become stronger/better (tsuyoku naritai!, a concept which I badly need to translate into Eldraeic), and now you have succeeded in that endeavor. Had you failed to improve or declined in performance, even if you still surpassed that of all other competitors, you would not see it as a victory. And absolute measures, unlike relative measures, aren’t zero-sum: one’s gain isn’t another loss. You don’t take anything away from anyone else by becoming more yourself.

(Indeed, thinking again of martial arts tournaments, it is far from unheard of for the victor from our perspective, having defeated all of his opponents, to acclaim one of those he defeated for having become most, while deeming his own improvement lesser, even though he might be stronger in an absolute sense.)

Thought you might enjoy this article here. And might as well ask: How did the eldrae eventually resolve *their* analog to the “adblocking arms race,” if indeed it isn’t still ongoing?

Heh. Well, blocking would be much easier *there* anyway, inasmuch as IIP is not an anonymous system: since all traffic requires user/device certificates from the sender, and while not all but many documents come with their very own digital imprimatur, rejecting all traffic from a given identity is downright trivial.

But in any case: it wasn’t much of a race, because as you may have noticed, heh, the locals *there* are rather better when it comes to failing to fail at coordination problems. The consumers of ad-supported media understood the relevant mélith, which is to say that you are paying for these goods with polite attention (these are the people who didn’t even skip ads in the days of video recorders because, y’know, we have an understanding here); and in return, the advertisers (see also notes here) felt little need to violate the implicit terms of this arrangement by upping the intrusiveness to asshatly levels, which in any case would not have been to their advantage. Such conflict as there was ended with a whimper, not a bang.

And, of course, the cultural expectations with regard to privacy are also different. Imperials consider commercial organizations working hard to figure out what they want, like, or might consider interesting to be a positive good.

Spending as much time as we do to block information-collecting used for these ends comes across as putting a comical amount of effort into making your own life less convenient by making it harder for the desire-satisfaction sector to satisfy your desires, and why the heck would anyone want that?

(Outworld, of course, your mileage will vary. In the Rim Free Zone, for one, the v-fog is often more than thick enough to obscure vision, and visitors are advised to make use of some truly vicious network and memetic firewalls.)


The Sapphire Coloratura: Revealed!

Inspired by a passing comment on the Eldraeverse Discord, we now present a galari starship, the Sapphire Coloratura-class polis yacht; the favored interplanetary and interstellar transport of all sophont rocks of wealth and taste.


Operated by: Galari groups requiring luxurious private transit.
Type: Executive polis yacht.
Construction: Barycenter Yards, Galáré System

Length: 96 m (not including spinnaker)
Beam: 12 m (not including radiators)

Gravity-well capable: No.
Atmosphere-capable: No.

Personnel: None required (craft is self-sophont). Can carry an effectively arbitrary number of infomorph passengers.

Main Drive: Custom “dangle drive”; inertially-confined fusion pellets are detonated behind a leading spinnaker, the resulting thrust being transferred to the starship via a tether.
Maneuvering Drive: High-thrust ACS powered by direct venting of fusion plasma from power reactors; auxiliary cold-gas thrusters.
Propellant: Deuterium/helium-3 blend (pelletized aboard for main drive).
Cruising (sustainable) thrust: 7.2 standard gravities
Peak (unsustainable) thrust: 7.5 standard gravities
Maximum velocity: 0.12 c (based on particle shielding)


4 x galari body-crystals; since the galari are ergovores, any galari passenger or AI system may use these for EVA purposes.


1 x standard navigational sensor suite, Barycenter Yards
1 x lidar grid and high-sensitivity communications laser grid, Barycenter Yards


Laser point-defense grid.

Other Systems:

  • Cilmínár Spaceworks navigational kinetic barrier system
  • 4 x Bright Shadow secondary flight control systems
  • Kaloré Gravity Products type 1MP vector-control core
  • Systemic Integrated Technologies flux-pinned superthermal radiator system

Small craft:

5 x minipoleis (no independent drive systems; local accumulators only)


The Sapphire Coloratura was intended to be a shining jewel in the crown of galari starship design, so it is perhaps fitting that it indeed resembles a shining jewel, the translucent crystal of its main body throwing sparkles of rainbow light everywhere when it chooses to fly close to stars, or when it is illuminated by the fiery blasts of its main drive.

The main body of the ship is similar to, in many ways, the galari themselves; a sixteen-faceted crystal, with eight long facets facing forward to the bow tip, and short, blunter facets facing aft towards the mechanical section, a gleaming metal cylinder with a rounded-off end taking up the remaining two-thirds of the starship’s length.

