This is, the operator thinks, possibly the worst day to hear the stolid parping of the some-moron-thinks-he’s-a-train alarm.

A glance at the monitor pointed to by the sensor indicator told the story. Courtesy of the motion-and-presence trackers, it played back the moment at which the aforementioned moron had forced open one of the doors of his stopped train –

the Midmorn-18 eastbound express, Clifftop line, reflex filled in, currently holding for 22 minutes awaiting a pause in Inclinator emergency traffic –

– dropped to the trackbed, and jogged off down the tunnel towards Upslope station.

The operator glances at his board, and the covered, key-locked switch labeled ETHICAL STRICTURE. A timer below it, freshly reset, counts down by pulses from seventy-two, a mechanism implemented to ensure that no changes could be made without mindful forethought. At its normal setting, OPTIMAX, traction power would automatically have been cut to the section in which the not-train was detected, and security robobulls automatically dispatched to drag the hapless wight in question to an uncomfortable interview with security and a lengthy repayment of his fellow passengers’ inconvenience.

But today…



STATUS: Impact of not-under-command bulk freighter TDMMS Pelagic Pedestrian on foreshore defenses sector 112 has caused failure of sea wall and protective kinetic barriers in that sector. Minor flooding, since secured, has occurred in Ironclad Docks District to +18 in over datum. Estimated time to repair (including salvage of freighter): 18 hours +/- 6 from mark.

FORECAST: Arrival of storm producing sea state HIGH with wave height estimated at 402 in over datum at event locus predicted at estimated time 4 hours +/- 1 from mark. Consequences predicted include total flooding of Ironclad Docks District. Severe infrastructure damage. Mass casualty event.

IMPERATIVE: I am requisitioning all available transportation to evacuate Ironside Docks District. Clear all non-evacuation traffic from Inclinator. Trains engaged in evacuation activities are granted priority over all other traffic. All currently-unassigned consist elements capable of passenger transport are preempted for evacuation traffic. Otherwise proceed in accordance with established emergency protocol.

To secure transportation under current, predicted, and undetermined conditions, adopt ethical strictures GRANITE EXIGENT.


…the key was turned two steps beyond that, and the computerized systems instructed to maintain traction power and transit come hell or literal high water. Or, indeed, the presence of any obstruction in the tunnels not sufficient to impede the passage of a train.

Which meant, the operator’s thoughts continued even as the security monitor flashed white and dimmed and the alarm self-silenced, that one stumble into the maglev coils or a slip sufficient to contact the traction power bus-bar would be regrettably, inevitably, lethal.

“Note to Track Maintenance,” the operator murmurs into his command headset, grimacing at the monitor that now showed only a shadow on the bed of the twilit tunnel. “We have rat chow in the tunnel between Upslope and Seawatch, section four. Once the isohaz clears down, send a recovery team to pick up the marble and hose off the trackbed. Operations, clear.”

Don’t Do That, Then

lookforward monitor: a specialized optronic circuit containing a signaling microwormhole or temporal tangle channel from the near future. (The precise time period depends on the application, and has been configured for periods as short as one micropulse and as long as a full hour.) The function of the lookforward monitor is to receive a continuous input signal from the future and generate an output signal if the input signal ceases or otherwise departs nominal.

retroveto: Triggered by a lookforward monitor, a retroveto is a safety procedure invoked automatically, whether to cancel a user-initiated action which would have caused a disaster within the time range of the lookforward monitor (detectable since changes to a worldline propagate instantaneously along that worldline in terms of its internal time), or to trigger preemptive emergency procedures, for example a reactor scram.

retroabort: In spaceflight and other transportation jargon, a mission abort triggered by flight computers in response to an abort signal from a lookforward monitor indicating catastrophic vehicle failure.

Extensive iterative development of the design concepts involved in retroabort technology along with related families of devices such as UNMOVED MONAD and the moiraean alarm ultimately led to the development of refined shielding technologies, most notably the probability unseller.

