To The Pain

death-equivalent existence: It is a cliché, at least among Imperials, that “there are no fates worse than death”. A living sophont, after all, possesses the capacity for choice and action, and thus to better their situation – or, failing that, at least the capacity to be acted upon, in ways that open up further options.

Death, however, terminates your worldline, thus foreclosing all futures.

The term “death-equivalent existence” refers to alternate scenarios which also foreclose all futures. Almost all of these are hypothetical, as it is exceptionally difficult to construct a scenario that is as effective as foreclosing futures as nonexistence, with the accepted candidates being irreversible p-zombification, event horizon suspension, and terminal cases of fulfilled automatomania (q.v.).

The informal term “delta-death scenarios” has arisen to describe those cases which, while not meeting death-equivalency criteria, nonetheless skim very close to them.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

A Brief Conversation About Death Games

Inspired by this comment:

I’ve always been of the opinion that, given the Associated Worlds’s existing tech base and attitudes towards continuity of personal identity and such, there must be a “small” subculture of thrill-seekers who deliberately expose themselves to lethal danger purely out of curiosity as to what death actually feels like — and more than a few probably get hooked enough on the “rush” to try it again.

“That’s what you want the Greater Immortality for? To kill yourself to experience death?”

“Well… yeah. I’ve always wondered, and you –”

“Have never experienced death.”

“Huh? You’re an orbit-diver. I’ve watched you burn up!”

“Because you can’t experience death, kid.” The speaker sighed, and crooked one finger for another drink. “You don’t exist to experience death. Something of a definitional problem in experiencing the experience of no longer having experiences, you might say. Now, the lead-up to dying, that you can experience – free clue, it feels like pain – but the very next moment you’ll remember is waking up in a nice white room and having your resurrectionist call you a moron. If you managed to kill yourself thoroughly enough, you won’t even remember why. And that experience? I can give it to you right now, right here, no charge.”


A Place Where Renegades Come From

See this?

Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg. Your plan to put an end to disease is a sickeningly bad idea

Well, one place where Renegades come from is when, having read too much of this kind of disgusting ephemeralist agitprop, and noting that advocating for prohibitions or even prohibitionary attitudes on life extension and its related family of technologies amounts to conspiring to murder everyone, forever, they conclude that while it’s not the common interpretation, it’s not really stretching the Right of Common Defense all that far if they go forth into the greater galaxy and cleanse it preemptively of would-be mass-murdering fuckheads, belike.

(While passing sardonic comments about the stubbornness of ephemeralist death-worshippers when it comes to running away from the unbeing they deify.)


Trope-a-Day: To Absent Friends

To Absent Friends: Played straight, with extra poignancy added for more cosmopolitan Imperials due to the number of people who are absent because of death from old age, which in the outworlds there’s more of around than they might care to think of.  Often turns into something of an Irish wake, because toasting the dead generally involves a Libation for the Dead, and sending the booze up properly requires that it be strong enough to burn.

Ice is for Endings, Side Note

When you think about the Cold Ones, it’s actually a remarkable blessing that the nature of the universe is quantized, because that’s what will eventually kill them. Eventually, those tiny energy states and information stores they use will fall below the threshold at which they cannot (because quantum) be subdivided any more to create necessary differentials, and infinity will come to an end – the granularity of the universe being the major limitation of attempting this sort of end-run around finity.

This is, by any reasonable standards, a good thing, because it places an end-point on their existence.

Imagine, for a moment, if the universe was non-quantized and analog. Then there would always be a way to slice things more finely, and get by on smaller and smaller and smaller energy differentials supporting less and less computation, but never zero. However mad and tortured their desperate struggle to hang on to another sliver of existence became, it could still get progressively worse in an infinite number of steps.

To steal a perfectly good way of putting it from a comment by Jenna Moran on Exalted’s Neverborn, whose situation is in many ways similar:

That would mean, of course, that [the universe] can never be [cold enough to kill them]. That would mean, of course, that they are mad not because they are dead gods, but because they are dead dead gods. Dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead, dead gods. Dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead dead, dead dead gods.

And still endlessly unraveling and unfolding into ever greater death, loss, experience of no longer having experiences, being the names of something that are ever further away from living, and still falling, and still somehow stuck.

(I have your cosmic horror’s cosmic horror right here.)


A question I did not answer at the time, regarding this:

One wonders, when she was revived, did she reinherit back any of her titles or property?

