Moments in History (3)

Red Planet, Blue Sky?

The news on everyone’s lips today here in Orbitfall, as well as back home, is the televised deployment of the new soletta array here in Talentar orbit. While not the first step taken, the soletta is the first tangible result of the comprehensive ecopoesis program announced last year by the Spaceflight Initiative, Project Redblossom, which will allow eldrae to walk on the blue-green surface of lowland Talentar without respirators within three centuries. Present with the project lead and the colonial legate at the unfolding ceremony today were representatives from several of the Empire’s constituent nations most represented in the Spaceflight Initiative, and from the newly formed Orbital-Seléne Alliance.

The soletta array is the first and principal orbital mirror in an array which will be deployed in synchronous orbit, reflecting the suns’ light as part of the ongoing effort to warm the planet. Smaller mirrors will also be deployed for use in melting the planet’s surface rock and liberating some of Talentar’s hidden water, presently locked in frozen aquifers.

But not everyone is happy with the ecopoesis program. Diplomatic protests have been lodged by the Cerenaith Alliance, both here and back home, citing lack of consultation and concerns with the potential use of the mirrors as orbital battle platforms. I spoke to one of Project Redblossom’s senior engineers:

“Seriously? If they’re going to complain about the mirrors, what are they going to do when the ice asteroids get here? Lyricen Lacus isn’t going to carve itself, much less fill — this is off the record, yes?”

– from the Imperial Infoclast, summer 2273

Adaptation

2016_A(Alternate words: none.)

Among the complexities of dining in the modern age are those introduced by the many different worlds upon which we now dwell, all with different histories, geologies, and ecologies, independently evolved. As children of a single world, this has required a degree of adaptation, whether biotechnological or simply in custom, to the varying conditions of Sylithandríël’s other daughters.

What these adaptations are vary from world to world across the Empire, and I shall list only a few examples here. On our many eutalentic worlds, to list a commonly found example, many residents make use of the Rieltelir biomod to breathe in the open, which requires the body to take in additional calcium and potassium salts to assist in disposing of excess carbon dioxide. Such salts are thus presented as seasonings on every dinner table; for the most part harmless to visitors, if unnecessary to consume and prone to cause minor digestive upsets.

Clajdíä, on the other hand, is a colonized garden world whose native life is, miraculously enough, both edible and often delicious – save for the high levels of selenium found therein, which would prove toxic over time. Thus, a particular tisane is commonly drunk there to accompany the midday meal, from a plant engineered to contain complexes capable of chelating selenium, which is essential for both residents and visitors alike.

A similar provision, accompanied by a radiation detector, is made on Paltraeth, known for its burden of heavy metals, along with an electronic stunner, and krevtakris blade (an approximate translation would be “soft-belly”; it is usually given to young children whose digestive systems are not fully developed) when dishes customarily served live are part of the presentation. If these are not provided, either you have been truly accepted by the clan, or else you are being assassinated, a situation which is beyond the scope of this book.

And, most familiar of all, on most worlds it is customary to serve one of a number of common antihistaminic drinks along with water, when any local food is being served in the presence of offworld guests, as a convenience to prevent any adverse reactions which one’s guests might have to such food.

With such constraints, what does custom mandate?

While these adaptations differ enough from world to world that there are few general customs, one that has developed is that such necessary adaptations are served in a turquoise vessel (be it bowl, teapot, goblet, or of other form), turquoise as a blend of blue and green being the symbolic color of life.

With the exception of the antihistaminic drink, and its defined position in the place setting, however, whether the visitor may, must, or should not participate in their consumption is not something readily understood from their presentation. The thoughtful host may mention this at the beginning of the meal, in small groups with homogeneous guests, or may include this information in discreet place cards for those who require it in a larger or more diverse setting. Otherwise, a quiet word with the host or the host’s footbot will not be out of place.

– Madame Allatrian’s Garden of Exquisitely Correct Etiquette

 

Trope-a-Day: Alien Sea

Alien Sea: Obviously – not all oceans are water, y’know. Just look at Ólish, or Galiné, with their golden-black hydrocarbon seas. Or the molten metal lakes on Eurymir’s day face, or the reddish salty brine of terraformed Elémíre, or the literally wine-dark seas of rusty Talentar, or the colloidal algae-gelled oceans of Pentameir, or the copper-salt-blue waters of Daliethe, or…

…and that’s before we even consider non-terrestrial planets.

PREVIEW: Revolt on Talentar

So, here’s something a bit special for you today. I have a long work in mind and butcher-paper progress right now, and by that I don’t just mean on the scale of The Core War, I mean an actual novel, belike. Covering one of those interesting historical periods in the development of the ‘verse that we see “today”.

What I have for you is a prologue I may or may not consider including at the start of the book, depending on how well I think dropping in in media res works without any of this background – but for y’all seeing it now, consider it an interest-building preview, m’kay?

M’kay.

