Eldraeic Word of the Day: Deléhain

deléhain: A direct translation of the kaeth word harghcha, literally meaning “pleasure-fight”; physical combat in social situations for the enjoyment of both the participants and any onlookers, which is a common feature of the kinesthetic kaeth culture.

Note that neither the Eldraeic hain nor the original cha define a scale without further qualification; the term deléhain can be applied equally well to two children roughhousing, or to Paltraeth’s annual Feast of the Blooding, a tradition compared by most visitors to a planet-wide civil war, albeit one conducted without modern weapons.

 

Trope-a-Day: Drink Order

Drink Order: It’s always hard to give solid answers when it comes to these things, but maybe we can have some generalities.

The most common (non-alcoholic) drink on Eliéra is esklav, from the bean of Esklavea sendaren, a shrub with no exact Terran analog. It’s close to coffee but not quite so harshly bitter, with hints of cinnamon and chocolate in its flavor. Served traditionally in small cups (or diluted in large mugs) with brown sugar, cacao chocolate, and cream. And contains both caffeine and theobromine, along with a number of other alkaloids of similar chemical structure. People drink a lot of this. It’s what keeps the world working.

Also popular in various regions:

On the Cestian continent, cider (of a variety of varieties) is most popular, followed up by mead and beer, the latter especially in the Alatian port-towns. Selenaria started out mostly wine-drinking and has excellent vineyards to the south and along the foothills of the volcanic Makerforges, but beer made rapid inroads during the Era of Steam and Steel, as more compatible with operating heavy machinery after lunch. Currently they’re big beer producers because they’re also big grain producers.

North of there, in Veranthyr, cider is the day-to-day drink, but they make a variety of liquors from fruits of all sorts which are classically deceptive. Taste sweet, and harmless, and delicious, and moreish. And then you fall over.

Up in the Silver Crescent, they drink strong black beers, mead in the lowlands, and whisky, varying from whisky smooth as golden nectar to rough firewhisky best drunk with a dollop of the local honey mixed in unless you enjoy having the lining stripped off your throat and sinuses.

The beer tends to come from microbreweries. It’s not that there aren’t large breweries, but those tend to be microbreweries-in-spirit, the sort of places that we might call minibreweries, because (a) it is hard to scale beer production without losing experimentalism, quirkiness, and the attention to detail that stops it from turning into rat piss, and (b) it is even harder to convince people that you can brew non-rat-piss beer on a large scale.

Taking a brief look at some other species, dar-bandal favor beer almost universally, typically heavy stouts and porters with the yeast unfiltered – and don’t forget to lap it up, it improves the bouquet. Anything kaeth particularly enjoy drinking is certainly flammable and probably radioactive, so use caution. And ciseflish drinks are served around 80 K, so warm-blooded oxygen-breathers need not apply.

Esseli drinks are always innovative and delicious, but unless you’re accustomed to and comfortable with biotechnology, do not ask what they were secreted by.

 

Trope-a-Day: Spare Body Parts

Spare Body Parts: The poster-people for this are the kaeth, who come from the kind of… robust ecology (see: Had to be Sharp) that makes a selection of extra backup organs very useful indeed. And a special shout-out goes to the myneni, who have a kind of this by default by virtue of forming all their organs ad hoc anyway.

Of course, it’s not like a lot of other species haven’t been merrily engineering redundancy into at least some clades of themselves in the name of extra resilience, starting with auxiliary hearts and working down, even if they can’t do the same sort of holistically comprehensive job…

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: Once Is Not Enough

Once Is Not Enough: With the regenerative capabilities, smart cardiovascular nets, auxiliary hearts, and suchlike they engineer into people these days, you should be mindful of this trope, aversion of Only a Flesh Wound notwithstanding.  That goes doubly for races like the kaeth, whom nature has equipped with a particularly tough and redundant biology.  Check, don’t assume.

As a side-note, Imperials are in a much safer legal position than Terrans when trying to avert this one, when it comes to self-defense. The Curia is of the view that any law that requires you to act out bad horror-movie cliches is a bad law, and so, if you’re justified in having to put someone down, you’re entitled to make sure they don’t get back up.

