Starships of the Imperial Exploratory Service

Of course, what I didn’t establish in the previous posting is exactly where the Empress Eledíë-class fits into the line-up of starship classes used by the Imperial Exploratory Service, so that I shall expand upon in this post. The short answer is: basically, pretty much in the middle, in what we might call the “cruiser-weight” classes.

Now, it’s somewhat harder than it might otherwise be to list all the classes the IES uses, because they’re big believers in the philosophy of modular design and assemble a lot of specialized starships of one-off classes from parts when there’s a mission requirement (like, say, Sniffer Packet), or even a mission convenience, to do so. But if one excludes those, a list of the most commonly used classes would read something like this, smallest to largest:

Clairvoyance-class far horizon probe

Which, as starwisps, are accompanied, naturally, by the previously described Lucifer VI-class starwisp tenders. The far horizon probes are tiny, solid-state AI craft whose job is to be the real “first in” explorers to any given star system, working beyond the boundaries of the stargate plexus, out in the Outback, looking for interesting systems to poke around in.

Inquisity-class planetary exploration vehicle
Vertiginous-class planetary exploration vehicle

The lineal descendants of the rovers and robots that did the first planetary exploration way back in the heyday of the first Spaceflight Initiative, like Wayseeker, the planetary exploration vehicles carry out similar missions of groundside investigation even today.

There are two distinct classes of PEV for two distinct types of planets: the rather more common Inquisity-class drives along the ground (or occasionally floats) for investigating those planets that have ground. The Vertiginous-class, contrariwise, flies throughout its mission, for investigating those planets that really don’t.

Aval Cyprium-class microscout

The chosen vessel of first-in scouts, the Aval Cyprium-class (named after famous historical explorers, starting with the one who found the Edgestorm the hard way) is a single/double-person landing-capable starship found flooding into newly opened constellations and chasing reports of anomalies all over the Worlds for the IES, doing preliminary investigations and figuring out if there’s need for follow-up and, if so, of what kind.

Peregrine-class scout

The bigger cousin of the Aval Cyprium, similarly landing-capable but with a crew of a dozen and a replaceable laboratory module that can be swapped out to suit the requirements of the mission specialists aboard, the Peregrine is the “little workhorse” of the IES, doing a lot of those follow-up investigations and much of the general work of exploration and survey. When doing a whole-system or multiple-system workup, several of these will often accompany a –

Empress Eledíë-class explorer

As described here. This is the first “cruiser-weight”, as you might put it, vessel of the IES. It’s the “big workhorse”, the dedicated exploration vessel that takes lead in going where no sophont but a first-in scout has gone before, and turns their notes on what a system is like into a complete, detailed, scrupulously accurate work-up suitable for inclusion in the Repository of All Knowledge.

It also serves as the go-to craft for any large exploration missions of virtually any profile. It’s flexible and modular enough to support a wide range of roles, so when something needs investigated on a large enough scale that you can’t fit the mission profile or the mission specialists into a Peregrine, you send for an Empress Eledíë.

Chatelaine-class surveyor

The second of the cruiser-weights, the Chatelaine-class is a specialized variant of the Empress Eledíë used by the IES’s sister organization, the Imperial Grand Survey, whose job rather than pushing into and exploring the unknown is comprehensively cataloging and checking on the known, and maintaining the essential infrastructure that keeps the known known.

(Less respectful IES personnel sometimes deride the IGS as being naught but a bunch of asteroid-counters and beacon-fixers. The IGS responds that it’s all very well going off and having adventures, but if you want to be able to find your way home and be sure that it hasn’t been smacked by an errant comet in the meantime, thank them.)

Calria Adae-class establisher (DSOV)

The third, the Calria Adae-class (named after the first soph on one of Eliéra’s moons), looks very much like a miniature colony ship, because it is. When the IES needs to plant a hab (bigger, obviously, than an inflatable temp) or a planetside outpost somewhere for long-term studies to be carried out, these are the starships that do that. 

