Although Most Designs Are Poly

Ascíël coupler: the standard design, in modular habitat and starship architecture, for the coupler that binds adjacent modules into a single unit.

For such semi-permanent connections on a large scale, simple docking adapters are obviously unsuitable; tidal forces and other stresses common in large structures may cause a simple docking adapter to be stressed sufficiently to separate over time, and starship-level thrust applied to a modular design would cause near-immediate failure.

A variety of designs (often based on existing railroad couplers) were tried to prevent this while also avoiding the expense, wasted time, and potential damage involved in bolting or welding additional reinforcement onto the modules, with varying degrees of success, eventually converging on the modern Ascíël coupler.

The Ascíël coupler, as defined in IOSS 64212, makes use of the IUSI androgynous docking adapter (as defined in IOSS 52114) to achieve initial connection. (As such, it too comes in the three there-defined standard sizes.)

Once hard dock has been achieved, the surrounding coupler engages a nested pair of counterrotating helical screws, which intertwine from each side of the coupler to form a solid bond between the modules. Once the screws have advanced to the fully engaged position, twelve locking rods (six per screw, three being managed by each coupler) are electromagnetically released and are forced by springs into their extended position through holes in the screws, preventing them from rotating and thus from working loose over time.

When fully engaged, an Ascíël coupler has an effective strength equivalent to that of the surrounding module hull.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Revolutionary

blacklight (n.): an external window in a large space habitat, looking out into space (see: the black). The word was deliberately coined in opposition to skylight, since due to the operation of spin gravity, the majority of blacklights are in the floor.

It is considered both polite and practical to throw a rug over the blacklights when flatlanders come to call.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

(Well, no-one’s going to call an UV light a blacklight when they can see UV natively, are they?)

Distinctions

“That?” Cathál glanced at the slate-blue pipe in question, then down at her slate. “Water coolant source for distillation unit 02-367, tap off main section 11-9120, return through 02-3683, automatic flow valve controlled by sector utility server #2, manual cutoff accessible via service panel 02-38.”

“Distillation unit? This isn’t a machinery section.”

“Not that kind of distillation unit. It’s a… personal still.” Seeing her apprentice’s still-confused expression, she continued. “A starshine still.”

“You have those on the plans?”

She looked at him appraisingly. “You’re new-up, aren’t you?”

“First spaceside rotation, yeah. What’s that –”

“Look around you. The hab’s maybe two-thirds, or a little more, plumbing by mass. All kinds. Potable, non-potable, gray, black, steam, rad-hot, loaded, non-aqueous – hell, we’ve got reactor lines in section one circulating liquid sodium. People around here get all kinds of upset when they find a pipe that’s not on the plans, especially if they don’t know what it’s for or what’s in it. So we have an Agreement. We agree to put all the, um, unofficial plumbing on the master plans and hook it into the control systems, and the adminisphere agrees not to bug us about it unless it causes a genuine issue.”

“And it’s still unofficial?”

“Surely. But it’s officially unofficial.”

 

Failure

[an excerpt from]

A Contract Written
Under the Fundamental Contract and the Seal of the Guild of Formal Obligation,
And in Accordance with the Traditions of the Stellar Empire,
Between and Among:

First Distributed Exclavine Republic (Holdings), ICC, their successors, or assigns, hereafter the party of the first part,

and

Three Elements Habitability Services, ICC, their successors, or assigns, hereafter the party of the second part,

In the Matter of Operating Life Support Services and Associated Systems for

Cantervale Drift, Golden Groves (Principalities), hereafter “the Drift”,

…blah, blah, blah…

22. SURETIES

In order to provide necessary sureties for the ongoing safe operation of the Drift, the party of the second part undertakes the following:

22.1 The party of the second part will operate all life-support services and associated systems in such a manner as to fulfil all requirements of the IOSSs defining environmental conditions for warm-blooded oxygen-breathers, specifically:

22.1.a The environmental conditions of the Drift shall remain within the parameters therein defined as optimal for no less than 99.9% (“three nines”) of the system’s duty cycle, computed on a rolling average basis.

22.1.b The environmental conditions of the Drift shall remain within the parameters therein defined as acceptable for no less than 99.99% (“four nines”) of the system’s duty cycle, computed on a rolling average basis.

