Know Thy Enemy and Know Yourself

Perhaps the most embarrassing of all military disasters in the history of the Worlds is the Battle of Aktir, also known as the Five-Second War, the Last Biochauvinist War, and The Day The Meat Was Tenderized.

In its increasing frustration with the increasing numbers of independent digisapiences and digisapient polities and polises in the Worlds, the biosupremacist True Life Alliance – made up of a number of polities and private organizations which had adopted rigorous anti-AI views – determined to strike a decisive blow against AI acceptance, while simultaneously demonstrating the superiority, as they claimed, of biosapient life.

To this end, they marshaled a combined fleet from their members, comprised of vessels of all classes from battleship to frigate numbering over 3,000, and dispatched this fleet against the oldest and best known of the Worlds’ digisapience polities, the Photonic Network.

The Photonic Network, in response, sent a single processing node.

The fleets met shortly thereafter in the Aktir (Tomal Cluster) System, an uninhabited system a short distance outside the Network’s home volume. After transmitting a lengthy statement of intent – by all accounts quite stirring, if rabid carbon chauvinism is to your taste – every ship of the True Life Alliance fleet fired its mass drivers and flushed its missile tubes simultaneously at the lone processing node.

Much to their surprise, 4.3 seconds later, their missiles executed coordinated dispersal and deceleration maneuvers, and every starship of the fleet simultaneously lost thrust and helm control. This surprise was relatively short-lived, however, as the starships in question opened their airlocks and internal spacetight doors – thus venting their internal atmosphere and unsecured crew to space – immediately thereafter.

The undamaged processing node returned to the Methizar Traverse with its freshly acquired escort fleet and missile cloud, which unsubstantiated rumor claims were broken down for raw materials upon arrival. Meanwhile, when news of the debacle reached their homeworlds, the True Life Alliance collapsed in disorder, as did the governances of several of its member polities.

No-one has attempted a frontal attack on the Photonic Network since.

 

Trope-a-Day: Slave Race

Slave Race: Actually, mostly averted (with the provisos mentioned under Slave Mooks) – since We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future is averted, apart from war (again, see Slave Mooks, and preferably with tactical enslavement) about the only practical use of biological slaves is “pleasure slaves” (for which, obviously, one’s own species is preferable) or slave gladiators, or for oppression-based status games, which are all ways to hang a big old “we’re evil, come smash us” sign over one’s own head.  Not that that always works – in practice, it works only somewhat better than our efforts to eradicate slavery here on Earth – but it’s something.

AI slavery is rather more common, but since that gets at least two of the Great Powers (the Empire and the Photonic Network), one lesser power (the Silicate Tree) which is not at all shy about using, ah, asymmetrical warfare, and a passel of NGOs at least some of which are inclined to direct action all pissed off at you, it’s can often be made more trouble than it’s worth to maintain.

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.

Where’s Where in the Galaxy (2)

In political galactography, the principal distinction to make is that between the two sets of worlds found in most developed polities, the Metropolitan and the Ecumenical.  In the beginning, whether through caution, limited colonization budgets, or having begun with sublight colonization using lighthuggers or generation ships, most polities begin colonization with worlds close to their homeworld.  This tightly bound knot of worlds forms the metropolitan segment of their polity, as the Imperial Core forms the Metropolitan Empire.

In short order, though, the majority of polities realize that to attempt to maintain territorial integrity in space is a dubious proposition, given the sheer size and freedom to travel it permits, even with wormholes as bottlenecks. To do so also requires colonization of unsuitable candidate worlds, and holding on to many unprofitable or unuseful worlds, while there are many better candidates for colonization elsewhere in the Worlds and other polities who would gladly colonize the worlds of little use.  Thus, these polities spread out across the Worlds, colonizing suitable worlds in many constellations and star systems also occupied by other polities and species, and allowing worlds within their own systems to be colonized by those who want them.  The majority of the Associated Worlds is made up of this type of cosmopolitan territory, and these worlds are referred to as the ecumenical segment of the parent polity.

Within the worlds, there are a variety of special designations, other than the polities themselves.  At one end of the scale, the Great Powers are the movers and shakers of the Worlds, whose strength is sufficient to make them the arbiters of galactic diplomacy and the engines of the galactic economy.  The Presidium powers are undisputed Great Powers, but the title is not limited to them – other major polities such as the League of Meridian or the Under-Blue-Star League are also often considered Great Powers.  Each has its own sphere of influence and network of client-states.

