June and July’s Questions

(Somewhat belated, for which I apologize, but day-job-wise, it’s been a hell of a month. Actually, it continues to be, hence the dearth of postings in August, and now I’m about to ship off to Maryland for a week on a business trip, so…


Sorry, folks.)

Without further ado, let us commence:

Another question, in particular reference to A Good Man (https://eldraeverse.com/2012/04/05/a-good-man/): Would our titular “good man” have come under near as much scrutiny if, instead of going for general atmospheric distribution, he had instead just bottled the stuff and handed it out at sporting events, donated it to soup kitchens, passed it around as a seasoning when he had people over for dinner, etc., without explicitly revealing what the “secret ingredients” in his “special sauce” were?

Only insofar as it would have been harder to catch him at it, and inasmuch as the smaller the scale of your atrocities, the lower the relative urgency of dealing with you compared to whatever other atrocities are going on at the same time. Not less important, mind you, merely less urgent in the ISS master limited-resource-allocation algorithm of which target(s) get hunted down, mind-ripped, and archived in the inaccessible depths of the Aeon Pit today.

As per monthly question & provided I am paid up in full:

Would love to see a write-up of some alien ships. The Múrast in particular.

Ah, múrast designs. Can do. For anyone not remembering my species in detail, the múrast are methane-breathing, multiheaded serpents who originated on a Titan-like homeworld, and have a biology therefore rooted in ices, hydrocarbon sludges, and plastics. They are a biologically casted society (assembler, thinker, technician, worker, refiner), and most curious of all, possibly, the thinker caste are polysapic; they typically have around five minds each.

A múrast icehull – I can’t really give you the details of an individual múrast ship class because they don’t build them to class spec – looks something like a flying baroque cathedral, if baroque cathedrals were (in the gross details) radially symmetric and lacked a down direction. But that’s not how they start out. They start out as comets.

When a múrast sept needs a starship, they go out and grab a comet, and then start shaping it, burrowing into it, and adding machinery as necessary. A typical example has three or four main chambers: there’s a near-spherical “nest” chamber in the center of the mass where the assemblers (the caste responsible for breeding/building new múrast) and the refiners (food-producers/food-storers/biofactories) dwell; an ovoid “bridge” from which the thinkers command the icehull from a half-dozen consoles each, still buried but nearer to the leading edge, and an “engineering” chamber near the trailing edge where technicians and workers tend the main drive (typically a non-torch fusion thermal, or something of that ilk, with teakettle thrusters for fine maneuvering; i.e., they’re slowships, but the múrast mostly aren’t in a hurry).

Cargo vessels include a large hold volume somewhere accessible from the outside; often using simply cutting out and refreezing the ice in lieu of a mechanical cargo door. Military vessels are similar, except the hold is filled with racks of AKVs – or, in some cases, kinetic impact vehicles (i.e., flying icebergs) flown by members of the only-slightly-sophont worker caste.

The rest of the internal space is taken up with a “maze” swarming with more technicians and workers – auxiliary machinery tends to be melted into the ice here in convenient locations, as do various bits of “crew quarters” and “storage” – and, of course, the ice and incorporated sludges and slushes itself, which serves as food, replenishment, and remass, expanding the maze as the trip goes on. (When it runs out, it’s time to either graft on or jump ship to a new cometary body.) Múrast passengers just join the crew in the maze; the odd passengers of other species must bring a suitable cabin module of their own, or travel steerage.

Múrast biology is fairly vacuum-friendly; the ornate look of the ships comes from the workers and technicians who swarm over the outside, too, in flight, polishing and carving and generally buffing the icy brightwork to a mirror shine. The best theory on this is that it’s the sept-level equivalent of twiddling one’s fingers to ease deep-space boredom.

I’ll throw in three quick summaries of other species ships:

Sefir ships are the ones that I’ll never design in detail unless I need to, because they epitomize Boring, But Practical. Basically, they’re ISO Standard Human Spaceships, per the trope: boxy frameworks, mostly in haze gray, with maybe the odd logo or two slapped on the side. Conventional and middle of the road in essentially every way. Species which care more about aesthetics and less about low-bid procurement rules roll their eyes or break out in laughter or tears. Sometimes both.