22.1.c The environmental conditions of the Drift shall under no circumstances whatsoever be permitted to deviate from the parameters therein defined as minimal.

22.1.d Exceptions to the above shall be permitted for individual compartments open to space, on fire, containing hazardous chemical spills, or otherwise suffering emergency situations at the discretion of Damage Control Central or the safety officer on the scene, provided that these compartments have been isolated from the life-support services in such a manner as to prevent cross-contamination.

22.1.e Provision for monitoring current environmental conditions in real-time using the associated sensor systems shall be provided to the party of the first part by the party of the second part.

22.2 The party of the second part will ensure that all life-support service equipment installed by them shall be up to common industrial (IOSS) standards where relevant, except as agreed in writing with the party of the first part, and that all such equipment shall both support and implement spacer “triple-triple” redundancy standards, and that any deficiencies in this requirement, of whatever kind, shall be made good at the party of the second part’s own expense.

22.3 The party of the second part will ensure that, in the day-to-day operation of the Drift, life-support service reserve supplies, spare parts, and sufficient essential support technicians under contract exist at any time to provide for continuous operation for no less than one year (Imperial Standard) or three times the journey-time to the nearest transit point, whichever is greater.

22.3.a Provision for monitoring records of these supplies, parts, and contracts shall be provided to the party of the first part by the party of the second part, as shall provision for random periodic audits of stocks held by the party of the first part.

22.3.b For the purposes of this clause, the party of the second part will operate under the assumption of a 12% permissible population variance per year, in either direction.

22.4 The party of the second part will post a reflux bond and contract insurance with an banking and insurance institution, approved by the party of the first part, sufficient to provide for full habitat evacuation and resident compensation, per scale, along with any necessary salvage work, in the event of lifesystem collapse or contract default.

22.5 The party of the second part agrees that in addition to the one year of notice specified for contract termination above, they will continue to provide life-support service operation for up to an additional twelve months and/or necessary evacuation time in the event that the party of the first part is unable to contract with and commence receiving service from a replacement life-support service provider within the notice period.

22.6 Both the party of the first part and the party of the second part agree that, in declared emergencies, full command authority devolves upon Damage Control Central and/or the safety officer on site, and shall provide them with their full cooperation and access to technical assets.

22.7 The party of the second part agrees to participation in the recognized habitat mutual-aid organizations of the System in which the Drift is located as a condition of the contract, and shall:

22.7.a. Comply with the requirements of membership of such organizations in addition to the specific requirements of this contract; and

22.7.b Make such supplies, parts, and contracts available to such organizations as are necessary to fulfil obligations to other participating habitats of such organizations as can be made available without compromising the operation of the Drift’s life-support services.

 

Trope-a-Day: Arcology

Arcology: A prominent feature, reaching up to several miles wide and high, of the Empire’s older and higher-population worlds, where clusters of several of them in lieu of sprawling suburbs (they’re also much easier to build than suburbs on non-garden worlds, for one thing, where the distinction between “arcology” and “habitat” blurs) around a relatively conventional downtown will form the cores of cities, interspersed with lesser buildings, estates, parks, and woodland.

Qualifiers

2016_Q(Alternate words: none.)

The zeppelin’s motors whispered as it drifted slowly away through the dusty butterscotch sky, the setting sun glinting off its outriggers. Lumenna hung just above the horizon, casting long shadows on the ruddy dunes, while Súnáris shone bright near the zenith.

And I shivered in the chilling twilight air.

* * * * *

“There is only one way to qualify as a habitat technician,” Academician Chernyc said, stroking his beard. “If you are unwilling to trust in your own skills to keep a dome habitable, then why would anyone else? And let those of you fresh off the cycler be assured: no-one on this planet or out in the e’Luminiarien have any sense of humor where infrastructure is concerned.”

“So this course rests on a single practical test. At the end of the university year, those of you who remain and feel sufficiently confident will be dropped somewhere on the Altiplanum. You will be provided with one cycle’s oxygen, a week’s supply of ration bars, an environment suit, an emergency beacon, and a shipping case filled with habitat system parts. I’ll tell you now that some of those parts will have been… adjusted, let us say, to provide you with an appropriate challenge.”

“The test is pass-fail. If you have a comfortable hab constructed that meets all IOSS habitability requirements when we come to pick you up three months later, you pass. Extra credit will be given if you go significantly above and beyond those requirements.”

