Trope-a-Day: Archaeological Arms Race

Archaeological Arms Race: Not nearly as common as it might be, given the amount of stuff various Precursors have left lying around, inasmuch as most of it isn’t weapons technology, most of it isn’t working, and not all of it is super-high-tech, such that a lot of time you just end up with an interesting design twist on principles you already knew. Which can still be valuable, of course, but isn’t quite the same thing. When it does happen it can do interesting things to the local balance of power, but by and large it’s a really bad idea to bet your life on being able to dig up some ancient godweapon just when you need it.

Trivia: Old, Older, Oldest

Something that came up over on G+ – in the course of discussing how many pre-spaceflight eldrae are still around (answer: lots, even if you discount the deep-submergence infomorphs and Transcendent afterlife, and even if some of them spent a while as frozen heads) – which I repeat here for general edification:

Namely, the oldest eldrae currently extant would be Esitaria Cyprium-ith-Avalae Linlethar was born in -284, which makes them 7,406 at the time of the Core War. (Imperial years – call it 7,322 T-years, once you correct for different orbital parameters.)

For scaling purposes, that’s like having someone born, let’s see, post-Alexander and pre-Rome. Or, since they never had a set of Dark Ages there, approximately 1,000 years before the fully-functional steam engine.

(Non-exo) archaeology and history are a very different disciplines, at least until you get well into the pre-Imperial period.



ESniffer Packet hung invisibly in place, far above the ecliptic of this nameless Ember-class star, whose sole distinction was its position nearly 800 light-orbits from Chanq (Vanlir Edge). The starwisp was a speck in a soap bubble; trailing behind it, the flimsy, filamentary acres of its light sail now re-rigged to keep it in position near the star’s pole.

Meanwhile, frantic activity bubbled the surface of the wisp core, its few grains of mass dissolving as the ‘wisp’s nanomachine payload went active. Shielding and raw mass were devoured as core programming took over from the transit processor, using the last fragments of power available in the tiny radiothermal generator to kick off the transformation process, exuding thin fragments of wire mesh plated with magnetic stiffeners, solar collection foil, and nodal nanocomputer signal processors – using the mesh itself as an antenna, capable of acting together as a single radio telescope a mile wide, absorbing all radio bands from the log-2 to the log-9.

The a-chanq civilization had fallen barely a decade before the Worlds had reached them.

But with the help of thrust and fortunate stellar geometry, the Exploratory Service could still hear their echoes.

Trope-a-Day: Ghost Planet

Ghost Planet: Quite a few of them, in various locations – the Galaxy is veritably knee-deep in elder-race litter; as mentioned elsewhere, this gives the existential-threat people something to worry about, and also enables companies like Probable Technologies, ICC to make an entire industry out of archaeology.

(Since I oopsed and didn’t post one yesterday, this is the first of two tropes-a-today.)

At Least It’s Not A Bar?

“Five scientist-explorers were exploring an abandoned outpost in the Expansion Regions one day when they came across a freshly-excavated artifact, still humming with power and covered in unknown controls.

“The first, a galari, said ‘We should transport this back to our laboratory, so that we can investigate it properly, and spread the word of our discoveries.  Think of what we could learn from it!’

“The second, a kalatri, said ‘Take it to our laboratory, yes, but we must keep this quiet.  It could be dangerous, or disruptive, or corrupting.  It is best that people do not know of it until we can be sure they will not be harmed, and use it well.’

“The third, a codramaju, said ‘We should keep it quiet, but so that we can master it before others know of it.  We could build a hundred new technologies with what we learn, and be wealthy beyond our dreams.’

“The fourth, a linobir, said ‘We should master it for its power.  The elder races built machines powerful beyond imagining.  If this is one of these, the galaxy would be ours for the taking.’

“But the fifth, an eldrae, said nothing – for with the press of a keyswitch, both he and the artifact had vanished away.”

– anonymously-posted extranet joke

Trope-a-Day: Black Box

Black Box: Quite a few of them lying around in the form of leftover elder race artifacts and other archaeological recoveries.  Sensible civilizations and corporations (like Probable Technologies, ICC) really hate this, because they know exactly how Sealed-Evil-In-A-Can dangerous that sort of thing can be, and the likelihood of unknown side effects, and decline to extensively use or commercialize any of them until they’ve figured out not only how to reproduce them, but also just how, exactly, the things work.  Very minor, very benign examples may be sold off to collectors, but no-one’s making them a part of their infrastructure until they know all about it.

There are, of course, plenty of sense-challenged people out there.

