Approach Vector (2/2)

Turning to the Vector itself, it is, as we have said, the eighth planet of its primary, hot white Enlightenment. Ordinarily, one would not expect a planet so distant from its sun to be warm enough to be habitable, but the energetic history of the system and the star-forming region from which it was born blessed Enlightenment’s worlds in general and the Vector in particular with a bounty of radioactives. Thus, the Vector is heated to habitable temperature by its fiercely burning core and continuous vulcanism.

The Physical Vector

On approach, Resplendent Exponential Vector is a sooty jewel smeared with wisps of yellow cloud; its twin continents, far-flung Innovation and isolated Discovery black with millennia of layered volcanic ash, set amid esklav-dark seas, and gleaming in the night with traceries of red and blue-white – the red of flowing lava rivers, and the glimmering stars of civilization.

The atmosphere is breathable, rich with oxygen produced by the acidophilic phytoplankton found in the oceans, although the plentiful sulphur compounds therein wouldn’t recommend breathing it to those without appropriately resistant lungs. Nonetheless, this rendered it a prime colonization prospect, since the Vector’s domed cities merely require simple filters and pressurization pumps to maintain their internal atmosphere.

The native ecosystem of the Vector is sparse, simple, and robust: land plant niches are dominated by thermovoric, chemosynthetic fungi, including analogs to slime molds, truffles, mushrooms, lichens, and others, many bioluminescent. The animal niche is occupied by so-called “fungimals”; organisms with chitinous exoskeletons whose cells bear more resemblance to the mycetes than to more conventional animaloid lifeforms.

(To many of those selecting Resplendent Exponential Vector as a scientific colony, the nature of the planet held considerable appeal; agronomists were delighted with the potential of the nutrient-rich ash, while biochemists considered the fungal ecosystem to be a veritable treasure-trove.)

An unusual component of the Vector’s ecosystem is its wild mechanicals; the feral descendants of experimental robotic swarms with unusual low-level intelligences.

Planetary Orbit

The planet itself appears surrounded by a thin ring, visible even from the surface as a gleaming band of junklight; the legacy of millennia of orbital development. While never hosting as grand a labswarm as Phólarae, the orbital band is nonetheless rich with habitats, workshacks, orbital laboratories, research satellites, resource dumps, powersats, orbital mirrors, and other structures.

Of all these structures, two are the grandest. The largest station in the Vector’s geosynchronous orbit is the Tramaharav Kaernar, the “manufacturing warrens”. A group of engineering habitats, microgravity factories, and macroscale fabbers of various shapes and sizes strung together on loose scaffolds like clusters of beads, gathered around a hollowed-out former mining asteroid, it is here that much of the prototyping and assembly into the finished goods needed by the researchers of Resplendent Exponential Vector and for new facilities being constructed in the system is done.

The unquestioned queen of the orbit, however, is Axiom Station – the upper terminus of the Vector’s beanstalk, and the capital of the system.

Axiom Station

The golden gateway to this world of science, Axiom Station sits atop the four-stranded orbital elevator descending to the planetary capital of Asymptote, far below. A symbol, it is constructed in the shape of a giant atomic model from the dawn of modern science: the core of the station is formed as a nucleus of 6Li, six merged spheres, in which the protons are clad in shimmering gold chrysadamant alloy, and the neutrons picked out by the dark windows of park terranes and greenhouses. Around these spin the three habitation rings of polished silver, each bearing a teardrop representing the ever-circling electron.

While much of the space aboard Axiom Station is naturally given over to spaceport services and transshipment, the majority of the volume aboard is given over to the operation of system governance, with each of the three “protons” housing the offices beholden to a particular member of the Science Triumvirate: the Supreme Investigator, the Dean of Evidence, and the Sane Man.

A Note on Governance

The formal, conlegial governance of the Vector – the Science Triumvirate – is very much focused on the pursuit of science, engineering, and progress above all else. We will therefore spend little time discussing the routine functions of governance as they are performed everywhere in the Empire, save to note that these rest safely in the hands of the aptly-named Chancellor of the Mundanities, whose offices are located downwell in Asymptote’s Bay City dome.

As for the Triumvirate themselves, they each preside over a distinct segment of the scientific endeavor:

The Supreme Investigator deals with the first stages of the scientific process: in presiding over the Grant Council and the Project Execution Commission, along with Potential Applications and the tangle of other subcommissions beneath them, liaising with the Vector’s private and corporate sponsorship, and coordinating public and private requests for lab space, equipment access, and other limited resources, as well as maintaining the hypothesis bounty board, the Supreme Investigator sets the process of discovery in motion.

