The Sapphire Coloratura: Revealed!

Inspired by a passing comment on the Eldraeverse Discord, we now present a galari starship, the Sapphire Coloratura-class polis yacht; the favored interplanetary and interstellar transport of all sophont rocks of wealth and taste.

SAPPHIRE COLORATURA-CLASS POLIS YACHT

Operated by: Galari groups requiring luxurious private transit.
Type: Executive polis yacht.
Construction: Barycenter Yards, Galáré System

Length: 96 m (not including spinnaker)
Beam: 12 m (not including radiators)

Gravity-well capable: No.
Atmosphere-capable: No.

Personnel: None required (craft is self-sophont). Can carry an effectively arbitrary number of infomorph passengers.

Main Drive: Custom “dangle drive”; inertially-confined fusion pellets are detonated behind a leading spinnaker, the resulting thrust being transferred to the starship via a tether.
Maneuvering Drive: High-thrust ACS powered by direct venting of fusion plasma from power reactors; auxiliary cold-gas thrusters.
Propellant: Deuterium/helium-3 blend (pelletized aboard for main drive).
Cruising (sustainable) thrust: 7.2 standard gravities
Peak (unsustainable) thrust: 7.5 standard gravities
Maximum velocity: 0.12 c (based on particle shielding)

Drones:

4 x galari body-crystals; since the galari are ergovores, any galari passenger or AI system may use these for EVA purposes.

Sensors:

1 x standard navigational sensor suite, Barycenter Yards
1 x lidar grid and high-sensitivity communications laser grid, Barycenter Yards

Weapons:

Laser point-defense grid.

Other Systems:

  • Cilmínár Spaceworks navigational kinetic barrier system
  • 4 x Bright Shadow secondary flight control systems
  • Kaloré Gravity Products type 1MP vector-control core
  • Systemic Integrated Technologies flux-pinned superthermal radiator system

Small craft:

5 x minipoleis (no independent drive systems; local accumulators only)

DESIGN

The Sapphire Coloratura was intended to be a shining jewel in the crown of galari starship design, so it is perhaps fitting that it indeed resembles a shining jewel, the translucent crystal of its main body throwing sparkles of rainbow light everywhere when it chooses to fly close to stars, or when it is illuminated by the fiery blasts of its main drive.

The main body of the ship is similar to, in many ways, the galari themselves; a sixteen-faceted crystal, with eight long facets facing forward to the bow tip, and short, blunter facets facing aft towards the mechanical section, a gleaming metal cylinder with a rounded-off end taking up the remaining two-thirds of the starship’s length.

To proceed from fore to aft, the bow tip of the ship is capped with metal, housing the core mechanisms of the dangle drive; the sail deployment system, tether terminus, pellet launcher, and ignition lasers.

From our Earth perspective, this drive is very similar to the Medusa-type Orion; thrust is delivered to the starship via a 216 m diameter spinnaker “sail” on a tether ahead of the craft. Rather than dedicated pulse units, the drive projects pelletized D-3He charges ahead of the craft to the focal point of the spinnaker, where inertially-confined fusion is initiated by the ignition lasers, reflected to surround the pellet by the inner surface of the spinnaker. The resulting nuclear-pulse detonation accelerates the craft, smoothed out by the stroke cycle of the tether (see above link).

The main crystal body of the craft is essentially a solid-state piece – save for cooling labyrinths and the axial passage required by the drive – of galari thought-crystal: a substrate which holds the ship’s own intelligence, those of all passengers and any crew needed, along with whatever virtual realms, simulation spaces, or other computational matrices they may require. As such, there is little that can be described by way of an internal layout; most polis-yachts are unique in this respect.

The “waist” – broadest point – of the body is girdled by a machinery ring, containing within it the four fusion power reactors (multiple small reactors were preferred for extra redundancy by the designer) with the associated ACS, and at points between them, the backup flight control systems, navigational sensor suite, and other small auxiliary machinery.

At the aftmost point of the main body, where the blunter end of the crystal joins the mechanical section, eight crystal spikes project, symmetrically, from the point of junction. These are left hollow by the manufacturer and equipped with tip airlocks to provide a small amount of volume for cargo space and aftermarket customization; if non-ergovore passengers are expected, two of these are typically converted into quarters and life-support. A central chamber where the spikes meet serves as a body and robot hotel.

Entering the mechanical section, an accessible chamber at the forward end of the cylinder provides accommodation for the vector-control core and larger auxiliary machinery, including the thermal control system. The remainder of the section is entirely made up of bunkerage for the reactors and main drive.

The galari have never, it should be noted, shied away from making maximal use of vector control technology. This is particularly notable in the Sapphire Coloratura‘s design in two areas:

First, its radiators, which cloak the center of the mechanical section with a divided cylinder of gridwork, individual carbon-foam emitting elements held together and in place away from the hull by vector-magnetic couples, linked back to the ship itself only by the ribbons of thermal superconductor transmitting waste heat to them; and

Second, by the minipoleis that the Coloratura uses as small craft. Resembling nothing so much as miniature duplicates of the starship’s main body, these auxiliary blocks of thought-crystal are held in place orbiting the main body of the ship – often in complex patterns, even under full acceleration – connected only by vector-magnetic couples and whisker-laser communication.