Well, now.

Titles are the easiest one to answer, *there*, and the short answer is “some of them, according to their nature”.

To answer in a rather longer manner: if we for the moment discount titles of privilege (i.e., those titles which exist simply to be purchased by/to recognize the contribution of personal resources to the public good) and assume that private titles more or less follow the same rules as public ones (an essentially accurate assumption), it looks something like this:

In Imperial praxis, as defined by the Imperial Charter, there are three classes of titles: runér, praetorate, and exultant. The former two are both functional – by definition, the holder of a runér title has the Imperial Mandate over some demesne somewhere, physical, virtual, or abstract, and explicitly executes all the duties attached thereto. Likewise, a praetor holds some office somewhere in the Imperial Service, and the title comes with the job, to provide the precedence and dignities appropriate to the job.

Exultant titles, contrariwise, are not-implying-you’re-done-but-still-post hoc rewards for merit, accomplishment, and excellence, and as such are not explicitly tied to executing any particular duties except for the rather generalized one of continuing to be the awesome soph you were formally recognized as being.

So, the rules for these were set a long time before it ever came up in this particular case. Exultant titles, you keep and can reclaim; they have no dependencies on anything unless you go so far outside the pale that the people authorized to initiate such a case can persuade the Curia to impeach you. Runér and praetorate titles, on the other hand, are strongly linked to doing the job, and as such the condition there is and has always been incapacity. Suffering from “not-dead-in-the-most-technical-sense, long-term, whole-body frostbite” adequately qualifies as incapacity, so those titles do pass – but, then, unlike most Earth cases, they would also pass if you were merely comatose, or suffering from other lengthy medical conditions that meant that you couldn’t perform the duties of the office, because none of those titles are ornamental and someone’s got to.

You do, however, automatically receive the corresponding courtesy exultant title for ex-runér/ex-praetors, because that’s part of normal succession procedure. Which is to say you keep the honors of the position, after all, you earned them; it’s just that you aren’t the person people should be taking their petitions and paperwork to any more.

(As for the possibility of reclaiming those titles: in most cases, that wouldn’t be automatic, although your successor may choose to hand it right back to you. There are a few exceptions due to their own special rules: most House charters reserve the position of “genarch”, for example, to the oldest living family member with descendants, and if the person fitting that description happens to do so because they just came back from the dead, well – ain’t no rule against that, and they’re still the oldest living family member with descendants, so.)

Property-wise: That’s somewhat more complicated, and I don’t want to go into too much detail because that time period is exactly the time at which the legal rules on that sort of thing were in flux, and I have not yet nailed down the exact dates of what fluxed when.

In the modern era, of course, it’s not even a question. You aten’t dead until there’s no information-theoretically recoverable mind-state recognizable as you available anywhere, or alternatively, have personally merged with the Transcendent god-mind, so no-one’d even think about running probate just because you happen to be chillin’ right now.

Back in the day, of course, this was more complicated when you could be dead without being dead-dead, but Imperial law has always been much more generous than ours when it comes to ensuring that the dead can still get their will done, not like mere animacy should be able to impair the sacred obligation of contracts, after all. So it would not be at all hard for her, or anyone else trying this, to set up the appropriate instruments to hold her stuff in trust and then give it back to herself. (That would be necessary because it’s not like they could unprobate, as that would inevitably be ex post facto.)

(And she probably didn’t do that for all of it, either – this being, after all, still very experimental. And, well, one can always get more money.)

Darkness Within (4): Air!

MET 184-17-12


Delicious air!

…well, no, not delicious air, but I get ahead of myself. I made accessing the for’ard mess my third priority after rigging the air feed for the pod, rigging the k-blanket, and pulling the hardware, because rebuilding these scraps into an airlock-style depressurizer will go a lot more smoothly without suit gloves on, even skinsuit gloves.

Here’s how you build an airlock out of a rescue ball. First, pull out your pocket laser cutter, and chop it in half. (Try not to cringe too much at the thought of cutting one of your vacuum-tight spaces apart, despite the fact that if you’re even contemplating this crazy plan you must be almost out of things that’ll hold air in the first place.) Make sure the entrance flap is in the middle of one of the halves. Stash the other half for later.

