Pyrrhic

Belchar’s World, Battle of: The Battle of Belchar’s World – a term referring to Fourth Belchar’s, 6882 – while in most respects another of the minor squabbles endemic to the Shadow Systems, has attained a degree of fame through being taught in the majority of the Worlds’ military academies as an example of the problems that can result from close-orbital combat operations.

The battle was the last gasp of the Vile-Born Imperium’s attempted invasion of the freesoil Belchar’s World (Torgu Wilds). While a technical victory for the organized Vile-Born fleet against the irregular forces of the freesoil world, the majority of the battle took place in mid-to-low planetary orbit, resulting in extensive destruction of not only military craft, but also of civilian stations and other elements of orbital infrastructure – most significantly, the self-destruction of the orbital starport twenty-two minutes after Vile-Born boarding parties forced the docking bays.

Inevitably, the introduction of so much debris into this area caused a full-blown cascade catastrophe, resulting in mutual disengagement. After a number of attempts to penetrate the cascade zone with landing craft, all of which were lost with all hands, the Vile-Born fleet retreated from the system in good order.

(This was not to last: much of the fleet was subsequently destroyed in the Osquina Mutiny, instigated by a coalition of sub-admirals who preferred not to return to Vileheim and suffer the traditional sky-bath prescribed for failed naval officers.)

Heaven Upbears

The skimmer sang with many voices.

The high stress tremolo of the variform hull, shifting through a thousand combinations a second to stabilize the skimmer’s flight path as it spiked the atmosphere; the low bass throb of the ram drive, pulsed magnetohydrodynamic vortices that could be felt in the skimmer’s structural bones; and mid-range, the pervasive thrum of laboring machinery, turbopumps and heat exchangers striving to keep mollysieves clear and gas flowing, punctuated by the periodic rattle of black diamond crystals being dumped from the bypasses.

And Inlétanós itself provided the accompaniment, percussion felt more than heard, as miles-long lightning bolts flashed cloud-to-cloud, sparks against the murk.

Marise 0x43B2AAC9 grinned to herself. For once, the chorus had an audience capable of appreciating it. While tiresome haggling over incarnation coverage kept most of her skimmer fleet in the hands of dumb automation, even those tight-wires couldn’t keep her off the survey flights.

And so here she was, a firefly flitting in between the pillars of the darkling sky, city-sized towers of cooling hydrogen among the bluish methane haze passing in an instant; wisps of cloud rising from the yellowish-orange whorls below, here ammonia, there longer-chain hydrocarbons, churned by the boiling gas-ocean below; here and there, even, broad dark flakes of dense, tarry organics, born aloft by chance, floated in the wind.

She side-slipped the skimmer to avoid one such, dipping one swept-forward wing into humped cumuli streaked with organic compounds that sent data crackling from the wing-tip sensors, feeling drag and gravity clutching at her frail ship. The hull keened in compensation. Pressure differential warnings flashed from that wing’s throat as changing gas composition threw off the processors. Then she was through, flashing wing-over-wing past and over, into the lazy updraft of a dying boil – enough to bear the skimmer, tanks and recorders filled, upwards in lazy spirals to the waiting tender.

Our codeline was made
To dance with clouds; gravity
Our fickle lover.

The Other Dismal Science

“Good morning, ye earnest seekers of wisdom. I am Reader Olíäth Rian, and I am your primary instructor for this class. Welcome to EX0487, Introduction to the Exosophontology of Mass Coercion. For our foreign students who are now looking confused, you may have seen this class listed under ‘political science’, and you may be in the right place. I shall return to that in a moment.

“It is, I believe, customary at this point to emphasize both that I, and my colleagues, will do everything we can to help you become your absolute best and master the material contained within this course, and yet that should you fail to do so, we will nonetheless crush your hopes mercilessly in the best interests of this institution’s reputation and that of its successful graduates. Since this is a second-level course, however, let us take that as read.

“Before we begin, there is often some confusion concerning precisely what this course is among those, shall we say, less familiar with the local organization of knowledge. Here’s what this class is not: if you want to learn how to run governances, administration is the purview of the Thousand Wisdoms Academy, civil engineering is held in the Cog, the law is on its own subcampus, and so on, and so on. If you’re here to talk, everything from negotiation to manipulation and sophont relations is taught in the applied memetics building; back out the front door, turn left, you can’t miss it — they make sure of that in a first-semester class project every year. And the Imperial War College isn’t on this planet. Meanwhile, if you want to serve your fellow soph, we have an entire business school devoted to that.”

“What it is is a detailed sophontological and sociomemetic study of the techniques used to induce in large populations – from the obvious primal fear, envy, self-righteousness, mistrust, and suchlike to the more philosophically advanced – a belief in self-appointed authorities and their ethical exemptionalism. Or, as one of last year’s outworld students put it rather pithily, ‘how to make people sell themselves into serfdom and pay for the privilege’.

“Now, let me address those few of our students who are – there are always a few – looking at turning our lessons here around into their very own dictator-in-a-box kit. Look to your left. Look to your right. Look to the docuspheres which are even now streaming this lecture to our off-campus students and everyone auditing the class over the extranet. Consider how hopelessly outnumbered you are by the people who are about to learn all the same tricks as you. Good luck. You’re going to need it.

“And finally, before we get started, there is an academic certamen component to this course, so would those students, foreign or otherwise, who have some political theory to defend already go ahead and light up… Now that’s not all of you. Don’t be shy now – you knew when you applied that we treat argument as a blood sport hereabouts.”

– Reader Olíäth Rian welcomes the class of 7240

Intellectual Property

“You don’t need a license for patent S/03218B915. If you’d looked it up, you’d have seen that – it was granted to Cognitech and Biogenesis back in the 2300s. Five-thousand years in the public domain, more or less.”

