PALAXIAS (IMPERIAL CORE) – In the weeks following the suicidal asymmetrist attack on the Numeropolis Drift mathematics research station in the Athra (Ringstars) System – which punctured the habitat hull causing thirty-seven temporary deaths and the permanent deaths of two visiting fellows from the Sseydri Gerontocracy – denials of responsibility have continued to pour in from rogue groups and even a few polities across the Associated Worlds.

These denials have garnered little attention from either the Ministry of State and Outlands or the Admiralty. However, action has been taken on the matter, as a cruiser task group of the Sixth Capital Flotilla, assigned to respond, set sail today from Prime Base, Palaxias. When asked if any details would be made available at this time, the commander of task group GRUMPY TIERCEL, Vice Admiral Nimil Sargas, stated “I’m afraid that our destination and mission orders must remain confidential for the moment. We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.”


A Place Where Renegades Come From

See this?

Sorry, Mark Zuckerberg. Your plan to put an end to disease is a sickeningly bad idea

Well, one place where Renegades come from is when, having read too much of this kind of disgusting ephemeralist agitprop, and noting that advocating for prohibitions or even prohibitionary attitudes on life extension and its related family of technologies amounts to conspiring to murder everyone, forever, they conclude that while it’s not the common interpretation, it’s not really stretching the Right of Common Defense all that far if they go forth into the greater galaxy and cleanse it preemptively of would-be mass-murdering fuckheads, belike.

(While passing sardonic comments about the stubbornness of ephemeralist death-worshippers when it comes to running away from the unbeing they deify.)


Trope-a-Day: Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters

Before we begin, some EXCITING NEWS. Maybe, actually, not that exciting, but this is the very last trope-a-day in the initial set! Woo! We’re done!

Well, okay. We’re not done. We now go back to A and start a second pass through to capture a whole passel that I missed the first time around. But it’s still a sort of milestone, anyway.

Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Definitions vary… widely, much as they do in reality.  The Conclave official definition of terrorism is “the deliberate targeting of noncombatants for political ends”, but doesn’t go to the trouble of defining “noncombatants”, and also makes with the latter an unnecessary distinction between terrorists and, say, Space Pirates – unnecessary because the general policy for both groups is “Kill ’em all.”

The Empire’s definition is the broader-based “people who don’t fight like gentlemen” (i.e., according to the Laws and Customs of War), with the necessary caveat that what they really mean is “people who don’t fight like gentlemen… first”, inasmuch as a polity that sponsors terrorism, hides terrorists among the general population, etc., etc., has given de facto informed consent for what it gets when the Imperial Navy nukes it back into the Stone Age from orbit.  After all, it’s the only way to be sure.

(And while they do like freedom fighters in theory, their hardline views on the proper conduct of even freedom-seeking insurgencies in re respecting people’s rights mean that revolutionary groups that don’t keep their hands very clean (i.e., avert The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized) and their targeting very carefully on the legitimate military/governance enforcement targets need not bother applying for Imperial assistance.

Which would seem more contradictory than it is if one wasn’t aware of how deeply cynical most Imperials are regarding the way most freedom fighters are primarily fighting for the freedom to oppress someone else.

On the other hand, it keeps them out of a lot of tar-pits.)


Question: Terrorism and Open Societies

Here’s another one from the question box: I received a link to this article from a skeptical reader who questions how – or indeed if – the sort of open society I describe could possibly cope with this sort of lone-wolf, home-grown terrorism by individual extremists, needing few contacts and little equipment.

First, just because you have an open society that, by and large, is not interested in investing a lot of time into controlling what people do doesn’t necessarily mean that your security services suck. (Indeed, one could convincingly argue that they ought to be better, inasmuch as they can spend all their time concentrating on things that are actually mala in se rather than wasting a lot of time on authoritarian-moistening bullshit.)

Suffice it to say, canonically, while greatly restricted in what they can do to people who haven’t committed any sort of crime, the Watch Constabulary and the Fourth Directorate are nonetheless very good at what they do.

Second, of course, is that the Empire is rather picky about who can get citizen-shareholdership in the first place, and extends this particular pickiness even to people who were born there. You don’t get it for free just by accident of birth; it comes with responsibilities as well as rights, and if you cannot sit under an alethiometer and honestly declare that, yes, you do intend to honor the Contract and the Charter and all their implications (something that your homegrown radical could not any more than a would-be immigrant one), no citizen-shareholdership for you. And if you fail that test badly enough, well, here’s a ticket, now get the hell out.

(This is naturally decried as extremely culturalist, which it is; the standard response to such criticism is that no, it’s not prejudice, they have a perfectly valid postjudice against cultures that don’t respect the sophont rights of others, and in any case, the opinions of a of bunch of self-asserted advocates for thugs, thieves, slavers, defaulters, and other such degenerates will be filed in the appropriate receptacle.)

And thirdly, the Eupraxic Collegium does have a compelling interest of ensuring that the ungoverned, self-organizing public are, well, sane and rational, that being what permits a free society like this to exist in the first place, and are well equipped so to do.

But lastly, of course and for the major part, is the difference in attitude.

As has been mentioned before, I believe, the Imperial legal view of self-defense (or, rather, self-and-others defense) is somewhat different than ours, in that one is not, for example, obliged to wait until someone actualizes a threat in order to respond to it. You are entitled to take people at their word: if someone threatens you or someone else nearby, you can preempt their attack with your defense all you like. There is absolutely no duty to retreat: someone who attacks, or threatens to attack, is by definition, eo ipso, etc., in the wrong and invited the painful consequences that are about to ensue. And, for that matter, they think “proportional response” is the damn silliest idea they’ve ever heard of (with the possible exceptions of fighting fair and telling the enemy that you’re coming), so if you have to put someone down, you’re entitled to make sure that they don’t get back up.

