2016_Z(Alternative words: zettahertz.)

Today’s question for Dr. Science is, “What’s the biggest optical telescope in the Empire? How far can it see?”

Over the years, a great many different telescopes have held that particular title: from the Great Eye at the Starspike (Eliéra’s oldest observatory, dating to the pre-Imperial era), through the first orbital telescopes, the large refractor at Farside Observatory, Seléné, and the Deep Orbit Oculus in far Súnáris orbit.

All, however, were rapidly outclassed by the discovery of very-long-baseline interferometry, which uses a technique referred to as aperture synthesis to correlate signals from a set of telescopes to produce images having the same angular resolution as an instrument the diameter of the entire set. Some limited use was made of these techniques with ground-based and orbital instruments, restricted by the difficulty in accurately quantifying optical-range photons for software processing, but once these difficulties were solved, construction began on much larger interferometric telescopes. Three particular examples of these held the title of largest optical telescope in turn, and while the others have been upgraded and remain in use, it is the last of these retains it today.

The first of these, the Barrascán Array, was constructed in the Meryn System, consisting of an array of millions of statites (produced by self-replicating, autoindustrial techniques) 48 light hours in diameter. Intended for general observation, the array possesses an angular resolution of 1.12 x 10-20 radians, enabling it to resolve objects 20 cm across at 2,250 light-years (i.e., the current fringe of the Associated Worlds, which was then unknown space).

The second, intended to carry out both exploration surveys and long-range observations of the galactic core, was the Very Long Baseline Observer, which made use of smaller arrays of deep-orbit telescopes located in systems across the width of the Empire, each reporting via the interstellar dataweave to the Exploratory Service’s headquarters in Almeä System. This gave it an effective diameter of 164 light-years, and thus an angular resolution of 3.74 x 10-25 radians, giving it the capability of resolving with micrometer resolution objects throughout the Starfall Arc, should its view be unobstructed. Indeed, if not for intervening objects, planetary rotation, local weather, and other such obstructions, it would be capable of reading a book over the shoulder of a sophont on any world in the galaxy — were one to pass within its view, since as you can imagine, an array of array of telescopes 164 light-years across is somewhat unwieldy to maneuver.

The apex of this technology is the Super-Size Synthetic Aperture, intended for in-depth studies of the deep universe. The SSSA takes the general concept of the VLBO even further by extending the array – by means of various treaty arrangements and leases – across much of the width of the Associated Worlds, reporting data back over tangle channels. Its effective diameter is no less than 1,825 light-years, giving it a theoretical angular resolution of 3.36 x 10-26 radians – which is to say, it can resolve a 33 m object at the rim of the observable universe.

The SSSA, however, is limited by the larger gaps between its elements, which are themselves limited to a single mobile telescope per system, and thus in turn by the amount of light collectable by each of these individual telescopes. It is also, unfortunately, constrained by the difficulty of maneuvering and recalibrating such a massive device, and by the political difficulties of passing through many different polities during reorientation, which tends to cause lengthy delays, increased costs, and where no permission can be obtained, gaps in array coverage. For most practical purposes, therefore, the VLBO can be considered the largest general-purpose optical telescope available to the Empire.

Dr. Science

– from Children’s Science Corner magazine



2016_Y(Alternate words: none.)

“What’s it like, being a Fusion?”

“Our isonomial gnostic net gives us tremendous parallel processing abilities. We can multitask -”

“No, sorry, that’s not what I meant. I understand the noetic architecture of mass-minds, in a textbook sense. But what does it feel like to be a Fusion?”

“When we look within – that is, when we meditate, and some part of us is always in such a state to weave our soul-threads into unity -”

Aria Multiple Coactive paused, and considered their questioner through three pairs of eyes.

“Imagine that you are standing between two mirrors, able to see an endless tunnel of reflections, all you, yourself. Then make those mirrors a sphere all around you, so wherever you look, in any direction, there are more identical selves of you; a universe of you. All whispering, endlessly whispering. And when you close your eyes, the whispers swell into a song, intricate, interwoven, and entirely personal.”

That is what it feels like to be a Fusion.”