Then you need a tube of bioglue, or whatever vacuum-safe glue you have handy, preferably of the kind that sticks to itself, too, as well as metal because you want a good, thick bead of the stuff all around the spacetight door you’re using as the other end of your airlock that you’re going to push the cut edge of the ball down into. Once that sets, slather another layer on top of that, because you need to be damn sure the bond will hold pressure. You now have a door with a bag on it.

Check your work.

Climb into the bag, and seal the flap of the rescue ball. Check that it’s sealed properly. Now check your work again.

Offer up your most profound and fervent prayers to Mahánárel and Athnéël, who between them look after engineers, gamblers, and the poor bastards who have to be both at the same time.

Then open the spacetight door, and hang onto the wall while you do, because air will be coming out in a hurry, and the wire-and-tape-job you just rigged will be under enough stress inflating with a bang without you falling ass-over on it, too.

Now step inside, and close the spacetight door again. Feel greatly relieved that this insane plan worked at all and that you didn’t manage to vent all that precious oxygen overboard. You may permit yourself a caper or two.

Suffice it to say: it worked. Once. I don’t feel confident enough in its reliability to use it more than once, so unless the situation changes, I’ll be staying in here until this air fouls; the air that escaped into the ball is going to have to be written off, but that’s better than all of it.

As far as the local situation goes: the mess is surprisingly orderly; the stowages mostly held. Some floaters to clean up, but not too many. The food situation may be a little better than I thought, but that’ll have to wait on inventory.The telltale on the emergency hatchway down-deck confirms there’s no air below me in the server room.

Finally, I must now formally log confirmation of the temporary deaths of Lieutenant Leresif Inachios, Sailing Master, and Sublieutenant Alwyn Lelad, Power/Thermal Engineer, present in the for’ard mess deck at the time of the recorded impacts, who both appear to have been killed instantly by massive kinetic trauma. As is standard protocol, I have removed and taken possession of the vector stacks and command keys of each officer, and recorded this in the flight systems log.

(I also took possession of Leresif’s locket. He’d never forgive himself if he lost that.)

Trope-a-Day: Post Mortem Comeback

Post Mortem Comeback: As in Dead Man Writing, the leftover personal and fiduciary AI systems, smart contracts, etc., left behind by the deceased are all still running, and since smart contracts aren’t automatically terminated by death, it’s not all that hard to make sure that some of your will still gets done.

Even on those rare occasions when permadeath is in play.

Trope-a-Day: Mayfly December Romance

Mayfly December Romance: Mostly averted; in two different ways.  The happy one is that immortagens are now available for just about every species, thus avoiding the tragedy of death.  The less happy one is that… well, while one may well be able to love someone who is doomed to die, inevitably, it’s much harder to go on loving someone who is determined to mortal themselves to death when the price of immortality is a couple of thousand local currency units and a month or so of post-injection fever and chills.

People who prefer suicide to such a relatively low cost of staying with you are not, I submit, very lovable.

Trope-a-Day: Immortality Immorality

Immortality Immorality: Averted, inverted, mocked, beaten soundly, and left to expire if it wants to so damned much, in much of the Galaxy.  The Imperials (and many other transsophont civilizations) are of the opinion that anyone who can’t tell that death is an eo ipso Bad Thing, meaningless, pointless, useless, unjust, unforgivably wasteful, personally destructive, and so on and so forth is an idiot, and the ephemeralist factions that propose that it is good for society and even the individual are substantially worse than that.

Of course, said ephemeralists play it entirely straight, but, well, the trouble with being ideologically committed to death is that given enough time, you will lose the greater argument with people who trend the other way.  Demographics are a bitch. Such is… life.

Trope-a-Day: Martyrdom Culture

Martyrdom Culture: Strongly averted by the Empire, who as firm devotees of Living Forever is Awesome consider this sort of thing absolutely, completely, utterly idiotic. It may be better to die for your beliefs than to die in bed for nothing, but whenever not absolutely impossible, it’s a damn sight better to live for your beliefs, not to mention whatever else you may enjoy and wouldn’t be able to post mortem.

“I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country,” “Today Is A Good Day For Someone Else To Die,” and all that.

Not, of course, universally averted – but smarter societies trend this way, especially if they come into conflict with the Imperials, who despite regretting the occasional necessity of this sort of thing, love their own lives rather more than yours should the two come into conflict.