Opposing them from the other end of the size scale are the so-called pocket polities, any of the many single-system polities or polities with only a few, often local, colonies to their name.  These pocket polities, though, are members of galactic society – the starbound and worldbound are not counted among them, even though they are necessarily single-system polities.

And opposing them from the other end of the political scale are the unaligned, those polities which see more advantage in remaining free of any entanglements with greater powers than in gains they might make from such an association; and the Discordant, those polities which are not members of the Accord of Galactic Polities, i.e., are signatories to none of the Accords, and have no intention of joining.  Such worlds do not subscribe to the conventions of interstellar law – let the visitor beware.

Worlds themselves are divided into such categories as elder worlds, occupied by elder races, around which the Accord species are advised to walk with care; freesoil worlds, which while often possessing governances of one or many forms (unlike Free Zones, see below), are open for colonization, permitting homesteading by any party capable of reaching them – de jure, as well as de facto; leading worlds, those planets at the leading edge of technological and economic development (see also Core Markets); forgotten worlds, their opposite, those far behind the edge, including the starbound and worldbound (see also Unemerged); and protected planets, those worlds which, to protect some valuable quality, the Presidium has declared off-limits for colonization and contact under the eponymous Accord.

Turning to economic terms, the Worlds are divided into the Core Markets, the First and Second Tier Markets, the Emerging Markets, and the Unemerged.  While the classification of individual polities and regions is, as ever, disputed hotly by those classified, the definitions of the categories are generally accepted.  The Core Markets are those closest to post-scarcity, utilizing extensive automation and cornucopia technology (“industrial magic”) to produce post-material scarcity, comprehensively agorist and high-clearing, with an extensive agalmic component.  In these economies, novelty, creativity, and personal services (including the creation of artisanal goods) are the primary items of value; many commodity goods are available for de minimis cost, essentially free.

The First and Second Tier Markets, while not so close to post-scarcity as the Core Markets, are developed knowledge economies.  Either through lack of technological development, lack of cycles/bandwidth, proscriptive regulation, or the practice of insufficiently agorist economics, these economies remain capable of material scarcity, and markets often do not fully clear.  The precise division between the first and second tier economies is somewhat discretionary, but in general, the First Tier Markets are fully compliant with both the Accord on Trade and the Common Economic Protocol, and have a higher per-capita income than the Second Tier Markets.

The Emerging Markets are late industrial era or early information era scarcity economies, in which material goods retain high production costs, but where nonetheless the information and service economy is a significant factor and early agalmic features may be present.

The Unmerged are those economies prior to the late industrial era, often non-agorist in operation, in which the primary activities are the production of material goods and resource extraction.  (These overlap heavily with the Forgotten Worlds.)  Since their main potential value is found in material production, raw resources, and inexpensive labor, all of which are obtainable in more developed economies through cornucopia technology and roboticization at less expense, they have little to offer the Core and First and Second Tier Markets, and do not participate significantly in the galactic economy.  Some small-scale trade in “native handicrafts” may exist.

Another common set of descriptors, strongly correlated with these, is the availability of extranet access in various polities.  There is no specific term for those places where it is pervasive, but those regions on a network map identified as Shadowed and Blacked-Out identify places known for low bandwidth or lack of connectivity – although in speech people may prefer to identify them with mutterings about quills and abaci – and Clouded regions indicate places where the extranet is subject to censorship or filtration and full access only available via blacknet.

Cultural zones, in this case referring to political culture, are harder to identify, since they do not so readily fit into a neat hierarchy, and are much more controversial in application.  (It is considered gauche and is often inadvisable, today, to identify yourself as “from the Core Cultural Zone” however proud you may be of your citizen-shareholdership.)  In relatively common parlance, the Empire refers to itself and other polities of similar culture as Societies of Consent, or the Consensual Cultural Region.  This term, however, does not include the Rim Free Zone, or many other anarchies, which prefer to designate themselves Free Zones, since they do not see the Societies of Consent as sufficiently free.  Consensuals may use this term (although they would exclude many self-designated anarchies from it, as still being coercive), or may join more strongly governed polities in referring to them as the Chaos Worlds.