Prologue

It is the year 2361 from the founding of the Empire, 311 years after Phoenix Zero first rose to space. Since that time, the eldrae have moved into the Spacefaring Age with enthusiasm. Orbital habitats have blossomed in the space around Eliéra, and colonies founded upon both its moons. More habitats have sprung up in the bustling e’Luminiarien Belt, supporting mining and homesteading operations. Science missions and small outposts have pushed beyond the Belt into the outer system, reaching the moons of Melíeré, Inlétanós, and Iälessá, and even to the nearer bodies of Senna’s Belt. In the inner system,  solar power facilities flourish in the space around tide-locked Eurymir, and mining outposts upon Toramir. Seething, acid-washed Sialhaith remains the domain of science for now, but speculation as to its future is common.

And then there is Talentar.

114 years ago, in 2247, Copperfall Two established the first orbital base for eldrae expeditions to Talentar on its middle moon, Víërtal, and shortly thereafter established the first planetary landing site, Orbitfall, near the equator in the Ashen Planitia region.

At first, the Orbitfall colony – although intended to be permanent – was only a base for scientific research. Expeditions investigated many of the sites previously explored by robotic probes, going north into the Five Valles and Xanpén Altiplanum, south and west to the Kirinal Planum, and even east to the summit of Talarí Mons. Reports of these expeditions set off “Talentar fever” home on Eliéra, and Orbitfall quickly found itself building infrastructure for additional colonists, soon to arrive from Eliéra. Townships and outposts soon spread across the region of the Ashen Planitia south of the Five Valles and Quinjano Tablelands. By no means all of these were Imperial – other polities on Eliéra found themselves stirred into action by the popular enthusiasm for colonization, and secondary colonies of several powers soon joined the Empire’s domes.

Meanwhile, the confirmation that Talentar was currently empty of any life, and the increasing numbers of permanent colonists brought the question of ecopoesis to the forefront of everyone’s mind as colonial expansion moved on.

Project Redblossom, begun in 2272, was the result. A compromise between “fast-burn” ecotects, pantropists, and preservationists – although one reached with very little consultation of the non-Imperial powers or their Talentarian colonies – Redblossom was a long-term ecopoesis program intended to run for over a millennium, creating open-air territories in the Talentarian bottomlands, while leaving much of the primordial terrain at high altitudes, especially in the mountainous north, untouched. Construction of orbital mirrors and planning for the import of ice asteroids began almost immediately, along with the first releases of tailored microorganisms.

Most notably, as the temperature rose, a cooperative effort between the Empire’s colonies and other colonists of the southern lowlands arose to create Talentar’s first body of open water – albeit open and iceberg-ridden water – along a natural depression running east-to-west south of Orbitfall. While it took years to relocate all of the potentially affected habitats, the project was completed successfully in 2296, with local habitats constructing dams and locks at narrow points of the depression, and the Imperial ecotects in Estaroë Tal contributing the orbital mirrors under their control to, first, open a number of buried aquifers to create the sea, and to then keep its overall temperature steady. Lyricen Lacus was born.

(Sadly, this was one of the last major cooperative projects for some time, since with changing geopolitical conditions on Eliéra, including the formation of the Cerenaith Alliance to oppose the Empire’s imperial ambitions and consolidation, tensions – although matters remained relatively quiet on Talentar, where colonies had too much work to do and fundamental interdependency to indulge in infighting – throughout the System remained high through the early 2300s.)

In the last two decades, the pace of change has only increased. With the population in planet climbing through the millions, the towns of the northern lowlands of the Five Valles, sprawling Quinjano on its mesa where the valley mouths converge, the informal planetary capital – for the Empire – of Estaroë Tal in the central Estaravé Vallis, and others, have grown into true cities. An orbital elevator now descends from Talentar’s repositioned outer moon, Avétal, to the new city of Talarí High Dome in the caldera atop Talarí Mons, linking the planet to the few orbital habitats using its well as their anchor, and to the busy habitats of the e’Luminiarien Belt. And most recently of all, the new interplanetary cyclers, full stations built to the scale of orbital habitats in themselves, Wanderer Station and Meanderer Station, now traverse the space between Talentar and Eliéra, bringing goods and hundreds of thousands of new colonists with each orbital pass. All observers recognize that the System’s fifth planet is on the verge of a phase-change, from dusty experimental colony to something else entirely.

And as is so often the case, not everyone is happy about that.

 

Bad Moon Rising

(Sorry for the low activity levels, folks. It’s taking me longer than I’d like to shake off this miserable respiratory bug, and I can’t claim to be doing very much at all recently. But here, have a snippet inspired by longer-work-plotting activity.)

“She started out life as Slow Dancer, superheavy tug out of the Limerí cageworks. She didn’t have the aft superstructure at that point – just the forward grapple array, since the Consortium commissioned her to do orbital adjustments on the inner moons before the elevator could go up, sync them up with timed cable swings to make sure they’d never intersect it.

“She didn’t become Moonseeker until after the Revolt started, and the nuke got blown in one of the elevator cars. The bottom three-quarters fell down and mostly burned up, but the loss of tension sent the top quarter and Avétal with it out of its new orbit on a slow road to nowhere. Then the countermass rep paid Limerí thirty-points-over to yank the drives out of everything under construction, weld ’em onto their tug, and go chase it down.

“…well, obviously we had to get it back. You don’t let anyone blow up your moon and just install a replacement. What would people think?”

