February’s Randoming

Here as a partial apology for a slow COVID-caused month is a collection of random things of a snippet-like nature I have said over the past couple of months in places other than this blog. Enjoy them, such as they are!

On attempting a rapid “unsafe start” of a fusion torch drive:

The result of most attempts at an unsafe start is melting assorted things in the engine room and/or the containment vessel, and having to pay very large fines and the costs of having a HAZMAT team get your wreck into a safe condition to drag to the wreckyard. It’s sort of like putting a bunch of monkeys in charge of starting up one of our CVNs; they can very easily wreck a very expensive boat, but you’re not going to need to replace Norfolk any time soon.

So, for example, you accidentally screw up by bypassing the proper automatic sequencing and collapse the mag-bottle for the nozzle. The energy that was in the mag-bottle gets fed back into the containment power circuit. Alarms sound, breakers trip – the really big ones that use explosive charges to separate the closers – and a whole bunch of machinery in Drive Power One through Three, including the buffering accumulators, turns into molten slag as there’s a real intense local thunderstorm. The spikes that make it through the breakers, because you’re a civilian ship, cause some random electrical failures and trip the main bus off the line in self-protection.

You, sitting in the maneuvering room, get to watch your console light up and then black out as the corresponding machinery stops existing, the emergency fire procedures dump liquid nitrogen into, then vent, the Drive Power spaces, and the master alarm signal adopts a particularly dramatic tone. Then the lights go out, and you’re left sitting there in the bloody glow of catastrophe from your console and emergency bug-lights.

You have a few seconds to contemplate your poor life choices before the Flight Commander comes down there and introduces your brains to a BIG GODDAMN WRENCH.

“All I’m saying is that pansexuality is a very large claim to make in a universe with as many sophont species as this one.”

“We’re shipping forty million tons of individually-packaged spider-silk personal refreshment wipes twelve-hundred light years?”

“Do you want the detailed answer, or just a comment on the absurdity of the universe?”

“The details, please.”

“It’s hard to keep them wiping their asses with sand when they’re sitting on a fortune in spice.”

For reference, my notes on the Transcend’s position at any given time read as follows:

“[continuing to win its game of full-contact solitaire Calvinball with the universe]

insert ‘all according to keikaku’ meme here.”

When complaining about the “you must be smarter than this stick to ride the Empire” immigration rule:

“We have empirical evidence that those who do not pass these specific tests are dangerous to themselves and others in our environment.”

“Yeah? Show us this evidence!”

passes over data rod full of watchvid

“This… this is the last three seasons of Too Dumb To Live, Too Unlucky To Die!?”

“Empirical. Evidence.”

I’m sorry, but around here we only do consensualist agoric-annealing group-mind transghiblian art-deco ecotopic benevolently-hegemonic technothearchy with elvish characteristics.

“Where the fuck did all these dragons come from!?”

“As per chapter nine of the manual, dragons are a normal side-effect of a kami-based ecopoesis system.”

“She’s a bit of an alkahestic.”

“You mean an alcoholic?”

“Not unless alcoholics like dissolving things more than anyone ever should, no.”

“We do not negotiate with terrorists.”

“And yet you are here talking to us.”

“Did I mention that I am officially classified as an Ambassador of Mass Destruction?”

From an extranet compilation of Calíëne Sargas Facts:

“Calíëne Sargas does NOT possess the Eye of Balor, and as such is unable to vaporize enemy vessels simply by glaring at them. This ability has only been confirmed to affect officers ranked lower than Commander (O-6) or equivalent grade.”

Also, in defined terminology, once naval types produce something larger than a superdreadnought (bearing in mind that a hyperdreadnought is fundamentally based on a superdreadnought hull profile), they are formally typed as BM (“warmoon”) and BP (“dirigible battle planet”).

(The latter is currently a hypothetical category. Should it stop being, or a stage be skipped – well, no-one actually knows what the next type up would be, but it probably won’t be “Death Star”.

And for those curious as to Imperial titles of nobility – more specifically, runér titles – the planetary ones are rather too long a list to get into for the moment, insofar as they’re a tangled mass drawn from a large number of cultures maintaining their own systems welded into a single Table of Ranks.