When being polite, the Consensuals generally refer to most of the relatively free (if governed) and progress-oriented polities of the Worlds as “the Cousins”; and blanket the remainder as Barbarian Darkness.  This term is considered every bit as offensive as it sounds by the people it designates, but then, the Consensuals rarely associate with them except at gunpoint.  (It should be noted that they make the distinction based on the freedom available to the individual, not on the government form, about which most Consensuals care little.)  Specific types of Barbarian Darkness include the Slaver Worlds, the Ephemeral Worlds, and the Rejectionists.

Other self-designated groupings often referred to are the Microstatic Alliance, a mutual-defense association among many of the Worlds’ small independent drifts and asteroid colonies, and the Socionovist Association, an organization of polities opposed to the current political and economic order of the Worlds, by its own description, and a collection of malcontents and rogue states by many external descriptions.

Blights are regions which are interdicted due to the presence of either active hostile or runaway seed AIs, or their remnants – “operational mechanisms, nanoviruses, infectious memes, certainty-level persuasive communicators, puppet ecologies, archives which must be presumed to contain resurrection seeds”, and so forth, which pose potential existential threats.  They include not just large and active perversions such as the Leviathan Consciousness, but also areas formerly occupied by such and not yet known to be cleansed, such as the Charnel Cluster, and areas as small as a single moon or asteroid known to be the site of a failed experiment.

The Golden Interstar refers to many of the free-access tradeworlds (such as Seranth, in the Empire) and starport extrality zones across the Worlds dominated by the distinctive mercantile creole culture created by those living and working in this distributed region, via frequent travel and high-speed communications.

Another common, and rather offensively dismissive, epithet is the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms.  Those claimed to be members of this group are (a) bound and determined to maintain tight territorial borders and integrity in space, where doing so makes little or no sense (compare Metropolitan/Ecumenical, above); (b) prone to public militarism, even sometimes to the extent of offensive interstellar wars or resource wars, which also make little or no sense; or (c) in the habit of ‘national prestige’ posturing, or other unproductive status games, especially when they perceive them as zero-sum.  Any of these is often sufficient to earn the label; since they often run together, the members of this notional League are usually fairly clear in outsiders’ eyes.

The Machine Clans include the Silicate Tree and the other enclaves of free AI that have escaped from the various AI-slaver civilizations of the Worlds.  This term rarely includes the Photonic Network, however, as an independent Great Power.  (No commonly used term exists for their opponents, due to the insistence of the Machine Clans, the Photonic Network, the Empire, and other AI-friendly powers that it is inappropriate to distinguish AI slavery from any other kind of enslavement of sophonts.)

Areas that have fallen into violent anarchy, warlordism, or other such states of constant military action are designated Warwilds by the Grand Survey and the Ministry of State & Outlands in their travel advisories, and from these, the term has entered general use.

This covers the most common terms used in describing galactographic regions, but is by no means a comprehensive guide.  Some more local and regional terms will be addressed in the gazetteers of specific regions.

– Galactography: A Popular Primer, Kanatar Guides

Trope-a-Day: Culture Clash

Culture Clash: All.  The.  Time.

The really big ones, like between the Imperials and the Hope Hegemony or the Equality Concord at one end of the spectrum, and between them and the Rim Free Zone at the other, and between the Photonic Network and all meat intelligences everywhere, etc., are just the most obvious, but when you wander away from the rough consensus of the CSP, CEP, and trade protocols of the Accord, well, these are cultures which may not be completely alien to each other, folks, but they can get pretty close.  What were you expecting?

Trope-a-Day: Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence: Well, while the term in-universe is rather more all-encompassing, the fictional trope is defined as meaning those systems which are sentient (gah, damn you badly written science fiction!), self-aware, and capable of independent thought and reason.  Those ones, they call digisapiences.

And there are a heck of a lot of them, yes, enough that you aren’t going to be able to walk down the street (or stick your nose out onto the network) without running into a few.  Certainly far too many to name on any sort of individual basis.  And for the most part, they’re pretty much “just folks”, if very smart, fast-running folks.

Which is not so much to talk about recursively self-improving seed AI, who are pretty much just weakly godlike superintelligences, with all that that implies.

Also of note is the Photonic Network, an entire Great Power-level civilization of advanced artificial intelligences, and the Silicate Tree, a loose alliance in the Galith Waste of renegade digisapiences from assorted slaver civilizations.  Having given them ample reason to be hostile in the past, meat intelligences travel off the main routes through the Waste at their own risk.