Groggily, the prisoner raised his head as the door above him slid open. He tensed his muscles, but the welded wire bonds that attached him to the ore cart were too strong; all his struggles achieved was the cracking open of old scabs, and the oozing of more pinkish-yellow blood from his wrists and ankles. He could not even clear his mouth of the foam that had hardened there. All he could do was glare at the dark silhouette outside that door, and the bulky shapes that flanked it, in impotent fury.

“Boys, watch him and make sure he doesn’t try anything.”

“Uh, estrev -”

“Because I am about to indulge in monologuing. And I hate being interrupted when I am monologuing.”

The bulky shape, a linobir by the sound of its voice, took that as the warning it was and fell silent.

“Since we have never met, my dear Sen Kal, I thought perhaps you deserved a brief introduction. Certainly there will be little time for anything else, given the magnitude of your failure.”

“Beginning, of course, with attempting to contract me and my organization to assist with your meat-market. Did you really expect any different result? I may have abandoned the society and scruples of my prissy cousins for the sake of an ambition suited to my talents, but I am not, shall we say, entirely lost to decency.”

“And then,” the silhouette sighed, “there is the matter of our little game of dominance. You showed no promise at all, I am afraid. Outmaneuvered at every turn. Had you shown even marginal ability, you might have proved a useful tool. Had you recognized how outclassed you were and pled my mercy, you might have lived. Humility can be a virtue… for the low. But if there is one thing that I simply cannot abide, it is an incompetent who does not realize his own incompetence!”

“In any case: know, then, that it is Anatev Sarathos who has defeated you. I’d say it was a pleasure, but I fear it was not even that. And so, farewell.”

The sefir jerked in one last hopeless attempt to escape.

The door closed.

The door beneath him opened.



ILINSHEN (UNITED VIRIDIAN STATES) – Debate continues today in the capital district of the United Viridian States over the troubled extradition of orbital real estate mogul Uskert Lannod. Lannod, 70, made history four months ago by receiving the highest fine thus far assessed for an offworlder in the Empire’s Courts of Common Pleas and Small Claims, some 22.7 million exval.

The extradition in question relates to the non-payment of this fine, incurred due to an incident in which Lannod, while in an inebriated condition after conducting a business meeting in a restaurant on Mahalloris (Principalities), advanced several improper suggestions to the waitress, and later went so far as to briefly lay hands upon her person.

At question here is the magnitude of the imposed fine. Lannod has appealed to the government of the UVS, claiming it to be entirely disproportionate to the offense, and therefore cruel and unusual. While the government appears to be refusing extradition for now, representatives were not available for interview by this publication.

Ambassador Rithan-ishi-Dellia of the Empire, meanwhile, issued a formal statement that it was the Curial courts’ normal practice to scale punitive fines in accordance with a formula based on the net worth and income of the convicted, in order that the aversive effect of the fines would remain constant, and therefore such that wealthy individuals would not come to see what would be, from their perspective, relatively minor fines as merely a cost of doing business. As such, she deemed, it could hardly be considered an unusual practice, even if the rarity of multi-billionaires finding themselves before the Curial courts under such circumstances made it an unusual implementation of the practice.

The Ambassador went on to state that the Empire’s position on the fine did not admit of flexibility, as a matter of principle, and that should extradition be denied the Office of Investigation and Pursuit would seek to recover the fine and costs – adding wryly that if Lannod were fully cognizant of the Curial courts’ practice of recovering costs from the convicted, he surely would not be going to such pains to increase the difficulty of collecting them – through alternative means. She declined to state, however, what those alternative means might be.

Upon being questioned on the topic of certain ungentlesophly rumors alleging that the case had no merit, and was effectively manufactured by the plaintiff for the purpose of profit, the Ambassador offered to personally debate the issue with anyone with assertions to make along those lines – provided that such debate take place within the embassy grounds.