Linobir ships are what you might call… culturally distinctive. It’s not quite a planet of hats situation, but what must be admitted is while the linobir themselves have a varied culture, the vast majority of linobir who own their own starships are space mercenaries, or other kinds of hired muscle, who turn certain cultural traits right up to eleven.

As such, the [stereo]typical linobir starship is instantly recognizable by, at the stern, the pusher plate of the Worlds’ loudest, dirtiest, and most importantly most powerful drive system, and everywhere else by all the turrets, blisters, bays, and barrels caused by strapping on whatever weapons systems they could get hold of literally everywhere they’ll fit; i.e., it’s a bundle of strapped-together guns that fires nukes out of its ass.

Any of the hull plating that’s still visible under all of that tends to be covered in advertising the crews’ abilities to kill things and break people.

Esseli starships are semi-organic. (Unlike the link!n-Rechesh, they aren’t dogmatically attached to biotechnology for relatively unsuitable purposes such as hulls – although they are made by biotechnological means – or drive systems; although their hulls do have a distinct curvy, organic shape to them, and very organic-looking mechanical tentacles.)

Step inside, on the other hand, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that you’re wandering around inside the warm, pulsing veins of a living creature, because you’re wandering around inside the warm, pulsing veins of a living creature (with, fair to say, a bionic fusion torch). The esseli are perfectly comfortable with using organic life support, shipboard information systems powered by ganglia, doors reminiscent of heart valves, fleshy control nodules and neural tendrils as user interfaces, and lots of similar tech on the squishy, slightly moist side.

(It is entirely untrue, however, that passengers are occasionally digested by esseli ships. They incorporate every standard biotechnological safeguard against unintentionally eating sophonts or their commensal lifeforms, and such would, as well as being rude and inhospitable, be ill-suited to their metabolism – they were, after all, engineered to eat fuel slush and occasional space rocks.

…and the odd hijacker.)

What would be popular on the Eldrae version of television? Or to broaden the question…’Mass media’. Do they go to the movies? 

Yes, indeed. From the incomplete list back in No Such Thing As Alien Pop Culture of things which the canon currently has named examples of – music, an extensive literary culture that includes popular novels, graphic novels, watchvids, InVids, slinkies, virtual-reality games, virtual-reality cosmoi, alternate-reality games, regular computer games, RPGs, board games, mechanical toys, recreational dueling and non-combat challenges, haut cuisine, participatory sports – they would fall under watchvids. (And this does include movie theaters, regular and drive/fly-in, because movie-as-social-experience is a subtly different genre from movie-as-personal-viewing.

Would something like ‘Iron Chef’ work…would ‘Days of Our Lives’ be in it’s 300th year? Would the times of the korásan be ‘Game of Thrones’ analogue?

Hm. Well, okay, let’s see what I can come up with by way of generalizations and specifics. One thing to bear in mind is that as you might expect, speculative fiction is very popular even among the widely varied mix that popular culture *there* is.

Some genres have trouble with the culture: soap operas are very limited for the reasons mentioned below about Days of Our Lives; sitcoms aren’t absent, but are limited in their presence and style by the local sense of humor; reality television is just plain absent for exactly the same reasons as the previous two are limited.

Game shows are present, but are not exactly the sort of thing we’d recognize as them: they have to incorporate very little of an element of chance, and be pitched at a level appropriate to an audience and contestants with quantum computers and Internet access lodged firmly between their frontal lobes, raised in an intellectual hothouse culture. This gives rise to shows like One Hour Mastery (learn a new skill in an hour well enough to impress our judges), Civil Engineering Challenge, Extreme Theorems (can our amateur mathematicians prove these unsolved hypotheses before time runs out?), and Science The Shit Out Of It (a very loose translation).

