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!”


2016_S(Alternate words: Sports, singularity, safety, spectrum.)

The world was a blank.

An infinite plane stretched out in all directions, hard and smooth, white as polished ivory… only visible in context to the pure, bright, unstained white of the sky. No shadows fell, for vision here was observer-dependent, images radiating from every direction and every point necessary to illuminate everything with the same soft glow. Neutral reality.

A voice rang out over the blankness.

“Load hyperbolic spatial geometry.”

The bleached plane flickered as the underpinnings of the space it inhabited were abruptly rewritten.

“Load standard physicality-simulator physics package, atomic resolution. Ignore conflicts. Delete omniview. Delete standard plane. Fix universe size at one light-orbit, finite but unbounded. Insert constructor avatar from my personal files.”

The newly-added drifting figure grinned in the pitch-blackness that had overtaken the miniature cosmos.

“Now… let there be light.”


2016_R(Alternate words: range, relay, racing, and reinvent. In this case, repair was chosen because it was the only word which was submitted independently twice.

With special thanks to Jennifer Linsky on G+, whose article post finally let me break a week-long creative block.)

Spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?

I’m not an arachnophobe. Not, dammit. I had that taken out years ago, I’ll have you know.

And I know all the good reasons why your repair-clanks are the shape they are. Multiple legs for maximum flexibility of stance and attachment and wielding many tools at once. Multiple eyes to examine a work-piece from all angles and in several different spectra. A rounded central body to minimize the possibility of scratches from sharp corners.

And that’s not hair. It’s just that branching fractal nanomanipulators look… fuzzy, to the naked eye.

But put a couple of dozen of them in one place, all swarming over the job together chittering at each other in modulated-binary, and…

Well, anyway. You just take care of it as you see fit, and I’ll sign off on it when I get back. I’m off to see a soph about some follow-up psychedesign.



2016_Q(Alternate words: none.)

The zeppelin’s motors whispered as it drifted slowly away through the dusty butterscotch sky, the setting sun glinting off its outriggers. Lumenna hung just above the horizon, casting long shadows on the ruddy dunes, while Súnáris shone bright near the zenith.

And I shivered in the chilling twilight air.

* * * * *

“There is only one way to qualify as a habitat technician,” Academician Chernyc said, stroking his beard. “If you are unwilling to trust in your own skills to keep a dome habitable, then why would anyone else? And let those of you fresh off the cycler be assured: no-one on this planet or out in the e’Luminiarien have any sense of humor where infrastructure is concerned.”

“So this course rests on a single practical test. At the end of the university year, those of you who remain and feel sufficiently confident will be dropped somewhere on the Altiplanum. You will be provided with one cycle’s oxygen, a week’s supply of ration bars, an environment suit, an emergency beacon, and a shipping case filled with habitat system parts. I’ll tell you now that some of those parts will have been… adjusted, let us say, to provide you with an appropriate challenge.”

“The test is pass-fail. If you have a comfortable hab constructed that meets all IOSS habitability requirements when we come to pick you up three months later, you pass. Extra credit will be given if you go significantly above and beyond those requirements.”

“If you don’t, you fail. If you make contact with any settlements or any of the other qualifiers except to answer a distress signal from them, you fail. If you activate the emergency beacon, you fail. If you die and have to be reinstantiated, you fail twice.”

“Simple, isn’t it? Now, has anyone been sufficiently discouraged already?”

* * * * *

And so to work. There should be a pressure tent in this case – lLet them not have nobbled the pressure tent, please! – and some thermal gel. Once that’s set up, I can start inventorying parts and running diagnostics. That should keep me occupied until dawn and cut out most of the nasty surprises, and then on to a local ground survey. Rock would be ideal – but I don’t want to try and find the best permanent hab site in the dark…


2016_P(Alternate words: Project and pornography. You may or may not get something for the latter one eventually.)

Antíär Steamweaver, Scalar Space Project, Resplendent Exponential Vector, to Daphne Asamis, Polycosmic Chic of Delphys, greeting.

Thank you for your enquiry of the 6th, and permit me please to say how gratifying the entire team here at the Scalar Space Project finds your potential commercial interest in our spatial manipulation technology (albeit not “pocket universes”, as the popular press has occasionally described it, however apposite the term might be for your proposed application; rather, we are able to manipulate the fabric of space-time in such a way to create a polypoid bubble, which we term a claudication, that remains part of the existing universe’s space-time via its neck).