“If you don’t, you fail. If you make contact with any settlements or any of the other qualifiers except to answer a distress signal from them, you fail. If you activate the emergency beacon, you fail. If you die and have to be reinstantiated, you fail twice.”

“Simple, isn’t it? Now, has anyone been sufficiently discouraged already?”

* * * * *

And so to work. There should be a pressure tent in this case – lLet them not have nobbled the pressure tent, please! – and some thermal gel. Once that’s set up, I can start inventorying parts and running diagnostics. That should keep me occupied until dawn and cut out most of the nasty surprises, and then on to a local ground survey. Rock would be ideal – but I don’t want to try and find the best permanent hab site in the dark…

Trope-a-Day: Space People

Space People: Well, about three-fifths of everyone, actually.

That would be “about” principally because it’s really hard to determine, say, exactly where one draws a line between people who live on large asteroids in “habitats” and people who live on small moons in “domes”.

And depending on how you want to count things – well, you could count only people who live in starships or city-ships (habitat-dwellers say “Hey!”), or ships and habitats (asteroid-dwellers have an issue to raise), or people who have the key spacer biomods (absolutely everyone without some sort of compatibility problem, since even planet-dwellers find themselves in space enough that the calcium hack, thumb-toe, etc., are now part of the baseline set), or only members of the genuine four-armed sennóris clade (a long way from everyone dwelling in space long-term), or people who live in space-type habitats (includes lots of moon- and actual-planet-dwellers), or people possessing the characteristic shibboleths of spacer culture (although since spacer and groundling cultures have been bleeding into one another for centuries)…

In short: there are Space People, but there’s not a readily denotable boundary between them and everyone else.

Trope-a-Day: Spaceship Girl

Spaceship Girl: Every time a female-presenting digisapience uses a starship as a cybershell, yes.  Of course, they can equally well be the resident operating intelligence of a habitat, or other vehicle (Spacestation Girl), and by no means all present as female (Spaceship Chap?), so it’s also subverted a fair bit.

(As a side note, whatever the gender of the operating intelligence, the gender attributed to the actual ships in question tend to be mixed; eldraeic tradition is that a vessel takes the gender opposite that of its first captain, and so…)

Gettin’ Clean

The primary hygiene component of a standard shipboard ‘fresher is a cylindrical translucent compartment, resembling a drug capsule set on its end, with a watertight sealing door. At top and bottom, gratings conceal powerful counter-rotating fan/turbine units.

In dynamic mode, these fan/turbines are engaged to blow (at the nominal “top”) and suck (at the nominal “bottom”) a water/air colloid past and over the bather at configurable velocities ranging from strong breeze to hurricane-strength wind, providing the water with a functional simulation of gravitic flow – a “shower”. To conserve water where necessary, many ‘freshers recirculate filtered water while in operation, requiring fresh water input only for the initial fill and the final rinse cycle.

In static mode, the gratings close and the capsule itself fills entirely with water – a microgravity “bath”.

In the former mode, breathing while bathing is, at best, difficult; in the latter, it is downright impossible. Early-model ‘freshers included a built-in breathing mask connected to ship’s life support to ameliorate this problem; in these days of respiratory hemocules which enable the modal transsoph to hold their breath for over an hour, ‘fresher designers tend to assume that this will not be a problem. Those without such hemocules must, therefore, remember to take a portable breather with them when bathing.

– The Starship Handbook, 155th ed.

Introduction: Moic

(This is the first in a series of character introductions for my next planned longer work, working title “Trading Free”.)

Lairh hinGastref winced again at the sound of the raised voices emanating from the station manager’s office, and wished that his auditory palps weren’t quite so sensitive in the upper frequency ranges.

“Because you’re a gods-be-damned idiot, hinRykar, and your predecessor was an idiot, and both of you followed in an established tradition of decades of idiocy! It’s –”

A bellow of anger from within was abruptly cut off.

“Then try acting less like one. The smartest thing you did here was hiring me –”

“A lot of good it did me! I needed a miracle worker –”

“And you got one! But I can’t miracle without something to work with. I’ve kept this tin can running for a year waiting for you to come through with parts and funds for repairs, and you came through with nothing. Did you even try?”

“This station has a budget. It’s your job to work within it.”

