Unforeseen Incentives

TEYARK (IRIS DRIFT) – Protests continued today outside the Teyark Sector Criminal Court (League of Meridian), where the murder trial of Sang dir na Versu eht Reahn, a free trader from Oderahn (Torgu Wilds), part of the Rim Free Zone, is entering its sixth day. na Versu, master of the Cryptographic Barquentine, is alleged to have ordered the spacing of a group of stowaways discovered aboard during passage through the Teyark System’s asteroid belt; forensic examination of the bodies, later recovered by belt miners at a nearby minesite, demonstrated that they could only have been jettisoned from the Barquentine.

Today was dominated by testimony given by a variety of trade organizations with regard to common practices and laws prevalent in the Expansion Regions. Most controversial was the testimony of Ethly min Rathill, representing the Starfall Arc Free Merchant Confraternity, who after delivering a strong condemnation of the acts of na Versu et. al. as repugnant to civilization and a violation of all the codes of merchancy, went on to anger the court and the angry crowd alike by delivering a blazing indictment of League law, which requires starships found to be carrying stowaways to return them to their port of origin at the owner’s expense. This, testified min Rathill, provided an obvious economic incentive for the desperate, ethically challenged, or both, to jettison stowaways before making orbit and delete all reference to them from the running log, and thus while na Versu must be held responsible for his actions, the League government must also be condemned for providing him with the motive.

The court ordered this latter portion of min Rathill’s remarks stricken from the record. min Rathill, meanwhile, was escorted from the court and to the Teyark Starport by the League Gendarmerie, there boarding the CMS Delightful Abeyance for immediate return to Seranth (Imperial Core).


Trope-a-Day: Giving Radio to the Romans

Giving Radio to the Romans: Tends to happen quite a bit, given the lack of any Prime Directive-equivalent and the large number of free traders around who are more than happy to sell anything to anyone who can pay – and that’s not even counting the “fell off the back of a starship, guv, ten bob to you for cash” crowd – and the desires of most people on most worlds for shiny toys.

Some of the real life consequences mentioned are prevented by the Empire’s also having a bunch of private organizations of various kinds, including professional civilization-uplift consultants, who go around helping people not to be total screwups under these sorts of circumstances… but not all of them. But, y’know, free will and all, and it’s not as if they made you invest in technologies granting you the capacity to be total dicks and then use it in that exact manner, belike. That’s on you.


prophylock (n.): Used primarily by free traders, a prophylock is a collapsible docking module used when rendezvousing with untrusted vessels for cargo transfer. Similar to a standard docking module, a prophylock is a cylinder with an IUSI-P or IUSI-F androgynous adapter on each end, one to attach to the host starship and one to dock with the foreign starship.

The prophylock, however, has near its outboard end an armored barrier which prohibits the passage of sophonts, equipped with a secure passage (complete with mechanical interlocks preventing both sides from being opened simultaneously, and sampling systems for testing the contents before opening the inner door) through which the transfers may take place. In the event that both vessels are using prophylocks, the secure passage systems are designed to allow transfers from one to the other without direct integration, but also without requiring anyone to occupy the ‘tween-lock volume.

Rather than the direct data systems connection of a standard IUSI adapter, the prophylock connects the foreign data bus to a limited-functionality terminal, permitting communication and negotiation to take place without information risk.

Finally, the outboard end of the prophylock is equipped, for the case in which a lack of trust should turn out to be justified, with an explosive collar to sever the outboard androgynous adapter, thus reliably breaking the connection between vessels, along with solid-fuel jettison rockets to push the host vessel back immediately upon collar detonation, shortening the time to safe burn clearance as much as possible.

Fly safe. Dock safer.

– A Star Traveller’s Dictionary

(Yes, I was thinking of Out of Gas when I wrote this one…)


2016_G(Alternate words: googolplex, goods, grill.)

The two free traders at the back table in Katry’s Bubble considered each other over untouched drinks. A 70/30 shot slowly warmed to room temperature; a glass of finelle kept its chill, as its fumes ran across the tabletop in a thin haze.

The taller of the two, an eldrae, loosened the fastening of her spacer’s leathers, flicked shaggy, mint-green hair back out of her eyes, and finally spoke.