Likewise, there are talk shows, but they are appallingly high-brow by here’s standards: you aren’t getting celebrity gossip and personal issues, you’re getting Eliezer Yudkowsky Discusses The Finer Points Of Bayesian Rationality With The Panel.

(Popular science shows also have that same level adjustment – and that speculative fiction? Writers need to listen to their scientific advisor, because while the audience is willing to suspend its disbelief in your handwavium, it won’t put up with baryon sweeps or temperatures below absolute zero.)

The horror genre doesn’t play very well; an Imperial audience watching our example of it will spend all their time waiting for the monster to be punched in the face with a space magic fist of doom and will not be happy if they don’t get that payoff. (Eldrae in particular are really, really bad at being scared. They also have no respect whatsoever for stupid, which makes most horror-movie protagonists epic failures at attracting audience sympathy.) At that point, it’s more or less moved into action-adventure territory.

This affects the disaster movie genre, too, to a lesser extent: basically, anything from an earthquake to a zombie apocalypse can be good movie fodder, but the plot needs to include the essential elements of How We Triumphantly Overcame Adversity, Saved Our Asses, and Fixed Our Shit, Only Better. Canon example: After Rockfall, an RPG along the lines of Fallout with a heavy rebuilding-civilization slant.

(There’s also their quirky “construction/achievement drama” genre, which produces epic dramatizations of Touching Heaven: The Building of the Interworld Trade Center, and suchlike, which play well because there is an endless market for stories of Awesome Sophs Doing Awesome Stuff.)

To be specific, then, Adamantium Chef would definitely work, and gains some extra levels when you consider the amount of offworld biologicals available, and all the fun of biochemical compatibility. Hell, there’s probably Adamantium Pharmacist, too.

Days of Our Lives analog is rather less likely, since the whole soap opera genre is a casualty of the change in ratios between NTs and SFs per The MBTI Lens ; by and large, as said, the media of ideas is primary, which is not to say that plot and character elements aren’t important: Buffy the Vampire Slayer would work just fine because it has those coupled with ideas, although it probably doesn’t have a direct analog because of its core concept being subverting assumptions that don’t exist *there*.

Game of Thrones works, both for the above historical analog and because fantasy is a big part of the speculative-fiction genre.

Other shows and movies *here* likely to have analogs or port reasonably well with some care and attention would include, to give a necessarily incomplete list of examples, Eureka, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy – actually, throw in Iron Man and certainly the first Captain America, early House, Indiana Jones, Leverage, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Mythbusters (again, perform appropriate level adjustments), Sherlock, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Star Trek (only with less technobabble and communism; its analog To Boldly Go is established as taking ideas directly from declassified Imperial Exploratory Service mission reports, much as its more military cousin that might be loosely analogous to somewhere in the middle of Babylon 5/Star Wars/etc. grabs them from the declassified Military Service equivalents), Warehouse 13 … and I’m pretty sure at this point I’m revealing that I don’t actually watch all that much television, aren’t I? (You could dramatize some of our video games, too, for that matter – the InVids of Dragon AgeMass Effect, or Destiny would fit just perfectly.)

A question about the Fifth Directorate-is there some things they won’t do? Is there some acts that if the only choices are “we do this unforgivable thing or EVERYTHING dies,” the answer is “we die”?

Yep. Figuring out where the boundary lies is the job of the Operational Ethics Working Group, a.k.a. DREAMING MALIGNITY, whose professional abyss-gazers are specifically tasked with figuring out how much of a monster it is permissible to become in order to fight monsters.

I can’t give absolutely firm guidelines for where it is, because they don’t have any: by definition, they’re operating in the realm of excursive ethics, or for the Culture readers out there, Special Circumstances. But it’s easy to come up with some specific examples:

Given the choice of the Hive, for example, it’s a pretty clear-cut case of time to walk away from the Worm Gods, give ’em the finger, and choose extinction, on the grounds that becoming one’s antithesis – i.e., an entropy-worshipping horde of omnicidal maniacs – is not merely extinction-equivalent, but actually more negative than that in any reasonable ethical calculus.

