The Calmiríë Chthonic Railway

It’s been a while since I gave you folks a map, so here, I’m giving you folks a map:

[map of the Calmiríë Chthonic Railway]
Click through for full-size version.

Should you find yourself needing to find a way around the central region of the capital, this should come in rather handy.


On another note, and one less relevant to writing, our 3D printer here at Chez Author chose this last week to break on us, and since it’s a fairly key part of our business that funds, y’know, mortgages and other key writing supplies, we’re gonna need another one. And in this highly inopportune time of economic and coronavirus brouhaha, this means that I am once more resorting to shameless blegging.

So please, if you can, toss a coin to your author. And if you can’t, please reshare. Every tiny bit helps!

(Hell, I may even throw in a 3D-printed esteyn by way of thanks.)

Hold the Eggs

Bacon Maneuver: A stealth tactic used by sailing masters with no sense of self-preservation, the Bacon Maneuver involves hiding a small starship within the drive wake of a larger vessel. Large, multiple-drive craft often have “sweet spots” close in where the drive plumes have not yet impinged on one another, and thus in which a small vessel can lurk without being instantly immolated by the larger vessel’s torches. In such a position, the small starship relies on the “white-out” of sensors looking directly at the drive plume to conceal its own presence.

Carrying this out is fraught with a number of problems: the ability to approach the sweet spot through the distal drive wake without being incinerated; the need to sink radiant heat from the drive plumes surrounding the sweet spot; the high likelihood of a collision with the larger vessel or its drive plume should it maneuver unexpectedly; and so forth.

From this litany of difficulties is drawn the name of the maneuver: one who attempts it while being so much as a minim less good than they think they are will assuredly be fried crispy.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Begone, And Trouble Us No More

You may have seen a new Imperial Navy ship on the through route from Qechra to Palaxias in the past few weeks, and not been able to pin down her exact type: she resembles a Leviathan-class dreadnought to aft, but the whole forward half of the vessel seems to have been replaced by a long, four-pronged, blunt-ended ‘snoot’, which more closely resembles the working end of a stargate than anything else.

If the scuttlebutt is anything to go by, that’s exactly what she is – the latest unique special weapons platform of the Black Flotilla, CS Perfect Translocative Defender.

She’s not a wormhole logistics ship; those remain impractical. Despite all the improvements in linelayer-superlifters over the years, moving stargates around is still a very slow process, and one which makes even fleet carriers look speedy and maneuverable. This is largely due to the moon-sized mass of the kernel, which enables stargates to communicate with their paired counterpart. But as you can see, Perfect Translocative Defender does not house a kernel, only the Andracanth ram itself.

Without a kernel, Perfect Translocative Defender is only capable of opening an untargeted wormhole around her target, but this makes her a perfect weapon against those threats undefeatable by conventional means; once she closes to fire her weapon, the target is simply dispatched to a randomized location in space and time, thus removing it as an immediate problem – and, given the sheer vastness of the universe, very likely removing it as a problem entirely.

– Star-Spotter’s Quarterly, Autumn 7840

Stealing From Yourself

The Advocate for Guilt has cited the existing precedent set by this Court in Ulpiaj v. Ulpiaj (7918), affirming that for one sophont to appropriate property from themselves in the past constitutes theft, inasmuch as a worldline-past time-slice of an individual cannot consent to the actions of a worldline-future time-slice.

However, in this case, we must instead affirm that for one sophont to appropriate property from themselves in the future cannot constitute theft, insofar as so doing is a performative act binding one’s future self, and a worldline-future time-slice has, ex sequens, consented to all voluntary actions of worldline-past time-slices of the same individual.

The Shareholders’ Court therefore finds for the DEFENDANT, Ulpiaj of 7994, who is VINDICATED upon all counts. The charges of the plaintiff, Ulpiaj of 8002, are DISMISSED.

– Ulpiaj v. Ulpiaj (8002),
Shareholders’ Court (City of Synchrony, Resplendent Exponential Vector)

Sons of Ancyr

Horns of Ancyr, blow ye wildly,
Thunder forth your brazen fury,
Summon every soul who hears ye,
To the battlefield.