That is pure ostentation.

 

Trope-a-Day: Gem Heart

Gem Heart: Truth in television where silicon-based or carbosilicate lifeforms are concerned, although while some make use of gem-like structures (say, the galari, who even look like cut gems due to their crystalline structure) one is equally, or even more likely, to find Rock Heart. Or plain old crystalplasm.

Otherwise, mostly seen as things like the trope-page-mentioned gizzard stones.

Trope-a-Day: Bizarre Alien Locomotion

Bizarre Alien Locomotion: In many variants on the standard walking, flying, and swimming, certainly. Eliéra’s bluelife includes its tubefish, for example, which move via peristaltic pumping of water, not swimming as we know it.

Among sophont races, the chfssssc swim through solid rock thanks to what one might call an active metabolism, the ciamél turn into vapor in order to move, the codramaju ooze along on pseudopodia, the d!grith brachiate along artificial vines, the esseli use whatever locomotive organs they happen to have today, the galari have built in maglev functionality, the kaliatar can coil themselves up and roll like a mythological hoopsnake, the seb!nt!at may well be there already, the vlcefc are webs carried by their motile castes, and that’s just scratching the surface…

Trope-a-Day: The Unpronounceable

(Sorry for the delays in the next part of Darkness Within, folks – having some trouble getting it to gel in my head.)

The Unpronounceable: Quite a few, due to all those species that don’t use spoken language the way we understand it: as mentioned previously, esseli names are DNS strands, myneni names are made of sounds only a synthesizer could love, galari names are modulated EM radiation, and then there are the sonar pings, electrical waveforms, patterns of bioluminescence, complex aromatic chemicals, neural-gestalt-expressed qualia which are very, very hard to parse for anyone of different brain design, etc.  All of that is before you get to the really simple problems like different larynx designs.

It is somewhat averted due to the Eldraeic language being designed as a lingua franca, and thus possessing multiple different phonologies for its alphabet, including several designed for different ways of speaking, including sonar, bioluminescence, EM codes and DNA encoding, so in theory it should be possible to transliterate names encoded in those ways into something pronounceable and adequately unique, even if it doesn’t resemble the original all that much to the ear or other organ.

In practice, not so much, or not without your speech organ hurting, or not in a manner that’s agreeable to the person named.  But you can try, at least.

Appearances Matter

Gabriel Fonseca asks if there’s anywhere that contains detailed physical descriptions of the various species of the Eldraeverse. Well, sadly, there isn’t right now, but for your visualizing pleasure, here’s some descriptions of most of the ones I’ve mentioned recently, anyway:

Ciseflish

In their home environment, the ciseflish superficially resemble the Terran mole in shape (approximately), specifically the star-nosed mole; that said, they’re six-limbed amphibians, who switch between hexapedal and bipedal locomotion at will (the former for speed, the latter for sociability), with breathing vents/gills (they work either way) located at the base of the throat, large sensitive eyes to handle low light levels, auditory tympana rather than ears, and tentacle-like chemosensory “nasal” protrusions that also serve as tasting organs. They’re about 4′ tall, and covered in short, downy fur, ranging in color from pale cream to dark, earthy brown. Oh, and they’re trisexual; the dominant ‘matriarch’ sex is somewhat larger than the other two.

But none of this is visible for the majority of people who meet them elsewhere, because the ciseflish are from Ólish (High Verge), a cold world with more in common with our outer-system moons than with Earth. They’re amphibians in oceans of liquid propane and other hydrocarbons, breathe a thick, cold, high-pressure atmosphere that’s heavy in ammonia – and as such that fur has a lot more in common with hydrocarbon polymer plastics than keratin – find free oxygen acutely toxic, oxygen-breather temperatures furnace-like, and as such are generally only seen off Ólish or their colonies through heavy, pressurized, refrigerated environment suits.

Despite the inconvenience, though, there’re quite a lot of them offworld, because they really, really love money and trade.

Codramaju

The codramaju are weird as hell.

The closest thing we have for comparison is the slime mold. Only a codramaju is a 6′ long (typical adult not multitasking right now), bright ocher, motile slime mold with various pseudopodia and temporary organelles attached. And the best part is, that’s not even the weirdest thing about them: that would be that personal identity is extremely fluid among the codramaju, who happily divide and recombine (including with bits of other codramaju), changing identity along the way. They can form temporary group minds by joining together, which they use for high-grade computation. That’s also how codramaju reproduction works; the combining of lots of bits contributed by many codramaju. And their speech is entirely chemical – either by direct merging close up, or by releasing spores at a distance (hope you bought that option for your translator).

They make a great example of exactly how little “warm-‘blooded’ oxygen-breather” means in practice, in terms of commonality.

D!grith

The d!grith, by contrast, are relatively conventional warm-blooded oxygen-breathers: they look something like small tailless apes with canine muzzles and cat ears, with all four arms having essentially identical “hands”. Dark-skinned, they have fur in winter or perpetually cold environments, but not the rest of the time. Natural brachiators, they found the microgravity environment quite congenial, which contributed to their painless interstellar expansion and large merchant marine.