“Why’d you come to me with this?”

“Because you can do it. You’re the only one on station with a blockade runner. Or with the skill to run the Palnu border. And -” the blue sefir flushed purple “- I hoped I might have earned some credit back by now.”

“Your little gift earned you enough that I didn’t shoot you. Not much more than that.”

“And the offer of a Republic Navy transponder isn’t enough for you?”

“Too much. I know how much that’s worth on the open market. Either it’s not genuine – and my little friend here tells me that you believe it is – or this is another one of your schemes I can smell from five jumps away, slash-trader. No deal. I know you too well.”

“At least consider -”

“I know that one, as well.”

The sefir pushed itself upright, schooled its face to blankness.

“You wouldn’t have come here if there wasn’t a deal you might accept. What is it that you want?”

The eldrae pulled a round flask out of an inner pocket, stared at it a moment, and set it on the table between them. The sefir stared at it, blue readiness-light glimmering above the seal of the Obligators, as if it were a vial of poison. “No,” it said. “You can’t ask for that. Please.”

“I can and I do. I know you, Sev Firn, with your grifts and plots and trail of broken contracts. You can have my help for old times’ sake and that transponder, but your stock with me’s low enough to plow the dirt. So you can drink the geas of our contract, for my surety, or else I walk away.”


Floating Market (3/3)

“Jennis Inurian, captain-owner of the free trader Transfinite Revenue, inhaled deeply as the airlock door rolled back, catching the rich, spicy scent of myriad species and goods crammed into too few hab modules with too little organized air reprocessing. It smelt promising enough.”

Among the floating markets of the Starfall Arc, it’s said that the best traders have “a good nose”. That’s only partially a metaphor; in a crowded habitat, one hearty sniff can give you a good feel for who’s selling there, and what they have for sale. Sweet spices, exotic fruits – and hidden treasures at every stall, delightfully reflected in this soap.

Yes, folks, it’s crossover day here at the Eldraeverse, with my wife and I’s other business, Foam on the Range, making a soap inspired by this piece of fiction! Good for your skin, good for your nose, and good for your Humble Author – how can you turn it down?

The soap: Sweet spices, exotic fruits, a riot of colors – and inside each bar, a different small spheroid of miscellaneous other soap. You never know what you’re going to get.

Click here for more delicious details and to purchase it on Etsy!

(Patreon patrons, you get a special 20% discount on this soap, and indeed any other soap you choose to buy from us! Check the page there for details.)

Floating Market (2/3)

Jennis Inurian, captain-owner of the free trader Transfinite Revenue, went through her traditional pre-disembarkation ritual – checking the telltale lights on her emergency pack and the collar of the skinsuit she wore under her spacer’s leathers, adjusting her trader’s signet to best show the Confraternity seal, and testing the charge on her pocket pistol. (While the Market Peace was an ancient custom, it wasn’t a guarantee.) This done, she glanced over her shoulder at her would-be assistants.

“All right, ‘prentices. You all know the market rules by now. These are my rules. Don’t trade anything on the Revenue’s account, buy or sell, without checking with me first. Don’t even suggest that it might be possible until you check back with me. You can buy and sell on your own account, but for Covalan’s sake, don’t sell anything unless you know exactly what it is and it’s nailed down in the contract. Whatever you buy, I get to review before it comes on board, and if you bought something internal, that means I get to review you before you come back on board. If you want to be careful about it, page me and I’ll take a look at it for you.”

The outer airlock door rolled back, and she inhaled deeply, catching the rich, spicy scent of myriad species and goods crammed into too few hab modules with too little organized air reprocessing. It smelt promising enough. A glance up and around the circumference of this first module showed a decent spread of goods, anyway: synthetic rations, starship parts, new skills for old…

Gold girders, gold ballast, gold trusses, gold frames. That’s cute. Should sell nicely to the barely-out-of-the-well crowd.

…wreckyard pickings, salvaged prototypes, used bodies…

A fourth stable isotope of hydrogen? Yeah, kid, and your wormhole has three ends.

…nanoferns, pleasant memories, protected-planet artifacts…

And the linobir are selling softwar exploits and security consultancy out of the same temp. Subtle as ever, but, hell, doing good business at both ends.