Shields of Ancyr, stand before we,
In your lock-step, ever steady,
Naught was forged can e’er score ye,
Stand and never yield.

Spears of Ancyr, sound your brattle,
In terror drive them forth as cattle,
Ardor quenched in bloody battle,
Death to foemen deal’d.

Sons of Ancyr, make your foray,
Ye shall live in song and story,
This shall ever be your glory:
Free men never yield!

– “Sons of Ancyr”, trad. military march, circa. 400

Front Effects

While perfection is our delight, perfection is also profoundly dangerous where it interacts with imperfection.

In the world of pharmacology, this principle is best represented by two particular drugs, aumbril and thanachav.

The former is a perfect euphoric; the latter a perfect disinhibitor. Both, however, are also perfectly deadly – although the latter as often to others as to its user – and are so due entirely to their advertised effects, rather than side effects.

Aumbril provides an experience of perfect pleasure, perfect satisfaction. Rather than simple euphoria, aumbril provides a complex, multi-layered experience combining every pleasure that its user might imagine experiencing – delight in beauty or knowledge, contentment after a job well done, satisfaction after a hearty feast, weariness after achievement, pride in victory, release from pain, laughter at a cosmic joke, love of every variety from limerent to aeonic, orgasm – however intellectually abstract or carnal the pleasure, aumbril provides it and weaves it together into a tapestry of perfect hedonic synergy.

Most aumbril users die on first exposure, from satiation too perfect to remember to live, although at least they die happy. Of the survivors, while a second dose does have the same risks, those without immediate access to another typically die from the effects of severe depression, since nothing else in the world can provide any pleasure to compare with that produced by the drug.

Thanachav, too, is exactly as described. It is a perfect disinhibitor in that it removes all inhibitions, however strong or instinctive they might be. On its own, this is fatal enough for the user, inasmuch as they are unable to tell good ideas from bad; while they may know intellectually that they cannot fly or that flesh will burn, they cannot proceed from this to the notion that departing a building via the roof or remaining within a conflagration to finish one’s book is an unwise course of action. Nor, while they continue to perceive pain, does pain serve to inhibit action.

Of course, such disinhibition is also deeply hazardous to bystanders, inasmuch as empathic and social inhibitions are also entirely stripped away. Perhaps the most common case of this is seen when various amateur street pharmacologists sell thanachav as an aphrodisiac/libidigen of the Class 3 (prohibited) type, through either ignorance or finding the inevitable results hilarious – since while it does remove all the would-be rapist’s victim’s inhibitions against having sex with him, it also removes all their other inhibitions, such as those, ethical, cognitive, and physiological, preventing them from tearing out his intestines and wearing his spleen as a hat.

The results are precisely as imagined.

– Journal of Chemical Hedonism, 1842nd issue

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

Also, Mind the Gap

spin-stop: A stop on a non-axial habitat (or occasionally starship) internal transit line for access to a spin gravity area.

While in many cases the most convenient way to allow access to a gravity wheel or rotating segment within an otherwise non-rotating habitat is an axial transit line (or, in small examples, floatway), this is not universally the case.

In such examples, the spin-stop, a loop of track parallel to the spin section, serves to provide access. As the name suggests, rather than the train or transpod stopping at the station, as it would elsewhere, it simply comes to a stop relative to the spin, having entered the loop in synchronization with the rotating station. That is to say, while at a spin-stop, the vehicle is actually continuing to move at the tangential velocity of the spin section; typically, dozens to hundreds of miles per hour.

This is imperceptible to those boarding or departing the vehicle, of course, since the relative motion is the relevant motion. However, passengers unfamiliar with spin-stops should be aware that in many designs the vehicle cannot hold its departure for errant passengers, and the consequence of not standing clear of the closing doors are inevitably rather messy.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

With Care

From Gateway Station Operations to all within, greeting.

As you may be aware, Gateway Station is a low-orbit station, which consequently suffers from a minuscule degree of drag from Eliéra’s outer atmosphere, necessitating periodic corrections in our orbit. The day after tomorrow (Yrnaes 21st) is the scheduled date for this annual orbital maintenance.