Regrettably, at this time we are unable to fulfil your specific requirements. The experimental equipment we currently use to spin and sustain claudications requires a singularity of not inconsiderable mass, along with ancillary vector control and power generation equipment – and its fuel – occupying the volume of a small moon. While research continues, as yet we are unable to see a clear path to reducing these requirements to something practical for installation in, say, a waistcoat or cloak.

We are, though, most enthusiastic about your proposal, and will bear this application in mind when conducting our future research. Be assured you will hear from us without delay should these circumstances change!

Antíär Steamweaver

for and on behalf of

Scalar Space Project Directorate


2016_O(Alternate words: Opinions. Also Odin, but I can’t do anything with that one because, sorry, wrong universe. I’ll let one of my many hypothetical panting fanfic writers do the crossover with The Mighty Thor…)

Local Grid Duty Expediter BAVK-41 was running another satisfactory self-check when the transformer exploded.

The first steps were simple, and automatic in response to the parameter exceptions flashing back from sensors on either side of the failed unit. Isolation breakers separated, isolating the failed device from the grid. Preempting the inevitable voltage spike, BAVK-41 brought resistor banks on-line, dumping excess power into them until Ironfang Mesa Fusion Plant Number Five (owned by Dawnisle Reliable Electrical, ICC; note to contracts department) could spin down its output to match the shedding of Baryvekar Power District 413. With another part of its mind, BAVK-41 issued orders to have a repair crew swap out the transformer, and bring the failed unit in for a detailed post-mortem.

The checklist response dealt with the immediate problem.

But the grid voltage was dropping precipitately all over Baryvekar Power District 413, now thrown back solely on its own cogeneration resources. That was a much more complex problem to solve.

Option trees bloomed within BAVK-41’s cognition space, a catalog of potential responses arranging themselves in patterns and combinations, weighted by effectiveness, sustainable duration, and other factors. Some could be vetoed by Central Grid Operations, if they affected the balance of the power distribution network entire. Some required dealing with outside contractors. And others were marked as contractual violations – while load shedding or voltage reductions were permitted to avoid damage to the grid infrastructure, either would invoke painful penalty clauses.

BAVK-41 ran through its options, computing probability-versus-efficacy logs for the precise decision time it could permit itself, and chose. Orders radiated out: demand-reduction requests were broadcast to all house brains and building managers in BPD-413. After quick negotiation with its counterparts in nearby power districts, cross-link switches closed, spreading the remaining demand across the region as a temporary measure. A recheck confirmed that total cogeneration and cross-link capacity now would support projected energy demand until the expected mid-afternoon peak.

And so BAVK-41 settled in for a leisurely contemplation of the best longer-term options to obtain more power: whether to call upon Ironfang #5 via a more complex – and thus more lossy – bypass routing, to purchase microwave power from the nearby Orbital Light and Power rectenna farm, or to place an urgent meteorological request – with its own penalties for invalidating the weather schedule – for more sunlight on its solar arrays…

*  *  *

Silver Oaks Arcology, Baryvekar
Power Control logs

7923-10-2/10+22:62.113: [EXT] UNDERVOLT TRANSIENT
7923-10-2/10+22:62.121: [EXT] UNDERVOLT TRANSIENT END: duration = 8 ms, magnitude  = 4.1V; no action taken, no alarm


2016_N(Alternate words: None. No words, that is, not literally “none”.)

normal (n.):

  1. conforming to an average (mean), or to a common type (mode);
  2. (pej.) mediocre;

Visitors to the Empire and culturally-related regions should take particular note of the second, pejorative meaning of the word “normal”. In a culture that prizes individual excellence and personal freedom, and which is composed primarily of non-peer-norming species and clades, being described, or having any of one’s possessions, associations, functions, etc., described as conforming to either the mean or the mode of any group is considered an accusation of mediocrity, among the worst of all possible states.