To proceed from fore to aft, the bow tip of the ship is capped with metal, housing the core mechanisms of the dangle drive; the sail deployment system, tether terminus, pellet launcher, and ignition lasers.

From our Earth perspective, this drive is very similar to the Medusa-type Orion; thrust is delivered to the starship via a 216 m diameter spinnaker “sail” on a tether ahead of the craft. Rather than dedicated pulse units, the drive projects pelletized D-3He charges ahead of the craft to the focal point of the spinnaker, where inertially-confined fusion is initiated by the ignition lasers, reflected to surround the pellet by the inner surface of the spinnaker. The resulting nuclear-pulse detonation accelerates the craft, smoothed out by the stroke cycle of the tether (see above link).

The main crystal body of the craft is essentially a solid-state piece – save for cooling labyrinths and the axial passage required by the drive – of galari thought-crystal: a substrate which holds the ship’s own intelligence, those of all passengers and any crew needed, along with whatever virtual realms, simulation spaces, or other computational matrices they may require. As such, there is little that can be described by way of an internal layout; most polis-yachts are unique in this respect.

The “waist” – broadest point – of the body is girdled by a machinery ring, containing within it the four fusion power reactors (multiple small reactors were preferred for extra redundancy by the designer) with the associated ACS, and at points between them, the backup flight control systems, navigational sensor suite, and other small auxiliary machinery.

At the aftmost point of the main body, where the blunter end of the crystal joins the mechanical section, eight crystal spikes project, symmetrically, from the point of junction. These are left hollow by the manufacturer and equipped with tip airlocks to provide a small amount of volume for cargo space and aftermarket customization; if non-ergovore passengers are expected, two of these are typically converted into quarters and life-support. A central chamber where the spikes meet serves as a body and robot hotel.

Entering the mechanical section, an accessible chamber at the forward end of the cylinder provides accommodation for the vector-control core and larger auxiliary machinery, including the thermal control system. The remainder of the section is entirely made up of bunkerage for the reactors and main drive.

The galari have never, it should be noted, shied away from making maximal use of vector control technology. This is particularly notable in the Sapphire Coloratura‘s design in two areas:

First, its radiators, which cloak the center of the mechanical section with a divided cylinder of gridwork, individual carbon-foam emitting elements held together and in place away from the hull by vector-magnetic couples, linked back to the ship itself only by the ribbons of thermal superconductor transmitting waste heat to them; and

Second, by the minipoleis that the Coloratura uses as small craft. Resembling nothing so much as miniature duplicates of the starship’s main body, these auxiliary blocks of thought-crystal are held in place orbiting the main body of the ship – often in complex patterns, even under full acceleration – connected only by vector-magnetic couples and whisker-laser communication.

That is pure ostentation.


The World is a Mess, and I Just Need To Rule It

I ran across this excerpt of a post on one of the Fimfiction blogs I follow this morning, and while I’m using it out of context and off-topic – it’s actually talking about the Lex Luthor of DC’s Earth-3, the morally inverted one, in the context of their own work – it works perfectly to explain the Vinav Amaranyr phenomenon, for those of you who were around in 2012, and for those of you who weren’t, why the Fourth Directorate keeps a weather eye on the philanthropic just in case:

Imagine a philanthropist.

He started as an inventor, one who managed to hang onto his own patents. In time, his intelligence created one of the most successful corporations in the world — one which truly tries to do good, although it’s gotten large enough that he has trouble keeping an eye on the whole thing. He still spends time in the lab. Until recently, he was working on clean energy sources. […]

He tries to do good. He has more money than he will ever need, at least for the needs of one man. He donates to charities. Sometimes he gives directly to the recipients because he’s learned that charities can take more than operating costs. He brings forth his clean energy and runs directly into the thorns of the coal lobby, gets told he’s only trying to deprive people of their livelihood. When he points out that he offered retraining and employment, they say he’s destroying a culture. His attempts to distribute medicine are fought by insurance companies. Famine relief shipments get stolen by terrorists, and the army marches on the hunger of someone else’s stomach.

He knows he can help the world — if only the world would let him. But he’s getting frustrated. No matter how good his actions are, how much he’s truly trying to help, there’s always something in the way. He wishes there was something else he could do. Focusing his efforts on a single city, creating a model for others… even that creates trouble. There’s a new personality in the media, one who seemingly only exists to berate him. A so-called reporter who invents his own facts and preaches them to an unquestioning audience while his glasses steam with rage.

…okay. So you’re an Imperial, and you want to help the galaxy. You’re a philanthropist, and genuinely want to help all the suffering sophs who aren’t lucky enough to live in a functional near-utopia.