To minimize undesirable gravity effects, we have elected to make a six-minute prograde burn symmetrical around the moment of apoapsis, Courtly falling 17:22. While this should limit the resultant peak acceleration to well below one one-hundredth of a standard gravity, we nonetheless recommend that all loose and/or fragile objects be secured for the duration of the burn, and plumbing services also will be secured for burn as per standard procedures (please consult your station infrastructure guide if additional details are required).

We anticipate no requirement to undock any vessels berthed here during the burn, although for convenience, docking and undocking during the burn is restricted to emergencies only.

Thank you for your cooperation, and our apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Galár Valarian Indoricios

for and on behalf of

Gateway Station Operations

Gravy

“Among things that you all can be thankful for is that gravitic weapons are of almost no practical use. Partly this is because there is very little training we can give you in dealing with the resulting casualties – due to the low survival rate – but mostly because the results are ugly even by time-of-war standards.

“Gravitic shear, first, ripping a ship in twain with an opposed tractor and pressor, is probably the least bad in damage, but the worst to attend. At least that one might have survivors in the remaining halves, albeit survivors who’ve broken almost every bone in their bodies from the abrupt acceleration, but anything near the shear line will be torn apart. Worst, though, is anyone caught in the fringe effect – that bends and stretches flesh in all the wrong ways. Sophs who’ve been twisted into abstract artwork, and some of them even live through it.

“Then there’s gravitic vibration. ‘Rattling’. Leaves no bodies to bury, because it leaves no bodies. The effects are similar to an inertial damper failure, leaving you with a ship full of meat-slurry. No call for medical treatment; cleaning up after this just needs a hose, a mop, and a well-callused soul.

“And lastly there’s gravitic implosion. There are no slides for this one. No-one, to my knowledge, has ever used a gravitic imploder in combat, but if you insist upon knowing, you can find images of the tests on the IN med-weave. I do not recommend doing so. Sphagettification should have stayed beneath the event horizons where we found it…”

– Surgeon-Commander Vinea Allatrian-ith-Aplan,
lecture at the Faculty of Medicine, Imperial War College

Natural Law Enforcement

Opposite the Core, seven hexterranes of Coricál Ailék are occupied by the <Crimson Opalescent Arpeggio in F> Emergency Reality Enforcement Facility. A complex constructed in response to the ongoing work of OPERATION VACUUM AVALANCHE regarding physics-based threats and SKYSHOCK VOID/SKYSHOCK YELLOW scenarios, the EREF is a system engineered around 36 of the largest selective ontology evocation systems thus far constructed, configured for coordinated operation.

In concept, the EREF is designed to use the stored power of the Coricál Cirys swarm to reinforce the laws of nature as they currently stand throughout a large bubble, encompassing most of Imperial space. This is intended as a protection against major false vacuum collapses or other large-scale reconfigurations; effectively, preserving the cosmic status quo within a de facto cystal universe.

Unfortunately, it has been deemed inadvisable to test the EREF. While in theory the activation of the facility within the status universe should have no discernable effect – as determined by small-scale experiment – even the slight possibility of miscalibrations or unknown unknowns is considered too hazardous for a large-scale deployment.

– Emergency Management Authority: Index of Facilities

Senatorial Privilege

While not its long-disused official name, the Defenestrative Balcony is the upper of the two observation galleries looking down upon the Hall of Convocation, surrounding the roof’s central oculus. Conveniently for anyone who wishes to place its nickname into effect, the outer ring of windows open onto an exterior walkway surrounding the peak of the dome, and its slope is shallow enough at this point that one thrown off it faces a long and rather uncomfortable, but not terminal, slide to the ground.

(Those thrown off the interior gallery into the Hall, however, will not be so lucky, and the responsible party will undoubtedly face the censure of the Senate along with whatever other pains and penalties may apply.)

Should one be considering practicing the defenestrative arts unofficially, one should be aware that the Guardians of the Senate post guards here whenever the Senate is in session, since the Defenestrative Gallery is believed to be particularly appealing to unsanctioned assassins and their clockbows.