Dar-bandal

Uplifted bandal, which is to say dogs. Bearing in mind that the bandal is already larger (due to some dire wolf ancestry as well as regular canis lupus) and higher-foreheaded (due to consistent breeding for smart) than the Earth dog, their uplifted cousins are even more so: imagine a human-sized Aussie, and you’re in the ballpark. Their forepaws are modified for greater manipulatory ability, but unlike, say, Traveller’s Vargr, they’re still quadrupeds. The uplift engineers at Family of Species, ICC, have no interest in turning every species they get their hands on into imitation monkeys.

(Not that they’d put it that way, since there aren’t actually any members of the ecology Terrageneae, order Primates anywhere in the Associated Worlds, with one heavily-engineered exception, but it comes to the same thing.)

Dar-célmek

The dar-célmek are uplifted rats, descended at a few removes from the local cousins of the brown rat (rattus norvegicus) – or, to be more precise, they’re rat kings, because rats are already remarkably smart for their size, and while they were able to engineer them to be partially-uplifted smart rats, there just wasn’t enough mass/volume available to push them all the way to sophoncy.

Not to be thwarted, then, the uplift engineers cyborged them using nanocyte technology (i.e., grows naturally, and is hereditary); a dar-célmek is a gestalt sophont composed of one mind spread across 12 to 48 rats. The individual members look like thin rats with opposable thumbs on their paws, metallic threads running along their tails (the antenna for their wireless gestalt link), and infrared lenses next to their eyes. They can’t speak naturally, but can communicate over the network, and in any case, most of them have a few members wearing a modified ring imager as a collar of sorts to let them project sound and image when they need to.

Eldrae

The eldrae, being that aforementioned heavily-engineered exception (and that’s the baseline species, I mean, not counting any of the engineering they’ve done to themselves since), are hominins. Or to put it the other way around, humans to such extent as they are known (from a few very old fragmented fossils recovered from Precursor uplift facility waste dumps) are Pseudoeldrae archaea on their taxonomic charts.

Granted, they’re hominins engineered to the point where they use amino acids we don’t and bleed indigo, but the gross physical morphology is close. They’re just very tall (6′ 8″ to 7′ 8″ average, both sexes), thin (160-240 lbs., with narrow hips, long limbs, and long fingers and toes), pale (copper to pale blue due to an immune system that basically obviates eumelanin), with pointy ears, angular facial features, a selection of psychological differences, and, oh yes, a remarkable tendency not to age and die.

Of course, the big problem for us is that they’ve been optimizing themselves for literally millennia at this point, so from a human point of view, its only those eldritch differences that stand between us and being punched hard in the superstimulus. Which would be problematic.

Esseli

No-one remembers what natural esseli used to look like, or at least if the esseli genetic memory still has it stored somewhere, no-one’s talking.

What they look like now, on the other hand…

Well, nominally, they look like big fleshy blobs with eyes and tentacles, which is the brain, a protective wrapping around the brain, and its sensors/manipulators. But, you see, they got that way by being master biotechnologists, and over the course of centuries have both stripped their physical form down to a minimum, and also then built it back up again by inventing whole suites of modular plug-in organs and symbiotic bodies they can put on and take off like other people change their pants. An esseli can look like anything, depending on what it’s doing at the time and how its personal taste runs – even more so than the people who have to rely on mere mindcasting to swap bodies.

The esseli are also notable in that the form of genetic storage and the form of memetic storage they use are identical: it’s all DNA. Thus, while esseli are entirely capable of conventional speech (in any number of modes, depending on which organs they have installed right now), when they want to convey lots of information, they just pass appropriate plasmids around.

In the esseli educational system, you literally drink knowledge.

Galari

It came as something as a surprise to (exo-)biologists that the first species they met was about as silicon-based as it could be, being a race of living crystals.

It turns out, of course, that that’s not exactly true. They’re carbon-silicon hybrids: the galari crystals live in symbiosis with wet carbon-based pseudonanoviruses which reshape the crystals. Over time, this mutually evolved to the point where the crystals, with their silicon-based intelligence, directed the viruses and the viruses reshaped the crystals.

So, the actual sophont galari are, at least the ones who travel, rounded roughly-tetrahedral crystal spindles, somewhere between 2′ and 6′ along their long axis, and come in a variety of gem-like colors; looking carefully at them, one can often see faint pulses of light as a byproduct of their cognitive processes. They don’t require much in the way of nutrition for material replenishment, as a rule; rather, they’re ergovores, soaking up and storing charge derived from the light of their homeworld’s hot, bright sun, or from a convenient broad-spectrum EM lamp. They communicate using bioradio.

In their natural state, they were sessile, leading to their immensely patient, philosophical, contemplative culture. The technological galari, however, invented vector control-based “effector belts”, enabling the smaller members of the species to move around and participate in galactic culture.

Kaeth

The kaeth are draconiform, or pseudosaurian if you prefer, 6-7′ tall bipeds. You could think of them as looking something like 4th ed. AD&D’s dragonborn, except the back is more humped, the eyes more widely set, and the legs digitigrade. Kaeth blood gleams like mercury, and their skin, or rather scale, tones are dietary-dependent variants on a dark gray-silver, both of which have to do with just how rich Paltraeth (their homeworld) is in various heavy metals, which their biology makes good use of – kaeth bones are strong as girders, and kaeth skin is basically naturally-grown double-lapped composite scale mail. (A typical kaeth masses something upwards of 400 lbs.) On top of all of that, kaeth evolution has provided them with natural weapons in the form of fang and claw, redundant, highly distributed organ systems, fast healing, and strong immunities, which should tell you something about just what a happy fun place Paltraeth was to evolve.