“It’s my job to keep the systems that keep everyone on this station alive working, and I told you ten months ago that that wouldn’t fit in the damn budget. What did you –”

“I don’t have to answer to – get out of my office!”

“It’ll be a pleasure, hinRykar, yes, and your station too. You can have my resignation right now, and I’ll send you confirmation from dirtside.”

The doorway to the office hissed open, and hinGastref watched as a small round vehicle, its upper bowl crammed with a dozen hand-sized, furry bodies rolled out, pivoted, and came to a stop up against the side of his desk. One of them climbed up to the side of the bowl, pulled a data plug from what resembled a miniature toolbox, and jammed it into one of hinGastref’s data ports.

The communication screen on the wall – and presumably all over the station – lit up.

“Attention, residents. This is a priority message from Moic Fortybodies, former head of Station Engineering.”

“I’m about to get all forty of my tails off this death-trap, and I’d suggest you do the same. Attached to this message is my detailed technical report on all the maintenance your Station Manager is too gods-be-damned cheap to bother doing. You can ask him about that when he figures out how to override the lock on his office door –“

An enraged yell from within, on cue, suggested that he’d Just discovered that for himself.

“- but here’s the short list. The sectional air seals weren’t installed to spec, and are rotten. The fusion reactor shielding is three years overdue for replacement and patched with whatever we had handy. All the pipework is leaking, and if you didn’t know, maybe 40% of the entire damn station is pipework. All that moisture’s made the clut grow out of control down in the serviceways. Don’t ask about the chemicals they’ve been using to keep it out of public areas. Meanwhile, the wiring is full of undocumented ad-hoc fixes with scrapyard salvage. Oh, and the radiators are so pinpricked with micrometeoroid holes this place is pissing tons of volatiles every day.”

“I’ll see you at the descent pods.”

Questions: Economy and Habitats

Got some more questions! Jamie asks:

It strikes me as odd that at the technological level the Eldrae work at that they appear to be working under an ideal capitalist system in an era of post scarcity technology. How is wealth determined? What is the currency based on? What kinda of inequality is there if any?

Well, the thing to bear in mind about “post-scarcity” societies is that virtually all of them are actually only “post-material-scarcity” (or “nearly-post-material scarcity”, which is how I’d describe the Core Economic Zone polities and regions in the Eldraeverse.) Some things tend to remain scarce – ideas (especially if we assume that inventors, designers, authors, and so forth like to be paid for their work for reasons over and above what the money can buy them, which as an author, I’m pretty sure of), personal services, availability (only so many people can attend X event), etc., etc.

This is true even if we step out of my universe and examine the ur-post-scarcity example, Iain Banks’s Culture, in which a plot driver running through many of the books is the competition to get into Contact, or Special Circumstances, which by no means takes even all the qualified people who want to get in. In Look to Windward, we also see the case of a live concert timed to match the light from a particular supernova – and thus obviously limited to only that one particular place and time and audience – cause such perceived scarcity that even the people who are very smug about “money is a symptom of poverty” immediately reinvent scarcity economics and trading favors in the quest for tickets.

So that’s why they still need an economic system. (Well, that, and nearly-post-material-scarcity only means that mining, generating, and manufacturing is super-cheap, not free, because it still takes energy and thought to do – thermodynamics, it is a bugger. People may only be paying the equivalent of $20/month, easily covered by the Citizen’s Dividend, for the right to manufacture a giant pile of consumer goods every day, but that trivial cost is still there on the back-end.)

As for capitalism – well, now, I find that something of an unfortunately loaded term in *here*’s politics, so I try not to use it to describe things *there*. Their system is both propertarian – inasmuch as it esteems private property, and makes great use of property rights in various areas – and agorist – making use of free markets (which, given their views on the essential nature of consent, is close to the only ethically permitted option).

When I say “loaded”, of course, one of the things I mean is that people assume that capitalism includes only for-profit corporations (which the Empire’s system doesn’t – as the link above says, CEZ economies have an extensive agalmic component, and usually support healthy gift economies, open source communities, alternative internal economic arrangements (co-operatives, ecodemocracies, etc., etc.), the bounty economy, the street performer protocol (like Kickstarter), etc., with wage-based employment (which is almost nonexistent outside indenture – see here, here, and here). It is, if you will, also a free market in free market types.