And you’re stymied in all these ways. This happens almost every time you do something, to the point that you, ridiculously, have to spend more time fighting pointless obstacles and generalized stupidity than you do on solving the actual, underlying problems.

And all the while there’s that little voice in the back of your head whispering, saying “You’re a gorram postsophont. Eldrae kirsunar. These… people… can only stop you by your consent, your willingness to accept their petty, nonsensical rules. You can make things better and all you have to do is sweep aside these trivial little problems. Dammit, man, you’re a god among insects!”

And then one morning you wake up to realize you’ve become the villain of the piece, if the Fourth Directorate hasn’t delivered the most serious censure to you yet.

There are those who go Renegade because of dark-side ambition or greed, or some obscure philosophical commitment to something like Dark Kantianism or the Balanced-Universe Heresy.

But they’re a bunch of pikers compared to the ones powered by compassion.


Worldbuilding: Conflict & Mistake

Those of you who read Slate Star Codex will probably have already seen this article; and those of you who don’t probably should read it, because I think it might be helpful in explaining the differences between Imperial “politics” and Earth politics as we know them, including – to pick up some recent threads on the Discord – local attitudes *there* to protest and suchlike.

Text continues now using terms from the article in question.

While it’s not a perfect analogy, one can see how an awful lot of differences come to pass by considering that while politics *here* , especially performative politics, tends to be heavily conflict-theory-driven, the Empire’s governance – and including here such not-governmental organizations as the Shadow Ministries and the Plurality and its COGs – to be almost entirely dominated by one strand or another of mistake theorist.

…who, admittedly, take the view that conflict theorists are mistaken to a degree that qualifies as dangerously, probably diagnosably, insane.


On Lasers

So, I gather more’n a few laser fans are coming to visit these days, so just to save time, here’s the canonical reason that lasers are the ‘verse’s secondary weapons system, not its primary one:

(It turns out that this is really a recapitulation of points raised in Non-Standard Starship Scuffles, so if you’re already nodding along to that, you can more or less skip the rest. I’ll just hit a few high points.)

Lasers, for the most part, are useful weapons systems under many circumstances. (Obviously they have to be, given their use as point-defense; if you couldn’t get effective results from lasing a k-rod, they wouldn’t be used.) As mentioned elsewhere, you can get an effective result out of a laser weapon, due to collimation, up to around a light-second, which is the entirety of the inner engagement envelope, and as such every military starship mounts a passel of phased-array plasma lasers for point-defense, and larger classes cram in some broadside offensive lasers too.

You can actually collimate reasonably effective beams at rather longer distances than that, as the existence of starwisp tenders demonstrates – although they themselves are of little use for military purposes despite the incidents mentioned in that article, seeing as they shift angular vector and alter their focus with all the grace and speed of apatosauruses mating. One would, however, make a dandy generator for a laser web.

(Yes, they exist in the ‘verse, and have done ever since the Admiralty paid the Spaceflight Initiative to launch Sky-Shield, the homeworld’s first orbital defense grid, back in the day. Orbital defense grids remain their main military use, along with civilian beamed power.)

It’s just that the IN sees no particular point in paying in either cashy money or mass/volume budget for collimation to make them effective beyond the inner engagement envelope, because you aren’t going to hit any actively evading targets at that range anyway, golden BBs and spies having gotten you a copy of their drunkwalk algorithms aside, and kinetics/AKVs work better for the geometry games played in the outer envelope.

Here, though, is the spoiler in the deck where military lasers are concerned:

Thermal Superconductors.

(The laws of physics do permit them, I am assured, and local materials science is more than up to producing them.)

In up-to-date designs, starship armor is woven through with a dense mesh of the stuff, with wicking into big heat-sink tanks of thermal goo. This causes something of a problem for weaponized lasers, because it makes it ridiculously hard to create a hot spot that’ll vaporize – instead, you just add heat to the whole starship. Which is not useless by any means, if you can manage lots of repeated hits or keep a beam on target, because if you can pump enough heat into a starship, either it, the crew, or both, will go into thermal shutdown; but this is what lasers are for in ‘verse starship combat. If you want to blast things apart, you go for kinetics, because you can’t tank (sic) big lumps of baryons.

Of course, this defense has its limitations: a laser grid at short range can hit its target with enough power to overcome the armor and, indeed, to chop its target neatly into a pile of small cubes. But that’s for definitions of short range meaning “inside knife-fight range”, and any Flight Commander who let the range close that much without having his entire propulsion bus shot off first would be summarily cashiered for incompetence.

And that’s why lasers aren’t the primary or only weapons system around these parts.