The Risk Buffet

“All I’m asking,” the younger one said, “is whether you think it’s a good idea.”

“And all I’m saying is that I shouldn’t – can’t – tell you that.”

“Why not?”

“I’m a first-in scout.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“Because I’m a first-in scout. Hear my meaning. I’m in a profession defined by hurling ourselves into the deep unknown with almost no idea of who or what we might find, then when we do find it, poking it repeatedly to see if it does something interesting. If I had a normal soph’s risk appetite, I’d have gone into Survey work, or the family trade, or become an accountant. I became a first-in scout because I’m chronically insensitive to caution. We all are.”

She took a deep breath.

“And that is why you should never ask me for advice on what’s appropriate for you.”


Trope-a-Day: Bold Explorer

Bold Explorer: While I shall leave specific examples to individual fics and so forth, they have a lot of these in the Imperial Exploratory Service, and especially in the first-in scouts and volunteers to crew (as infomorphs) far horizon probes. You have to be a little bit crazy to go boldly where no soph has gone before, and all that.

Sung Wherever The Imperial Exploratory Service Buys Liquor

(Very lightly filkificated for somewhat-inebriated Eldraeverse purposes from “Space Shanty“, by The Senate. The vast majority of the words remain theirs.)

Oh, the whiskey is floatin’, won’t stay in me glass –
I’m weightless and spinning and drunk off me ass.
Oh, the whiskey is floatin’ in a sphere o’er me head –
If we don’t hit this window we’ll surely be dead.

So reach for the whiskey, sophs, reach for the stars!
They won’t stop us drinking on old Talentar1
So reach for the whiskey, sophs, reach for the sky!
Ere the vacuum of space sucks the bottles all dry.

Oh, infinite profit awaits us in space –
We’ll seek out and contact with fervor and grace.
New worlds and new sophonts we simply adore –
Let’s party where no-one has partied before.

So reach for the whiskey, sophs, reach for the stars!
They won’t stop us drinking on old Talentar –
So reach for the whiskey, sophs, reach for the sky!
Ere the vacuum of space sucks the bottles all dry.

1. As mentioned before, Talentar produces a lot of grain for the rest of the system. And what else is there where there’s grain and engineers?




2016_Z(Alternative words: zettahertz.)

Today’s question for Dr. Science is, “What’s the biggest optical telescope in the Empire? How far can it see?”

Over the years, a great many different telescopes have held that particular title: from the Great Eye at the Starspike (Eliéra’s oldest observatory, dating to the pre-Imperial era), through the first orbital telescopes, the large refractor at Farside Observatory, Seléné, and the Deep Orbit Oculus in far Súnáris orbit.

All, however, were rapidly outclassed by the discovery of very-long-baseline interferometry, which uses a technique referred to as aperture synthesis to correlate signals from a set of telescopes to produce images having the same angular resolution as an instrument the diameter of the entire set. Some limited use was made of these techniques with ground-based and orbital instruments, restricted by the difficulty in accurately quantifying optical-range photons for software processing, but once these difficulties were solved, construction began on much larger interferometric telescopes. Three particular examples of these held the title of largest optical telescope in turn, and while the others have been upgraded and remain in use, it is the last of these retains it today.

The first of these, the Barrascán Array, was constructed in the Meryn System, consisting of an array of millions of statites (produced by self-replicating, autoindustrial techniques) 48 light hours in diameter. Intended for general observation, the array possesses an angular resolution of 1.12 x 10-20 radians, enabling it to resolve objects 20 cm across at 2,250 light-years (i.e., the current fringe of the Associated Worlds, which was then unknown space).

The second, intended to carry out both exploration surveys and long-range observations of the galactic core, was the Very Long Baseline Observer, which made use of smaller arrays of deep-orbit telescopes located in systems across the width of the Empire, each reporting via the interstellar dataweave to the Exploratory Service’s headquarters in Almeä System. This gave it an effective diameter of 164 light-years, and thus an angular resolution of 3.74 x 10-25 radians, giving it the capability of resolving with micrometer resolution objects throughout the Starfall Arc, should its view be unobstructed. Indeed, if not for intervening objects, planetary rotation, local weather, and other such obstructions, it would be capable of reading a book over the shoulder of a sophont on any world in the galaxy — were one to pass within its view, since as you can imagine, an array of array of telescopes 164 light-years across is somewhat unwieldy to maneuver.