…and it stays that way, essentially, ethical issues aside for the moment, because the Empire got to become a wealthy nearly-post-material-scarcity civilization by being organized that way, and the wise man does not kick away the ladder that got him where he is today. Especially if he’s still standing on it.

As for how the currency’s based, there’s a good explanation of that here (look down in the article; the first part covers why it’s Very Much Not Gold). It’s essentially fiat, but a peculiar kind of independent fiat designed to match the currency base accurately to the production capacity of the economy (because inflation is a form of robbing creditors to pay debtors, and deflation is a form of robbing debtors to pay creditors, and that is just not on, no sir).

As far as inequality is concerned, I can do no better than point you at the explanation here: Trope-a-Day: No Poverty.

The other thing that seems odd is that they are very planet focused and mentions of space habitats of all shapes and sizes seems rare. How common are Eldrae habitable worlds? What makes planets more useful than more energy and resource efficient habitats? How have they varied the basic habitat designs?

Um, not sure where you’re getting that from. I seem to recall more than a few mentions of one habitat or another, and canonically about three-fifths of the Imperial population are spacers, only two-fifths living on planets. (By no means all of which are habitable, if by that you mean “shirt-sleeve habitable”; most of the populated planets in the Worlds are partially-terraformed Mars-type worlds, which are actually much easier to deal with than existing garden worlds, habitability-wise.) There’s a certain bias towards garden worlds in the Thirteen Colonies, back in the Imperial Core, because of the preferences of the old subluminal colonization days, but in general, it’s not so; and the list of “habitables” tends to include worlds like Sialhain (Venus-like, colonized in aerostats), and Galine (Titan-like), and so forth.

As for why planets – why not planets? People started out being used to them. Sometimes people like seeing landscapes that someone doesn’t have the architectural plans for, or smelling a few trillion tonnes of aeon-old biomass on the wind. (Or maybe they just like wind, who knows?) Or, y’know, because planets have oceans, and while there are aquatic habitats,  you’re not getting the cetacean uplifts out of the Big Puddles any time soon. It’s not a decision anyone’s making out of questions of efficiency, being nearly-post-material-scarcity, and all; it’s a decision people make because they feel like it, and why not?

As a side note: garden worlds are also extremely useful and valuable because they have ecologies, which are very information-dense. And even in the most crassly commercial sense, an ecology is a giant library-cum-research-program of new biotechnological and nanotechnological tricks to draw from. It’s just good business.

(Outside the Empire and other transsophont cultures, of course, many people live primarily on planets because they’re too Luddite or biochauvinist to modify themselves to live comfortably long-term in microgravity. But, hey, someone’s got to be the meek who inherit the Earth, right?)

Habitat-wise: well, I’m going to keep the details under my hat a bit until we see them in fic, but teaser-wise, what I will say is that while there are some O’Neill cylinders and the like, the majority of them could be classified as modular structures or asteroid beehives, operating in microgravity – and even the cylinders tend to operate under low spin gravity. After all, why live on a faux planet when there are plenty of real planets around? Spacers prefer to live spacer-style among spacer-style architecture, by and large.

Air Ain’t Free

“Charges in place? Conduits sealed? Okay, go ahead and open it up.”

The heavy wrench descending, clangingly, on the sealed emergency hatch once, twice, three times before the seal broke, a wave of fouled air rushing out past the linobir enforcer and hsis men. Beyond, the milling crowd, faces pale and dark and congested with nerves, eyed them uneasily and decided not to make a break for it.

“All right, which of you self-fuckin’ dock-rats claims t’be in charge of this section?” hse bellowed. “He’s got some things to ‘splain and so have I. Speak out, if breathin’ this crud hasn’t rotted your brains too much to parse plain Trade.”

Hser eye fell on a pair of scruffy deshnik arguing with one of his men, brandishing a smart-paper token.

“She’s got a pass? Any of the rest of you recognize this one?”

“Sure, boss, up on Thirty with the Torashanika clan.”

“Then get out of here – Just you, kid. He ain’t got a pass… No arguin’. You got three choices. You can stay here and kiss space with the rest of ‘em when their time comes, or you can run back to your clan-group and try an’ talk ‘em into buying out his life-debt.” Not that there was much chance of even a desperate clan-group doing that for a casteless deshnika flesh-peddler. “Or you can try and get past me an’ I’ll paint the deckhead with your brains. Estrev always gets his cut; no exceptions.”