Legal Variances

“While it is necessary to examine data from early Imperial history (before the instantiation of the Transcend and its immediate precursors, and to an extent even before the advent of modern meme rehab) to see this trend clearly, from the perspective of the typical Worlds criminologist vis-a-vis Imperial forensic psychedesigners, there is a priority inversion in the treatment of certain petty crimes: when scaled appropriately by magnitude on the hir Verkat/ith-Sereda scale, it becomes readily apparent that, for example, littering, vandalism, and graffiti are punished disproportionately heavily with respect to equivalent crimes in the same category.

“The origin of this lies in an unusual qualitative distinction of the Imperial weltanschauung. While never justifiable, the standard ethical calculus published by the Eupraxic Collegium points out that zero-sum theft, for example, typically originates from a methodological defect, the pursuit of worthy ends (profit, or wealth) by unacceptable means. Even a certain subset of assaults or batteries could be considered as defects of end-selection or control-aspected talcoríëf ; again, never justifiable, but understandable, readily subject to redactive correction, and not apparently arising from fundamental defect.

“Negative-sum crimes such as the examples given above, however – along with the residuum of the other petty crimes which arises on examination from cacophilic motives – are deliberate, by-qalasír-chosen, negative-sum attacks on the community of civilized sophonts, and thereby entirely inexcusable as well as unjustifiable. While amenable in the modern era to redactive correction, in prior times it was the view that those who practiced such acts or found them acceptable in a chronic manner were suffering from, at best, an incurable mental dysfunction, or indeed an entropic soul-deformation, and should be removed as far as possible from civilized society lest it prove contagious.

“Even in the modern era, it is notable that a significantly greater percentage of those convicted for crimes of the latter class refuse meme rehab, even when such refusal necessarily invokes the mortal dictum, than those convicted for crimes of the former type.”

– “Reflections on Inter-Polity Discrepancies Within Unspecialized/Common Legal Codes”,
Worlds’ Journal of Criminology & Penology

Questions: Pacifism, Forking, Conflicting Rights, and Lost Keys

Specialist290 e-mails with some questions. (Also some compliments, for which thank you kindly, but what’s getting responded to here are the questions…)

Here goes:

  1. Are there any major subcultures / subcommunities within the Empire that deviate significantly from the “ideal norm” enough to be noteworthy without actually violating the Charter itself? For instance, are there any “pacifist” (using the term loosely) strains of Imperials who attempt to live by non-violent principles inasmuch as they can do so within the constraints imposed by their charter responsibility to the common defense (as opposed to the “shoot first, ask questions of anything that survives” knee-jerk reaction typical to the eldrae)?

With a clarificatory follow-up:

To clarify on that first question, since I realized on further reading that my example was worded rather vaguely and the use of “pacifist” might have the wrong implications:

Let’s say that you have an Imperial citizen-shareholder who, through the vagaries of whatever process formed their personality, has an aversion to the use of lethal force in any circumstances except when another life would be directly threatened by refraining from the use of lethal force (including their own — they’d be perfectly willing to kill in self-defense as well if they themselves were threatened that way).  They wouldn’t be against carrying or using a weapon, since they realize (as a condition of the previous) that the use of lethal force may certainly be necessary.  Nor would they interfere with the victim’s use of lethal force to subdue a criminal if the victim themself were on hand to defend their own property.  Nevertheless, they view the unnecessary use of lethal force (as parsed through their own moral lens) as an injustice if there is any chance that the criminal in question can be rehabilitated.  Let’s say that, furthermore, they had the means to actually subdue a criminal caught in the act non-lethally and prevent them from inflicting any further harm in a way that would still preserve the criminal’s life (though if the criminal in question would rather die, they’d still honor the criminal’s exercise of free will).

Would that sort of behavior be condoned as acceptable civilized behavior within the framework of Imperial society?

Well, the first thing I must ask you to bear in mind, of course, is that permadeath is hard in a world full of noetic backups – just imagine how hard it is for the people who have to try and implement the death penalty – requiring serious premeditation, and very much not something you are going to be able to inflict in a self-defense sort of situation.

You really can shoot first and ask questions (of the reinstantiated) later, which shifts the effective definition of “lethal force” quite a lot, not so? At least so long as we’re talking about corpicide, and not cognicide.