On the other hand, when confronted by such an antithesis, murdering their gods and cleansing the remains from the universe using anything up to and including ontopathogenic weapons, while outside the boundaries of non-excursive/optimal ethics – well, it starts to seem downright reasonable.

There is a lot of territory in the middle for negotiation.

…and I’ll throw in an unpaid July question as a free bonus to the questioner who wished to know why the equal protection clause of the Imperial Charter doesn’t mention race, sex, age, orientation, etc., etc., etc.:

(a) What, “all/any/each citizen-shareholder(s)” wasn’t clear enough for you? When they say “all” in those parts, they mean it.

(b) The same reason that we don’t feel the need to specify that such equal protections also extend to mustache-wearers, artichoke-eaters, hat-featherers, Monopoly players, HBO subscribers, or people who have noses.

Think about it.


Trope-a-Day: The Ark

The Ark: One of the projects of the Emergency Management Authority/Fifth Directorate are the “Civilization-Backup Ships”, ark vessels hidden in deep space with as close to a complete backup of civilization as can be managed – the notion being that in the event of an extant existential threat large enough to threaten the survival of civilization entire (what’s called in the jargon a hard civilization kill event), they’ll come online under CASE NIGHTFALL ASUNDER, get the hell out of Dodge, and reboot it somewhere else.

The Conscience of Monsters




Proceed (+/-)? +


Warning: This document is classified MOST SECRET DREAMING MALIGNITY. If you do not have codeword clearance DREAMING MALIGNITY, you are enjoined to stop reading and report immediately, along with any instrumentalities representing, containing, storing, or processing this document, to Knowledge Control, under penalty of the most severe censure.

[SSP image elided from file]

Congratulations, agent fork, on your selection to OPERATION DREAMING MALIGNITY, alternatively designated the Operational Ethics Working Group.

DREAMING MALIGNITY serves as the conscience of the Fifth Directorate, as DREAMING SINISTER serves as that of the ISS in general. As the left hand of the Throne’s own left hand, we are permitted a certain degree of legal and ethical immunity in the execution of our duties, and for the good of the Empire. Or, since we are DREAMING MALIGNITY and it is our task to think clearly about such affairs: by the ethical standards it is our business to defend, we are monsters, albeit necessary monsters, damnable and damned.

It is the function of DREAMING MALIGNITY to compute, with mathematical exactitude, the precise degree of damnation which we may permit ourselves in the course of operations and potential catastrophe response contingencies. This is done in both the theoretical mode, in which we issue position and discussion papers on the calculus of ethical derogation and its practical application, and in the applied mode, in which we perform both forward-preemptive and backward-retrospective analyses on Fifth Directorate operations.

Your tour of duty with DREAMING MALIGNITY begins as of your reassignment date and will last no more than six years, during which period operational regulations specifically prohibit you from making use of memory redaction or a large number of other available noetic technologies. The function of DREAMING MALIGNITY is not to assess implementation capacity, success probability, utility, safety, or effectiveness. The Directorate is replete with computer models and ICE BLUESHIFT units more than adequate for that purpose.

The function of DREAMING MALIGNITY is to pass judgement on acceptable necessities, which requires a functioning ability to quantify the greater and lesser Darknesses of the universe and compare them, in order that by inflicting the latter the net total may be minimized. It also requires knowledge of those Darknesses, for which reason you have been granted a general MOST SECRET ULTRAVIOLET clearance by the discretion of the Executive, permitting access to the complete and unredacted data of ongoing Directorate operations. You have been selected for this duty by the current and outgoing members of DREAMING MALIGNITY in the belief that your primary possesses the mental capacity and, frankly, stability to perform it well. In an exception to normal Service practice, it is not permissible to decline the assignment.

You may consider this a compliment of sorts.