The Dean of Evidence concerns himself with the extraction of truth from all the science being done, all across the Vector. As such, the research prediction markets which drive the Evidentiary’s activity are under his purview, as are all matters relating to confirmatory and replicatory experimentation – and by the Vector’s charter, no research conducted there may be published without the Evidentiary’s imprimatur. It is the Evidentiary which arranges for confirmatory experiments funded by the research predicatin markets, and further replications as necessary, all carried out either by the Evidentiary’s permanent staff of consultant replicators, or by scientists willing to carry out experiments – in areas unrelated to their own research and in which they have no investment, to ensure a lack of bias – for compensation or additional priority with the Supreme Investigator.

And the Sane Man endeavors to ensure that the entire system – and, for that matter, the entire System – does not explode, supervising a range of departments along the lines of Laboratory O&M, Range Safety, Precautionary Mandates, Tort Insurance Liaison, Existential Threats and Doom Avoidance, the Science Constabulary – not a police organization, but rather iatropsychic specialists in talking highly-strung geniuses back from the edge – and the Bureau of Mandatory Fun Weeks, and when those fail, with access to certain last resorts, including a peremptory veto on research exceeding the Vector’s indemnity coverage, and a small arsenal of antimatter warheads to terminate prompt experimental excursions.

Asymptote

Asymptote is the Vector’s planetary capital, located in the crook of the “L” where northern and western Innovation meet to form a wide crescent bay almost exactly on the planetary equator.

The city itself is divided into five multi-mile-wide domes; two – Gleaming Children and Evolutionary Park – sit on the bay’s southern edge, while Everlasting Science Fair and the Apparatus Agora lie to the east. Between these, the river of lava originating in the Knucklebones, far to the south-east, oozes its way past the heat exchangers of the Stonefall Geothermal Power Plant and beneath the city’s famous Glass Bridge to a steamy end in the city’s deep lagoon.

(The many small cafés scattered along the bridge, where the ruddy light of molten stone below meets the twilight provided by Asymptote’s dedicated solettas, it is worth mentioning, are the city’s most popular spot for clandestine rendezvous and romantic tete-a-tetes.)

The descent from Axiom Station on the orbital elevator provides a spectacular view of the city. It descends into the center of the bay, and through the apex of the Bay City dome directly into downtown. Passenger arrivals are usually routed via the south-east strand, such that the windows of the descending capsules are afforded a spectacular view of the other city domes, and of “Aspiration to Utopia,” the city’s centerpiece – a huge sculpture upon an island at the mouth of the lava river celebrating the spirit of Imperial progress, a stylized man and woman grown from gleaming spinmetal, standing together and reaching up to claim lightning from the heavens.

Bay City itself is constructed on an artificial island, floating in the bay amid the other domes. Aside from the groundside terminus of the orbital elevator, it is the most cosmopolitan of Asymptote’s domes, containing most of the city’s housing, hotels, and other basic functions. A fleet of environmentally-sealed charterboats provide transport back and forth from Bay City to the quays of the other domes.

The Everlasting Science Fair dome is centered around Resplendent Exponential Vector’s largest exhibition hall and conference center complex, which hosts a never-ending series of presentations by the Vector’s sponsors and many of its leading researchers. The remainder of the dome, however, which gives it its name, is exactly that: a vast, sprawling plaza filled with exhibits demonstrating the principles of science and technology, from the simplest natural phenomena to the most complex of ontotechnologies, a dynamic and joyful collection of knowledge.

(While this does generate a considerable portion of the Vector’s tourism income, it is visited every day by many of the local researchers, who report finding the atmosphere remarkably restful.)

Gleaming Children is Asymptote’s corporate sector, a labyrinth of office plazas and secondary businesses radiating out from the spike at its center, the topaz-and-emerald tower piercing and surpassing the dome’s apex: Exogenesis Plaza, the radiant headquarters of Exogenesis, ICC, most prominent among the Vector’s original corporate sponsors. A full sixth-sector of the dome is owned by them and sublet gratis to their prized “garage inventors”, lending it the nickname “Sponsored By Exogenesis!”.

Also prominent within the dome are Extropa Energy’s twin glass skyscrapers, illuminated from within by the blue glow of the vertically-stretched, transparent fusion cores at their hearts, and from without by arcing lightning between the towers, a living symbol of their function; and the Vault, the Probable Technologies facility housing thousands of paleotech artifacts recovered from all across the Worlds, made freely available to interested researchers.