…zombie goo, dark ice, vengeance fish…

“Genuine Primordial Pathogens: Experience infectious disease for the first time, the way your ancestors did!”

…bond salvage, influence lottery, little hats…

Greenjack servitors, of course. Crude learning systems crammed into cheap mass-market bioshells. Delightful. Just the thing if you like a side order of photosynthetic ooze with your helping of incompetent minions.

…war salvage, knock-off geasa, lots of mixed jetsam…

Cháldar-vendors offering a special deal on vengeance. Suitable for serving at any temperature you like, with a choice of mixers. Perhaps not. Or bottled enlightenment? Now that’s just crass.

…exotic pets, energy weapons, cheese…

Is that really a collection of amusingly-shaped asteroids? If I turn my head and squint, it looks like… Moving on.

…unknowable brooches, cleaning roaches, authentic forgeries…

127 bits of tangle, destination unknown? Someone’s getting their brain eaten today. However many “guaranteed efficacious prayers” they buy next door.

…bottled solar plasma, mood-of-the-day drugs, reputation laundry…

“Forbidden Memes”? The kind that thought-police and godgrovellers take a dislike to, or the kind that eat you alive and spit you back out as heggie-swarmchow?

Ah, he’s letting the customers sample the wares. The first kind, then.

…but nothing too out of the ordinary.

“This is a good place for your first taste of the floating trade, gentlesophs. It may seem mundane compared to the stories, but be thorough. Hidden gems are what this business is about. If you need me, page me; I’ll be up-spine, looking through the exotica. Those of you who do well here will be joining me there on future shifts. Now get to it, and deal well!”

Floating Market (1/3)

Sometimes, a Floating Market forms.

No-one knows when or where – they are emergent phenomena. Free traders accumulate oddities in their holds, the detritus of a thousand speculative trades on a thousand worlds – some trash, some too unique or exotic to sell, some which could be either. Slash-traders, smugglers, walkers of the dodgy path, have goods to unload that few legitimate markets will take. Relativists bring goods from the Outback, unheard of in charted space.

When enough fall together, a Market forms. Luggers and trade-ships, prefab modules, inflatable temps, all docked together without a plan. The long-standing Flern market drifted in the deep, tethered loosely to an infalling comet. News of the first few draws in the many in hope of a successful trade, and more come to supply the traders with necessities in turn. Opportunists arrive, hoping for their big score; agents of a hundred organizations come, seeking an advantage; the lost turn up, as they always do. The Market makes its own rules, respecting only the Sacred Deal and the Market Peace, a proplyd of free commerce out in the deep black.

Goods are offered – some comprehensible, most not. Business is done, with or without mutual understanding. Sometimes you walk away with an ancient dreaming Power, its substrate sold as a paperweight; sometimes with containers of rotted vegetation. Sometimes the rotted vegetation sells for millions of exval as an exotic spice; sometimes it calls a public health cautery squad down on your head.

Fortunes are made, and fortunes are lost, before the Market eventually disperses. The same could be said of lives.

So what are you waiting for?

Trope-a-Day: Low Culture, High Tech

Low Culture, High Tech: Happens an awful lot, due to the absence of any Alien Non-Interference Clause, and the common interpretation of general free trade statutes by free traders as “can (and will) sell anything to anybody who wants it”.  If they don’t read the manual (or, in many cases, the encyclopedia) – well, at least what happens subsequently is unambiguously their own damn fault, and they haven’t a leg to stand on if they come back to you in the future to bitch about it, unlike the problems that arise if you try to play regulator to their technological development.

(More sensible low-tech societies go out and hire some professional uplift consultants to avoid this biting them on the ass too hard.)

Trope-a-Day: Intrepid Merchant

Intrepid Merchant: The entire culture associated with free traders in space; in the more advanced parts of the stargate plexus, there are enough crumbs dropped by the big shipping firms for them to get along by picking them up, and in its farther and less developed reaches, mail contracts, small colony work, and that even with the extranet – which still isn’t everywhere – there are enough bandwidth constraints and knowledge gaps to allow for plenty of unknown unknowns and therefore opportunities for speculative trade to be comfortably profitable.