The apex of this technology is the Super-Size Synthetic Aperture, intended for in-depth studies of the deep universe. The SSSA takes the general concept of the VLBO even further by extending the array – by means of various treaty arrangements and leases – across much of the width of the Associated Worlds, reporting data back over tangle channels. Its effective diameter is no less than 1,825 light-years, giving it a theoretical angular resolution of 3.36 x 10-26 radians – which is to say, it can resolve a 33 m object at the rim of the observable universe.

The SSSA, however, is limited by the larger gaps between its elements, which are themselves limited to a single mobile telescope per system, and thus in turn by the amount of light collectable by each of these individual telescopes. It is also, unfortunately, constrained by the difficulty of maneuvering and recalibrating such a massive device, and by the political difficulties of passing through many different polities during reorientation, which tends to cause lengthy delays, increased costs, and where no permission can be obtained, gaps in array coverage. For most practical purposes, therefore, the VLBO can be considered the largest general-purpose optical telescope available to the Empire.

Dr. Science

– from Children’s Science Corner magazine


Trope-a-Day: Aliens Steal Cable

Aliens Steal Cable: Sort of true – despite the various technical problems mentioned in the trope, it is a very popular way to acquire a linguistic and cultural corpus from worldbound civilizations before making contact. But it involves both (a) studying their technology to figure out the signal encoding, and then (b) parking a probe somewhere close in to their system and/or placing a tap on their Internet-equivalent to gather uncorrupted signals. You can’t just do it easily over interstellar distances, especially if you don’t know that it’s there.

Hornéd Moon-class starfighter

(Note: for the avoidance of confusion, this is not the same starfighter class as Raymond McVay has been posting over on the G+ fan community; so don’t be confused by the differences…)

“It looks like a blueberry croissant.”

“Blueberry croissant… of DEATH!”

– overheard at Golden Groves (Principalities) starport


Operated by: Empire of the Star (Imperial Navy, Imperial State Security, & Imperial Exploratory Service; reliable UARC-sponsored mercenaries)
Type: Starfighter, Orbital and Near-Space Operations
Construction: Ashen Planitia Fleet Yards

Length: 24.8 m
Beam: 60.4 m

Gravity-well capable: Yes
Atmosphere capable: Yes (depending on loadout)

Personnel: 2 nominal, as follows:

Flight Commander / Sailing Master
Flight Engineer

AI expert system support.

(Can operate with a single pilot.)

Additional life support capacity exists to support four passengers in addition, although this requires hot-bunking in three shifts.

Drive: Nucleodyne Thrust Applications 2×1 “Little Sparky” antimatter-catalyzed fusion torch drive
Propellant: Deuterium slush / metallic antideuterium
Cruising (sustainable) thrust: 10.2 standard gravities (9.6 Earth G)
Peak (unsustainable) thrust: 14.0 standard gravities (13.2 Earth G)
Maximum velocity: 0.3 c (based on particle shielding)


4 x hardpoint mountings for AKVs, typically Slasher-class

(Hardpoint mountings can also hold single-legionary drop pods, Piton-class, or covert ops equivalents.)


1 x standard navigational sensor suite, Cilmínar Spaceworks
1 x enhanced passive tactical sensor suite, miniature, Sy Astronautic Engineering Collective
1 x enhanced-resolution planetary surface-scan sensor suite, Imperial Exploratory Service (spec.)


“Flyswatter” point-defense laser grid, Artifice Armaments

Other Systems:

Artifice Armaments cyclic kinetic barrier system
Cilmínar Spaceworks Mark III long-duration canned/semi-regenerative life support
3 x Bright Shadow EC-780 information furnace data systems
Ashen Planitia 1-SF vector-control core and associated technologies
Cilmínar Spaceworks high-capacity thermal sinks and integrated radiator system
Aleph Null Systems tactical communications suite

Small craft:


The Hornéd Moon-class is a small starfighter intended for fast attack and fast insertion missions in planetary orbit and deploying to the surface. As such, it has atmospheric capability, and even the ability to land.