“So what is it, and why are you killing people over it?”

“‘A Method and System for Artificially Stimulating the Growth of Mature Synaptic Function in the Biosapient Brain While Preventing Logos Iteration’.”

“…which is?”

“How you grow a working brain without a mind in it, and without accidentally getting a mind in it, when the brain requires stimulus and interaction with the world in order to structure itself properly. Very complex, very technical – or it was back in the 2300s – still quite expensive, and ethically critical, of course.”

“I don’t get it.”

“There are two ways to grow a working bioshell. One of them is described in patent number S/03218B915. The other one is to grow yourself a regular kid, let ’em walk and talk and run and jump and play when you aren’t putting them through hard conditioning routines until the crucial brain structures have been laid down. Or grab one off the street, but the customers like their meat fresh.

“Then you hit ’em with enough catacinin or other selective synapse-buggerer to turn their cortex into neuron soup and sell the result as a cheap blank. Usually without a label describing how your low, low prices are the product of murderous industrialized paediculture.”

– an eigeninterview from the Expansion Regions

Bring Me The Head Of…

ALL SECURITY SITES // ORANGE SENSITIVE
NOCONTRACT // NOFORN
ROUTINE
RED LIST // SPECIAL // UPDATE 7129/06/01

WANTED: Istar Oricalcios Veneri a.k.a. “the Mechanic”

REQED BY THIRD DIRECTORATE (INTELLIGENCE SECURITY)

FOR: activities in support of asymmetrism, details redacted; activities in support of insurrection, details redacted; activities in support of assassination, details redacted; activities in support of megacide, details redacted

NOTES:

  • Subject has received ExSec field agent training, fourth level.
  • Subject is an expert in the construction of improvised weapons across technological levels, including hand weapons, technicals, and explosive devices.
  • Subject has received special training in technical sabotage.
  • Subject should be considered extremely dangerous.

LAST SEEN: highport, Inidu (Freeport Loop), 2 days before publication

TERMINATE ON SIGHT WITH ALL NECESSARY FORCE.
LOG-3 COLLATERAL BUDGET PREAPPROVAL.
SECURE ALL SURVIVING FRAGMENTS.
RETURN TO ISE CUSTODY WITH ACCOMPANYING FULL FORENSIC ANALYSIS.

BY ORDER OF

Istar Oricalcios Veneri, Second Directorate,
seconded to Third Directorate

Things to See, Places (Not) to Go (13)

Hotephny (Flaming Skies Complex): The throneworld and crown jewel of the Simple-Safe Regression, Hotephny is a world which no other polity would ever want, nor indeed be able to take, for Hotephny is a world uniquely hostile to any advanced technology – or, indeed, any post-lithic technology.

How is it hostile? Let us count the ways:

  • Located as it is in the Flaming Skies Complex, Hotephny is bathed in the region’s high levels of magnetism and stellar radiation, in addition to the activity of its own primary, a K-type flare star. Any technology dependent on electronics will not function on Hotephny without high-level shielding, and even purely electrical devices suffer from the extremely dirty power.
  • Hotephny’s native fungus-analogs, along with other chemotrophs, digest hydrocarbon-based plastics (including all known examples of petroplastic and bioplastics, save for a few members of the lactopolymer family) and many other polymers with great efficacy.
  • Another family of local lifeforms, bacterium-analogs, promotes the rapid oxidation of metals. It has been suggested that these show clear evidence of Precursor or other artificial origin – since they do not merely promote oxidation reactions from which energy can be harvested, but even drive those which require climbing a steep energy gradient using catalysts, acids, peroxides, and even perperoxides – but they have been little studied due to the difficulty of finding scientific equipment containing neither metal nor plastic, and scientists willing to risk personal dissolution. (Exoarchaeologists and paleotechnologists comfort themselves with the obvious conclusion that any Precursor site on Hotephny must, by now, be devoid of any useful remains.)

There have been three attempts, despite the above-noted undesirability, to seize Hotephny since the Simple-Safe Regression took possession of the world. All proved to be embarrassing defeats for the invaders, with troops equipped with their civilization’s most advanced military technology falling to a militia armed with ceramic-tipped wooden sticks. While naked.

While Hotephny would otherwise be an interesting world to visit for its pastoral landscapes and the ingenuity with which the Simple-Safe settlers have recreated much early metallic technology with ceramics and native materials, it is unfortunately true that a visit to Hotephny’s surface is certain to be a one-way trip, given the effects of its native life on spacecraft. Tourists should content themselves with the museum aboard the world’s single orbital station, operated by the Cubit-caste personnel of the Simple-Safe Regression’s governance.

A limited communication channel with the surface is available. This may in itself be of interest to visitors, being the Worlds’, and possibly the galaxy’s, only known example of surface-to-orbit heliography.

I Can See Your House From Here

Anywhere Killer (n.): hypothetical weapons system using an arbitrarily-targetable wormhole generator to deliver ordnance – or convenient non-ordnance, such as stellar cores – to any target location in the galaxy whose coordinates are known or can be inferred, bypassing all defense systems in the intervening space-time.

Naturally, as a strategic first-strike weapon nonpareil, the development, deployment, and/or use of this technology has been banned by every respectable galactic polity.

Naturally, every respectable galactic polity has a research team or twelve squirreled away in secret working on it.

May their theoretical and practical difficulties long continue.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary


(Yes, this is the local version of Schlock Mercenary’s “Long Gun” – since people kept asking me about such a thing in the ‘verse.

And to clarify further: those research teams may not know it yet, but those theoretical difficulties are actually, genuinely insurmountable. The only way to inflate a distant wormhole end at a targeted location is the ER=EPR method used by stargates, and so Anywhere Killers are impossible.)