– Orbiting the Center, Lyrisia Solanel-ith-Solanel

Subtext

“Barbarians, we say? Yes, and we stand by it.

“What such peoples as yours tend to describe as the appurtenances of civilization – your taxation, your conscription, your elaborately-justified coercive governments – are, in truth, shibboleths of your abject failure to be civilized peoples.

“A gentlesoph of some small wisdom understands the virtue and advantage of cooperation for mutual benefit, and thus obligates himself so to do by his own choice and unforced will. Those who must be compelled to ‘cooperate’ by threat and the lash thus demonstrate that they are not the one, and have not the other – and woe to their societies when the threat is removed, and the inner savage once again surfaces.

“Barbarians we name you; until you find your way to the Harmonious Path, barbarians ye remain; and never shall barbarian feet tread the sacred precincts of these blessed lands, these lands exalted in harmony, this Empire!”

– Silvia Oricalcios
Universal Indifference Society
“Address to the Benighted Dwellers of the Outer Worlds”

Independent Worlds Router

“Oh, climb down off it, Silvia. What they can’t see, they won’t learn from.”

– Corval Ellestrion
Society of the Golden Chain
letters to the editor
Independent Worlds Router

“Now, come, both of you. It does not befit us to argue in front of the children.”

– Varikani Tsurilen
Core Worlds Committee for the Promulgation of Social Virtue and Elegance
letters to the editor
Independent Worlds Router

“Could any of you possibly be more condescending?”

– Vintor ru’Kraden
citizen, Nineworlds of Isar,
letters to the editor
Independent Worlds Router

“Yes, I truly believe we could.”

– Varikani Tsurilen
Core Worlds Committee for the Promulgation of Social Virtue and Elegance
letters to the editor
Independent Worlds Router

Grave-itas

The graveyard was as silent as its contents might suggest. The planet’s large moon shone down on the cracked marble of headstones and memorials, the spidery vines climbing them from among the grass… and the distortion in the air flattening said grass, from which a low and discontented muttering could be heard.

Perhaps it would be better to say that it was almost as silent as the grave.

I’m quite certain, cousin, one of the figures beneath the distortion – revealed on closer inspection to be a tent-sized chameleon cloak – farspoke the other, that ere we set out upon this mission, I spoke to you quite eloquently upon the need for stealth, inasmuch as while the governance of this benighted world tolerates us violating their taboos against molesting the dead, they do so only insofar as we take reasonable care to make sure no-one knows about it. And thus, I am bound to remind you at this juncture, that this in which you are currently engaged? Is the opposite of stealthy.

It’s bloody freezing out here, the other replied, although shifting to verbal silence, and you’re not the one of us hip-deep in lich-yard mud –

Adept’s privilege,’prentice mine, adept’s privilege. It’s hard to carry out an exhumation without a certain amount of hume being involved.

It’s just… not what I expected.

Let me guess. You were a fan of Alves Sjarra: Soul Hunter.

The silence spoke for itself.

Ah, yes. Well, when you reach my exalted reputation with the company, you might occasionally get a sniff of one of those missions rich in cunning plans, deeds of derring-do, and opportunities to show off just how good you are. In the meantime, welcome to the glamorous other 90% of the soul-repo business. Backwater planets and mud are our bread and butter.

A mental sigh competed in the aether with a mental smirk.

You’re not the first with that idea. I can vouch for that… and at least these missions involve a lot less being shot at. Now, make sure your nose plugs are in tight. They don’t always get the right body in the right hole, and another adept’s privilege is that the apt gets first crack with the crowbar.

The King and the Planet Are One

KALLAER (SAPROS DEMESNE) – As the Laeth Pact entered its third year of economic recession, the reign of Hieros Navat atir-Laeth ul-Sark was brought to an end today. After failing to successfully address the Pact’s ongoing economic problems, the Elder Chieftains of the Pact directed that the Hieros be dedicated to the shadows of the overworld in accordance with the customary usages.

The ritual sacrifice was performed at the Omphalos by the chosen Successor, na-Hieros Rabil atir-Laeth ul-Rank. The former Hieros met his end with the dignity proper to his office, walking willingly to the altar after exchanging a few words with the Successor.