Evolutionary Park is Asymptote’s glass-garden dome, receiving additional illumination from solar-spectrum lights built into the dome’s framework. Around the fringes, some areas are given over to specialized farming projects, but the majority of the dome is a vast botanical garden and park, an ecosystem woven together from hundreds of Imperial worlds and accented with the finest products of the Vector’s biosculptors; a calm and peaceful oasis amid the city’s bustle.

The Asymptote Maglev Terminal is attached to the outer edge of Evolutionary Park, this garden dome providing, in the view of the city governance, the best and most relaxing introduction to the planetary capital.

Finally, Apparatus Agora is the last dome, and one dedicated entirely to commercial pursuits. The eastern half of the dome is the Supply district in which virtually any apparatus, component, or other item needed by the Vector’s researchers – in any field – can be purchased. To the west, in Demand, a variety of small bazaars offer the fruits of science and invention for purchase, including access to prototypes and experimental models offered on the condition that the purchaser provide detailed reports on their use in the field.

Other Cities

The Vector, of course, has many other cities, primarily scattered across Innovation and linked by a maglev web. Discovery is lightly populated, principally with localized research habs, with much of the continent held in fallow reserve.

The other cities of Resplendent Exponential Vector are, of course, particularly focused on research. These tend to be intentional communities focused on a particular field or area of research. Some of the best known are these:

Cog, a specialized robotics community, whose entire infrastructure is constructed as a dynamic sculpture of interacting gears;

Fusion Pulse and Gravity Resonance, twin cities for the study of astronomy and astrophysics, and centers for the analysis of data from the Empire’s large-baseline arrays;

Memento, the library city, and home of the planetary branch of the Repository of All Knowledge;

Modular Future, a swarm of self-reconfiguring buildings, home to ongoing studies of emergent behavior, coordination, and complexity disciplines;

Volatile Enterprise, the semi-subterranean center for the study of explosives, nucleonics, and propulsion technologies;

and Ascension Praxis, the birthplace of the Transcend itself, and a continuing center for the development of seed AI and trans-singularity thought.

 

Tangent to the Vector (1/2)

If you’re coming to the Vector, your first stop is going to be Axiom Station, the tip of the beanstalk descending to Asymptote, the Vector’s capital, jack city, and safe harbor. Everywhere else in the system, from the solar corona to the Shards, is full to the gunwales with Science!, and until you know what it is, you don’t want to get any on you. Or vice versa.

But let us digress for a moment and consider the remainder of the system. The hot white sun Enlightenment hosts one belt and ten planets of varying size and nature, of which Resplendent Exponential Vector itself is the eighth from the sun.

Closest in is the Fireforge Belt. An asteroid belt with an unusually high orbital eccentricity (0.4), it is believed to be the remains of a planetesimal from outside the Resplendent Exponential Vector System which passed close enough to Enlightenment not only to be captured by its gravity but destroyed by the ensuing tidal forces. While the high temperatures (approaching 900 K on average, and significantly higher during perihelion) and radiation levels here have discouraged settlement, several research stations exist to monitor Enlightenment and study the unusual alloys and minerals formed in this uniquely harsh environment.

The second planet of the system, Linrachlin, a moon-sized rockball, was given over at the Vector’s foundation to an experiment in artificial life and robotic ecology similar to that of Eurymir, but without that experiment’s limiting constraints. However, in 6432, Linrachlin was withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the Vector Science Triumvirate after the apex species of the Linrachlin ecology achieved sophoncy; it is now recognized as the independent homeworld of the chiril. The chiril, however, fascinated by the scientific endeavor which gave them birth, cooperate with the Vector Authority in many of their projects.

The third through sixth are minor rocky bodies with little atmosphere, which serve as overflow laboratory space for the Vector itself. Most are notable in some small way, from the materials complexes of Márasanc to the societums of Lethintrí. but of these, the best known is the fifth and largest. Kaërndúr houses a deep bore leading to a heavily shielded vault at its core; this Kaërndúr Deepness houses some of the most sophisticated and delicate experiments in low-energy-state physics, quantum coherency, and other fields that require the unlit silence of such a vault to prevent perturbations.

The seventh, Anbárad, another tiny rockball, houses the local branch of the Repository of All Knowledge, and is a major storage facility for scientific data. The communications facilities of Anbárad are without parallel, and receive dedicated transmission priority for synchronization with other Repository branches.

