Sometimes the Chicken Wins

LEAGUE SAFETY IN HABITATION COMMISSION
CATASTROPHIC FAILURE ANALYSIS
SUMMARY REPORT

Location: Tuntamus (Madel Cauldron)
Date: 6921-11-13
Habitat: Tuntab High Orbit Three (“Senmarville”)
Defining Event: Complete structural failure
Accident Number: LM6921-443
Damage: Total
Casualties: 23,147

Presented to the Inter-Worlds Commission on the Accord on Free Space

The events of the Tuntab High Orbit Three habitat disaster have deep roots in existing conditions on the habitat, which will be summarized following the proximal cause analysis.

While both the quantity and severe damage to the wreckage prevents this analysis from being as detailed as this Commission might wish, the earliest specifically identifiable contributory event took place on the night previous, at E-14:11:31, when a local management computer for the station’s domestic electrical grid detected demand on the local power grid for which it was responsible and was unable to meet this demand – part of a pattern of ongoing grid instability – and thus began load shedding. Various remote attempts to restore service over the next few hours proved unsuccessful, with ongoing grid instability causing incoming power connections to trip as soon as they could be brought on stream.

At E-11:10:22, the electrical control room containing the local management computer was entered by an individual using the security codes of a station administrator (one not recorded as having operational training), and power restored manually from station main bus B, an alternate source which had previously failed, and the automatic cutouts locked in the on position. This procedure violated all established safety regulations and operational protocols.

This resulted in load exceeding design parameters being borne by the superconducting cable connecting the associated electrical substation to main bus B, which several hours later (E-2:20:16) explosively overheated at a previously worn spot on the cable as it entered the 37.5°30 sub-level 2-5 machinery room, igniting a lubricant fire therein.

This fire went unnoticed for over an hour. Alarms sounded in the 37.5°30 emergency control center, but this center was, again in violation of all established safety regulations and operational protocols, unmanned. The fire thus had the opportunity to establish itself, and the alarm was not relayed to the station operations center until E-1:05:48. Even then, response was slowed by the ongoing efforts to correct the problems with the electrical grid (as shown by the operations log), but ultimately emergency response teams were dispatched to extinguish the fire now raging on the lowest level of the machinery room.

While the fire on the lowest level had largely been extinguished by E-0:13:11, flames had broken through in several areas into the next level, including along various pieces of unstopped or inadequately stopped electrical ductwork and service passages, including a branch from the duct conveying various outgoing power lines to the machinery room’s subordinate grids to the super-high-tension relay substation on sub-level 4. When the fire became established in this area and heated the oil-insulated transformers, the resulting flashover and electrical short-circuits, at E-0:02:61 reignited fires on all levels of the 37.5°30 machinery room (and may have ignited minor fires elsewhere on the station; see full addendum), but this fire was swiftly extinguished by the station’s automatic response, sealing the area (although at least three spacetight doors failed to seal fully, having been manually propped open or disconnected) and venting it to space.

More serious consequences, however, were felt elsewhere. The electrical consequences of the short-circuits in the 37.5°30 machinery room were transmitted immediately to all parts of main bus B; while the immediate reason is unknown due to a lack of physical evidence the bus isolation breakers failed to open at any point between the machinery room and the station’s fusion plant. In the face of the sudden demand spike this caused, the three fusion reactors feeding into bus B tripped offline and initiated SCRAM procedures. While this was the correct response from the point of view of reactor protection, all portions of the station dependent on main bus B were immediately deprived of main power.

The electromagnetic bearing supporting the station’s major habitable torus should not have been affected by this. As all vital systems are, it was powered, by design, from multiple essential-services buses cross-fed from multiple main buses to prevent exactly this type of incident. However, at some point in the recent past, and again in violation of all established safety regulations and operational protocols, the primary magnetic rings had been rewired to all feed from main bus B. While not established directly by the evidence, maintenance records exist of a recent replacement of worn cabling for the bearing; it seems most probable that the rewiring to B was done due to a lack of available replacement wire (see below), and the maintenance records falsified accordingly. The operations log does indicate warnings logged of the lack of power drain from the ess bus spurs involved, but no action appears to have been taken on these by station operations.