– A Collection of Temporal Technologies

Wakey, Wakey

navigational awareness system: The most dangerous part of space flight, interface vehicles excepted, is close-orbit maneuvering, or rendezvous, in which one craft must maneuver near to, or even to touch, another safely. Since neither starships nor habitats are small, it only takes a minor accident to involve a lot of momentum. For this reason, it is at these times that the soph conning a space vehicle, be they sailing master or pilot, must be most attentive.

The navigational awareness system is an adaptation of older technologies to the space environment, which while not mandated by the Imperial Navigation Act, is often required by celestime insurers. Essentially, when the equipped vessel is in close proximity to another craft or station and operating under manual control, it periodically and randomly prompts the soph at the conn with a high or low chime, to which they must respond promptly by left-depressing or right-depressing an acknowledgement pedal appropriately. (Some systems attempted to monitor the attention state of the helmsman directly using neural sensors, but this technique had the disadvantage of being unable to distinguish between concentration on the conn, and concentration on this month’s issue of Xenophilia Unveiled.)

Failure to do so causes automatic safety systems tied into the NAS to disable the conn controls, to bring the craft (using cold-gas thrusters or other low-power drive systems) to rest with respect to the local reference body in such a manner as to avoid possibly causing a collision, and to pip the transponder to indicate that the craft is not under command. These measures cannot be reverted without removing the current helm key and inserting it, or another, anew. This ensures that an inattentive helmsman, or one who suffers a medical emergency during such maneuvers, should not be able to steer their craft unknowingly into danger.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

Trope-a-Day: Force-Field Door

Force-Field Door: Not generally used, since sensible engineers and architects by and large put doors there for a reason, and prefer it when the doors do not vanish as soon as the power goes out. Even less used as airlocks or spacetight doors, since it’s even more embarrassing when you lose your entire starship’s air supply when the power goes out…

…well, okay. Some ships and stations do use kinetic barriers across bay entrances to make it easier to maneuver things in and out without having to (expensively/slowly) depressurize the entire bay, or leave it depressurized all the time and thus require everyone working in the bay to wear vacuum suits all the time. However:

  1. They are not used as a substitute for regular bay doors, which exist because while you can set the barrier strength such that the modal molecule will lack the KE to penetrate, the statistical distribution of molecular KE still means a kinetic barrier any less solid than actual matter is effectively a continuous slow leak. Caveat life support engineer, and hence you fit actual bay doors to close when you aren’t needing to get stuff in and out through the barrier; and
  2. Said bay doors are fitted with fail-safe automatic high-speed closers, because when the power goes out, you don’t want to lose any more than you have to, especially since the escaping air may take other things with it; and
  3. The doors between the rest of the starship and the bay are airlocks, because a kinetic barrier or anything else power-dependent should not be considered a reliable pressure boundary; and
  4. Anyone working in the bay will keep their emergency breathers close to hand.


prophylock (n.): Used primarily by free traders, a prophylock is a collapsible docking module used when rendezvousing with untrusted vessels for cargo transfer. Similar to a standard docking module, a prophylock is a cylinder with an IUSI-P or IUSI-F androgynous adapter on each end, one to attach to the host starship and one to dock with the foreign starship.

The prophylock, however, has near its outboard end an armored barrier which prohibits the passage of sophonts, equipped with a secure passage (complete with mechanical interlocks preventing both sides from being opened simultaneously, and sampling systems for testing the contents before opening the inner door) through which the transfers may take place. In the event that both vessels are using prophylocks, the secure passage systems are designed to allow transfers from one to the other without direct integration, but also without requiring anyone to occupy the ‘tween-lock volume.

Rather than the direct data systems connection of a standard IUSI adapter, the prophylock connects the foreign data bus to a limited-functionality terminal, permitting communication and negotiation to take place without information risk.

Finally, the outboard end of the prophylock is equipped, for the case in which a lack of trust should turn out to be justified, with an explosive collar to sever the outboard androgynous adapter, thus reliably breaking the connection between vessels, along with solid-fuel jettison rockets to push the host vessel back immediately upon collar detonation, shortening the time to safe burn clearance as much as possible.

Fly safe. Dock safer.

– A Star Traveller’s Dictionary

(Yes, I was thinking of Out of Gas when I wrote this one…)

Mutual Annihilation

antiriot (n.): A social version of pair production.