This is a modern development, of course, but most albeit not all of what’s been seen on-screen is in this era, so it’s particularly relevant.

Anyway, the general case, ignoring that particular consideration. Actually, contra stereotypes, what you propose isn’t actually all that far from the mainstream view. If you were to ask 100 people on the Imperial street, I’m pretty sure you’d get a 90%+ consensus that it’s obviously better to hand petty criminals over to the therapeutic mercies of the Office of Reconstruction to be, y’know, repaired. In an ideal universe.

But that being said, it’s not yet an ideal universe.

And what they teach in self-and-others defense classes is the hardcore version of caritas non obligat cum gravi incommodo. Yes, that’s the ideal, which is why they send the Watch Constabulary’s rookies on the Advanced Non-Lethal Polyspecific Incapacitation Techniques course. But that is a lot longer and more difficult to master than anything that the soph on the street can be expected to master by way of basic self-and-others defense (which, in practice, may well just be what they teach at school-equivalent), and the way this breaks down, per standard mainstream ethics, is this:

a. You are not obliged to place yourself at risk in order to show mercy to an attacker, slaver, or thief, although you may if you choose to;

b. However, you are not entitled to make that choice for anyone else. Their risk management is not yours to decide.

c. Reliably stopping someone and keeping them stopped in a non-lethal manner is a difficult challenge, and not best suited for amateurs.

d. Which is why we teach you to shoot for center mass and make sure that said person isn’t getting up again, because that’s something we can teach you to do reliably in this course.

d. i. Which you are perfectly entitled to do, note, because the Contract is pretty clear on the point that once you deliberately set out to violate the rights of others, you lose the protection of your own. (Note: this is not to say, even though it’s often misinterpreted to say this by outworlders, that permakilling every petty thief you see is the morally optimal solution. It says that it’s ethically permissible, which is not the same thing – hell, it may even qualify as morally pessimal, depending on your own interpretations of same.)

e. And the law is written accordingly, because there’s a limit to the burdens we can reasonably expect people to undertake in pursuit of their Charter-mandated duty to protect the rights of their fellow citizen-shareholders.

So returning to the original question: the governing principle here is going to be “can you make it work?”. If you are going to attempt non-lethal solutions, you’d better be damn sure that you can make your non-lethal solutions work effectively, because you will be held responsible – by the Court of Public Opinion, at the very least – if you fuck it up and fail your duty to protect the rights of your fellow citizen-shareholders because you were flibbling around like an amateur. If you can do it successfully and effectively, that’s great, and you will receive all due plaudits for doing so – but screwing up or exposing people to unnecessarily high levels of risk trying will be looked upon with all the traditional Imperial distaste for incompetence. Caveat pacifist.

(And, well, okay, it’s fair to say that you’re going to be looked at funny if you try and apply this principle to many serious crimes. If you catch, let’s say, a would-be rapist in the act and go to any sort of trouble to restrain them non-lethally, people are going to be asking “Why bother? We’re just going to have to kill him anyway, and now we have to do all this extra paperwork. Dammit.”)

((Further note: I also note “Nor would they interfere with the victim’s use of lethal force to subdue a criminal if the victim themself were on hand to defend their own property.” with the possible implication that this hypothetical person wouldn’t be willing to use lethal force to defend someone else’s property.

…there’s not a let-out clause for that. By that fine old legal principle of el daráv valté eloé có-sa dal, person and property are deemed equivalent, so the exact same self-and-others defense rules apply, and that’s a non-optional obligation.

If you are in a situation where you cannot use non-lethal methods to defend someone else’s property, you must – by the terms of the Charter you agreed to – use lethal methods to defend said property. Otherwise, you will find yourself in court staring down charges of Passive Accessorism/Unmutualism, and your very own appointment with the Office of Reconstruction.))

  1. What’s the dividing line between an instantiated fork of your own personality and a new person who shares your memories? Has there ever been a case where a forked dividual has “evolved” (so to speak) into two legally separate individuals?

Well, there’s both a legal one, and a social one.