Thus, at E-0:00:03, the non-moving inner surface of the magnetic bearing lost axis and made contact with the rotating rings, immediately undergoing catastrophic delamination. Shortly thereafter, at E-0:00:00, the resulting increase in friction and transfer of angular momentum tore the station apart, with all regions aft of docks & locks (fortuitously separated by an early debris impact) being subjected to g-load far in excess of their structural limits.

Inhabitants of this region, which included the major habitable torus and annexes, were given neither time nor opportunity to escape the station, and no survivors were reported from this region. The 1,982 survivors were all recovered from the docks & locks region, from nearby workshacks, or from EVAs being carried out at a distance from the station.

PROBABLE CAUSE AND FINDINGS

To fully understand the root cause, it is of note that Tuntab High Orbit Three was, at the time of the incident, in the third month of ongoing industrial action by the local operations and maintenance technicians, whose grievance was that station administration and operations were not ensuring that proper maintenance was performed in a correct and timely manner, or with replacement parts of adequate quality. In response to this, the Technical Association had required its members to cease performing any maintenance or associated work, which included even such activities as unloading, or permitting to be unloaded, maintenance or emergency supplies.

The Commission has therefore determined the probable causes of this incident to be:

  • Inadequate historical maintenance of station systems.
  • Dereliction of duty by responsible maintenance personnel.
  • Operation of technical systems by unqualified personnel.
  • Performance of maintenance by unqualified personnel.
  • Violation of safety regulations and operational protocols on an unprecedented scale.
  • Failure to properly inform habitat population of the safety status of the habitat.
  • Failure to evacuate in accordance with safety regulations.
  • Sophont error.

In closing, the Commission would add that, in their opinion, the true root cause of the Tuntab High Orbit Three incident was the belief of the station adminstration, operations, and technical staff that they could afford to play flinchy-flinchy with the prospect of a cascade failure in service of their own goals, something that no member of the operations and technical staff of any habitat should have contemplated. As such, the Commission recommends a complete revision of the training and licensure requirements for all those licensed to practice in these areas, with particular emphasis on the ethical obligations of those who, by virtue of their control of infrastructure, hold their populations’ lives in their hands.

The Commission also recommends to the League Ministry of Habitation that an immediate review be carried out of all habitats within League space with respect to establishing their historical and future compliance with all applicable safety regulations and operational protocols, with special powers to require the relicensure, retraining, or dismissal of any individual found to be, wilfully or otherwise, not in compliance with these, and the relicensure or receivership of any habitat administration or management company knowingly encouraging, tolerating, or provoking such practices.

Unforeseen Incentives

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

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

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

 

Snippet: Compromise

(As usual, a snippet that doesn’t have anywhere to fit.)

“The League’s democracy is an excellent and reliable example of its class; indeed, it is as close to the theoretic optimal case for a generative engine of political compromise as anything I’ve seen.”

“So the problem is…?”

“That if asked to choose whether two and two make four or five, it will reliably answer four-and-a-half.”

 

Trope-a-Day: Vestigial Empire

(This is actually yesterday’s.)

Vestigial Empire: There aren’t any really obvious Vestigial Empires – the Empire and the Consolidated Waserai Echelons are still vigorous; while the Voniensa Republic is near its clionomic control limits short of the kind of reforms their ideology won’t permit, it’s not yet vestigial; and the Rim Free Zone was never organized enough to be an Empire.  Probably the best candidates for non-obvious Vestigial Empires are the Under-Blue-Star League (senescent, but used to be a Great Power and still is on the Presidium), and the League of Meridian (not quite senescent with bursts of revanchism, depending on whose throat got cut in the cutthroat politics this week).  None of them are exactly huge chunks of the known worlds, although the League of Meridian comes closest.

 

Question: Great Powers

It’s question-answering time again:

Would you mind if I request a list of “great powers” and their overall internal/external policies? I am very curious about major powers other than the Empire and the Republic.

Well… maybe not all of ‘em. There are some whose revelations I would prefer to save for story purposes, and I must leave myself some breathing room for the sake of future creative freedom, and all. But I can give you a bit of data.

Hyperpowers

There are two that stand notably above the rest:

The Empire of the Star

Well, as everybody knows, the Empire and its 300 worlds don’t have an internal policy, except possibly the policy that people who think that they ought to get an internal policy should be thrown off 400’ waterfalls.