2016_X(Alternate words: none. Also, for the avoidance of doubt, I’m assuming you submitted it in the spirit of my single usage of it in this trope-a-day back in 2014, rather than as the more-commonly-seen abbreviation of “Christianity”, because it’s not like there is any of the latter *there* to write about.)

“What is X-anity, you ask?

“(Apart, that is, from a rather ugly portmanteau in Eldraeic that I strongly suspect will not be improved by translation into any of the other languages of the Accord.)

“It’s a general term referring to a different quality for each species: kar mkaeth for the kaeth, lishólen for the ciseflish, ësseldrae for my own species, except that we use that term to refer to an ideal, not a current state, and so forth. As for what those mean, well, it’s six things, and therefore none at all.

“First, and most usefully, in biological terms, it would mean the psychological characteristics that members of that species have in common. So for us that would be things like mélith as a sense and instinct, or for the kaeth, trasered vandthel, or for the dar-e’sevdra, estrus, or for the tennoa, utilitarianism, and so forth. That each species has its own unique essence in this way is undeniable; promoting these unique points of view is much of the motivation behind uplift, for example.

“That being said, most academicians and professionals who might need to reference it go out of their way to find some other term, because secondly, it’s an example of the applied naturalistic fallacy, in which people declare such psychological characteristics terminal rather than instrumental values and insist that they cannot possibly be modified lest they change the X-ane experience and thus destroy X-anity from within. Something that has been invoked to justify the retention of everything from hyperbolic discounting through envy and xenophobia to morbidity and mortality –

(Many loud interruptions from audience.)

“The bioconservatives are out in force tonight, I see.

“Thirdly, in an extension to the first definition, people have used it to define a larger number of common characteristics, which are typically cultural norms – meaning modal averages – for a given species, by reference claiming them as innate to some degree or another. Apart from the inaccuracy of this – any functioning sophont brain is necessarily remarkably plastic, as manifested by the high levels of cultural interchange in polyspecific societies –

(Heckler makes reference to interspecies mating.)

“That wasn’t actually the kind of ‘cultural interchange’ I had in mind, but it does make a good example. As it happens, the Empire does have a high xenophilia rate, as do most polyspecific societies, although I am rather pleased to be able to say that ours is one of the highest. Which is exactly what you would expect, since the way that instincts manifest is shaped by cultural imprinting in all sophonts and even many prosophonts, including what and who they find attractive.

“And biological cultural determinism, therefore, is so much arrant balderdash, despite which evidence, fourthly, this definition is so often misused by authoritarian culture-groups, either as a means to deny another culture-group membership in X-anity, at which point they no longer merit consideration as fellow sophonts, or to equate their culture or their preferences with the optimally X-ane, and use X-anity as a hammer to enforce cultural conformity.

“These multiple definitions, in any case, render X-anity as a concept both controversial,. fifthly, in any context in which it might be even slightly ambiguous, and sixthly, therefore useless in any serious debate.”

– Academician Vallis Archíël, sophontologist,
student’s transcript from a guest speaker session, Academy of Loryet



2016_W(Alternate words: Walk, whitelist, wellspring.)

The Dreamhall on Kythera is without a doubt the most… fragrant supercomputing center in the Empire.

As much can be said of Kythera as a whole – when you’re heavy biotechnology users, living in buried hives along with an entire commensal symbitech ecosystem, a certain organic pungency to the air is inescapable. The locals don’t notice, and given anything more than a stopover, the nose adapts. But even allowing for that, the Dreamhall is special.

For the Dreamhall is no less than the greatest concentration of cortextures ever constructed. In the dozen massive shells beneath Chira-hive, thousands of open pillars climb from floor to ceiling, each with dozens of racked trays housing the quivering, gray-pink, involuted masses of cultured neural tissue kept warmed and wetted by the nutrient fluid that gives the Dreamhall its copper-salt, amniotic smell. The throb of peristaltic biopumps fills the air; while some mechanical support is used for peripheral functions, the Kytherans pride themselves that as much of their super-thinker as possible is purely biological, a product of their art.