On the other hand, the interstellar titles are nice and simple, being a creation postdating the Consolidation and thus a simple hierarchy. So, from the bottom up, we have:

  • Ecumenarchs, holders of the Imperial Mandate over a given planet, dwarf planet, or large moon, of constituent world membership class, including its associated local orbital habitats. Captain-governors of relativistic city-ships are also ranked as ecumenarchs.
  • Starkeepers, holders of the Mandate over a given star system, along with all its inhabited planets, other bodies, and drift-habitats.
  • Sectarchs, holders of the Mandate over groups of high-population or otherwise important worlds, requiring more attention than would be practical for the attached constellarch, such as the Galari Trinary. Note that there is no regionality named a “sector”; the title comes directly from the root.
  • Constellarchs, holders of the Mandate over all Imperial worlds within a particular constellation.
  • Great Lords of the Sextants (after the Spice Way Program is placed into effect), holders of the Mandate over all constellations attached to a particular Far Star Station. There are not necessarily six of them; the title is a recreated historical holdover.

Other interstellar runér titles include Marchwarden, a title used for the holder of the mandate for a remote ecumenical colony or Imperial Exclave, not yet suited for full constituent status, but which for whatever reason requires a full runér rather than a Ministry of Colonization-assigned rector; and Castellan, assigned to the attached civilian governance of a military or scientific outpost beyond the borders of the Empire.

Trope-a-Day: Royal Blood

Royal Blood: Averted, except inasmuch as those who know they’re going to grow up to be rúner are genetically engineered for a laundry list of desirable traits in people who are expected to hold sovereign authority and use it wisely, rarely, and with great caution.

(Of course, given the nature of civilization, it’s not like any of those traits are specific or restricted to the rúner)

Trope-a-Day: Modest Royalty

Modest Royalty: Subverted.  For a couple of reasons: first, the problem with leading people who aren’t impressed by claims of authority by right, or to put it another way, the problem with leading by virtue of your displayed arête, is that you have to display it.  Second, humility is not an Imperial virtue, and pride, however, is.  To be the part, it helps to look the part.

(This, of course, also applies to everyone who isn’t royalty, too.)

This is not, however, the Ermine Cape Effect, because Imperial runér from the Imperial Couple on down are the Royals Who Actually Do Something, and need to dress functionally sometimes.  It’s just the right kind of functional.  When doing the business of the Empire, for example, the Emperor may well be wearing something as relatively non-regalian as the US President’s suit, but it is undoubtedly hand-made (see Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap), constructed from the finest materials, and otherwise just as signifier-bearing.  In other words, they can do subtle; subtle is not a problem, because their people understand and know to look for subtle.  They just can’t do modest, because modest is just fundamentally wrong.

But compare: What’s Up, King Dude?

Trope-a-Day: The Government

The Government: Even though there is one, sort of averted in the (remarkably ungoverned) Empire.  There, it mostly means the Imperial Service, which is about as thin as air – apart from keeping their Universal with them, spending the Citizen’s Dividend, and mailing in their three-four percent on Empire Services Fee Day, the majority of Imperial citizen-shareholders barely notice that it exists in any given year, never mind have occasion to interact with it.

(Although some services it provides are fairly ubiquitous – infrastructure, copyrights, externality management, currency – they’re not really the sort of active, impositional, or obvious things that make people yell “government!”, the runér spend more time acting in their private capacity than via their strictly circumscribed governing authority, and most of the generalized-benevolence functions that get attached to Earth-style governments are devolved to the Citizen Oversight Groups of the Plurality, which lack the sovereign powers of government and aren’t tax-funded and so can be cheerfully ignored by everyone who doesn’t care about what they do.)

Trope-a-Day: Feudal Future

Feudal Future: Subverted.  While the runér who make up the “executive branch” of the Empire’s government might look like a feudal hierarchy from some angles, and their titles are occasionally translated that way, in practice they have much less power than a feudal lord’s theoretical powers, and theirs is not a legally enshrined hereditarian hierarchy that places them above all other parts of society (see: Fantastic Caste System).  And historically, they grew up as, effectively, bottom-up-driven administrators rather than as local warlords, the old feudal model having died hard in the tumults that led up to the founding of the Old Empires.

In short: there’s a reason tying back very directly to the fundamental nature of the Imperial government why the Imperial Couple’s formal style includes the line “Chief Executive Officers of the Imperium Incorporate”, and why the fundamental power rests – strictly according to explicit contract – with the citizen-shareholders.