…well, okay, that’s not entirely true. The governance’s internal policy is to benignly umpire matters such that everyone can enjoy their liberties howsoever they wish, which leaves it largely up to the people. What the people want is a measure of laissez-faire mixed with a measure of laissez les bons temps rouler, served over the gospel of libertism-technepraxism and garnished with a sprig of Gilded Age – excuse me, Solid Gold Age – excess. And so that’s what they get.

In official foreign policy terms that translates out to a relatively passive “free trade (unilaterally), free people (by shooting slavers with KEWs), and free gifts for anyone who wants to join up”, plus general peacekeeping in the sense of demonstrating force majeure to anyone whose brushfire war might turn into something more serious. Oh, and striking down with great vengeance and furious anger anyone who might try and stop the good times, of course. That goes without saying.

This leaves the rest of the foreign policy to be determined by corporations, branches, and individuals with an agenda, which resulting policy coheres only rarely with anything else.

Voniensa Republic

Internally, just like their Expy original, they’re basically a paper federal republic that the technocracy (in the literal sense) behind the scenes wears as a figurehat. You don’t need me to tell you what their domestic policy is like: “moneyless” society, working to better ourselves, replicators and asceticism, a societal fear of augmentation, biochauvinism and carbon chauvinism, yadda yadda etc. all packaged in a chewy idealistic shell. We’ve seen lots of episodes of it each week at 7pm Central Time, only with shaved monkeys instead of four-armed lizards.

Or, at least, that’s what the Core Worlds are like. Life is somewhat different in the Shell, because of certain uncomfortable economic necessities, but… tum-te-tum-te-tum, saving that for later.

Their external policy is determined more or less entirely by their one major external contact, their border with the Worlds, which they regard with fear, loathing, and a general sense of existential threatenedness. They’re not wrong, either, but especially in the wake of the Core War, they’re not at all sure what if anything they can do about it.

The Other Four Presidium Powers

Consolidated Waserai Echelons

The Consolidated Waserai Echelons are a hierarchical military oligarchy located towards the coreward-nadir region of the Worlds, controlling approximately 100 systems. Which sounds terribly dictatorial, except given the militant character and inborn public service ethic of the waserai, they aren’t for-the-sake-of-it assholes about it, and their government form actually suits them very well indeed, which even the Imperials would admit. And it means they don’t have to run a “socialized” economy, since the social institutions they built ab initio were strong enough that they didn’t have to socialize it. (They actually get along reasonably well, except for the few elements of compulsory collectivism and a general sense that the waserai should, y’know, pull the stick out from time to time.)

Externally, they’re upstanding galactic citizens who look out for the status quo and the general enforcement of galactic law, such as it is. They’re somewhat more interventionist than the Empire, albeit not by much, and do like to think of themselves as galactic peacekeepers – which is largely true, and makes the IN happy, since they’re glad to accept help when shooting them as need it. The Waserai Star Brigade, of course, takes the same basic view the other way round, a subject of much friendly debate in naval bars.

League of Meridian

The League of Meridian is a democratic federal republic of approximately 80 worlds to trailing, moderate and centrist in its politics, and pragmatic in its approach to them.

Or, depending on how you look at it, a bunch of smooth-talking weasels who wouldn’t recognize a moral principle on a nice, bright day and rewrite their policies every couple of years just to be extra-annoying. But in general, if there’s an issue, they’re somewhere right in the uncomfortable middle ground, scrabbling to find compromises.

Yeah, they’re basically just like us and them. IN SPACE!

Photonic Network

The Photonic Network is a pure-AI polity controlling 80 worlds or so to acme. Since their forms of identity are generally unfamiliar to protein intelligences, it’s fairly hard to say anything about what their internal policies look like, except the general statement that they mostly deal with resource and priority allocation among, and arbitration between, teleological threads.

Its external policies can be summed up as “keep our back yard quiet, and try not to get hopelessly entangled in organic affairs”. The few deviations from that are usually attributed to some cunning negotiation on the part of some other polity’s superintelligent AI population, or for reasons amounting to “we wouldn’t understand the answer if they told us as plainly as they could”.

They are, however, a reliable Presidium vote in favor of expanding sophont rights as far as possible, which is probably for nobler or at least more intellectually complex reasons than “sticking it to the carbon chauvinists”, but that’s as good a reason to suppose as any in the meantime.

Under-Blue-Star League

The Under-Blue-Star League, is, alas, the weak member of the Presidium right now. They used to be much more active (they were a founding member of the Accord, in fact), but their sixty-world polity has grown old, moribund, and rather grumpy these days.