To fully explain the antiriot, it is first necessary to explain the riot. This is a socially-accepted form of low-level terrorism found on some barbarian outworlds, in which a mob engages in violence and property destruction as a means to coerce – through embarrassment and pressure exerted by their victims – a local governance to give them, or more often their backers, whatever they want in exchange for not repeating the exercise.

As a custom, this interacts poorly with spacer culture. After all, if you break windows, loot, and set things on fire dirtside, and you get away uncaptured, the consequences are borne largely by property owners and their insurers, not by you yourself. In space or on hostile-environment worlds, however, where survival without infrastructure is anything but guaranteed, the equivalent exercise is likely to lead to any of several ways to die ugly, gasping deaths, for you and anyone else in the vicinity.

Thus, if the stereotype of a riot is a wild, drunk, angry mob smashing, looting, and burning with merry abandon, the stereotype of an antiriot is a sober, grim-looking phalanx dressed in neat station jumpsuits, rapping rioters smartly across the head with bolt keys as a prelude to throwing them out the nearest unoccupied cargo airlock in an orderly fashion.

Such an antiriot can be relied upon to assemble any time there is a riot in a spacer-dominated area, because spacers enjoy continuing to breathe and have very little sense of humor where related issues are concerned.

It is also notable that, while the law in the majority of the regions which give rise to riots and hence antiriots are concerned considers the acts constituting antirioting at least as illegal, if not more so, as those constituting rioting, law enforcement and station security forces have demonstrated a remarkable inability to stop antiriots or even to identify any but the smallest possible number of antirioters in the aftermath of such an event.  On this point, the consensus of opinion is that security forces also like to breathe.

Perhaps the most notable exception to this is the well-known case of Ngennye Station, in which the entire antiriot was arrested after the fact by a private security company relatively new to the station. That said, the case’s notoriety is a result of a hundred-strong group charged with murder and mayhem being convicted, in the end, of “negligent disposal of organic waste”, and sentenced to community service – namely, hauling back in and recycling the ex-rioters.

(It need hardly be added that the peace authority’s appointed justice was a station native.)

– A Star Traveller’s Dictionary


Trope-a-Day: No OSHA Compliance

No OSHA Compliance: Averted, even in the absence of anything resembling an OSHA.  Skilled labor is not cheap, and liability payouts are even less cheap.  Even averted in the places intended primarily to be occupied by robots and only rarely to ever be entered by actual people.  (True, they omit a few of the safety features and warnings seen on Earth – but that’s because those are the ones principally designed to protect from chronic stupidity, not accident.  Yes, while stupidity doesn’t create liability, it’s still expensive for other reasons – but that’s an avoidable problem if you’re ruthless enough about firing all stupid people.)

Trope-a-Not-Quite-Day: Incredibly Obvious Bomb

Incredibly Obvious Bomb: In the Empire, this is the essential difference between a nuclear weapon – which is a specifically military purchase, and using which under most circumstances will have you up on capital Use of Instruments of Regrettable Necessity Without Appropriate Authority charges, and a nuclear device, which you can buy at a good hardware store and is used routinely for digging canals and reservoirs, moving asteroids, dispersing unwanted mountains, and other types of civil engineering.

Namely, that apart from being bright, high-visibility orange, the nuclear device has a ubiquitously networked and geolocative computerized arming system that will refuse to arm itself if you’re inside someone’s city limits or other off-limits property (or part of the affected radius is); that will give the appropriate countdown before detonating to let even pretty leisurely people clear the blast area, and broadcast said countdown (and where it is, what it is, and what its range is likely to be) over the local public caution/warning channel.  If anyone’s still inside the blast area, per their geolocation information, when the countdown hits the low numbers, it’ll quietly shut itself down.  And it’ll accept a detonation veto command from absolutely anyone within that area, no questions asked. (And, yes, comes with copious anti-tamper devices to prevent anyone from turning it into a nuclear weapon unless they could have built their own nuclear weapon just as easily, if not more so.)

A nuclear weapon, on the other hand, will specifically avoid doing any of that.