It is a marvel of the Empire, for certain. A massively parallel supercomputer, but more, one with an active and creative imagination, for want of a better word. Indeed, many of its most impressive products have come not from submitting problems to its attention, but from allowing it to browse idly through the ‘weave’s data stores and dream.

Using it always makes me hungry, though.

– Rúlf Draehév, “A Dog and Program Show”, Goodbytes Monthly

Version Control

2016_V(Alternate words: None.)

“Okay, now spin the central kitchen island three-quarters. Good. Now back it up half the width of the range.”

Minil Cendriane looked around the floor of her house, checking gaps and eyelines revealed by the AR overlay.

“No, that still doesn’t clear enough space. Save this as a new revision -”

Saved as floorplan-1.1.233, murmured the house brain.

“- and put a bay window on the southern wall, then take out the wall between here and the supper conservatory, and straighten the worktops. No, that won’t work. Rollback.”

Reverting to floorplan-1.1.233.

“Let’s try this. Widen the kitchen wing on the southern side to where the veranda begins, and reflow the worktops to maximize use of the western wall. Then put a wide arch as far back into the kitchen as you can, merge styles on the new space with this room, and give me a columned entrance on the southern wall. Hmph. Better, but still won’t work. Save and branch it for later.”

Name of branch?

“Call it ‘summer-new’.”

Saved as summer-new-1.1.234.

“Stripped gears and leakage! Our guests will be here in seven hours, and I’ve got too many places to be. We’ll have to take out the new light-room. Summon a chartercar, and revert the house to 1.0-final.”

Confirm physical reversion of house to 1.0-final?

“Do it.”

Minil turned, and walked away. Behind her, utility spiders scurried to move furnishings out of the way, and heavy machinery groaned to life within the walls.



2016_U(Alternate words: Undeath, universal, ugly, ultimate.)

“I’m not sure I understand why you’ve come to see me.”

“As I said, I’m the undertaker for Cantrel Steamweaver, of Socket City, Golden Groves.”

“I have had some dealings with him in the past, but -”

“Ah. I see. Perhaps the translation is misleading, and I should clarify. Mr. Janli, I am neither a euthanatrist, nor a funerist. Nor, for that matter, a biological waste recycling specialist. I undertake to handle the mélith-debts and other obligations of the deceased on the part of their survivors.”

“I don’t recall Cantrel owing me anything. Nor do I owe him anything. If you have business of that sort to transact, you’d best speak to my man of law.”

“It is not a financial matter, Mr. Janli. My client currently holds a writ of baculum outstanding against you from the Court of the Beyond. Naturally, he wished to carry it out himself, but under the circumstances was unable. Hence my involvement in this matter.”

“A writ of baculum?”

“It is more commonly known as a writ of assault, permitting a rather direct form of redress at the court’s discretion. A form of limited outlawry, I understand, that the court considered rather poetic, given the case in question. In any case, as you’ll see from the documentation here, we have local approval for its service, and there are certain specific limitations and requirements that must be fulfilled -”

“And you expect me to stand here and just let you beat me?”

“Oh, no, I merely expect you to be distracted by the documentation just long enough to let my assistant slip around behind you.”


“Good day to you, Mr. Janli.” The undertaker scribbled ‘paid in full’ across the writ, initialed it, then tucked it into Janli’s nerveless fingers. “Do keep your copy of the receipt.”


2016_T(Alternate words: Tear, terms, thinking, tutorial. Actually, I have a pretty good idea for tutorial, but the darn thing just won’t gel. So you get this bit of silliness instead.)

The music was pounding again – not that it ever stopped – on the main floor of Polythalience, enough so that to be heard, it was safest to bellow directly into the ear of whoever you were attempting to speak with. On the hanging stage above, a dar-cúlnó musician balanced in his water column, flickering his skin color in antiphase with the stage lights and waving tentacles with casual speed above the theremins surrounding him.

“Is he –”


“All four?”


“Why can I only hear two?”

“That’s octorock, soph! The third one’s the altissimo track for the high-hearers. Our melody’s their bass line.”

“And the fourth?”

“You feeling your bones hum?”


“Then you’re hearing it! Fourth one powers the wubs!”