(On a lesser scale, there are some other examples: the secrets of stabilizing wormholes and building stargates, for example, are both a state secret of the Voniensa Republic and the highest possible grade of commercially-sensitive information for Ring Dynamics, ICC, for reasons in both cases less about maintaining their monopoly and more about wanting to discourage people from screwing with the infrastructure of their really expensive interstellar transportation system – so while the rough details of how they work are known to any schoolchild, that’s about it.  Likewise, the algorithms for producing recursively self-improving AI seeds are generally considered proprietary and closely held by informal agreement [the “Corícal Consensus“] of the people who have them, due to the tendency of amateurs to do really stupid things that Go Horribly Right.)

[Of course, in fairness to everyone else, it’s not like in their universe they ever ran into a recovered Black Box that was quite so all-fired useful as, say, Mass Effect‘s mass relay network.  On the other hand, I am fairly certain that, while the Imperials might have been unable to resist the urge to put that one into immediate operation, they also would have been sure to find a less important one somewhere that they could take apart to figure out how the damn things worked…]

Of Things Dug Up

Artifact #19,246: the Sapphire Sphere

Unearthed during the Iniscail excavations, located in a central position in the third lefthand side room of chamber seven. The Sphere is a dull matte sphere two spans in diameter, a pale blue in color and emitting a constant glow of the same color. The Sphere weighs five stoneweight.

– Excavator Taris Veran-ith-Vere



Artifact 19,248, located nearby, is an ornate brass stand which may be intended to hold the Sphere.

– Excavator Taris Veran-ith-Vere


Intended usage: a light source, perhaps? Or given the position of respect it was found in, possibly a religious symbol?

– Academician Halir Muetry-ith-Mirari


A light source? Of which we’ve found no others of its kind in the entire rest of the complex? Are you seriously suggesting that we’ve found a Precursor ornamental lamp?

As for a religious symbol, if we called everything we dug up and couldn’t understand a religious symbol, we’d have nothing but. And there’s no reason to believe the Precursors even had religion.

– Academician Iridal Selequelios-ith-Serris


Whatever temperature the surrounding room is in, the Sphere maintains a constant temperature, around blood heat. Intense heating or cooling can change it locally, but it returns to its normal temperature unnaturally fast.

– Academician Hieras Octarthius-ith-Octian


The Sphere cannot be opened by any method familiar to us, nor does it possess any discernible power source.  Exposure to sunlight or common chemicals effects no change or reaction.

– Academician Hieras Octarthius-ith-Octian


The Sphere is unresponsive to attempts at verbal or telepathic interrogation.

– Academician Hieras Octarthius-ith-Octian


In light of the inability to open the Sphere with conventional methods, drilling, or chemical erosion, I have submitted a request for explosives.  Perhaps careful blasting will let us investigate the interior.

– Academician Isif Larathyr-ith-Lyrian


Academician Larathyr-ith-Lyrian has been dismissed from the Initiative. Firstly, Precursor artifacts are very rare, and while permission may occasionally be granted to perform destructive testing on those of which we have multiple examples, no such testing is to be proposed on unique examples.

Secondly, blasting? After what happened to the Penjel facility, a researcher proposes blasting?


– Supervisor Kendrian Cyprium-ith-Reyne


With today’s better measurement instruments, the constant temperature of the Sphere is recorded as 307.54 degrees. No variation in this was observed over a half-year period. Nor has any previously-undetectable variation in the intensity of the glow been identified.

– Academician Excellence Hieras Octarthius-ith-Octian


The Sphere doesn’t just emit blue light. It emits monochromatic blue light of wavelength 464 nm along with thermal radiation appropriate to its temperature.

– Academician Sinté Quendocius-ith-Quendocius


Under new scanning series, the Sphere appears to be opaque to neutrinos. It’s another datum, I suppose, but still no progress in identifying anything that might be in there.

– Senior Technician Vivalíé Peressin-ith-Peressin


The Sphere may be the device referred to in sections 91.4 and 93.2 of the damaged inscriptions from the Mazir asteroid site. Relevant translatable phrases include its description as a ’resonant monoluminor’, as an ’automorphous facilitator’, and ’the purpose of noetic energy-conversion for dynamic change’, although, per 33 above, it remains opaque to mental interrogation.

While this in itself provides little insight, it is hoped it may provide some possible directions for future research.

– Linguist Excellence Ciriath Essenye-ith-Estrey


No, clear it for shipment to the Museum. It’s been sitting on the supervising researcher’s desk as a paperweight for nearly 1,400 years at this point. If it wasn’t a danger then, it’s not going to start being one tomorrow.

– Administrator Excellence Antar Calaris-ith-Calir


Oh, for the love of –

It is a lamp. Of course it’s a lamp. ’Resonant monoluminor’ – makes light of one color via resonating electrons. As for the rest – ’automorphous’, ’noetic’, ’dynamic change’ – it’s a light you think by, or rather, a light you learn by.

Five millennia to discover that we’ve found a self-powering Precursor library lamp. We’re the best in our field, ladies and gentlemen.

– Academician Excellence Iridal Selequelios-ith-Serris