That a ridiculously high percentage of them are also at least part-time smugglers and occasional privateers helps, too.  (Note the existence of the blockade runner and corsair classes in the Standard Sci-Fi Fleet.)

The Shipping Trade (2): Preflight

Kythera System, Lunar Transshipment One, outer docking zone
CMS Greed and Mass-Energy

The bridge of Greed and Mass-Energy was a typical example of Middle Empire Baroque – which is to say, wood paneling over the glassboard walls and be damned to the mass penalty, polished brass fittings, subdued lighting, comfortable and well-padded reclining couches for all – arranged five on each of the room’s opposing floors – surrounded by the various trigraphic displays each officer needed, and an auxiliary tracked-arm running about to serve drink bulbs and other comforts. Like any starship bridge, it was a room in which people went about the serious business of navigating the void between worlds without getting themselves killed in the process, but the designers of the Cheneos-class clearly thought that there was no particular reason why they couldn’t enjoy a few civilized niceties while they were about it.

Captain Athné eeled into the bridge with the ease of long practice, glanced at the data pillar in the center of the room (currently showing the critical path map to launch with all but a few of the topmost nodes glowing a cool ready-blue), and flipped expertly over the back and into his couch, shifting slightly as the gripfabric took hold of his shipsuit and the virtuality-port synched with his internal network.

“How’s the preflight coming, gentlesophs? By departments. Helm and guidance?”

“Guidance systems are on-line and tracking; five beacons, sunlock, starlocks, and inertials have concurrence. Gyros are spun up and RCS coupled. Prospective courses laid in as per flight plan. Flight controls are active for station-keeping and ship is aweigh. Helm and guidance systems are go flight in all respects.”


“Internal timebase is synched to empire time per station, no deviations. Frame differentials are go in inertial mode. Flight recorder is running. Mission Elapsed Time clock is reset and holding. Relativistics systems are go flight in all respects.”

“Eyes and ears?”

“All passive sensors are active and operational. Short-range actives are up and pinging. Shortscan is go and on the glass. We have valid longscan signals, station and three sources, with reciprocation, also on the glass. Comms systems are up and channels are clear; we have ‘weave interlink, listening watch on distress, guard, and hailing, plus open links to station, orbital ops and SysCon. Sensory and communications systems are go flight in all respects.”


Data Ops raised an eyestalk from hsis screens, tentacles twitching. “Yes, yes, Shipboard Information Service is up and running in onboard mode. Cache dump is downloaded. Packet routings and link pointers laid in all the way from here to Wynérias. Data systems are go flight in all respects.”

“Drive, heat, and power?”

“Reactors are up and running at warm idle. Radiators are flowing, ready to extend at clearance. Station docks an’ locks confirms that microwave beam is off; she’s on internal power. Drive mode is primed and ready for thrust at your discretion. Dampers are on and interlocked. And the tanks are fully topped off; we have all the delta-v we need and twenty-three percent over commercial reserve t’boot. Drive, heat, and power systems are go flight in all respects.”


“We have full function active on all internal mechanical systems. External mechanical systems are full function inactive and stowed for maneuver and burn. Mechanical systems are go flight in all respects.”


“Recyclers, conditioners, and distributors show blue, blue, and blue. Atmosphere is nominal. Reserve, aux, and emergency are all fully charged. Meat vats and aeroponics are growing away nicely, and the pantry’s fully stocked. Tonight’s dinner will be a roast leg of non-vat ftark, for a change, thanks to our Mr. mor-Tarvek and his gambling habit. All-in, life-support systems are go flight in all respects. Oh, and” – she took a moment to straighten some unruly black curls – “we think we’ve finally managed to clear the damn sulphogen out of the secondary gray-water ‘cycling loop, so give it a couple of cycles and the brimstone smell in the ‘freshers should go away, and you can all stop reminding me ‘bout it, ‘kay?”


“Container cargo is onboarded and locked down. And I got a good deal on a mixed seven-thou lot of Kytheran biologicals that’s riding in the spec space. Breakbulk is lashed and thrashed; cee-oh-emm-inert is in the computer and transferred to guidance.” He glanced up at the sailing master’s position, beneath him. “We had to run power cables out to some of the breakbulk in reefer pods; they’re rigged and running. Cargo department is go flight in all respects.”