The ninth, Resplendent Repose, is the second major inhabited world of the Resplendent Exponential Vector System. Almost as large as the Vector itself, Resplendent Repose is the ice to the Vector’s fire, a Galiné-like world of glaciers and alkane oceans buried beneath hydrocarbon smog. While some scientific work and carbon mining takes place in its remoter regions, Repose is the restful garden of the system; resort colonies scattered about its black sand beaches provide an escape from the laboratory far from the myriad temptations of the Vector itself.

The tenth, Phólarae, is the system’s sole gas giant. The planet itself serves primarily as a gas-mining resource (operated from the atmosphere-skimming pentuple moonlet of Ithmaen) and gravity anchor for the largest habswarm (or, if you’ll pardon the expression, “labswarm”) in the system; much dangerous research – by the Vector’s local standards – that might escape the laboratory is based in Phólarae’s trailing libration point, to maximize the time available to clear it up. Experimental proposals at various times to stellify Phólarae were variously deemed impractical or shot down on the basis of the need for local gas mining, before being rendered moot by the successful singularity-induced stellification of Xavéral, creating an artificial brown dwarf.

Its moons, however, are another matter, being reserved for grand experiments requiring a planetary scale. Most famous of these is Lyréssleth, a paraecopoesed moon leased in perpetuity to the Mythologae Immanentization Initiative. Beneath its glass-garden roof, neogenic mythic beasts of many kinds frolic in the jungle surrounding the laboratories, from radioactive basilisks and nanotechnological phoenixes to such relatively mundane recreations as the roc – a behemoth bird able to fly and thrive in the dense, oxygen-rich atmosphere and low gravity. Safaris through the wilds of Lyréssleth provide a valuable additional income stream to the Vector Authority, although hunting is strictly forbidden – not least because the majority of the mythologae recreated there would find hunting the hunters a trivial recreation.

The eleventh, Amnás, is a small, icy dwarf planet orbiting in the outermost fringes of the Resplendent Exponential Vector System. While the planet itself is the focus of some water ice and ammonia mining, most nearby activity is related to its moon, Marín, which is sealed off by the Vector Authority, since it serves as the home of the Marín Nanotechnological Proving Grounds. In short, the entire surface of the planetoid is a seething mass of gray, red, and blue goo, occasionally burned off in regions by bombardment from Amnás in order to introduce some new test scenario.

(The Marín picket warns off impinging vessels, but concentrates its effort on eliminating anything that might leave the surface of the moon. Since trespassers that land on Marín, however well protected, are invariably devoured with minutes, it is generally considered that they are more of an object lesson than a security risk.)

 

Trope-a-Day: Creating Life is Awesome

Creating Life is Awesome: …do you really have to ask?

Of course creating life, and sophoncy, and sophont life is awesome! It’s the perfect blend of science, art, unfettered seizing of the power of the gods themselves, and kicking entropy recursively in the wing-nuts by creating an ordered order-creator! What could be awesomer! (…yet.)

Just remember, you’re creating living beings and children, not tools – these aren’t bioroids, for example – and minions. We have, um, certain ethical rules (the Prime Rule of Genesis: “You have the right to be created by a creator acting under what that creator regards as a high purpose.”) and laws about that (see Article XIV, for example) – although, one notes, there remains absolutely nothing unethical about the act of creation itself, as long as one’s motives are sufficiently pure.

(Yes, For Science! qualifies as both a high purpose and a pure motive for these purposes.)

 

Question: Stellar Relocation

Another reader question:

A thought hits me: If the Empire has the power to shepherd stars and (at least theoretically) to destroy them, does that mean that it also might have the capability to move them?

Well, now.

The destroying them (in theory, but it’s a good theory) isn’t so relevant in this context. It is a sad reflection of the nature of the universe that destroying things tends to be pretty easy, at least compared to creating them. That’s entropy for you.

As for moving stars. Well, theoretically, there are several possibilities. For example, you could use the Cirys bubble (a solar-sail-material-based dynamic Dyson sphere, similar to this) technology in use at the Esilmúr energy production facility along with the star-stabilizing plasmonics at use in stellar husbandry arrays to build a functioning Shkadov thruster.

Doing this would require solving several of what I believe technarchs traditionally refer to as “interesting engineering problems”, but it wouldn’t require any radically new scientific breakthroughs to make work. Just time, genius, and an Imperial assload of cash.

(In somewhat more radical ideas – a stargate moves mass around, and stars are, well, mass. Given certain constraints on energy requirements (because stars are a lot of mass) and the need to sink rather vastier amounts of kinetic energy (because stars are a lot of mass) than usual to avoid nasty intrinsic problems – and you’ll note no-one’s stargate-jumping planets around, either – this almost certainly involves solving a great many more interesting engineering problems than the former one. But again, nothing fundamental stops you from doing it, either.)