At least before the asteroid strike.

Kalatri

See previous post.

Lanect

The lanect are a warm-blooded, fleshy (i.e., so not classically insectoid) race whose bodies are nonetheless contained within a bony (not chitinous) segmented exoskeleton; they’re bilaterally symmetrical bipeds with four manipulating arms, with four-clawed hands, and recessed multifaceted eyes. The exoskeleton of worker-caste lanect is smooth, scars aside; those who claim the status of a Warmark in lanect society carve designs into their skull to signify this.

Of course, that’s the baseline lanect – given the vicious meritocracy that comprises lanect society, they do not hesitate to apply genetic, surgical, and (especially) cybernetic modifications to themselves using any technology they can buy or steal in the interest of greater personal success.

Linobir

Imagine a bear.

Now imagine it hexapedal, hermaphroditic, furless – with grayish, leathery skin – and bulging with the kind of muscles befitting a species that evolved on a planet with three times Earth’s gravity.

Now imagine it being possessed of a baseline temperament that makes an actual grizzly bear seem the sweetest, politest, calmest, most peaceful person you know.

That’s a linobir.

(There’s a reason their racial stereotype is “brute squad”. This hurtful stereotyping is often protested, exclusively by people who’ve never actually met one.)

Mezuar

The mezuar are purplish-blue trees, wood and leaf, and entirely sessile. Specifically, an individual mezuar is a grove of said trees, due to the requirements of sophoncy on a relatively low-energy plant metabolism (their roots grow together and intermesh their “nervous systems”). They thrive very well on their homeworld, the mezuar forests having successfully domesticated virtually the entire animal ecology of the planet to attend to their requirements.

Myneni

The myneni are a blob of nanomachines in a bag.

Well, yes, so is just about everything living. Unlike most species, however, the myneni are a blob of undifferentiated, general purpose nanomachines inside their integument, with no dedicated organs (if they need some sort of specialized organ or sensor, they whip one up on demand and dissolve it when they’re done). Not having any skeleton, their natural shape is a spheroidal blob with a slightly flattened base, but they can manipulate their internal plasm to take on any variant shape from a puddle to a tree, and generate limbs at will. They come in a wide variety of colors, but these don’t appear to have any particular significance, biological or cultural.

Nsang

The nsang are bullet-bodied and headless (their “eyes”, actually light-sensitive skin cells, cover all sides of their upper body), trilaterally symmetrical with long, folding arms and legs, the former tipped with three-fingered hands. A beak-like mouth is to be found between each arm-leg pair.

…this actually makes them pretty average by warm-blooded oxygen-breather standards.

Seforn

The seforn are quadrupeds, with gleaming, jewel-like skin (contains no actual jewels, much to the disappointment of people who have obtained seforn moltings), who possess a mouth and trinocular eyes in a partially-merged head at one body terminus, while.respiring through slit-like openings along the sides of their body. A ridge crest runs down the seforn back, thought to be an evolutionary leftover originally intended for thermoregulation. Monosexual and parthenogenic, they depend on an in-built process of gene-shuffling to produce genetic variation.

Even the poorest seforn will always be well-dressed. Denying a seforn access to the seforn equivalent of a quality business suit invariably causes them intense psychological distress, much to the puzzlement of sophontologists everywhere.

Skrandar

Well, no-one’s exactly sure quite what the skrandar looked like, since they weren’t exactly communicative even before they blew up their sun, and there wasn’t a whole lot of evidence left afterwards. From what there is, it is generally believed that they looked something like a cross between an alligator and a migraine.

Trope-a-Day: Proud Scholar Race Guy

Proud Scholar Race Guy: The eldrae might well wear this hat among the Imperials – after all, they do love knowledge – had they not run into the galari, who, in the closest thing to a hat that I intend to appear, are entirely qualified as Proud Scholar Race… ah, Crystals.  Subverted a little inasmuch as they aren’t the typical strict enlightened pacifists, but just rather more inclined to abstraction and academic debate over action than was strictly good for them.  (One reason why they eventually joined up with Imperial society “for the dynamism” was that the creole society that had grown up around the misdirected colony expedition that found Galáré was proving both energetic and appealing… and would save arguing the issue for another century or two.)  Once again, same disclaimer: lots of non-scholars around to make society complete.

Other examples might include the esseli, who play it straight with regard to their biological tinkering, if nothing else, and the mezuar, who being sessile get to spend a lot of time thinking…

Trope-a-Day: Long Game

Long Game: Happens quite a lot; of course, since many people (eldrae, galari, immortagen-takers, most postsophonts, AIs, etc.) live for very, very long times.  Of course, it’s not so much a Long Game from their point of view, except for the immortagen-users; just a question of having a different natural planning time horizon.

This may be a major enabler of space development, megastructure engineering, and other things requiring non-mayfly-like thinking.