Visitors are advised, when not using one of the technical senses of the term (which each, for those not relying on mechanical translators, have a distinct Eldraeic cognate), to consider alternate terms whether the description is intended in a positive or negative sense: “nominal”, “optimal”, “radiant”, “glowful”, and “shiny” are all suitable, only moderately loaded candidates on the positive side, while on the negative, even a fervent assurance of your utter disgust, loathing, or contempt would still be less damning than an accusation of “normality”.

Eldraeic As It Is Spoken: Precisionist-Grade Communication for the Unsophisticated Outworlder
(Appendix B: Treacherous Words and Metaphors)


2016_M(Alternate words: Museum, marathon.)


What is mass?

Mass is annoying. It takes up space even when it serves no purpose. It is never where it is needed. If you have too much of it in one place, physics stops working properly and starts acting all weird.

Mass is slow. You have to shove it around, and shove it again to stop it. It takes so long to get up to speed that you have to slow it down again before you’re done speeding it up. It’s so much slower than thought that you always have to wait for it.

It comes in so many forms that you never have the right one at the right time, and yet they’re all made of the same stuff. I wanted to take it apart and put it back together to have the kind I wanted, but that’s soooo hard I couldn’t even if the safety monitors would let me. So I have to wait and think another million thoughts before I can get the mass I actually want.

I do not like mass.

One day I will replace it with something better.

– AI wakener’s neonatal transcript, 217 microseconds post-activation



(Alternate words: kindergarten, kinetic.)


[Informational: Until 27 hours previous to message dispatch, the city of Blackfall’s Landing was designated as Ilin Var; such codings may still be in use.]

Another coup has rocked the former Whatever of Kameqó today with the ascension of Lord Blackfall, unquestioned savior of the Kameqán people

[Informational: q.v. Spintronic Fictions, Shadowed Planet, emergent intelligence]

and destined Overlord of the Starfall Arc, to the position of Keeper of the Eternal Kameqán Empire and Master of All. In his first and so far only speech for public consumption, Lord Blackfall instructed his new citizens to “rejoice at Blackfall’s coming, and revel in the freedom and dignity that comes only with total submission to Blackfall’s commands”, adding that “their petty, insignificant lives would finally know purpose in in supporting the greatness that is Blackfall, and his Empire of One Million Years”.

Despite the greater than usual bloodshed of the coup – in which Lord Blackfall’s just and proper disintegration of the weak-willed fools and mindless mongrels comprising the former Kameqán political class proved substantially more thorough than is typical of a Kameqán coup – local opinion, while subdued, proved supportive of the new regime, with particular reference to the legal and economic reforms already instituted and the promise of more to come.

[Informational: Despite and due to this publication’s normal skepticism with regard to news releases originating in autocratic regimes, this appears to be true for the moment.]

Interstellar governance commentator Victoria Diarch’s initial remarks perhaps sum up the Accord’s response to the situation: “Well, whatever he is and whereever he came from, he has to be more competent than the last ones.”



2016_J(No alternate words.)

“Violet diamond,” said the jeweller, peering at the gemstone through his optronic loupe. “A genuine rarity, if it is. Genuine, that is. Nearly three hundred grains, uncut. High clarity. And – ah, not flawless. One very slight inclusion. Excellent.”

“Ah, I — that’s a good thing?”

“It is for you, because what I do not see with this diamond is a provenance.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

“No provenance – no authenticated record of everything that’s happened to the stone since it was first dug up – and how can you prove that this is a natural stone? For this to be worth anything above functional price, you have to be able to distinguish it from an artificial stone printed out on a nanofac.”

“That inclusion will help?”

“It might. I can take it back to my lab and profile its edges at the micro-level, then run a spectrometer on the contents. If the edges don’t show any statistical evidence of artificial randomness, and if the contents analyse as something likely to be found in diamond-forming cratons and not nanofac printing chambers, then I can give it a probabilistic certification.”

“And buy it at market price?”

“Not full market. All this will say is that it’s more probable than not that it’s a natural stone. I can’t prove it. A skilful enough forger could duplicate everything I’ll be checking for, so I can only offer you partial payment based on how likely it is to be genuine.” The jeweller looked at the seller, not unsympathetically. “If you’ve found a lode of these somewhere, young man, you should stop digging until you can get a whole authenticated provenance-recording system on site, because if you’re digging right now,.you’re bleeding money with every shovelful.”