The latter amounts to “well, do you think you are the same person?” After all, contradicting someone who thinks they’re someone else on that point would be, at best, rather rude.

There is also a legal standard based on sophotechnologically-determined degrees of divergence (somewhat arbitrary, but you have to draw a bright line somewhere for legal purposes) which is used whenever this sort of question winds up in the court system, be it a civil argument over “He’s me!” “No, I’m not!”, or determination of who exactly the criminal liability attaches to, or whether the restored backup or new edit is the same person in fact, or various other possibilities.

(It is, of course, fairly hard to describe the technical details of exactly where that line is without having the actual scientific vocabulary of sophotechnology to call upon, but as your humble author, I can promise that I know it when I write it…)

On the latter question: absolutely. Happens all the time, sometimes accidentally, mostly intentionally. (Hell, some people prefer to reproduce that way.)

  1. If there’s an apparent “conflict of interest” among any combination of the fundamental and charter rights that arises in the course of a sophont being fulfilling its duties, how is that resolved? Is there an order of precedence where one supersedes the other in the case of conflict?

The only hard and fast rule there is that the rights deriving from the Fundamental Contract (absolute and natural) always supersede those granted by the Imperial Charter when they’re in conflict. Necessarily so: they apply by definition to all sophont beings everywhere, everywhen, whereas charter rights only exist by virtue of the ongoing contract between citizen-shareholders, and you can’t contract away natural law. Makes no sense.

By and large, there’s not a major issue with conflict; the fundamental rights are non-extensive, negative-only, and tightly defined, more or less specifically such that conflict wouldn’t be a problem. Which isn’t to say they never conflict –

(The obvious real-world example, of course, being A Certain Controversial Medical Procedure, which in many cases leaves you with the very ugly choice of deciding to violate one party’s life, or violate the other party’s liberty/property, for values of property equal to body, or else making up some magical unscientific bullshit so you can pretend you aren’t doing either.

In the modern Empire, of course, that’s solved by said procedure having joined the catalog of antique and unpleasant historical medical barbarisms along with leechcraft, trepanation, and in vivo gestation itself, but it’s not like they never had to confront the issue.)

– but they don’t do so very often.

In which cases, there isn’t an order of precedence, but there is precedent, if it’s come up before. If it hasn’t come up with before, you are expected to use your own best judgment when it comes to doing as little harm as possible. It may well – almost certainly will – come up for review afterwards, but the Curia won’t punish you for trying your best to do the Right Thing even if it decides you did the Wrong Thing.

(In keeping, you see, with their general policy that if you want people to use their judgment, you can’t smack them down for making a competent person’s mistakes or failing to use it exactly the way the hypothetical ideal person would have; that just leads to paralyzing initiative, or worse, setting up plans and procedures and the equivalent of zero-tolerance policies at a distance, which inevitably turn into stupid, unjust results up close with the sole virtue that since no-one was expected to think, no-one can be held to blame when charlie does the foxtrot.

They don’t hold with that.)

  1. What happens when an Imperial citizen inevitably loses the keys to their own house (whatever form those “keys” may take given the technology available)?

(Ah, now that one actually has a canonical answer from early on: Where Everything Knows Your Name.)

While there are other ways of doing this for specialized applications, in practice identity is stated and authenticated using a convenient device called a Universal – which is itself a little metal ball about a millimeter in diameter containing a specialized code-engine processor, your unique UCID, your megabit identity (private) key, and a few gigabytes of non-volatile memory for supplemental data. This does two-factor authentication against the authentication systems of the Universal Registry of Citizens and Subjects, the second factor being cognimetric (i.e., your mindprint) to prove that you are you, possibly upped to three-factor against attached local databases.

The Universal serves as more or less everything. It’s your administrative ID, passport, licenses, certificates, registrations, contractee ID, financial account numbers, medical information, insurance cards, membership cards, travel tickets, passwords, subscriptions, encryption keys, door keys, car keys, phone number, etc., etc., etc.