For security reasons, no communication with primary or other selves or any other party outside the simulation spaces allocated to DREAMING MALIGNITY, except as required by associated duties, is permitted during the six year tour of duty for agent forks assigned to DREAMING MALIGNITY. Additionally, after the tour of duty is complete, all participating forks have their run-time terminated and all mind-state and persona data associated with them wiped. This period has been selected since previous consensus of DREAMING MALIGNITY held unanimously that longer tours of duty constituted, in themselves, an unacceptable ethics violation, as demonstrated by high attrition rates. Cleared personal possessions and all arrears of pay are inherited by surviving primaries according to standard procedures.

Your sacrifice is appreciated.


Trope-a-Day: Suspiciously Specific Denial

Suspiciously Specific Denial: There is no Fifth Directorate, they aren’t a secret agency designed to fight existential threats and handle other excessionary issues, they don’t edit themselves out of the memory of anyone who claims otherwise, and they certainly aren’t standing right behind you with a stunner and a noetic redaction machine…

Trope-a-Day: State Sec

State Sec: Despite the name, Imperial State Security averts this completely; they’re just an intelligence/security organization, and a much more constrained (even the Fifth Directorate), non-autonomous one.  The only military is, well, the Imperial Military Service under a different ministry entirely, the regime protection forces are three entirely separate and relatively small organizations (the Imperial Guard, the Hand of Justice, and the Guardians of the Senate), and that’s about it.


Trope-a-Day: Sociopathic Hero

Sociopathic Hero: The Fifth Directorate has special tools (ICE BLUESHIFT) to induce the capacity for this sort of behavior – albeit very high-functioning ones, who genuinely don’t have any desire for cruelty [1] – under special circumstances, because in the existential threats business, sometimes necessity really does mandate, and so forth.  (They are also responsible for performing the various feats of mental editing necessary to let the operatives in question not go crazy when their empathy and conscience get switched back on.)

[1] Because that requires empathy, don’ch’know. There’s no point in hurting someone if their pain would be as essentially irrelevant to you as everything else.

Trope-a-Day: Resignations Not Accepted

Resignations Not Accepted: Averted – in a manner of speaking – for the Fifth Directorate.  You can resign any time you like; but the conditions of employment with the Fifth are that to resign, you get to have your memories of everything you ever did for them redacted and replaced with a plausible alternative life story (that happens to explain everything that you are on record as doing that couldn’t be otherwise… elided.).

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…)

Colder Than Space




Proceed (+/-)? +


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ICE BLUESHIFT agents are specially developed units of the Fifth Directorate intended for deployment under exigent circumstances requiring extremal action.

An ICE BLUESHIFT agent is the product of extensive, specialized ethical training and testing, coupled with the focused pseudosociopathy induced by a [REDACTED] “SubHe” implant. The function of this implant is to disable the sympathetic faculties of the mind, while permitting the empathetic faculties to operate nominally. This strips the unit of all default-valued social restraints or ascriptions of value to other entities or entity-sets (although permitting the retention of specifically instanced ascriptions). This does not, however, impair the capacity for social operations. An enabled ICE BLUESHIFT agent remains fully capable of interpreting and reading social cues and performing associated social functions.

Thus, while retaining full sophont-interactive capability and the capacity for loyalty and other targeted attachments, an ICE BLUESHIFT agent is capable of whatever extremal actions are required for the completion of their assigned mission.

(It should be noted that, unlike crude forms of memetic pseudosociopathy used by various other agencies (see: REFULGENT LIAR; CINNAMON PONIARD; ICEBERG QUEEN), an ICE BLUESHIFT agent is not susceptible to malicious/sadistic deviance. To derive satisfaction from such requires an operative sympathetic faculty.)

A secondary function of the implants of ICE BLUESHIFT agents is automated psychedesign, performing self-justification narrative editing at the point at which the agent is disabled. This prevents mental stress and consequent breakdown of the agents upon the restoration of their sympathetic faculties.

The deployment of ICE BLUESHIFT agents requires the explicit authorization of the Imperial Security Executive.


Communicating ANY PART of this NTK-A document to ANY SOPHONT other than those with preexisting ISE internal systems clearance, INCLUDING ITS EXISTENCE, is considered an alpha-level security breach and will be met with the most severe sanctions available, up to and including permanent erasure.

Proceed (+/-)?