Blood

B“We don’t speak to our gods, and they don’t speak to us.”

“Why? The last time we asked them for something and they heard us, Venirek Sky-Hammer punched our world so hard that everything died. And it’s not that we’re not grateful, but that’s the kind of miracle you only want occasionally. That, and it’s not like they have a lot to say to us, skyhammer and bloodwind and old starry-eyes. We tell their myths to children and what they learn – bein’ kaeth – is that they want to grow up to punch things that hard. That, and to die well enough to get into Mak-Rekken, the afterlife of glorious eternal battle.”

Not what you might call a well-rounded spirituality. For that, we have the Eight Bloody Sages.”

“Not gods. The old ones, lost in myth – except when they’re not. The eight oldest of us, the ones who survived everything Paltraeth could throw at them, each other and the rest of us included. Rage, Greed, Cunning, Clan, Lust, Fire, Death, and Being Too Damn Bull-Headed To Quit, Ever.” The old kaeth smirked. “It sounds better without translation. They don’t have other names. They don’t need other names.”

“And never just the Eight Sages. They’re the Eight Bloody Sages. Because they’re born in blood, and alive through blood, their own and their enemies. Because blood is truth and blood is life and life’s wisdom comes through blood. And because if you don’t listen well enough when they speak, your own blood pooling around the remains of your guts’ll be the last thing you ever see.”

Trope-a-Day: National Weapon

National Weapon: There are really too many local variants on this theme to play it straight in the modern era; about the closest you can come are the Two Swords of the Old Empires (see Choice of Two Weapons), which the initial spread of the Empire on its own world spread to lots of other places as at least an option.

Another potential item for the list might be the kaeth battleax, a weapon closely resembling the lochaber axe which, with some modernization as to materials and some of the less functional accessories, is the linear ancestor of the modern legionary boarding ax/space-ax.  (But in these modern days and times, the signature weapon of the kaeth is “the biggest guns it’s possible to carry”, so a true national weapon it is not.)

Epistolary Experiment (12/30)

Captain’s log, 11204.9. We’ve come alongside the eighteenth belt mining facility in our securing patrol of Ódeln System. On our way in, we tracked what appeared to be a merchant freighter inbound to the station, presumably lacking the delta-v to go elsewhere.

Well, it wasn’t a freighter. At close range, we profiled it as some sort of armed mercenary ship. Her radiators went cold and reactors powered down shortly after arriving at the station, and we detect no thermal hot-spots. Nonetheless, I have ordered boarding parties to secure both the ship and the station, while we cover them with the ship’s guns. The latter party has already taken a number of these mercenaries into custody, and is returning them under guar–

Intruder alert, intruder alert. Fighting in shuttle bay two. Security team’s weapons fired in shuttle –

Hull breach in engineering, section four. Boarders in engineering, ventral section four.

Initiate security alert. Security teams to engineering.

Compliant. Boarders in engineering, ventral section five. System faults, ventral section five. Injector control compromised. Reactor scram. Reactor scram.

Full lockdown, all engineering sections! Stand by for gas protocol —

Boarders in engineering, core section. I’m sorry, Captain, I can’t do that.

Specify!

Primary command structure is overridden. Command permissions are not found.

Res-

HA! HARGH! This is Strike Leader Krallnith of the Interstellar Interceders ship Cunning Swine, and I am standing in your computer core. You know that means your ship now works for me, the way you build ‘em. Now, if you have a fondness for oxygen, I suggest you tell your crew to lay down arms and report to the brig. You have six minutes.

– transcribed from the logs of the Interstellar Interceders ship Scrapyard Value Only,
formerly VNS Fraternity


VENERI (OSIS DEEP) – An emergency meeting of the Central Committee of the Socionovist Association was convened today at the request of the representatives of the People’s State of Bantral. Neither those representatives nor other sources close to the Committee have commented publicly on the purpose of this meeting, but in light of the ongoing unlawful and unjustifiable occupation of much Bantine space by Republican forces and the State’s contemptible betrayal by the Conclave, in its refusal to acknowledge their obligations to the defense of all, this reporter can only presume that mutual defense measures are being strongly considered by the Association.