The Darëssef

These are some short vignettes “by” members of the various Eldraeic darëssef – not castes, not since very early pre-Imperial days, since one can move freely between them and, indeed, maintain a place in multiple darëssef simultaneously, but rather, groups of social-role archetypes with their own sets of philosophies, customs, protocols, and so forth – on what it means to be one of that darëssef, from their point of view.

These are the acquiescents (priests and other god-touched, which these days means people working directly for the weakly godlike superintelligence behind the curtain); the aesthants (artists of one kind or another); the executors (planners, managers, supervisors, and bureaucrats); the hearthmistresses[1] (those who maintain, which covers people as disparate as housewives, doctors, farmers, sysadmins, and valets); the plutarchs (merchants, bankers, and businessmen); the runér (wielders of the Imperial Mandate; governors); the sentinels (the military, law enforcement, emergency response, paramedics, etc.).; and the technarchs (thinkers and builders).

(While there are also the serviles, the unskilled labor darëssef is obsolete in the modern era, and even before that was the case, no-one would have bothered to ask them anything, anyway.)

Acquiescent: The Bridges

We are those who stand between Light and Darkness, and bring fire to the Darkness on behalf of the Light.

We are those who stand at the gates of the Twilight City, and hold them open for the thunders of gods and the whispers of men.

We are those who learn the concepts of, not from, the eikones; who take it upon ourselves to embody, as best we can, the perfected ideals they are, that men may have a light to strive for, and the universe be set right, in the despite of the great Flaw, the Darkness-behind-Darkness, which is entropy.

Thus we are named acquiescent, for alone among our kind, our valxíjir[2] is not an expression of self, but of that concept which we serve and reify.

– Alwyn Muetry of Elmiríën,
Philosopher-Priestess of the Fane of Orderly Blossoming

Aesthant: Beauty Is Truth

The soul of the Empire is in our keeping.

For beauty is our calling, and beauty is the language of the soul. Beauty inspires, uplifts, and enlightens. It comforts the sore at heart, and gives ease to the weary. As the word of Lanáraé proclaims, beauty, like love, calls the divine fire, the lincál, down to earth. With it, we dwell in a civilization of enlightened souls; without it, in mere hovels of scurrying beasts.

And so we must shape all things accordingly. The pure artists among us strive with song and sculpture, with book and game, with edifice and performance, to show the world what it could be. Others work elsewhere, with technarchs and plutarchs to make elegance walk alongside functionality; with runér and hearthmistresses to build shining cities where no shadows fall; even with sentinels, as they strive to preserve and restore beauty in the wake of ruin. So shall we work, until all the world reflects this harmony, and neither ugliness nor darkness lies in wait to cast gloom upon the heart and shadow the soul of its beholders.

Thus is our Heaven built.

– Kynar Cendriane,
Lyceum of the Frozen Flame

Executor: The Middlemen

It’s all in our name: we execute.  All our counterparts have grand plans.  The aesthants create, the technarchs invent, the plutarchs deal, the runér govern – and we take care of the details.  We run the branches and the Initiatives day to day.  We make the schedules, and lay out the critical paths, and keep the books, and write the contracts.  We supervise and coordinate, evaluate and analyze, mediate and facilitate.  We remove the obstacles and provide the necessities to allow those we work with to focus on their intent alone.  We enable every great work to be done.

Ours are lives of estxíjir, the outward focus, but no less pleasing to us.  The machine of the world cannot run itself.  It turns upon a million, million cogs, and of all of them, we are the greatest.  Do you imagine there is no satisfaction to be found in that?

– Medora Allatrian-ith-Alclair,
certified commercial obligator

Hearthmistress: The Answer to Decay

Slice by slice, Entropy eats the world. That is the truth of the Flaw.

We fight it most directly. That is the truth of the hearthmistress.

All the daressëf fight it in their own way, it is true. The aesthants set beauty against it; the plutarchs challenge it with wealth; the technarchs strive with truth and tools; and the sentinels turn it against itself. But in a million million tiny drops, in dirt and rust and error, in disease and decay and disorder, in rot and ruin, the Flaw undermines the grandest of plans and the greatest of dreams.

To that, we are the answer. We maintain. We keep the homes and tend the forests; we heal the sick and console the reft; we oil the machines and operate the ‘weaves; we cleanse the blight and repair the faults; we see that lights shine and water flows, that food reaches the table and garbage the fires; and in all ways uphold the necessities that empower our fellows to do their work.

To all these matters, we attend, for the mightiest of machines turns upon its smallest gears. Thus, we are the bearers of the world, and to all that it requires, we must and shall be sufficient.