(And you almost never actually need to deliberately use it. Things that you are authorized to use/open/log on to/etc., or that customize themselves to the individual user, just work when you try to do those things, because they quietly do the authentication exchange in the background. To the point that you can sit down in a rented office cubicle on an entirely different planet and get your glasstop, your files, the lighting, chair, and microclimate adjusted to your personal preferences, and a mug of that particular esklav variant you like sitting at your elbow. Automagically. You can just pick up your shopping and walk out of the store, and it’ll automatically bill you. Walk right onto the plane, and your boarding pass checks itself. The entire world just knows who you are and behaves accordingly.)

In less advanced times, people used to carry these things around in signet rings, or other tasteful accessories, and suchlike. These days, though, it/s integrated into the neural lace and or gnostic interlink, and as such rests about a centimeter below one’s medulla oblongata. (Assuming for the purposes of this answer that you’re a biosapience.) If you somehow manage to lose that, you probably have bigger problems than being unable to prove your identity right now…

They do, however, break down, albeit extremely rarely.

At which point you place a call to the nearest Imperial Services office (a free-to-call-even-anonymously line for situations just like this), report the problem, and get it replaced. Which involves spending an irritating amount of time going through the process of validating your identity the old-fashioned way to the Universal Registry’s satisfaction, then having the faulty one disconnected and surgically extracted, then replaced by its shiny new functional counterpart.

It’s an annoyance, but not much more than that.

Trope-a-Day: Recruiting the Criminal

Recruiting the Criminal: There are those who wonder about the existence of crime (actual crime, not merely the assortment of smugglers and people like the Eldinimieuthunimis who no-one locally would consider to be engaged in real crime) in Imperial and near-Imperial space.  Surely the Transcend should be able to stamp that sort of thing out completely, not just near-completely?  (Well, no, for reasons which among other things, involve showing some respect for free will.)  Other people also point to the influence of one of the more morally gray of the eikones, Éadínah, the Princess of Shadows, eikone of night, darkness, subtlety, deeply-laid plans, and some would indeed say organized crime, or with a roll of the eyes point out the way in which all too many Imperials will look at the Gentleman Thief or the Classy Cat Burglar and permit their respect for talent, skill and sheer awesomeness to outweigh, albeit not overpower, their sense of moral outrage.

And, while those are most of the reasons, there is also the fact that various agencies – from the Fifth Directorate through more well-known parts of ISS, certain private agencies and even, indeed, some parts of official law enforcement – find having people like Mass Effect‘s Kasumi Goto, the Leverage team, etc., around to call on for those skills that they don’t teach in academia extremely useful.

(Nor, indeed, are they particularly shy about occasionally recruiting out of the justice system, when they can, with the promise of challenging work, an excellent benefits package, and the opportunity to keep any unconsidered trifles one might pick up along the way…)

Trope-a-Day: Rape Is A Special Kind Of Evil

Rape Is A Special Kind of Evil: Not quite played straight; possibly because it’s significantly less common, the eldrae (for example) lacking that peculiar messiness in the human brain where lust and power-lust get tangled up together into a peculiarly vicious kind of squick.

It’s slaving, rather, that is their particular Berserk Button, Moral Event Horizon, etc.  But this isn’t strictly an aversion, inasmuch as to their worldview, rape is committing slaving in one of its most personal, brutal, and invasive forms, somewhere well past murder, somewhat past non-consensual experimentation on sophont subjects, and at roughly the same level as deliberate torture.  And being captured, tried, and Killed with Fire subsequently really is the best that one can hope for, thereafter.

Trope-a-Day: Public Execution

Public Execution: How things were done historically in the Empire – not for entertainment or bloodlust (they were generally rather solemn affairs), or for intimidation, but rather because of the transparency principles enshrined in the Imperial Charter; while the Imperial government might have lawful occasion to kill criminals, it was thought that this was not the sort of thing that ought to be done hidden away in a dark room somewhere.  If it had to be done, it ought to be done in the light, and those ultimately responsible should own the deed.

In more modern times, while executions are done in private, the record is still published along with all the other records of the case by the Ministry of Harmonious Serenity; the Transparency Act admits of no exceptions.