“Docks and locks?”

“All natives are inboard and latched; all foreigners are clear. Airlocks and auxiliary connections show straight-line shut. Docks and locks are go flight in all respects.”

“Very good, all. Let’s get underway. Start the MET clock, and give me station ops.”


In Lieu of In Lieu

Well, I was going to post the second part of The Shipping Trade today, except that writing it didn’t happen because of day job, and so forth. Then, I thought I might post a sketch of the ship involved, just to give y’all an idea of what you’ll be looking at, but then that would require me to go out and hire a scanner. That, and I made said sketch, and then looked at it, and then concluded that I couldn’t possibly inflict such a terrible picture on my readers…

So permit me, please, instead to sketch a verbal picture for you of the

CMS Greed and Mass-Energy

To start with, Greed and Mass-Energy is atypically large for a free trader; in those leagues, which principally deal in small, high-value-to-mass/volume cargoes, lugging around 40,000 tons displacement of cargo is huge. (It’s still not in the major freight line league, though; those guys can use freighters that are million ton-displacement behemoths.) Thus, the shipcorp that owns her (it’s essentially a syndicate of officers, crew, and former crew, with executive power vested in the captain-owner) is pretty prosperous to be able to cover her running costs. Dealing in brokered cargo actually isn’t her main business – she specializes in contracts like the RCS-assembly charter from Kerbol to Kythera she just left, but an empty hold is a hole that drinks money, so you take the cargo when you can get it.

Also, obviously, at a size like that, she’s not streamlined, or built to land planetside (gravity wells being acutely expensive); and is even rather more massy than anything that most stations like to have dock directly to them. Her cargo’s generally ferried to station, or upwell and downwell, by local lighters at each end of the trip. Rather, she’s built very much in the classic mode; a long, relatively thin, open-frame truss structure. Attached to that, going from fore to aft, we find these different sections of the ship:

Right at the bow, sitting on the end of the main truss, is the command capsule, an ellipsoid slightly stretched along the ship’s main axis, relatively tiny compared to the rest of the ship, and containing, for starters, the bridge and associated avionics systems. (The bridge is actually buried in the center of the capsule, for its protection; it’s displaced off to the front end of the ship, however, because the command capsule is also where the primary sensors are housed to keep them out of the way of cargo, fuel, and drive radiation, and this positioning cuts down on sensor lag. It’s still pretty safe; it’s not like anyone’s going to be shooting at them.) The first of the other two notable features it houses is docks and locks, right for’ard on the axis where it’s easiest to match thrust and spin, which usually houses a couple of cutters used for taking the crew ashore and for occasional maintenance, and a skimmer for in-field refueling. (The fuel itself doesn’t pass through here – the skimmer docks aft to offload what it scoops. No fuel for’ard of the support plate, that’s the general rule.) The second, aft by the truss, is the robot hotel for all the little space-rated utility spiders you may see now and them crawling about the structure doing maintenance, thus saving the engineering department any need to get suited up and go outside for routine work, although they still may need to do so from time to time.

Just aft of that, accommodations and secondary systems are housed in a toroidal gravity wheel. This is actually a very unusual design feature in an Imperial ship-class; just about everyone and especially the spacer-clades are genetically adapted to microgravity, and the spacer-clades prefer it, as a rule; but the Cheneos-class architects originally designed her class for near-frontier work, and included this for occasional passenger service. Greed and Mass-Energy only rarely carries passengers, so they keep it geared all the way down, producing only a tenth of a standard gravity, which doesn’t offend the spacer-clades all that much. There’s a second, smaller wheel rotating inside it to null out the gyroscopic effects; it’s used to house some other equipment that likes a little gravity, but for the most part, this one’s just a countermass.

(The wheel does, however, provide enough gravity to let the CELSS Manager run a pretty decent microbrewery in the spare volume, and perhaps more importantly, provides a place where you can drink it off-shift without suffering from a nasty case of the zero-g bloat. [Remember, folks, bubbles don’t rise in microgravity!] And apart from crew morale, having decent beer makes for good PR when traders meet.)