Hello, World-class contact cruiser

And the fourth of these, the Hello, World-class, is a specially dedicated vessel for the task of making First Contact with New Life and New Civilizations. It has more in common with the IN’s cruisers than most IES starships – hence its designation – because, sadly, experience teaches that sometimes, things don’t go smooth. 

(Not necessarily meaning hostile aliens, of course. Sometimes it just means having to shoot down a whole bunch of ICBMs because  anything appearing in the sky is obviously a secret weapon of their local planetary enemy of the day. Eye roll obligatory.)

Sung Iliastren-class mobile research base

The really, really big one, for when they need to science the shit out of something in a hurry, the Sung Iliastren-class (named after the natural philosopher who basically invented the scientific method thereabouts) is a dreadnought- or even superdreadnought-sized agglomeration of laboratories, supercomputing centers, and other science-oriented facilities with a suitably large propulsion bus stuck on the end. 

When you need an entire research institute somewhere in a hurry, this is what you call for. After serious budget approval. 

(In some particularly interesting locations, there are very permanent-looking research stations that are actually one of these covered in a couple of centuries’ accumulation of add-on modules and temps.)

The Talentarian

(Well, obviously I’ve been thinking about Mars rovers since yesterday’s movie-watching, so here, have some inspiration results…)

“…the Wayseeker rover, launched by the Spaceflight Initiative in 2208 and arriving in the following year, was the first Talentar probe to make use of a polymorphic software-derived artificial intelligence to enable full local autonomy, rather than relying on extensive teleoperation and command sequence transmission from Eliéra. Designed to perform a variety of geological and atmospheric studies, including clarifying water availability and mapping local resource concentrations in preparation for later in-person scientific and potential colonial missions.

Wayseeker performed far above expectations, completing its original mission to schedule within the first six months after landing, but then continued to operate for almost twelve Eliéran years, performing extensive resource surveys of Kirinal Planum and the western, shallower end of Quinjaní Vallis, before contact was finally lost during a particularly fierce dust storm near the end of 2221.

“The Wayseeker rover was rediscovered, largely intact, and excavated by an expedition sponsored by the University of Talentar in 2614. On examination of the rover’s non-volatile memory banks, the leaders of the expedition discovered early signs of an emergent AI developing within the rover’s experimental polymorphic software matrix, presumably catalyzed by its greatly extended run-time and increased need for autonomous decision-making. The emergence, however, had been terminated by the rover’s loss in the storm – a regrettable loss to science, as such an emergent intelligence would have greatly predated the awakening of the first documented sophont AI, CALLÍËNS, in 2594. In accordance with emerging trends in cyberethics and popular enthusiasm of the time, the University’s cognitive scientists and wakeners completed the uplift of Wayseeker to full digisapience.

“Ve rapidly found veirself catapulted into the spotlight as an instant celebrity and a hero of Project Copperfall and the ongoing Talentarian colonization effort, culminating in the 2616 vote by the Shareholders’ Assembly of the Talentarian Commonwealth which unanimously proclaimed Wayseeker, as the de facto first and oldest colonist on the planet, First Citizen Perpetual of the Commonwealth, with all associated honors and stipends attached thereto.

“Today, Wayseeker – still wearing veir original chassis, with only necessary repairs and upgrades – remains the First Citizen Perpetual of the Commonwealth, happily performing the ceremonial duties of the office and welcoming newcomers to the planet, although ve prefers to eschew politics. Ve also serves as curator of the Copperfall Museum in Quinjano Dome, and as Visiting Professor of Talentarian Geography and Ecopoetics at the University of Talentar, although ve is in the habit of taking long leaves of absence from both posts to undertake personal scientific expeditions into the Talentarian wilderness, and to spend some time alone with ‘veir planet’.”

Talentar Blossoming: the Early Years,
Vallis Muetry-ith-Miritar