[APPROVED FOR DISSEMINATION – Meer har-Tal Ankór, Office of Desirable Truths and Detestable Falsehoods]

That Bullshit Right There, Independent Worlds Router


Yeah, as if the Bants wouldn’t shit acid out their nostrils at the sight of an Accord task force violating their precious territorial space…

Extranet Opinions, Independent Worlds Router


“So there we were, down on Tarqil to get the comms center back up and running, and we’d cleared out the Vonnies and were hacking on the gennies, and we saw this trail going off into the highmoss. Can’t leave that alone, so I take my squad and we follow it, and the further along we go, the more shot up everything gets. The moss is all torn up, there’re kalatri bodies and bits of bodies, wrecked equipment, enough spent powercells to equip a regiment, all sorts of crap.”

“A couple of miles down, we get to a clearing with a heap of bodies in it. A big heap. A couple of squads, at least, of the lizard-boys scattered around one of their trackers, and the armor’s half ripped off that. And it’s on fire.”

“So we poke around some, and we find a life-pod, and there’s a kaeth in it, more gel than skin, looks like, and we figure that might explain it. Except the up-timer on the pod’s been running for more’n an hour and this heap, at least, is fresher than that, and anyway, someone had to stuff him in the pod, right?”

“And then an EM alert bleeps, and we look up, all six of us, and there’s this ciseflish standing on the burning tracker, and he’s holding this big, ugly bastard of a sluggun that’s taller than he is. And we’re all just gaping at him, and eventually Meliané gets it together enough to ask what the hells happened? Chirpy little sod just looks back at us like we’re the crazy ones and squeaks ‘Violence?’”

“…yeah, we bought him a lot of drinks after the op.”

– a conversation with Spec. Rilka mor-Dantek, 93rd Imperial Legion (“the Wrench Wenches”)

The Emperors’ Sword: Introduction

This is the first – in what turns out will be several – posts on the Imperial Legions, how they’re equipped and how they work in practice.

But before getting into the details of how the Imperial Legions are equipped, it’s important to understand what they are. The Legions are a force optimized for heavy striking and raiding – ideally, to jump in, sucker-punch the enemy, and bug out again – rather than to hold ground, or to act as occupying forces (much more analogous to the Marines than the Army, in other words). They are trained to excel at local strongpoint defense, but that’s a separate issue from trying to occupy or hold large areas.

This is for three reasons:

  1. In the minds of everyone but the very-minority Imperium Bellipotent, and some of its political allies, the Empire is out of the conquering business, and has been for a very long time. Mass forcible conquests are out of fashion, seeing as they don’t work very well, and very unlikely to ever come back into fashion. The Empire is very firm on not wanting anyone in it who doesn’t want to be there.
  2. When planning to occupy lots of ground, it helps to have lots of quantity. The Empire has rarely had that advantage, and so prefers to optimize its military forces for quality – and picks a strategic posture that works well for having the best, not necessarily the most, troops. (Also, for that matter, the kaeth – of whom there are many in the Legions – are temperamentally very unsuited for occupation duties, since they get bored really, really fast if no-one’s putting up a proper fight. And no-one wants them going out and looking for someone who’ll give them one…)
  3. Mass interplanetary warfare is, in any case, impractical in the extreme. It takes a ridiculously large number of troops to keep your boot firmly on the neck of an entire planet, up close and personal-like, and while you can build a fleet of troop transports fit to blacken the sky, etc., etc., if you don’t wreck your economy and bankrupt yourself doing so, you’ll certainly spend far, far more than you could ever possibly gain by doing it. This is a move generally reserved for the less sane members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, like the lovely space-fascists of the Iltine Union.

(In practice, I say aside, the Empire makes up for this doctrinal deficiency on the rare occasions – nth-generational future-warfare is usually long past the requirement for, as well as the habit of, mass warfare – it’s required to in one of two ways:

First up, and preferably, the practice of nexus warfare combined with orbital supremacy. This is one of the reasons the Legions are trained to excel at local strongpoint defense; because on any halfway civilized world/habitat, when you’ve got them by the data network, and the power grid, and the transportation hubs, and on many planets the life support, their hearts and minds tend to follow. This is then backed up by the Navy sitting in orbit ready to drop some KEWs on anyone who causes too much trouble. And together, these keep things stable long enough for concessions to be extracted or for the meme-wranglers to do their work.