Trope-a-Day: Five Races

Five Races: Not terribly true for the Eldraeverse; for one thing, there’s a lot more than five species out there.  A lot more.  But let’s look at some archetypes, here:

Stout (Dwarf): One of the few that does have an obvious candidate, the pseudosaurian kaeth, whose physical strength and resilience, militaristic philosophies, and rather, um, kinesthetic way of life fit the bill to a T.  (The deeply spiritual and artistic aspects of their culture don’t, so much, but never mind those.)  They also wear the Proud Warrior Race hat, or one of them – it’s not like there’s a galactic shortage of Proud Warrior Races, after all.

Fairy (The Fair Folk): The most likely candidates for this hat are the various elder races (i.e., the Precursors that are still, to some degree, around), which by and large are alien and incomprehensible and to be kept out of the way of at all times.

It could also be argued that the Imperials wear this hat, but honestly, I think they’re more High Men.  But if not, the galari (ancient – even by the standards of the Empire – and immortal sophont rocks) are actually a much better fit than the eldrae in terms of being ancient, wise and benevolent, and – as Imperials – Sufficiently Advanced by many standards.

Mundane (Human): Everyone wears this hat, or, at least, something within delta of everyone. After all, even if it doesn’t look that way from the news, or the plots, the majority of species within the Associated Worlds are, by and large, regular folks just trying to get along, earn a living, make a little difference and have a little fun.  The ones actively engaging in war (or other, ahem, dynamic ideological praxis), galactopolitics, galaxy-spanning plots and schemes, uplifting programs, radical transsophontism, even madder science, personal apotheosis, computational theogeny, or applied theological engineering are the distinct minority, even if they do get more press.

High Men (Taller Elf or Human): This is where I would put the eldrae on the grounds of (a) transsophontism, and (b) literary inevitability.

Cute: Possible candidates here include the myneni – silicate-based shapechanging blobs, who can invent new organs on the fly, directly interface with computers, and construct all manner of useful things with their own secretions.

The esseli, who despite an extensive history of bioengineering themselves to the point that no-one, even themselves, actually remembers what they originally looked like (they’re currently brain-filled fleshy ovoids with short manipulating tentacles – for the most part) nonetheless manage to appear as cute.  Treating them as just cute would be a really bad idea, given that they’re an entire species of mad biologists, who are even as you speak contemplating how to better engineer your organs, but hey, it’s a mistake you’re only likely to make once.

And the dar-bandal, who are canine uplifts, who inherit this just because we’re prone to think of the furry as the cute, right?  Some people find out the hard way that condescending to someone descended from wolves by way of bred-for-brains dog-pluses is a good way to get said condescension bitten right off.  The rest have found one who’s more than willing to give you a big goofy grin and the winsome puppy eyes while taking you for everything you’ve got. Truly, their social-fu is strong.

At Least It’s Not A Bar?

“Five scientist-explorers were exploring an abandoned outpost in the Expansion Regions one day when they came across a freshly-excavated artifact, still humming with power and covered in unknown controls.

“The first, a galari, said ‘We should transport this back to our laboratory, so that we can investigate it properly, and spread the word of our discoveries.  Think of what we could learn from it!’

“The second, a kalatri, said ‘Take it to our laboratory, yes, but we must keep this quiet.  It could be dangerous, or disruptive, or corrupting.  It is best that people do not know of it until we can be sure they will not be harmed, and use it well.’

“The third, a codramaju, said ‘We should keep it quiet, but so that we can master it before others know of it.  We could build a hundred new technologies with what we learn, and be wealthy beyond our dreams.’

“The fourth, a linobir, said ‘We should master it for its power.  The elder races built machines powerful beyond imagining.  If this is one of these, the galaxy would be ours for the taking.’

“But the fifth, an eldrae, said nothing – for with the press of a keyswitch, both he and the artifact had vanished away.”

– anonymously-posted extranet joke

First First Contact (4)

CS Extropy Rising, entering Galáré system.
Core, Command Bridge

Two hours later, Svínif looked around the conference table, and wished his old headache back.

“Preliminary reports. Let’s see what we have. Comms?”

“EM emissions from our target world, just as the exception said, all over from log-8 to log-10. Nothing even resembling a standard format, so I’d say they haven’t invented a stardrive while we’ve been in transit, but apart from that…”

“No chance it’s a natural phenomenon?”

“No chance at all. Definitely non-random, and the information entropy’s too high. It’s got to be sapient transmissions. My filters can’t find anything that looks like recognizable audio or video modulation – most likely data, and of a high order.”

“Sensory?”

“Nothing new, yet. We should be getting some good images back from the orbital probes in the next couple of hours, though.” She hesitated. “I canceled the launch program for the ground probes. I thought it might look hostile, dropping them planetside without asking.”

“Good thinking.” Svínif looked around the table again, mentally tallying the officers. “As nothing else has been flagged up as urgent, let’s hold the routine stuff for now.“ His head hurt abominably.

“Well, gentlesophs, this is quite the situation we’re in. If they’re as smart as their comms suggest they are, they’ll have spotted us by now, and have a fair idea what we are. And unless any of you know the universal signal for ’Excuse me, soph, could you spare a megaton of deuterium?’, it’s not like we can turn the ship around and go home.”

“If we stopped the entry burn right now,” the Flight Director confirmed, “We’d have enough Δv to swing around the sun onto a return vector. No fuel for a burn, though. Our frozen hulk would make it home in, oh, 3,500 years or so.”