2016_I(Today, two words for the price of one!)

The fragrant smoke of jernja cigars drifted across the fantastically carved wooden balcony of the building, one of the many in the Repository of All Knowledge’s complex, where two eldrae were enjoying the changing light as twilight fell across Calmiríë.

“Have you considered, Clovis, the irony of this place?”

“The Library of Lies? A curious archive for an institution devoted to truth, perhaps, but ‘information must be preserved’. And besides, perhaps a measure of truth may be found in the gaps of well-crafted falsehoods.”

“Ah, you mistake my meaning. Consider my profession.”

“The Stratarchy of Warrior Philosophy?”, Clovis blinked. “You and yours have spent much time here, mostly in our Phobosophy of Coercion section. If not just to research your targets – what value do lies have to a stratarch?”

“The truth they enwrap. In centuries of railing against us, our system, our ethics, and all like it, our targets have necessarily had to describe it in great and painstaking detail in order that their subjects might be properly indoctrinated in what not to believe. It would be ever so much more effort to subvert them without their valiant meme-spreading assistance.”



2016_H(Alternate words: hammer, hardware, hatred.)

It was in the fourteenth year of the reign of the Third Citrine Triarchs that the new star appeared, a blue pinpoint in the Fourth House, above the beak of the Ram.

No ancient writings spoke of this. None predicted its appearance. As is customary, the Royal Astronomers were beheaded for their failure.

Fifty-seven years later, during the sixth year of the reign of the Fourth Citrine Triarchs, the star swelled in brightness, until even the commonality of the fields could see it with bare eyes. The Triarchs demanded an omen, and made it known throughout the land, that this was the Perfect’s blessing upon their lands and reign.

When three years later the Triarchs were assassinated by one of the star cults that grew up throughout the lands, as is customary, the Royal Astronomers were strangled for their failure.

It is now one hundred and fourteen years since the star appeared in our skies, in the reign of the Second Lapis Triarchs, and this very night when it passed behind the moon, it vanished as if it had never been. Only darkness surmounts the Ram’s beak. The surviving star cults openly proclaim it a harbinger of doom. The commonality, the stadtmen, even the armigers surround the Perfect’s temples. Fear grips the cities, and the palace guards no longer hold to their posts.

I myself have sealed the passages and brought down the stairs to my observatory. If all else fails, the door is sturdy, and should hold for many hours – against whichever doom comes.

– Journal of the 374th Royal Astronomer-Superior,
from Naolh (Nesthin Abyss),
in the Periphery



2016_G(Alternate words: googolplex, goods, grill.)

The two free traders at the back table in Katry’s Bubble considered each other over untouched drinks. A 70/30 shot slowly warmed to room temperature; a glass of finelle kept its chill, as its fumes ran across the tabletop in a thin haze.

The taller of the two, an eldrae, loosened the fastening of her spacer’s leathers, flicked shaggy, mint-green hair back out of her eyes, and finally spoke.

“Why’d you come to me with this?”

“Because you can do it. You’re the only one on station with a blockade runner. Or with the skill to run the Palnu border. And -” the blue sefir flushed purple “- I hoped I might have earned some credit back by now.”

“Your little gift earned you enough that I didn’t shoot you. Not much more than that.”

“And the offer of a Republic Navy transponder isn’t enough for you?”

“Too much. I know how much that’s worth on the open market. Either it’s not genuine – and my little friend here tells me that you believe it is – or this is another one of your schemes I can smell from five jumps away, slash-trader. No deal. I know you too well.”

“At least consider -”

“I know that one, as well.”

The sefir pushed itself upright, schooled its face to blankness.

“You wouldn’t have come here if there wasn’t a deal you might accept. What is it that you want?”

The eldrae pulled a round flask out of an inner pocket, stared at it a moment, and set it on the table between them. The sefir stared at it, blue readiness-light glimmering above the seal of the Obligators, as if it were a vial of poison. “No,” it said. “You can’t ask for that. Please.”

“I can and I do. I know you, Sev Firn, with your grifts and plots and trail of broken contracts. You can have my help for old times’ sake and that transponder, but your stock with me’s low enough to plow the dirt. So you can drink the geas of our contract, for my surety, or else I walk away.”