As is traditional, the flesh of the former Hieros will be plowed into the fields for the fertility of the land, his blood poured into the aqueducts serving the capital as a blessing on his people, and his bones gifted to interstellar merchants for good fortune in the marketplace.

An announcement of policy changes from the new Hieros is expected in three days, local time; 4.1 days, Imperial Standard.

Those Pesky Belters

In pre-space speculative fiction the image of the belt miner recapitulated the image of the prospectors of old. Grizzled belters in small ships, big enough to hold them, a small partnership, or perhaps a family, who would set out, hunt down a “motherlode” rock, hack the ore out of it with traditional miner’s tools loosely adapted to space, then net it up and sling it on its way to a smelter, cash-for-density.

This concept was, as you might expect, wrong in almost every respect.

To begin with the nature of the beast, ore veins are not to be found among the asteroids. Without a planet’s gravity to differentiate them, or hydrothermal processes to concentrate it into ore bodies, pay dirt tends to be evenly differentiated throughout the rock. And to call an asteroid a rock is itself generous, insofar as the majority of them1 are little more than heaps of rubble glued together with a dusting of regolith.

Thus, the smeltership.

In its modern form, the smeltership is instantly recognizable; they look as if a starship had collided head-on with one of the larger breeds of industrial plant2, and decided for whatever reason to keep on going, accompanied by their flock of parasites and the inescapable halo of dust3. From these ships, the collector drones, “spikers”, travel to nearby target asteroids and wrap them in finely woven titiridion nets, preventing the escape of fragments, then haul them back to the maw of the smeltership proper.

Behind the maw, the smeltership incorporates a maze of ore processing and smelting equipment. While in theory plasma-fountain distillation can reduce anything to its component elements, it is an inefficient process reserved only for otherwise intractable residues of ore processing. More conventional processing chains, therefore, handle the commonplace elements once the asteroids have been powdered by the initial grinding step at the back of the maw.

Meanwhile, flocks of lighters, typically drone freighters and tankers – for the volatiles driven off – attend the stern of the smeltership, collecting the ejected ingots of metal and blocks of other elements, bundling them together, and hauling them to market.

The “almost”? While the largest operators, such as Atalant Materials’ space subsidiary, Celestial Mining, operate entire fleets of fully automated smelterships, many smaller or more specialized mining interests instead contract smelterships owned and operated by independent belt miners – often, indeed, small partnerships or family outfits whose homestead-hab is permanently docked to their ship. So while incorrect in method and scale, the writers of yore did, to their credit, predict the demographics of belt mining correctly…

– A DirtsidersHistory of the Belt


  1. And, ironically, those preferred for mining. More solid asteroids have other uses, while rubble piles are generally considered only of use for mining, and thus the claim-staking fee is lower.
  2. Not the vegetative sort.
  3. Even with high-grade electrostatic traps, regolith fines get everywhere.

Rolk On!

Precursor artifact Spirel-1,147: “The Rolkifier”

Recovered from a vault in the Spirel Precursor site (located on Spiridon (Dexlilal Convergence)), the Rolkifier is a 3″ x 3″ x 5″ teardrop-shaped artifact constructed from an unidentified green-bronze substance. Attempts to examine the interior reveal it to be solid and apparently homogeneous to currently available scanning technology1.

All solid objects touched with the operant end of the artifact acquire (or lose, should they already have it), the property of “rolky-ness”.

This seems to be an ontic, rather than cognitive effect: while various different species and linguistic clades may construct their own names for the property (rolky being the identifier used among cosmopolitan Imperials), nonetheless, all are able to identify which objects in a random set are rolky, and which are not, with complete agreement across groups. None, however, are able to provide any explanation of what it means to be rolky, which perceptions allow it to be identified as rolky, nor does the possession of rolky-ness appear to affect any of the other properties or behaviors of any object in any way.

Thus, artifact Spirel-1,147 has been tentatively classified as an cosmontological semantic pointer editor capable of assigning and altering arbitrary universal conceptual tags tied, in an unknown way, to conceptual objects.