All of which is to say: moving stars isn’t a realized capability, but while it’s currently restricted to the drawing board and wild speculative fiction, it’s certainly a realizable one. Analogically speaking, should the necessity suddenly turn up (“it’s coming right at us!”), they just have to run the Manhattan Project; they don’t have to discover nuclear fission, first.

 

Trope-a-Day: Scale of Scientific Sins

Scale of Scientific Sins: All of them.  Absolutely all of them.

Automation: Of just about everything, as exemplified by the sheer number of cornucopia machines, AI managers and scurrying utility spiders.  Unlike most of the people who got this one very badly wrong, however, in this Galaxy, almost no-one is stupid or malicious enough to make the automation sophont or volitional.

Potential Applications: Feh.  Anything worth doing is worth doing FOR SCIENCE!  (Also, with respect to 2.2 in particular, Mundane Utility is often at least half of that point.)

GE and Transhumanism: Transsophontism Is Compulsory; those who fall behind, get left behind.  Or so say all we – carefully engineered – impossibly beautiful genius-level nanocyborg demigods.  (Needless to say, Cybernetics Do Not Eat Your Soul.)

Immortality: Possibly cheating, since the basic immortality of the eldrae and galari is innate – well, now it is, anyway – rather than engineered.  Probably played straight with their idealistic crusade to bring the benefits of Avoiding That Stupid Habit You Have Of Dying to the rest of the Galaxy, though.

Creating Life: Digital sapience, neogens (creatures genetically engineered from scratch, rather than modified from an original), and heck, even arguably uplifts, too.

Cheating Death: The routine use of vector stacks and reinstantiation is exactly this.  Previously, cryostasis, and the entire vaults full of generations of frozen people awaiting reinstantiation such that death would bloody well be not proud.  And no, people don’t Come Back Wrong; they come back pretty much exactly the same way they left.

Usurping God: This one is a little debatable, inasmuch as the Eldraeverse does not include supernatural deities in the first place.  On the other hand, if building your own complete pantheon of machine gods out of a seed AI and your own collective consciousness doesn’t count towards this, what the heck does?

Question: Technological Development

Another question to answer:

And finally, how much far advanced Imperial science/technology compared with other Presidium Powers?

Well, now, that’s a complicated question, covering a whole lot of different fields and people and… yeah. I probably can’t give you a full answer, but let’s see what I can say (with the additional caveat that this is the publically-known *there* view).

The Empire, by and large, does lead the edge of advancement for several reasons, including but not limited to (a) being ideologically and personally inclined to push the edge of progress For Science!; (b) being entirely comfortable with buying, imitating, etc., good ideas other people have for their own use, unlike more xenophobic cultures which often seem to reject ideas just because someone else thought of them first; and (c) being very flexible in using new technologies (the economy is laissez-faire, the ethical standards don’t wibble about much beyond informed consent, and so forth)…

…but it’s not nearly as far ahead as it might be, because the Empire’s set-up is diametrically opposed to keeping such things secret. Even if its governance could get away with imposing the sort of controls needed to keep technological secrets out of other people’s hands, which it couldn’t, it knows perfectly well that security by obscurity never works in the long term, that keeping technological secrets reduces the total amount of innovation you have to draw on, and, for that matter, that keeping other people mired in primitivism for your own advantage is, well, remarkably morally ugly.

(In relative terms, that is. An Imperial would point out that by giving up the opportunity to be further ahead in relative terms, they’ve actually made more progress in absolute terms.)

Specifically of the Presidium powers, the Photonic Network trails a short distance behind the Empire, and may actually be ahead in certain areas: the difference often isn’t much, because they have similarly sensible policies and are very good at information-sharing. The others make up a clump a little further back, with the League of Meridian bringing up the rear of that clump because their voters often issue knee-jerk moral-panic bans due to what amounts to squickedness; often they get over it when they see that other people have been able to use such technologies without causing whatever it was that squicked them, but the tendency is enough to notably slow the rate of adoption.

(Such is as expected, really: the Ephemeral Worlds, Rejectionists, and people whose planetary economies can’t support high technologies have other reasons to explain why they can’t make it into the Great Power club.)

Trope-a-Day: Nerds Are Sexy

Nerds Are Sexy: In the Empire, almost universally so.  It’s an emergent consequence, and an entirely predictable one, of certain other cultural characteristics: see, for example, For Science, Serious Business, and Wrench Wench.  Also, thereby, self-perpetuating.

Fic-wise and other-reason-wise, see also Nice Labcoat.