In overall form, it resembles – as the quotation indicates – a croissant or crescent moon of flying-wing conformation, with the thin “inside” edge of the crescent facing forward. The two forward-facing points of the crescent are rounded, and rise to a near-cylinder at the for’ard end, and a rectangular section of the central section is “humped” at the rear; this contains the drives, whose nozzles protrude from this rectangular shroud aft.

Atop the starfighter, paired hardpoints on the dorsal hull to port and starboard hold the AKVs, when mounted. Additional mountings near them permit jettisonable fairings to be used to permit atmospheric entry or departure when non-streamlined AKVs are carried.

In between them, atop and for’ard of the drive shroud, radiative striping mounted directly atop the hull, beneath protective shutters, provides heat dissipation. To provide additional control (to the reaction wheel system) when in atmosphere, a number of multiple-purpose aerodynamic control surfaces are mounted along the leading edge of the hull, and to two small vertical stabilizers at the port and starboard edges of the drive shroud. Deployable rollagon landing gear are fitted ventrally in a multiple tailwheel configuration.

The main body of the ship is entirely devoted to fuel storage, with multiple deuterium tanks wrapping around the small antimatter cryocels for maximum protection. Meanwhile, the starboard near-cylinder provides housing for the ship’s avionics, including (beneath the forward-mounted radome and associated shuttered ports) for the triple sensor suites and tactical communications systems.

The starship’s small habitable area is located in that to port; the forward-facing airlock (whose outermost section is covered by a retractable streamlining fairing and extendable airstair) at far port gives onto a short corridor providing access to, in order, the ship’s bridge (behind an open viewport for close-maneuvering use), a two-pod sleeping area, a small room tripling as galley, fab shop, and rest area, and a single-person ‘fresher at corridor end. Limited avionics and life support access is possible through panels in this area; however, there is no pressurized access to the main avionics bay in the starboard near-cylinder or to engineering systems; such access requires EVA. Likewise, if drop pods are carried, access to those (for pre-deployment boarding, say) is only possible through EVA.


Sniff, Sniff

“In reality, there is no such thing as a life detector. Vitalism long since having joined the scientific junk-heap, it is a regrettable fact of the universe that there is no quick, convenient, and universal ‘vital field’ that we can tap into to determine the presence of living beings.

“But there is a life detection routine in the computers of your scout ship, you ask? How does that work?

“The answer is: approximation.  We know a variety of things that suggest the presence of life. The most obvious example are the signifiers of technological civilization: patterned electromagnetic emissions, the characteristic neutrino products of controlled fusion reactions, and so forth. Where there is technology, there was someone to build it – at least at some point or another, and so the probable detection of technology is also the probable detection of life.

“But there are those few common characteristics that all life does have in common. Self-replication is one, not – by and large – terribly useful for quick detection. Existing within a solvent – for a broad definition of solvent encompassing everything from nebulae to degenerate matter – is another, which can at least tell us where not to look. But of most use is the last: life is an entropy pump. It depends upon energy differentials and pumps against the natural flow, maintaining and causing inequilibria.

That gives us something to look for.

“A life detection routine hunts through the data collected by primary sensors looking for such inequilibria. Reactive gases – such as oxygen – remaining a significant component of a planetary atmosphere, implying their continuous production. Sustained low-level thermal sources, suggesting managed combustion or other energy transaction – bearing in mind that what is to be considered low-level is very different for the outer-system múrast and the star-dwelling seb!nt!at! While almost impossible to detect at any but the closest range, the electromagnetic emissions of high-order informational complexity associated with cognition are the most reliable sign – for life that is both intelligent and which makes use of electronic or electrochemical signals in its ‘nervous system’. These, and tens of thousands of other experience-learnt rules, continuously updated, are programmed into the expert system that underlies the life detection routines used by the Exploratory Service.

“It’s still no more than 80% accurate, yielding commonly both false positives and – worse yet, if missed – false negatives, and so the wise scout never trusts such a system without a close, personal investigation. But it can tell you where to place your bets.”

– A Junior Explorer’s Handbook, Vevery Publishing