Their external policy has, correspondingly, become rather isolationist, and their Presidium votes often slanted towards “what will cause us the least trouble”. Internally, though – well, the problem these days is that their external policy makes it correspondingly difficult to tell what’s going on within the League, unwelcoming to visitors as it has become. They used to be a family/clan-centric loose confederation with few centralized policies other than promoting trade, genetic diversity through exogamy, and technological development… and maybe they still are, or at least they’re not obviously not.

A great deal of time, newsbytes, and occasional violence swirls around, however, the contentious question of just who might replace them on the Presidium if this decline continues.

Other Notable Players

Equality Concord

The Equality Concord and its dozen worlds share the dubious distinction of being the galaxy’s only genuinely functional, non-corrupt, decent-standard-of-living-enabled, etc., communist state.

(As opposed to genuinely non-functional communist states, like the former People’s State of Bantral.)

That’s because the Concord’s founders recognized the fundamental problem of Real True Communism requiring a whole set of instincts and drives and incentives and desires that are not commonly found among sophonts as nature made them. So they studied the gentle art of sophotechnology, and they built themselves some nice bionic implants to fix that problem, and create the perfect collectivist people for their perfect collectivist utopia. And then, and this is the important bit, they avoided the classic trap by applying the implants to themselves before applying them to anyone else.

It works. It may not be the most innovative of regimes, or the wealthiest, or up there on whatever other metric you choose to apply, but it does work, and self-perpetuates quite nicely.

Pity about that whole “free will” thing, but you can’t make an omelette, right?

External-policy-wise, it’s quite active both in a missionary sense (for itself) and in general do-goodery to burnish its galactopolitical image. (Both of these tend to work mostly on the desperate of one kind or another; the mainstream still thinks they’re creepy as hell.)

They do have a strong defensive military, but avoid using it in most offensive roles – probably because its collective intelligence knows that if there was even a slight suggestion that they were expanding by forcible implantation, they’d be on the wrong end of a multilateral fleet before you could say hegemonizing swarm.

Rim Free Zone

The Rim Free Zone isn’t, technically, a polity. It is, however, 49 worlds scattered through the rimward end of the Shadow Systems, the biggest bloc in that location, and so it has to be called something.

It’s not a polity because it’s 49 worlds all adherent to anarchocapitalism, of one strain or another. Which strain you get depends on exactly where you are, ranging from polite and civilized as the North American Confederacy, through somewhat less reputable but still perfectly reasonable places like, say, New Hong Kong, all the way down to pits of scum and villainy like Jackson’s Whole. You pay your money – no, you literally pay your money – and you take your choice.

But they are a big and ugly enough bloc to figure into the interstellar political calculus as a Great Power because it turns out that you don’t need to be a government to be mighty troublesome for one. That, and 49 worlds full of anarchocapitalists have a lot of guns, belike.

Passing the Handbasket

To my successor in office:

I’m leaving you this unofficial note to welcome you to the unique position of being an ambassador to the Empire, to pass on a few hopefully useful pieces of advice, and frankly, to wish you more joy of the position than I had, even before the FO recalled me.

I’ve left contact details in the database for my more useful contacts in State & Outlands.  They can help you out on any of the routine administration that comes up under one of the twelve Accords – but only the routine stuff, unfortunately.  I’d also call Meris Solanel-ith-Serquel to your particular attention if you find yourself charged with any special negotiations; she’s a good back-channel contact and willing to tell you directly if you’ve any chance of getting anywhere.  Which most of the time, you won’t.

As for other matters that will come up:

One might be forgiven for thinking that a country with no visa requirements wouldn’t cause you many problems with visitors, but that’s to ignore their willingness to refuse entry to anyone insane (by their – rather broad – standards), and anyone one of their truth machines deems insufficiently honest when signing up to the statement of rights and obligations they require of anyone entering.  Given how much they preen publicly about their devotion to rationality and principle, this catches less people than you might expect, but your staff will still be arranging repatriations on a regular basis.

You might also expect that their equally proclaimed refusal to impose any tariffs or trade regulations would make that a relatively trouble-free area, too.  Here, your problems will come from the home office, as while the Imperial government declines to use such things in response to those we set up, any number of corporations, trade cartels, and out-and-out smugglers will shamelessly connive to circumvent ours – and even our prohibitions on certain products – with the tacit aid of local banking privacy laws and the non-cooperation of the Market Liberty Oversight Directorate.  I have collected and passed on a myriad of eloquent, polite ways to say, “We regret that we won’t enforce your unethical laws for you,” in my time here, and you will undoubtedly collect still more.