Trope-a-Day: Omniscient Morality License

Omniscient Morality License: The Fifth Directorate would claim in public – well, insofar as they can meaningfully be public – that they operate under something closely related to one of these, granted by necessity in dealing with existential threats and other matters of that magnitude.

Subverted inasmuch as, internally, starting to think that you have one of these – rather than an extremely circumscribed exceptionary license unsympathetically overwatched by DREAMING SINISTER – is one of the things that will trigger your immediate retirement from the Directorate.  That’s a little more fast and loose than they like people to get.

Averted inasmuch as most of the posthuman weakly godlike superintelligences are too intelligent to grant themselves one of these, despite the lesser minds that might think that they really ought to do so.





Proceed (+/-)? +




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The Existential Threats Primary Working Group has maintained in secure storage a number of sub-black level threats, and has access to two black-level threats, of type BURNING ZEPHYR – i.e., unlimited autonomous nanoscale replicators (“gray goo”).

Case UNGUENT SANCTION represents an extremal response case to physically manifested excessionary-level existential threats. It is hoped that, in such cases, the deployment of an existing sub-black level or black-level existential counterthreat may ideally destroy or subsume the excessionary-level threat, replacing it with one already considered manageable, or in lesser cases, at least delay the excessionary-level threat while more sophisticated countermeasures can be developed.

Note that as an extremal response case, deployment of CASE UNGUENT SANCTION requires consensus approval of the Imperial Security Executive, subject to override veto by vote of the Fifth Directorate overwatch.


Communicating ANY PART of this NTK-A document to ANY SOPHONT other than those with preexisting originator-issued clearance, INCLUDING ITS EXISTENCE, is considered an alpha-level security breach and will be met with the most severe sanctions available, up to and including permanent erasure.

Proceed (+/-)?

Death Storage

Secure Storage SWG, Fifth Directorate, Imperial State Security
Tertiary Monitoring Node

“Alert flag just came up: storage node 4-23-3317, outside penetration, profiled as hostile. Dispatching response team.”

“Belay that. Class 23, confirm?”


“Then monitor the situation for an hour, and if the flag’s cleared down, send maintenance in to secure it.”

“Don’t we need to contain it? It’s an Aeon Pit site.”

“Yeah, but it’s death storage.”

“So it’s dead storage, but that doesn’t mean the contents aren’t dangerous to let out!”

“Not dead storage, death storage. One of those places where we keep the cleaners when they aren’t working so they don’t mingle with the nice people. They may be deadly, murderous bastards, but they’re our deadly, murderous bastards, so we can let them handle their own cleanup, read me? They’ll probably enjoy it.”

Trope-a-Day: Memory Gambit

Memory Gambit: This is the stock in trade of the ISS and of most intelligence organizations that have the technology to do it. People who don’t know the plan can’t give away the plan. Besides, eliminating the knowledge from your brain is pretty much the only way to fool an alethiometer, although even then, it’s hardly foolproof.

(Usually the memories are kept stored so that you can restore them later.)

One particular form, of course, is what happens when you retire from the Fifth Directorate or from particularly sensitive positions in the other Directorates – they keep all your classified memories, and replace them with a plausible fabricated alternate life story of what you were doing all that time that matches up with everything that happens to have made it into the public record…

Trope-a-Day: Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Judge, Jury, and Executioner: The job of the Fifth Directorate, where existential threats and other excessionary events are concerned.  Rather strictly forbidden for everyone else (including the Shadow Fleet, Imperial State Security, etc. – although their legal procedure can, and often does, vary to fit the necessities of the cases they handle).  Even the Imperial Hands are obliged to strictly follow the law and respect the rights of sophonts and citizens, even if they are generally also empowered to carry their own miniature court around with them wherever they go.

(Of course, under most circumstances, for a non-governance chap, executing someone in the course of committing their special crime is just fine, but that’s not a law-enforcement function. That’s the inherent right of all sophonts to defend their lives, liberties, and properties – and those of people nearby – against rights-violatin’ Defaulter scum, belike.