 

Lumenna-Súnáris System (6): Talentar

I/5. Talentar

Class: Eutalentic
Orbit (period): 1.49 au (664.3 T-days)
Orbit (ecc.): 0.03
Radius: 2,137 miles
Mass: 9.4 x 1023 kg
Density: 5.51 g/cm3
Surface gravity: 0.54 g

Axial tilt: 26.1°
Rotation period: 23.5 T-hours

Black-body temperature: 216 K
Surface temperature (avg.): 230 K

Atmosphere: Primarily CO2, some nitrogen, trace components (pre-ecopoesis).
Atmospheric pressure (sfc.): 0.21 atm (pre-ecopoesis)
Hydrographic coverage: 0% (pre-ecopoesis)

Satellites: 3 moonlets.

So, here we are, next world of the system: Talentar. It’s eutalentic, which is the fancy IGS classification term for “Mars-like”: geologically quiescent, cold, and dry, with thin, mostly-CO2 atmospheres. And it’s very much like that: it could be Mars’s twin.

Which naturally made it the immediate best prospect for a colony and then for ecopoesis, much like, say, Mars – which meant Project Copperfall, followed by Project Redblossom. This is why so many of the figures here are given as “pre-ecopoesis”.

Prominent features visible at this time include Talarí Mons, a large shield volcano near the equator that became the base for the orbital elevator, and the Ashen Planitia from which it rises; Rel!in Crater, whose distinctive shape made it the basis of the zero meridian; the large southern polar depression that eventually became the Meridional Sea; Kirinal Planum, the large plain north of said depression that became a large expanse of “Talentar prairie”; the Five Valles, five large canyons in a claw formation, none as individually large as the Vallis Marineris but which together are a hell of a lot of chasm; the future site of Quinjano Dome, the planetary capital where the chasms come together; Lorai Vallis, site of a famous military cock-up in the Grand Colonial Charlie Foxtrot; and so forth…

And now, the satellites. All figures given for these are pre-ecopoesis, because the ecopoesis involved moving them…

I/5/a. Móstal

Class: Aggregate
Orbit (period):
6,294 miles (2.91 T-hours)
Orbit (ecc.):
0.0
Radius: 6.33 miles
Mass:
 1.4429 x 1016 kg
Density: 3.254 g/cm3
Surface gravity: 0.0009 g

Axial tilt: 0.01°
Rotation period: 3.56 T-hours

Black-body temperature: 216 K
Surface temperature (avg.): 209 K

Atmosphere: None.
Hydrographic coverage: 0%

As its planetary class indicates, Talentar’s innermost moon is… a rubble pile. And as its orbit indicates, one that is probably going to break up rather messily if untouched for the next few million years.

What that means in turn is that Móstal, for practical purposes, consists of a flag and some radio beacons and some fancy netting to keep it together when they had to move it to keep it out of the way of the orbital elevator…

I/5/b. Víërtal

Class: Silicaceous
Orbit (period):
12,740 miles (7.27 T-hours)
Orbit (ecc.):
0.0
Radius:
4.784 miles
Mass:
 7.6325 x 1015 kg
Density: 4.08 g/cm3
Surface gravity: 0.0008 g

Axial tilt: 0.02°
Rotation period: 7.88 T-hours

Black-body temperature: 216 K
Surface temperature (avg.): 209 K

Atmosphere: None.
Hydrographic coverage: 0%

Víërtal, by contrast, is a bit more solid. It’s an actual silicaceous asteroid, look!

Its history has mostly been quiet: due to its solidity and its convenient altitude and habit of whipping around Talentar a good three times every day, it made a convenient base during the initial colonization. It still houses domes into much later eras, notably including the local space-traffic monitoring and defense systems, but it is, for the most part, a backwater.

It also had to be moved in order to build the orbital elevator.

I/5/c. Avétal

Class: Chondraceous
Orbit (period): 26,905 miles (22.30 T-hours)
Orbit (ecc.):
0.0
Radius:
3.87 miles
Mass:
 1.9672 x 1015 kg
Density: 1.93 g/cm3
Surface gravity: 0.0003 g

Axial tilt: 0.4°
Rotation period: 29.3 T-hours

Black-body temperature: 216 K
Surface temperature (avg.): 185 K

Atmosphere: None.
Hydrographic coverage: 0%

And finally, Avétal, the outermost moon. Another relatively solid one, albeit less like a silicaceous asteroid in composition and more closely resembling a carbonaceous chondrite.

It’s been busy all through the lifespan of Talentar as an inhabited world, for various reasons: having lots of harvestable volatiles, and being relatively easy to get to in delta-v terms among them. But they, strictly speaking, aren’t the main thing.

What’s the main thing?

Look at the orbital period.

Now go back and look at the rotational period of the planet.

If you’re an orbital elevator consortium wondering where you’re going to find a nice, convenient countermass to move into position just above talentosynchronous orbit, those numbers should make you very happy indeed.

Or, rather, they did, and that’s why Avétal as a moon is wholly owned and operated by the Talentar Skyhook & Spaceport Consortium, ICC.

(Once we get to the modern era, of course.)

 

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