Second, on the less friendly side reserved for the extreme cases, orbital supremacy combined with ruthlessness. If you’re fighting people who aren’t civilized, unlikely to become civilized, and likely to go on causing trouble, it’s time to dig out the old C/C strategy –Containment/Curtailment.

The former covers, after achieving orbital supremacy and dropping a few raids to take out possible countermeasures and existing facilities, placing a whole mess of interdiction satellites in orbit and a picket to supervise them, with instructions to shoot up anything that looks like a launch facility and shoot down anything they manage to launch anyway. Conquering and civilizing them may be out (which it almost certainly was anyway – see the Hopeless War trope, when its turn comes up for posting), but at least you can guarantee that whatever they’re going to do, at least they’re only going to be doing it to each other. And it’s a damn sight cheaper in money as well as blood than trying to occupy the place would be.

The latter covers that, well, once you have orbital supremacy, you do always have the option of shelling the planet back into the Stone Age with your KEWs. (You can actually do a lot worse, obviously, but that would violate a dozen or so solemn treaties on the Proper Treatment of Garden Worlds.) And in particularly intransigent cases, exercising this option and trusting that the civilization of the descendants of the survivors won’t be quite such a bunch of egregious assholes next time sometimes does look like the best solution.

In the event that neither of these actually works in a given situation and they absolutely have to run an occupation – something that has not yet occurred – the Board of Admiralty’s wargamed-and-filed plan is to take along a couple of nanofactories, have them churn out cheap automated milspec police-drones by the million, and put them in charge of the routine matters. They don’t get bored, it’s never personal for them, and people care a lot less that a hunk of non-sophont combat electronics just got blown up by an IED. It’s also rather discouraging for the opposition. No resistance/revolutionary movement was ever inspired by “Happy news, comrades! We finally made the hated Imperials equipment losses rise out of the statistical noise! Er, locally, at least.”)

(The other reason, aside again, for the local strongpoint defense training is on defense against large invasions, in which they are intended to hold strongpoints in the defense-in-depth battlespace, providing stiffening for the Home Guard, who act as raiding companies and partisans; against small ones, they counter-raid.)

But, exceptional and theoretical digressions aside, the Emperors’ Sword is built on speed, maneuver, force, and cunning. Pick your target, strike hard, strike fast, subvert, shock, disrupt, hit ‘em right in the vulnerable spot, and don’t get pinned down doing it or try to hold anything that’ll only slow you down. Then get out, regroup, resupply, and do it again. Repeat until you’ve won.

And so they equip accordingly.

Trope-a-Day: Gargle Blaster

Gargle Blaster: Several of them, indeed.  Most notable would be much vereldrae liquor (made from only fruit and sap, really, but distilled in ways designed by demented alchemists and with a kick that mules or moonshine would envy – and a lot of these are flammable), essentially everything brewed on Paltraeth (the kaeth enjoy their tests of strength, including booze that is high in alcohols – including the ones that make humans go blind – high in heavy metals, and not quite highly radioactive), anything produced by a Military Moonshiner or indeed a spacer moonshiner, especially if it mentions reactor coolant, thruster fuel, or antimatter in its name, and in general, lots of things made for species whose biochemistry doesn’t quite match one’s own, which may not kill you, but will certainly void your ‘shell’s warranty.

There are also the nano-powered drinks that stimulate various brain regions in interesting and unlikely ways, but honestly, given what people will do with simple chemistry

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.

Trope-a-Day: Proud Warrior Race Guy

Proud Warrior Race Guy: Some people think of the kaeth, the draconic pseudosaurians with the heavy-metal biology among the Imperials, as this, but while they are certainly violent (er, kinesthetic) enough, their sense of honor also is comfortable matching the Empire’s general Combat Pragmatism and eschewing of Martyrdom Culture, and it ignores their technological development and their artistic and spiritual side – really, they more closely resemble a cross between a Proud Soldier Race (see original trope) and Warrior Poet.