And so, upon being told that so-and-so “love death more than you love life”, etc., and so they’ll win, or some similar damn silly notion, are more than happy to deliver their request in the form of a horde of warbots or simple old-fashioned saturation antimatter bombardment from a few hundred miles up. Thus denying the Martyrdom Culture’s members whatever satisfaction they might have gotten from their hypothetical glorious deaths, and providing one more exemplary demonstration of superior military philosophy.

So it goes.

Trope-a-Day: Fate Worse Than Death

Fate Worse Than Death: Played essentially straight, rape and torture-wise, given cultural attitudes to slaving and All Things Connected With It.  This, of course, became even more the case when death became really hard to inflict (see Final Death); the brain-mounted suicide-switch, often with emergency bug-out transmitter, and a restore from backup has become the standard solution – and essential accessory for everyone traveling to those backward areas which such things are statistically present – to all such Fates Worse Than Death.

(Of course, a related aspect of those cultural attitudes and the generous nature of Imperial self-defense laws –  not to mention cultural attitudes towards other people’s oft-ungenerous self-defense laws – mean that a lot of those emergency bug-out transmitters don’t contain just enough antiprotons to power the transmitter; they contain enough to ensure that anyone unwise enough to attempt to rape, kidnap, torture, etc., an Imperial citizen-shareholder has a good chance of being at ground zero of their very own miniature – collateral damage would, after all, be rude – Nuclear Incident.

It sure is nice to have built-in grenades, don’t you think?)

Trope-a-Day: Duel to the Death

Duel To The Death: Available, but strongly discouraged (after all, Immortal Life Is Really Damned Expensive), unlike duels to the non-death – or, in the modern era, to rephrase that, duels to the permadeath are this, and duels to the death are, well, more permitted since death is not permanent, as a rule.

Nonetheless, permitted under certain constrained circumstances, including the same not while you retain any open commitments clause that covers voluntary suicide, because sometimes when two people really genuinely cannot tolerate each other’s existence – well, what else can you do?  Do you want a moment of agony, or an entire history of ache?

Trope-a-Day: Death Is Not Permanent

Death Is Not Permanent: The entire purpose of the noetic backup and reinstantiation technology.  And given that people can keep redundant backups spread out across multiple star systems (a standard feature of your incarnation insurance), actually inflicting permadeath on someone is really damn hardDeath Is Less Expensive, too, since while keeping a clone-body of yourself on standby is a premium service, walking around in an off-the-rack body – or just living as an infomorph – while they grow you a new custom job is less so.

(It’s got a lot cheaper since the first people did it for, oh, a few billion esteyn.)

Trope-a-Day: Human Resources

Human Resources: In space, where roughly 3/5ths of everyone lives, no-one wastes precious water, carbon, and complex organic compounds; therefore, yes, bodies are hereby committed to the recycling tanks.  Of course, the bodies have to have died naturally first, which should make it marginally less creepy.

There used to be organ donation, too, but these days they just clone spare organs on-demand.

Physics and Death

I saw this the other day, quoted on Diane Duane’s tumblr:

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.

– Aaron Freeman, “You Want A Physicist To Speak At Your Funeral”

Unfortunately (and admitting that from certain nonphysically spiritual points of view, it is a lovely sentiment) you do rather have to hope that there’s not a physicist listening at your funeral, who knows full well that it’s the orderliness that’s the point, belike, inasmuch as while yes, all energy is conserved, all meaning and purpose and love and warmth and memory and other patterns in the energy will have vanished even before the time when the universe is reduced to a flat, cold, soup of unbonded particles in the inexorable grip of energy-conserved heat death.

And more to the personal point, physics – with a little help from information theory – is quite able (in theory; the practical side isn’t quite there yet) to compute the point in the hours after – or even potentially before, with some medical conditions – your corporal death at which all of the youness of you has been lost from the cooling meat that used to be your brain.

Anyway, to bring this back to in-universe relevance, not only did this realization synergize well with existing eldraeic spiritual beliefs (which had long held that the soul stayed attached to the body until it was destroyed; which is why they were cremators, it being impolite to keep your deceased family and friends glued into a decaying corpse, belike), but also provided the catalyst for that Middle Information Age pre-funerary custom of whacking the heads off the deceased without delay and immuring them in colossal underground shrine-vaults filled with Dewar flasks of liquid nitrogen…

(It had some interesting effects when they were finally able to recover all of that mind-state data, too, but that’s another tale…)