“So, let’s hope the locals are friendly and don’t take our turning up with a shipload of frozen colonists too badly. Dig out the first contact set, Comms, and — wait, none of that traffic was directed at us yet?”

“Not that I can tell. Maybe they’re waiting for us to make the first move.”

“Well, send them the first sequence-set on the hydrogen line, broad-angle, and we’ll see what we get back. Until then… by the book, gentlesophs, by the book. Assume we’ll be making orbit as planned unless we hear otherwise somehow. If nothing mishcrit comes up, send your status reports to my terminal. Thank you, all.”

As they dispersed to their consoles, he rested his head for a moment on the cool vitrine tabletop.  Well, you’re in the history books now. Just – let it not be for starting the first interstellar war.

To Boldly Go

“INASMUCH as the proven success of the Thirteen Colonies and their foundation by means of lighthugger colony ships has demonstrated the viability of such starships for interstellar voyaging;

“And inasmuch as the reconnection of the Thirteen Colonies to the metropolitan Empire and our Reunification has demonstrated the potential of the stargates to permit fast travel and communication between established worlds;

“And inasmuch as the trusty and profitable relationship between the eldrae of the colony of Galáré and the galari whose homeworld Galáré is has demonstrated the great value of relations, formal and informal, with the other sophont species of our galaxy;

“And inasmuch as Our scientists have detected signs that demonstrate, to a high order of probability, that such sophont life abounds in the universe beyond our few systems;

“And inasmuch as the quest for knowledge and advancement is a core principle of Our Empire;

“WE hereby direct the formation of an IMPERIAL EXPLORATORY SERVICE to seek out and survey systems and worlds beyond the frontiers of Our Empire, and to make contact with such sophont species as may exist thereupon in Our name.”

– Her Divine Majesty Eledië II, Imperial edict “On the Exploratory Service”, 10 years post-Reunification

Trope-a-Day: Starfish Language

Starfish Language: Oh, plenty of them.  Esseli native language, for example, is encoded on RNA strands (although fortunately they can and are more than willing to add extra speech organs as required).  Mirilasté language is also notable for using sequences of musical notes as its “phonemes”, and volume and tempo are as linguistically significant as pitch.  Seb!nt!at and various other solar clades, along with the galari‘s techlepathy, tend to use dialects designed to be transmitted electromagnetically and which translate very poorly into audio.  The qucequql and thegas-giant dwelling sssc!haaaouú use bioluminescence and chromatophores to display changing bands and patterns of color as a form of “speech”.  The mezuar communicate chemically, but primarily communicate through direct neural linkage where their roots and branches grow together.  Myneni communication has both a chemical dialect and one based on a very flexible chime-and-whistle audio generation that most more conventional larynxes can’t manage.  (And the uplifted dogs, of course, retain a certain facility for scent-based communication.)  The nsang communicate principally by writing with spinneret material, in two-dimensional ideograms, augmented by gestures for simple or immediate concepts.

Of course, that’s just the first layer.  Once we get into the difficulties of coping with higher-level grammatical quirks of the language: galari is structured like hypertext; digisapience communication is often discrete heavily-internally structured concept formats designed for packet transmission as high-speed data pulses (“here, have a wiki-database of my communication”); the múrast and embatil, as collegiate intelligences, throw out the tree-structure of most languages in exchange for matrix-hashes – and the mirilasté, curiously enough, use something more like a stack – seb!nt!at is a quantum language, in which it’s possible to tell three stories at once and then collapse the meaning at the end of the sentence; native whale, although fortunately not standard dar-ííche, doesn’t have sentences, but rather indefinitely long songs – whose individual phrases are even more long-winded than Entish – in which everyone can talk at once (their audio-processing brain finds resolving the threads of conversation trivial) and, indeed, modify each others’ sentences on the fly…

…and the difficulties of relatively simple issues like non-gender genders, attitudinals (very important, since They Do Not Speak Nonverbal), evidentials, context-dependent or referential concepts, alien metaphors, different methods of categorization or metaphysical perspectives on time, space, and reality – things get very weird very quickly.

Even Eldraeic, which was designed as a lingua franca for a polyspecific polity, suffers from this – since due to its ecumenical nature, it includes a very, very large set of optional grammatical features designed to cover as many of the quirks of the above languages as possible, a mode-switching grammar, three alphabets, an ideographic representation, and multiple isomorphic dialects to be spoken in different environments and with different apparatus, including underwater, over digital communications channels, by color, and even with nothing except pause and interval.  Speaking pidgin Eldraeic (which is to say, Trade) is easy – but speaking many of the more complex forms is very much not, and its capacity for willful obscurantism is generally acknowledged to be unparalleled.

Trope-a-Day: Immortality

Immortality: In a couple of forms.  The natural immortality of the eldrae and galari, etc., is Type II Undying, without the disease (or, indeed, starvation) exception – at least where potent illnesses are concerned.  This is also the type they’ve developed, named immortagens, and sell on the open market.

Noetic backups, in which one’s mind-state (or, if you like, soul) is recorded in digital storage such that you can conveniently be restored from backup if killed, adds Type IV Resurrective on top of that for those two species, and gives it to everyone else living in a modern and civilized polity, too.  And their little dogs, too.  Literally.