– Irys Vidumarvis,
First Chatelaine of the Seat of Storms

Plutarch:  Stokers of the Engine

It is widely said that wealth is energy.  I can’t begin to count the metaphors that hinge on that analogy. “Lifeblood of the Empire.” “Any coin that burns.” And insofar as all our economies are indeed powered by its flow, they aren’t all that far off the mark. But wealth is a superior principle in many ways. Wealth never decays. No-one ever heard of “waste wealth”.  It circulates, turns a thousand cogs as it passes, and is never diminished.  Wealth has no thermodynamic law of decay. Better yet, it multiplies.

Look down there at the Exchange. People come here to trade from all over the Worlds, from Eö to K!rrr!t!llr, and a good half of them are damn fools who think they’re playing a zero-sum game of extracting wealth from greater fools, as if gambling were all we do. They’ll file trades for a thousand years and never know what it is to be a plutarch…

We make wealth. Look around you. Aesthants dream, technarchs invent, and the other darëssef play their parts – and without us, their works would be futile. We move their goods and supply their needs with our markets – and with every trade, wealth grows. We concentrate a thousand thousand rivulets of capital into a river mighty enough to turn the machines of industry – and wealth grows faster.  We find those sparks that have potential, and feed them with those markets and that capital until they blossom into roaring furnaces, radiating prosperity like heat around them. Behind all these dreams that you see made real stand the plutarchs who kindled them.

And always got 12%.

– Idris Cheraelar,
Vice President of Commercial Banking (Seranth),
Gilea & Company ICC

Runér: The Wielders of the Mandate


Our name is a word that is hard to translate into other languages.  Most misgloss it as “noble”, seeing in us the closest thing to their own rulers that the Empire has, but that would more accurately be a gloss for korásan, “forceful one”, those who governed in the ancient kingdoms, before the Empire.  Before civilization.

It comes from the name of an eikone.  Not from that of Nimithil, our special patron, but from Rúnel, eikone of harmony, etiquette, and civilization, and so a better way to translate it would be “harmonizer”, or “coordinator”, perhaps.  Unlike the korásan of old, we are not set over people and wealth; we are set among them.  And while – as the korásan claimed to be – we are charged to defend, to enable, and to preserve, neither our station nor our law empowers us to command the least of those we are set among, nor seize a single gram or cycle to meet our necessities.

We do not enforce.  We do not dictate.  The Right of Domain declares every man sovereign over him and his, and we – first among all others, more than any others – must respect that.

While the public infrastructure falls within our dominate, words are our best tools.  With eloquence and persuasion, with promise and contract and oath, with example and suggestion and well-timed whispers in the right ears, we move the world.

But first, we follow where it leads.

–          Olbria Amanyr,
cisatar of Iniscail

Sentinel: Those Who Defend

Despite our towering Galactic reputation as armed-to-the-teeth, prickly maniacs, we’re really a dreadfully soft people.

We live in Utopia.  We have no war, no crime.  No disease, barely any injury, and certainly no death that can’t be easily reversed.  Thanks to the autofac, we’ve never known poverty, and we live on worlds where no-one for generations ever has.  In societies where, by the Contract and the Code and the tireless efforts of archai like Unification, we can always trust, people always care, and happy endings always happen for good people, which is to say, everyone.  We go through our lives without experiencing more than the briefest moments of the mildest pain, or even inconvenience, and few but the eldest of us remember the true taste of suffering, or injustice, or fear, or loss.

And we, the sentinels, are those who must keep it that way.

The hainadar watch the borders against attacks from without, from the savages and deimands and governments and death-worshippers tolerated by the outer world, and watch within them for the madness-spawned malice of the rare, hidden Defaulter.

The seredar guard us from accident, from injury, and from plague.

The dulasefdar watch and guard against the Chaos, entropy and its spawn, chance disaster and decay, the malice of what the acquiescents would call the Universal Flaw.

And so we serve our Utopia by renouncing it.  That the Empire may enjoy its serenity, we shape ourselves into the weapons it needs.  With extensive training, of course, but much more with deliberate exposure to the truths of fire, and blood, and pain, and the never-forgettable knowledge of what the real default state of the world is when the Darkness isn’t watched, and guarded, and fought.  And finally, with death, proving at the last that we can set aside immortality for duty.

Is it worth it?  Look out there.  Take an hour or two to watch what we guard.  What price would not be?