The Watch Constabulary and above-mentioned bodies, however, are supposed to try to take ’em alive if doing so is possible without inviting worse consequences. But then, they’re also trained to; it is assumed that amateurs shouldn’t be required to try and do the fancy stuff, although they can if they like.)

Trope-a-Day: I Did What I Had To Do

I Did What I Had To Do: This is the defining trope of the Fifth Directorate, whose entire existence as a too-black-to-even-have-a-budget quasi-independent, not asked about and definitely never telling, doing things which not only should decent people not know about but which it is important that they don’t know about, agency is to be That Evil Which Exists In Order To Oppose Worse Evils.  (Specifically, things of the order of existential threats.  Mere wars, terrorism, and suchlike trivia are not their concern.)

(Well, it’s one of them: the other is No Place For Me There.)

Trope-a-Day: No Place For Me There

No Place For Me There: Again, the Fifth Directorate.  They may be necessary monsters1, but they know that they’re monsters.  Retirement from the Fifth involves an extensive memory wipe and having the traits that made you useful to them and dangerous to everyone else wiped away, a degree of mental editing which is almost always enough of an abolishment of identity to be legally equivalent to suicide.

[1] In the exact and precise sense of the trope page quote (which is copied below), taken from the Operative in Serenity. Except, mark you, that the Alliance is merely a conventional democratic government along our familiar Earth-type lines – which is to say, by Imperial standards, an appalling sédármódan crypto-tyranny – which should give you some idea of how big the I’m-a-monster complexes of the equivalent people whose baseline is an actual bona-fide Society of Consent grow to be…

The Operative: I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: So me and mine gotta lay down and die so you can live in your better world?
The Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there, any more than there is for you. Malcolm… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

Trope-a-Day: Hunter of His Own Kind

Hunter of His Own Kind: Marginally fulfilled by those members of the ISS Internal Security and Surveillance Directorate, and Fifth Directorate, who deal with the Empire’s little Renegade problem.  The downside, as it is occasionally pointed out, of the whole immortal billionaire genius demigod thing, is that when one of those lads first renounces the Contract and Charter, and then goes bad, they can do so on truly impressive Evil Overlord-esque scales.

And then someone has to clean up the mess.

You’re Not Cleared For This

adjustment: just about any op that doesn’t fit into any more specific category.  Anything from spiking planetary water supplies to curing a pet’s sniffles.

black house: a safe house or other facility so far out-system you can’t find your primary without a gravigraph.

cauterize: to clean up evidence or problems with extreme thoroughness when you’re out of time and options.  Usually involves ambiplasma, hence the term.

collateral budget: how non-surgical your op is allowed to get; alternatively, how much splash you’re permitted to make before Questions are Asked in the Senate, and your career becomes distinctly impaired.

defaulted: an agent, source, or other asset that’s now proven not merely unuseful but opposed; heading for the most severe censure or about to be cauterized.

deniability, minor: they can know we’re looking, as long as they can’t prove it.

deniability, major: they can know someone’s looking, but they can’t know that it’s us.

deniability, complete: they can’t know anyone’s looking, so hope they’re not paying attention.

deniability, perfect: if you know you’re looking, you’re doing it wrong.

the Executive: the shadowy council of the heads of the Directorates and INI that coordinates the Empire’s intelligence and security operations.  So far as you’re concerned, see fuliginous.

friendly silence: the well-concealed self-destruct mechanism given to you to use in the event of rigorous interrogation.

from Heaven: information that’s come down from far above – where, you don’t need to and aren’t cleared to know – and which should be believed absolutely, even where it concerns future events.

fuliginous: blacker than black, i.e., so far above your clearance level you aren’t even cleared to know what its actual clearance level is.  Anything the Fifth Directorate does.

the Game: what the people in it call the intelligence/security business.  It is, but it’s one where lives, wealth, the balance of power, and occasionally major civilizations are the stakes.  Try to play well.  No pressure.

the Ghetto: Nepscia (Galith Waste), the hellhole favored for rough intelligence games because it’s so easy for people to disappear there.  Unfortunately, people also tend to disappear there for reasons that have nothing to do with whatever op they were on.

heliums: those people with that implant, the one that suppresses anything resembling sympathy or conscience, letting them do anything that needs to and shouldn’t be done.  Occasionally useful; always a sign that your op just went prompt critical.