(They are, however, still working on A Means To Avoid The Heat Death Of The Universe.)

First First Contact (3)

Galáré Actual, Galáré System.

The noösphere of Galáré sang with electromagnetic voices.  The galari themselves, crystalline creatures of carbon-wrought silicon,  were the most complex voices in the song, exchanging trills and dithyrambs of information, an endless symphony of knowledge framed in multi-layered harmonies of incredible complexity; not a singular overmind, but a continual conversation on a million topics, each seeking its own harmony.  The simpler voices of lesser orders, the stony plantimal-forms from which the galari arose, the spun-crystal worker-machines, and the computer minds embodied in the planet’s greatest monoliths filled out the chorus; and Galáré itself, so much of its surface worked into matrices in which the knowledge and history, the memories, of the species were imprinted, echoed the song back to them.

Now, though, the song was disturbed.  For centuries, the music of Galáré had been serene, a slow adagio towards a well-planned future, filled with calm and order, endless self-reflection and contemplation of the sciences and philosophies stored within the galari’s great archives.  But today the astronomers sang quick, sharp arias of warning: of the 18.3 MeV glow the oneirists thought most likely for a fusion drive, with blueshift and parallax showing its path clearly.

Someone was coming to Galáré, and the divergent imaginings made the song stutter in jagged dissonance.

A Penny for How

“Thus it is said that an eldrae thinks pacing; a dar-bandal, sniffing; a galari, hovering; a kaeth, fighting; a dar-ííche, floating; a sssc!haaaouú, blowing; a mezuar, standing; an esseli, twitching; a codramaju, merging; a kalatri, sitting; a járaph, of itself; a selyéva, basking; a vlcefc, hanging; a spinbright, watching; an embatil, arguing; a múrast, many times; a seb!nt!at, already; a digisapience, continuously; an azayf, afterwards; and a ulijen, too late.”

– Stereotypes of the Worlds, Imperial University of Almeä Press

Trope-a-Day: Starfish Aliens

Starfish Aliens: Most of them.  Digisapiences, of course, have no bodies at all.  The galari are sophont crystal-virus hybrids with inbuilt techlepathy and mechanical psychokinesis.  The codramaju are pseudo-fungoids which can merge, exchange, and separate bodies and minds at will.  The kaeth are vaguely draconic pseudosaurians with a metal-rich biology.  The hydrogen-breathing sssc!haaaouú are fragile collections of membranes that dwell in the upper layers of gas giants.  The myneni are crystal-based carbohydrosilicate amoeboids with built-in chemosynthetic talents.  The mezuar are a network of collectively sophont purplish-blue trees.  (Yes, as sessile as that implies, although the selyéva are green-blue plantimals – non-sessile photosynthetics – who probably most closely resemble walking broccoli.)  The esseli have engineered themselves into brains with manipulating tentacles and customized personal auxiliary organs, and don’t even remember what they used to look like.  (And the link!n-Rechesh are heading that way.)  The qucequql are ammonia-metabolising octopi from a world of nitrogenous oceans.  The múrast would be simple multiheaded snakes, except that they breathe methane, live in oceans of hydrocarbons, and their primary body structures are constructed of ice.  The ulakha are metal-plated, fast-moving lizardoids who think Venerian conditions are just about right for a planet.  The linobir resemble furless, leathery-skinned, hexapedal, hermaphrodite bears.  The shan kari resemble larger versions of Terran mustelids fairly closely, actually, except they prefer to breathe warm methane.  The mirilasté are legged-serpents with skin we would recognize as essentially plastic, who breathe the most astonishingly noxious fluorine-hydrocarbon soup.  The ktelaki are furry arachnids with trilateral symmetry and multi-branched legs.  The seb!nt!at are star-dwelling creatures of plasma and electromagnetic force.  The celsesh are quadrilaterally-symmetric with a fused-barrel body plan, and sensory organs on stalks in lieu of a head.  The embatil are worm/tentacle creatures whose life cycle begins with individuals, but which merge into single creatures as they mature – while transforming a ganglionic into a collegiate intelligence.  The tennoa are chlorine-breathing radial-crabs blessed/cursed with obligate utilitarianism…

And that’s all before we get to uplifts, neogens, and exotic neomorphic bioshells.

First First Contact (2)

CS Extropy Rising, one light-day outside Galáré system.

Sophont intervention required.

Supercargo processor: Engage emergency revival sequence for Command Conference in accordance with protocol 1030.

Core, Cryobay Ess Zero.

Fire and ice.

Microwaves hammered at the frozen bodies hanging in the thick blue gel that filled the cryotubes, bringing them slowly back up to a temperature suitable for bringing them back to life.  Tapping their energy as flesh thawed, the crude nanites perfused into the bodies’ tissues before chill-down came sluggishly into action, attempting to patch the gross damage of cryostasis with a sensation like ten-thousand red-hot needles, then sending painful trickles of electrical current down raw nerves to coax activity from reawakening muscles and organs.