– Minaj Ancalyx,
District-Captain of Lower Iselyain,
Watch Constabulary

Technarch: For Science!

“Knowledge is its own justification,” so the Fellowship says.

Of course, knowledge has lots of other justifications. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is wisdom. Knowledge is civilization. If you like having fire and tamed lightning and the dance of atoms at your fingertips, thank a technarch. If you get an answer when you ask how, or why, or why not, thank a technarch. And since it is it’s finitely but most significantly preferable to reside in a comfortable habitat set among the stars, with the wisdom of millennia and the goods of a thousand worlds to hand, rather than eating in the woods, shitting in the woods, sleeping in the woods, living and dying in the same damn woods, thank a technarch for that, too.

But none of that is the spirit of technarchy. None of those are why we’re the explorers, the scientists, the tool-makers, the builders. Nice spin-offs to have, certainly, but leave those to the plutarchs and their executors to pick up.

There’s a shining truth out there. There are answers to every question, the plans for this magnificent machine-organism-ecology that is the universe and everything – and everyone! – within it; how every cog turns upon every other, and how to bend them to your will – reality, to be commanded, must be understood – to bring whatever you can conceive of into existence. And we have to have those answers. We have to know. We have to understand. We cannot abide ignorance of our own mechanisms. That’s what makes a technarch, and that’s why we do what we do and are what we are.

For science.

Hand me that iridyne key, would you? No, the left-handed one…

– Cirys Lochran,
Academician Excellence,
Union of Circumstellar Artifice


[1] This is only a feminine form because “hearthmaster” is somewhat dysphonious and suggests the wrong ideas to the listening Earthling.  They come in all genders, indistinctively.

[2] While not translating well into English, a rough approximation of the meaning would be “uniqueness/excellence/will to power/forcible impression of self onto the universe”.

Trope-a-Day: Deadly Decadent Court

Deadly Decadent Court: Half true.  The Court of Courts and its lesser cousins certainly qualify as decadent, inasmuch as (a) those actually involved in the business of government at that level are very generously remunerated in order to (i) remove some of the incentive problems, and (ii) keep up the sort of appearances that make them look like the sort of people you ought to follow, and (b) the Privy Council and other courtiers, even many if by no means all of the entrenotres, tend to be drawn from the Names, Numbers, and Novas, which is to say, the core lineages, plutocrats, and innovative geniuses.  Which is further to say, the most outrageously wealthy segment of an already outrageously wealthy society – and one which never evolved most of our quaint hedonism-is-bad memes.

Not very deadly, though.  That went out when the runér replaced the korásan, whose costly political intriguing and tendency to consider sabotaging and assassinating each other in the course of zero- or negative-sum games thoroughly discredited this sort of thing, so while ambition continues and The Game has been reinvented, most of the competition these days revolves around outdoing each other at deeds which, if not always useful, are at the least not harmful, and flaunting the size of one’s (artistic/scientific/commercial/other) clientele.

Exercising Government by Means of Virtue

Some governments maintain a rigidly defined chain of command, rights and duties, from top to bottom – from a monarch, an autocrat, an elected council, or what have you, directives emerge and are complied with by the lesser strata of administration.

This is at best theoretically the case in the Empire.  While section VIII of the Imperial Charter does instruct the runér to owe fealty and duties to their superiors and receive them from their inferiors, it leaves what precisely these consist of unsaid, and specifies that they are owed to the Empire first and the Imperial Couple second before that; and in defining the duties of the runér, it requires subordination only in the command of local garrison forces, otherwise saying that their administration shall be “in accordance with their right of coronargyr and the Imperial Mandate”.

In practice, then, the Empire’s runér are an independent and fractious group, proud of their demesnes, and prone to vigorously defend their prerogatives and perquisites to govern as they see fit.  Such cooperation as can be expected as of right is limited to that enshrined in Imperial law and their letters patent.  Moreover, while the power of a runér to govern is strictly circumscribed by the Fundamental Contract and the Imperial Charter, most well-established or founding runér command extensive tapestries of properties, investments, easements, circles, pacts, favors, and reputation within their demesne which grant them extensive socioeconomic power and influence outside their formal command of justice, defense, and the public infrastructure.

Thus, the successful Imperial Couple or upper-stratum executive learns to avoid commanding the runér when possible; and when necessary, to apply persuasion, influence, incentive and leverage in equal measure.

– from the Scroll of Staves, fifteenth recension