These areas, incidentally, are one of the few places on board where the really high-tech ontotechnological stuff makes an appearance, in the form of inertial damping. The people who built her liked microgravity, and weren’t all that keen on losing that while under thrust, especially since she was built to fly brachistochrones or near-brachistochrones (bulk tankers and ore freighters, etc., are usually built to fly economic minimum-delta/Hohmann transfers; no-one else wants to wait that long for their cargo) and so would be spending most of her time under thrust. The job of the inertial dampers is to apply the thrust of the drives evenly across the entire area’s structure and everything in it, thus ensuring that no-one actually feels any acceleration, and the lovely microgravity environment is preserved. (It also avoids having to come up with some wretchedly complicated gimbal arrangement for the already wretchedly complicated seals-and-bearings for the gravity wheel, no longer having to do which is something that made architects particularly grateful for this innovation.)

Behind this, the cargo. ‘Way back along the truss there is a very large, solid plate, the support plate. The cargo containers are simply stacked “atop” – by which we mean for’ard – of it, in six big blocks arranged around the axis with sixfold symmetry (this arrangement being a reasonable compromise between use-of-volume and convenient straight lines), and are designed to lock to the plate, the truss, and each other to form a solid interlocked structure. There’s no hold or other walls around the cargo; the containers are themselves spacetight when they need to be, and so lighters can just drop them into place and pick them up freely while in port.

The breakbulk cargo, on the other hand, is messy. It has to be podded up individually when not spacetight, and then individually lashed down and made secure atop the cargo container stacks. This annoys the cargomaster, which is why breakbulk is unpopular these days despite the fact that breakbulk shippers usually pay a premium in exchange for you having to do this (the “lash comp”). Actually, what really annoys the cargomaster is that she can punch a button and have the ship automatically query the v-tags on the container cargo for its mass stats, and so forth, whereas for breakbulk she’s got to recall her Academy training, dig out the spreadsheets, and work out the corrections to the center-of-mass-and-moment-of-inertia chart by hand. Well, still by computer, but you know what I mean.

Aft of the support plate, still in sixfold symmetry, you have the bunkerage – fuel tanks, stacked three deep in multiple rows, all filled with slush deuterium, running right to the stern, where they surround the cylindrical shroud of the mostly-unpressurized engineering hull (you can take a crawlway right back along the truss to the small, pressurized maneuvering room back this far, should you need to examine the drives close-up in flight, but the actual machinery space isn’t), which contains the interlinked systems of the main power reactors and the fusion torches themselves, strapped to the aftmost extent of the main truss.

And there are lots of fuel tanks. Even though said fusion torches are miracles of a mature nuclear technology, capable of achieving near-theoretical efficiencies and outputs and delta-v per unit fuel that routinely makes naval architects from less advanced civilizations throw down their slide rules in despair and weep into their terrible coffee-equivalents, the one unchangeable rule of space travel is that your mass ratio is always much, much less favorable than you might want it to be.

Good thing deuterium’s so cheap, isn’t it?

(Edited to add: And I must have been half-asleep this morning, because I forgot…)

…and most prominently of all from a distance – dominating the entire view of the ship from a distance, by area as well as by temperature – sweeping out from among the fuel tanks (although comfortably retracted to sit alongside them, leaving approximately a sixth of their radiative area useful, while idling in dock – the vast panels and pipework of the heat radiators. Because the other one unchangeable rule of space travel is that you always have waste heat, too damn much waste heat, and you’ve got to get rid of it somehow. Especially once you fire up those fusion torches. (The radiators, however, unlike the rest of the ship, have only fourfold symmetry – so that they can be perpendicular to each other when unfolded, because there’s very little point in radiating heat right back at your own radiators.)


The Shipping Trade (1)

Kythera System, Lunar Transshipment One, Docking Ring Gilek, Third Quadrant, Afterquay Level
Offices of Hyneral, Myninine and mor-Vertak, Bonded Cargo Brokers

“Good shift, brokers. Athné Calaris-ith-Calandia…”

“…master of Greed and Mass-Energy! Cheneos-class free trader, I seem to recall. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you in-system, Captain. Good trading?”

“Still flying.”

“So, what brings you to us – anything to offload this trip?”