“Listen up, the rest of you clut-grubbers! I speak for the drift-estrev, and the drift-estrev is not happy. You’re breathin’ his air and burnin’ his bunkerage, and what’s he getting back from you? Nothin’ but dioxide, taint, and an infestation of this pink shit.”

The linobir kicked at a squirming tendril of the ubiquitous hab-slime with a mid-limb.

“Now the estrev says you’ve got two cycles to pay off your life-debts and figure out how to make him value your worthless selves, or else I get to take the four pounds of trinol packed into these joints and blow your shit-house sewerslum right off station-end. Tell whoever’s hidin’ back there and breathe deep while y’can.”

“Close it up, boys. Message delivered.”

Sleep Well and Wake

outside storage (n.): Also cold storage; vacuum storage. Among the things space has in plentiful supply are volume and insulation. The former affords a bounty of available space for various usages; the latter ensures that items occupying it require relatively little protection to be safe from environmental influences. Many habitats throughout the Worlds make use of this for storage. Once chilled down, a package can simply be wrapped in a K-blanket (for micrometeoroid protection, if the storage volume itself is not shielded as a whole) and reflective foil, tethered to a convenient truss, and airlocked. The space environment will protect it near-indefinitely, at minimal if any cost.

NOTE: On many habitats, the prevalence of this technique is such that the phrase “thrown out” now typically implies storage rather than disposal.

Ice Bitch’s Hell, the (n., slang): Also Frozen Death, the; Slow Death, the; long, cold wait, a; suspended internment; cryostatic indigent holding. As previously mentioned, one endemic problem faced by many drifts is the build-up, over time, of indigent floaters. Due to the cost of interstellar travel, individuals travelling without guaranteed-passage tickets or reflux bonds may find themselves stranded on a distant habitat without means to depart, and with depleting funds.

This naturally poses a problem for drifts in Second Tier and Emerging markets, which can afford neither the cost of deportation nor the life-support overhead of maintaining an indigent population that isn’t paying hab fees, yet which would prefer on ethical grounds not to simply march them out the airlock, and which cannot rely on the limited resources of distressed spacefarer’s organizations. One widely used solution, of uncertain provenance, is to place indigent floaters in cryostasis, remove them from the cryostasis capsule, then package the corpsicle for and place it in outside storage – thus eliminating the associated life support costs, et. al. Many drifts have thousands – even tens of thousands, in the case of major transit points – of frozen floaters in long-term outside storage awaiting someone willing to pay for their cryorevival and transportation.

Rumors of long-term storees being sold off to slavers or organleggers by certain unscrupulous storage authorities or station management remain largely unconfirmed at the time of writing.

– A Star Traveller’s Dictionary

Trope-a-Day: Cult Colony

Cult Colony: Averted initially, because sublight colonization was so ludicrously expensive that “cults” couldn’t possibly have afforded it.  Played straighter once the stargate plexus made it easier to get to new worlds, with a side-note that the failure rate – for which read death rate – of these is particularly high; planetary colonization requires a great deal of scientific acumen, technical skill, and mental flexibility, which are not common qualities attributed to things normally described as cults.  (Just look at how many pioneer colonies failed in Earth’s history – now add that you have an alien ecology to deal with and there’s a good chance that you can’t breathe the air.)

Much the same goes for cult habitats, to – well, a lesser extent on some factors, a greater one on others, but the net effect is much the same.  Most cultists aren’t good with sophisticated technical infrastructure.

Trope-a-Day: Artificial Gravity

Artificial Gravity: The piece of Applied Phlebotinium they call vector control does provide something which is functionally equivalent to artificial gravity, yes.  On the other hand, (a) a good plurality of cylinder habitats still prefer to use spin gravity, because it’s much easier on the energy budget; and (b) the vast majority of spacecraft and starships, modulo those passenger liners catering to planet-dwellers, don’t use it, because the 3/5ths of the population that are spacers got used to microgravity, both socially and through pantropic adaptation, a long time before vector control was invented.  Microgravity is their native gravity, essentially, so why change it?

They do use vector control quite often to make sure their nice microgravity environment isn’t messed up by thrust gravity, though.