Mother’s garden: any of the major cities on Eilan (Eilish Expanse), whose centrality and neutrality makes it the place everyone prefers to play their friendly intelligence away games.

overwatch: the member of the proxy adhoc in charge for the current op; who you take orders from, who you report to, and who will be dissecting your performance in detail at the back-briefing.

proxy adhoc: the adhocracy beneath the Executive that ops and other directives originate from; your immediate supervisors.  See also overwatch.

[redacted for reasons of state security]: standard you-are-not-cleared-for-this message.  Also, the motto of the Fifth Directorate.  Possibly.

reduce for extraction: to make it easier to extract an agent (who should be prepared for this possibility) or a source (who somehow rarely are) from hostile territory by reducing them to a vector stack/cogence core, and disposing of the body.  Or, if vector stack technology is not in use, locally, by simply decapitating them.

quieting: removal, sometimes by assassination, or by framing, discrediting, or any other reliable means.

serious censure: killing someone reinstantiably by way of sending them a strongly worded message.

(most) serious censure: killing someone non-reinstantiably by way of sending someone else a strongly worded message.

shadow source: a non-dominant personality or agent imprinted into a hostile mind, acting as a source without the conscious awareness of its host.

sniffers: sigint ships hanging around in other people’s systems, listening to passing traffic and trying not to draw attention.  Worst job in the Shadow Fleet.

source-on-a-disk: a ripped copy of an unwilling source’s mind-state.  A clean source-on-a-disk is one where the source doesn’t know that you have it.

static: an op with no purpose but to draw attention to itself, and away from anything else.

the Antique Store: the Conclave Drift, where collateral budgets are always zero, where every fifth person who passes you on the street is in the Game, and where any mistakes will be maximally embarrassing.  But you have to play there, because everyone else does.

– excerpted from Rilial’s Informal Dictionary of Intelligence and Security Terminology

Doom, Idiocy, and Weirdness

“A few special adhocs aside, the Fifth Directorate is divided into three primary working groups: Existential Threats, Inadvisably Applied Technologies, and Exceptionary Circumstances.  Or, as they’re less formally known, the PWGs of Doom, Idiocy, and Weirdness.”

“Existential Threats handles exactly that; the end of everything, or at least everything local.  Some of their adhocs are as public as the Fifth ever gets, working on problems like why, exactly, we relative latecomers qualify as one of the eldest of the younger races and why no-one from the Precursor era or earlier seems to be around these days; or preparation for natural disasters like gamma-ray bursts or the upcoming galactic collision.  Most of them, though, concentrate on action against more direct threats, like Leviathan Consciousness intrusions, the ambitious that bypassed the Corícal Consensus and incautiously cooked up unstable gods, and any number of insufficiently careful archive-resurrectionists.”

“Inadvisably Applied Technologies is our benevolence PWG.  Their adhocs are responsible for intervening in places where we have no particular authority to do so because someone’s playing with fire in the explosives warehouse, and it’s not in anyone’s interest to see a repeat of the Ulijen Disaster.  More importantly, it’s especially not in our interest to have people become paranoid about advanced technologies just because someone didn’t read the documentation and flash-fried his entire planet, or worse.”

“Yes, it’s not normally considered appropriate to save people from themselves; but really, that’s just a side-effect of saving large chunks of the rest of the known galaxy from them.  Usually, useful ones.”

“Exceptionary Circumstances?  We can’t tell you about Exceptionary Circumstances.  If we knew what they were or had any idea what to do about them, they wouldn’t be Exceptionary Circumstances.  But when we don’t, or we haven’t – that’s what the adhocs of Exceptionary Circumstances do.”

– org briefing to new members of the Select Committee on Imperial State Security