“No, not this time. We just came off a charter – unloading thirty and a half of reaction-control assemblies out of Kerbol System. Hold’s empty, lookin’ to fill it.”

“Got commitments, or free-course?”

“Thinking of heading out spinward, but no contracts as yet. And I’d like to keep ten free for spec. Apart from that, we’ll go where the cash points.”

“Spinward, huh?” The broker rattled his terminal’s keys. “Quiet out there this week. I can fill your mail locker, and give you… twenty of laser pigs, containerized, delivered ex-ship High Transit Station, Wynérias System, pays out at market local.” He steepled his fingers, thinking. “Now, if you’ll yield back some of that ten, I can throw in 12,750 of assorted breakbulk for Wynérias and points on a spinward routing from there, pays three points over market local for lash comp.”

“Any liquids in that?”

“None on manifest. You’ve got one-twenty drums on-board from here to Losen Actual highport, but they’re listed as ‘powder, ceramet, special formula’ – yard consignment. Will you take it? It’s cutting out warehouse space, and I’ll owe you a favor for the inconvenience.”

The captain hesitated only slightly.

“Sure. Deal. We’ll be done unloading and cleared to metal by top of the second.”

“I’ll have the cargo and my longshorebots lockside by third of the second. Want to grab some lunch while the contracts clear down?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Putting the Tramp in Trader

“It’s a steel box.”

“It’s a fully functional – well, mostly functional, but all primary systems are functional – Hariven-class free trader.  Just what you want when you’re starting out in this business.”

“It’s a steel box with a plasma torch welded on the back.”

“And a generous cargo capacity for its displacement, regenerative life support, ah – adequate crew quarters and food vats, and docking room for a single surface-orbit shuttle.”

“And it’s –”

“– a steel box, yes.  If you wanted to pay for stylish, would you be shopping for starships in a wreckyard?”

“Show me the contract again.”

– overheard in Kathar orbit, Cilmínár system

Speculativism Index

The Speculativism Index, under any of its names, is a crude clionomic hack used by free traders, weirdseekers, adventurers, and various other professions which necessarily interact with the starbound and minority civilizations of the known Galaxy in a more amateurish way than the Grand Survey or the Exploratory Service.

The Speculativism Index is calculated thus: Examining as large a sample as you feel necessary of the civilization’s media stores and libraries, across formats, and avoiding specialty locations, compute the volume of data devoted to various types of speculative fiction and the volume of data devoted to other, non-speculative fiction; then obtain the ratio between them.  This ratio, expressed as the percentage of the former, is the Speculativism Index.

(A large part of the difficulty involved in this is the problem of recognizing what constitutes speculative fiction in an exotic cultural context.  The Speculativism Index of the d!grith, for example, was historically underestimated due to the failure to recognize their popular “speculative accountancy” genre, while more severe problems attended properly interpreting, and therefore classifying, the multibranched “quantum fictions” of the star-dwelling seb!nt!at.  When these were corrected for, the recalculated d!grith Speculativism Index matches their observed performance; the unusually alien psychology of the seb!nt!at remains something of a special case.)

The Index is principally used, by its inventors, as a sales/interaction valuation tool.  As one free trader explained the associated rule of thumb: “Anything under ten, just leave – they’re never going to make it off their world on their own, and they’re not going to thank you for forcibly introducing them to so many things outside their context.  Between ten and thirty, a little backward, so probably more effort than most of us want to deal with, but with work, can shape up into a solid customer.  Thirty to sixty, that’s the respectable Galactic mainstream.  Over sixty… then you’ve got a whole different class of problems.  Then you’re fighting off their enthusiasm.

It has generally been thought in the past that the Speculativism Index was too rough-and-ready a measure to be of use for clionomic purposes.  Recent studies have established, however, that there is a strong correlation between generally accepted estimates of the Speculativism Index of various well-known civilizations and the degree to which they prosper in the meta-society of the Associated Worlds according to various well-known scales (the Integration Coefficient, the Polity Prosperity Index, and the Progress and Innovation Index), and that the Speculativism Index also correlates with the results of the accepted clionomic coefficients of neophilia, xenophilia, and internal cognitive freedom.

Colleagues, I commend this area to your attention.

– Journal of Cliodynamics, Vol. LXXVI