And also, same disclaimer: while there are a lot of them in the Legions and finding work with security companies and mercenary outfits, they are also to be found in the many assorted other roles that society requires.  (Even though they can still probably kick your ass.)

More likely candidates include the heavy-world linobir, who play it much straighter, and the kaliatar, who would like to think they play it straight, but are far too sneaky and devious.

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.

How the World was Won

This rose-and-yellow orb is Paltraeth, homeworld of the kaeth.

Most think of Paltraeth the way it is today: a dry, mostly desert world baking under the fierce glare – in light, heat, and hard radiation – of its hot blue-white sun, its dust-laden atmosphere stripped thin and its oceans reduced to small alkaline puddles and sprawling potash flats.  A harsh world of temperature extremes, heavy metals (chelate regularly!), and radiation, more than suited to its equally harsh people, and somewhere that no-one else would want to live for long.

To think this is to ignore the major shaping event of its history.  Paltraeth used to be much worse.

Ancient Paltraeth was a seething jungle world, an ecology that, due to the intense radiation-bath of its sun and falling into some unfortunate local maxima, was home to more fire and claw and fury than any other dozen garden worlds you care to name.  This was the environment that shaped the ancestors of the kaeth; one in which virtually every other being on the planet was trying to kill you.  In which uncannily fast healing, strong immunities, and distributed organ systems were a necessity for survival.  In which the heavy metals that enriched the planet were seized and put to use by the evolutionary arms race to grow harder bones and natural armor.  And in which, despite their sophonce, the early kaeth were no more than midway up the food chain.

It is a truism that the eldraeic relationship with nature has always been one of intermingled love and hatred for a wild force that needed to be tamed and gardened to become a place in which sophonts might truly live.  The kaeth relationship with nature was much simpler; pure hatred for a world that seemed to exist only to break them.

In this environment, what would have been a disaster on any other world, the asteroid impact of circa -183,000 that created the distinctive, orbitally-visible astrobleme now known as Venirek’s Fist, came as a blessing to the kaeth.  While the planet was devastated by the impact – its atmosphere and oceans partially stripped away, wildfires blazing across much of its land surface, and most of the population killed in the first impacts – a minority of the sophont kaeth were able to survive, and in the aftermath of the impact ripped, tore, crushed and stomped most of the disaster-shocked ecology that had produced them and fought them daily into the muck and ash.  It’s believed by modern genetic archaeologists that only a few thousand individuals planetwide survived Fistfall and its aftermath, but in that time, modern Paltraeth was shaped.

The modern kaeth love their harsh world, it is true, but not as the world that made them; rather, as the world they seized and made their own.

– Leyness’s Worlds: Guide to the Core Worlds

Made By Fermentation… Well, Mostly Fermentation

…at some point during your stay on Paltraeth, someone is certain to offer you the opportunity to sample “a traditional local beverage”.  This offer should not – unless your current ‘shell is built to consume substances that would be classified as hazardous waste under most other production regimes – be accepted.  Traditional kaeth alcoholic beverages serve, as so many things do in their culture, as a test or demonstration of strength; thus, in addition to a high percentage of ethanol, they are known to contain a variety of other alcohols (including methanol, isopropyl alcohol, cyclic alcohols, and others of those which tend to cause blindness, madness, or death in other sophonts), toxic, carcinogenic and hallucinogenic alkaloids, benzene, fuel hydrocarbons, a variety of caustic substances, high levels of the heavy metals found throughout Paltraeth’s environment, and rather more radioactivity than the manufacturers of glowing synthdrinks would consider safe or advisable.  The offer is essentially a joke when made to an offworlder, and no-one will think any the worse of you for refusing it if done good-naturedly.

If you can consume just about anything, however, and have no particular place to be, go ahead and chug it right down.  You can make some great new friends this way, and the hangover will almost certainly be worth it.

– An Innocent on Paltraeth, Delphys Travellers’ Press