That this effect is not explained in any way by any of the three major ontophysical theories understood at this present time, and may imply contrary to all current scientific understanding that the universe has a notion of “conceptual object”, make this among the most puzzling artifacts presently undergoing research.

Footnotes

  1. The Rolkifier does not appear to be in and of itself rolky.

“I’m done, or at least taking a lengthy sabbatical. We all find our outweirding limit eventually, and this is mine. I’m going to the High Cysperia Luxurium and not dealing with anything more outré than a green-fuming finelle and a high-class honey-dream for the next decade.”

– Academician Excellence Alleyne Celdinar, chief researcher

The Extranet Is For Porn

From: Anethil 0x98AA45B2 (COO)
To: Ganly min Retholl (VPO, Calianus Passage)
Subject: Data filtering – need official refusal?

Ha! I almost admire their jír. Not often someone comes to us and requests help in censorship.

Anyway, obviously, we’re not doing that. Tell them that it is against Bright Shadow corporate policy to interfere with data in transit in any way, even so far as to inspect packet contents – and that even if it wasn’t against our policy to do that, the structure of IIP-based networks requires end-to-end encryption which makes it impossible for us to do so. By design. If they want to impose traffic filtering, they’re going to have to do it at destination, on their side of the border routers.

Then tell them that even if all of that could be overcome, it would require a steep increase in connection charges, because while, certainly, it may not be the most ‘enlightened’ use of our data transmission capacity, its packet fees nonetheless subsidize extranet traffic rates for – essentially – everything else, pay for network expansion and relay maintenance across the outer regions, and bought the last round of stock options and my third vacation moon.

Maybe don’t tell them that last bit.

Updated Definition

necromancer:

  1. (archaic) In legend and story, an evil figure who makes pacts with various personifications of entropy, offering service in exchange for power. In these stories, the fundamental error of the necromancer is their belief that they hold the advantage in such dealings – perhaps not the most wise belief where beings which crave destruction without qualification are concerned.
     
  2. In modern eschatology, people, organizations, or even polities that trade with unknown information entities across the extranet, or which they have discovered in some lost but functional archive. Such entities normally offer valuable information or computation in exchange for services in the physical world, typically intended to provide them with computational power, assembler resources, or access.

    As with their legendary counterparts, the modern necromancer is prone to believe that they hold the advantage in their dealings (or can if sufficient precautions are taken), and are aware that their patron will attempt to exploit them. Likewise, they are incorrect in this belief, and the consequences from a necromancer who succumbs to the wrong patron can include finding himself the first, and by no means only, victim of a blooming perversion.

    Thus, Imperial State Security and its counterpart organizations in other polities enforce the Archive Safety Code on dealing with such entities with great vigor, deploying both regular agents and combat eschatologists accordingly.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

skitter skitter skitter

From: Tiryns Anandonos (AIB)
To: Academician Iliys Roquentius; Academician Meris Tarisia
Subject: Incident 7922/0011867

Gentlesophs,

It is certainly the case that research into self-concealing patterns of information (so-called cryptomemes) is important, as is research into their applicability to and existence in the living world. This is only the more true since field teams from your laboratory have already discovered a hitherto-unknown genus of commonplace cryptid (Cryptomustelidae spp.).

It is also the case that it is necessary to perform experimental and evolutionary studies upon these, and as such my branch takes no issue with the experiment series in which you proposed to splice the Out-of-Mind visual textures and elements from the Citizen Nondescript bioshell design into laboratory mice to create a convenient pseudocryptid for study, and observe the development of ongoing generations.

We of the Board, further, acknowledge that neither of you can be held personally accountable for the incident of two days since, in which a laboratory technician left the habitat containing your Mus crypteia open during cleaning, in the mistaken belief that it was empty.

We must, however, insist that you devote a substantial proportion of your research time, in the immediate future, to determining exactly how we can effectively clean up an infestation of mice which can only be perceived as zero-volume mouse-shaped holes in the world.

Respectfully submitted,

Tiryns Anandonos,
Accident Investigation Board

for and on behalf of

Agathis Túkunra
the Sane Man