Flight Commander Svínif Andracanth-ith-Cyranth leaned over the side of his cryotube, wet, naked and shivering, and spewed a long stream of greasy gray-green freezer-porridge onto the deckplates; then hung there, caught between coughing, retching, and trying not to do both at once.  Around him in the bay, he was aware through the sick throbbing in his head of the rest of the command crew doing much the same.

“…I repeat: Non-emergency critical exception in progress.  Command Conference to the bridge, please.  Command Conference to the bridge.”

In Many Shapes and Forms

The ecology of Eliéra is uniquely complex in the known Associated Worlds, since it is not, as most are, the product of either natural evolution, or ancient or modern ecopoesis.  Rather, a few unique survivals excepted, its ecology is a mixture of species from three separate origins and their coevolved descendants; referred to as bluelife, greenlife, and silverlife.  It is believed that the progenitors of these ecologies were transported to Eliéra during the tenure of the Precursor species, and in the case of bluelife and greenlife, that their descendants reflect those ecologies which were best fit to survive and adapt to the world in the absence of the Precursors and thus anyone to tend their gardens and biological preserves.

Both bluelife and greenlife are examples of oxygen-breathing ecologies using the common L-protein/lipid-D-carbohydrate biochemistry, with nucleic acid-based information-storage molecules; although the encoding used for these information-storage molecules differs greatly between the two classes.  There is considerable overlap in the specific compounds (amino acids, for example) used by the two classes, to a sufficient extent that heterotrophs and saprotrophs of both classes find the other edible, although in many cases lacking in some essential nutrients.  Indeed, some members of each class, including the sophont species of Eliéra, the eldrae, now naturally require some essential nutrients from each of the classes in their diet.  (The eldrae, among some other large animal species, are particularly notable for having adopted some symbiotic bluelife organelles into an essentially greenlife makeup, giving them their distinctive indigo blood.)

Bluelife, a class including a large number of non-cellular and single-celled organisms, also includes among its complex organisms the majority – around 85% of species – of Eliéra’s plant life (whose distinctive and predominant blue photosynthetic pigment is the source of the name of the class), a smaller percentage – around 75% of its species – of its animal life (including both scaled and furred hexapedal land animals, four-winged birds, duodecids, and tubefish), 90% of its fungi, and all of its algae and plankton.  It is strongly believed to consist of evolved and/or modified forms of life transplanted from the nearby world of Revallá, which used a near-identical biochemical substrate and set of body plans, the more so when Eliéra bluelife’s adaptations to coexistence with greenlife and, to some extent, silverlife are considered.

Greenlife also includes a large number of non-cellular and single-celled organisms, along with another 14% of Eliéra’s plant life (again, the green photosynthetic pigment, chlorophyll, gave its name to the class), the remaining (with very few exceptions) 30% of its animal life (including both scaled and furred quadrupeds, two-winged birds, arachnids, cetaceans, and bony fish), and nearly 10% of its remaining fungi.  The origin of greenlife is unknown; no world currently known to the Imperial Exploratory Service appears to have a compatible ecology.

The final class of life on Eliéra is the silverlife, a class of lifeforms descended from what are believed to be a number of simple Precursor nanites which survived the destruction of the Precursor civilization, many of them mutated by radiation effects and evolved over time.  By far the vast majority of silverlife is composed of microscopic organisms of the crystallite and metallite kingdoms, of which the most notable are the saerymaharvéi, descended from simple assemblers and responsible for the many crystal deposits and outcroppings across the surface of Eliéra.

Silverlife also includes some simple macroscopic organisms, including some silicate pseudo-plants found in sunlit, rocky areas of appropriate compositions (most prominent are cikril, which forms tall, slender columns of translucent crystals, charged with photoelectricity, and cikrieth, a swamp-dwelling variety of cikril which extracts materials from seawater and forms intertwined resource-sharing complexes), and some colonial organisms roughly analogous to slime molds.  These together make up the remaining 1% of Eliéra’s plant species, and 0.5% of its fungi.

Silverlife in general has many aspects and features in common with the lower lifeforms of Galáré, the homeworld of the galari; while the evidence suggesting their origin in Precursor nanotechnology remains convincing, scientists are studying the possibility of a link between known Precursor nanotechnology and the ecosystem of this world.

– An Introduction to Eliéran Biology, Imperial University of Almeä Press

First First Contact (1)

One light-day outside Galáré system.

The long plume of the fusion torch flickered out, and the great ship began to rotate slowly, end over end, bringing the foreshield once more into alignment with its direction of travel. The wide radiator vanes of the drive module glowed a bright cherry-red from the torch’s waste heat.

Extropy Rising, the eighth sleeper-ship of the Deep Star program, had finished decelerating into the Galáré system.

In obedience to the programming set up before it had left its construction slip in Talentar orbit, the triple-triple computers which controlled the Rising completed the flip, then turned their attention to the next steps in the entry procedure. A centrifugal ring spun up, throwing a sextet of probes outward to safe ignition distance. Sensors, unused since launch, slid out from behind the foreshield and powered up.

As the computers gorged themselves on the influx of new data, ongoing critical paths were adjusted at thousands of decision gates, fine-tuning the remainder of the mission to match the newly revealed local conditions; precise solar spectra, orbital elements, atmospheric composition…

Extensive electromagnetic emissions from the third planet in the log-8 to log-10 bands. That was outside all defined parameters.

Sophont intervention required.