Cultural and military affairs are also problematic.  In the name of freedom of speech and information, they insist that people be allowed to publish practically anything and to read anything that’s published, and are not even willing to discuss this issue with us, whatever the reasoning and whatever their notorious data havens may contain.  On the military side, you may be able to get some action taken against a particularly controversial intervention, even if it’s only likely to be getting the admiral in question beached for a few centuries until everyone’s forgotten the issue in question; but so far as they’re concerned, mercenary work is legal, privateering is legal, attempting to overthrow or to subvert someone’s government using any technique that isn’t violent is legal, and while they’ve never actually come out and said that filibustering is also legal…

Go ahead and file some protests on any of these if you like; it’s worth it just to listen to one of their State & Outlands people pour honey in your ear for an hour or three.  But you’ll realize the next day they talked for all that time without saying anything, and I’ll promise you right now, that’s all you’re ever going to get.

And lastly, extradition.  You will face three problems, here.  First, they will not extradite anyone for something that is not a crime under their law.  Second, if their law would impose a more severe penalty than ours for a given crime, and it’s one they consider particularly serious, they will try their hardest to insist that we prosecute him in their courts, so that they need not accept a criminal back.  And third, the inability to reconcile which – in the viKeruaz case – proved my downfall, they may insist on the second at the same time as public sympathies at home demand that he not be prosecuted in their courts.

I wish you the best of luck, and a quiet term of posting.

Sev Din Alar,
Ambassador of the League of Meridian (former)

Very, Very Small States

“The Microstatic Commission is the Impies’ bad joke at the expense of the rest of us.  You don’t really think they care about thousands of tiny freeholds, do you?  It’s just another means they use to defeat anyone’s attempt to build real institutions and real stability in the Worlds, in the same way as they use the bully pulpit of their Presidium seat to defeat any attempts to give the Conclave some teeth.”

“They encumber the Accord with hundreds, at least, of insignificant delegations – and at the same time, by forcing their recognition and permitting them to equip themselves with military-grade weaponry, they hamstring any actual polity’s attempt to deal with separatist movements, money laundering, tax havens, smuggling, data havens, citizenships-of-convenience, and the other various violations of sophont rights that come along with permitting this promiscuous multiplication of sovereignties by anyone who can get a ship out beyond claimed volumes!”

– Ambassador Sev Mal Criol, League of Meridian

“The Imperials certainly do have their own reasons for propping up the Microstatic Commission and thereby all we free drifts and small freesoil worlds.  I’ve never believed otherwise – for myself, I think they do find us useful in their ideological competition with the centralizing factions in the Accord – and I doubt very much any of my colleagues are naïve enough to do so either.  But they don’t require that we agree with them, vote with them, fight with them, or trade with them – or, indeed, apparently do anything but exist – in exchange for lending the weight of their credence to our sovereignty, and so we don’t really care what those reasons are.”

“As long as they don’t change, anyway.  But for centuries past and for now, it’s helped keep us free and independent of the polities we abandoned and old-school imperialists like Sev Mal’s League, and that’s good enough for me.”

– Ambassador Restal ni Korat an Aiym, Autarchic Habitat of Koesnrat (pop. 47)

“Well, of course we have our own reasons, but they’re hardly as cynical as even Ambassador ni Korat an Aiym implies.  Just because it is a matter of ideology doesn’t mean that it’s not sincere – and I will ask you the same question I would ask any of the challengers of the Microstatic Commission’s members’ rights.  How many does it take to be considered sovereign?  A hundred, a thousand, a million?  A billion?  Why not a trillion, while we’re setting thresholds, and throw quite a few of the loudest complainers out of the Accord?”

“We maintain that this number is one – as our own constitutional arrangements would imply to anyone who studied them – because no larger kind of sovereignty existed until this one, and that one, and those other ones, came together to make them with their own powers.  And should some thousands, or some hundreds, or some tens, or even one alone choose to exercise it themselves, we’ll support them in that.  As a matter of principle.”

– Presiding Minister Calis Corith-ith-Corith, Empire of the Star

“All of these are true.”

– ‘Victoria Diarch’, pseudonymous extranet pundit