The Imperial Rules of Civilized Warfare mirror this pretty much exactly on the group level, as you might expect.

In the above article, one quotation given is:

“Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict,” an Islamic State spokesman said in a September audio speech. “Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.”

…you can say that kind of thing relatively safely on Earth.

Hell, you could say that thing kind of safely to a lot of people in the Worlds who share similar attitudes to people on Earth.

But if you say that thing to or about the Empire, or Imperial citizen-shareholders, that’s a preemptive self-and-others-defense casus belli right there, and it’s probably even the kind that invokes the “we don’t need no steenkin’ central ruling, this is covered under ‘imminent threat that will not admit of delay'” clause that lets any local commander act on their own military authority.

There, you say that sort of thing from any sort of position of authority, and shit is going down. Hell, you just sent said shit a gild-edged, engraved, heavy-bond-paper invitation to come party at your place and bring all its implements of destruction.

And so, when it comes to another illustrative quote:

“They’ve realized, hey, if our intent is to scare the s–t out of people—to trigger heavy-handed responses by government, to force isolation of the Muslim community, pushing them to more radicalization—what do you have to do? Take two guys into a mall, shoot it up, and you’re done. You’ll be out of there in 15 minutes, and we’ll be talking about it for days and weeks and months.”

Well, it’s true that that would be an excellent way to trigger heavy-handed responses from the Imperial governance, yes. The problem, however, is that so far as opinion there is concerned, our idea of a heavy-handed response is so much self-harming (because tightening security inflicts pain upon many-n of your own people for every n bad guys it catches, even before you start counting false positives) theatrical bullshit.

The way you do a proper heavy-handed response to polity-encouraged terrorism is to send out Admiral Cluster Bomb to turn Mister-Likes-To-Make-Threats-And-Encourage-People into Mister-Ash-At-The-Bottom-Of-A-Glass-Lined-Crater, preferably before anyone actually has a chance to make good on any of said threats.

In short: what keeps terrorism out of the Empire’s open society is that, by and large, would-be terrorists’ sponsors and encouragers have much easier targets to pick on than the one that will murderize, tenderize, and vaporize you from orbit the moment after you open your mouth and then pat itself on the back, standin’ up for civilized values and all, for doing it, not a twinge of conscience needed.

And it’s not like this is a hidden or an inconsistent policy. They’re very open about this policy and they do it every time, and have been doing so for ever, which has the decided advantage of ensuring that it’s a very rare occasion when they have to do it at all.

Trope-a-Day: NGO Superpower

NGO Superpower: Actually, yes.  Quite a lot, especially given the sheer range of government sizes out there, and the sizes therefore of the organizations that some of the real behemoths can host.

For a start and most prominently, most of the “Big 26” starcorporations at least have the financial resources to stand in the same rank as many large governments (and often have extensive conlegial and/or extraterritorial holdings), and above the small ones.  Special note here goes to Gilea & Company, ICC, the banking starcorp which routinely makes large sovereign loans out of its private assets and treats polities no differently from any other customers – and when Gilea & Co., who stand behind or advise, in one way or another, an appallingly large percentage of the galactic economy, sneezes, entire economies catch the plague and die;

Ring Dynamics, ICC, which owns and leases most of the galaxy’s interstellar transportation network;

And Ultimate Argument Risk Control, ICC, which provides security services, military contracting, and mercenary brokerage, and if it cared to gather all of the forces beholden to it in one place, could make a respectable showing against most Great Power fleets, and unquestionably defeat lesser polities on its own.  (It doesn’t; its owners aren’t interested in assuming the responsibilities of sovereignty, and agree with the unspoken “Iron Concord” among the Powers that mercenaries should be paid to make war, not paid not to make war.  But it is happy to rent its mercenaries to other starcorps in need of a forceful solution to Static defaulters or expropriators, pour décourager les autres.)

(While no individual runs it or controls it to any significant extent, the collective intelligence of the Seranth Exchange has similar potency when it comes to the way that shifts in its market can affect things out and about in the Worlds.)

The others are less obviously potent, but smart polities understand that it’s a bad idea to make an enemy of say, StellEx (if you want your logistics to keep moving), Bright Shadow (who sold you your Internet), Telememe (who publish the news that the newscorps read), Traders in Ideation (unless you love getting FRM errors), Riverside Eubiosis and Crystal Flame (since your citizens may not appreciate a renewed outbreak of mortality), etc., etc.  Even much smaller starcorps than the 26 are accustomed to negotiating terms with local governments on a much more even footing than one might expect.

There are also, of course, a number of “non-politan”, unaligned seed AIs, who despite being singleton intelligences have all the production capacity and coordination ability of a (usually minor) polity.

A number of non-profit groups, mostly a mix of “direct action charities” and more self-interested “information brokers” – some of both of which are functionally privately run intelligence agencies – are in approximately the same league as some of the smaller starcorps – they have to walk a bit cautiously around (which by no means means “avoiding conflict with”) the Powers and the larger polities, but on those occasions when they think it will help – which, in fairness, they usually don’t, because it rarely does – they can slap a few smaller polities and single-system nations around a bit.  And a lot of them are more than happy to hire UARC or other merc outfits for this purpose, when necessary, although the latter especially prefer manipulation and memetic subversion than getting into out-and-out conflict.

And out in the Expansion Regions and other more shadowy corners of the worlds, some less scrupulous large mercenary organizations and the odd criminal syndicate can exert a lot of influence over local politics, more than enough to hold their own against the local polities.

Oddly enough, averted where most terrorist organizations are concerned.  Mostly because unlike most of the above, by definition the terrorist organizations go too far – which is unfortunate for them when the opposition tends to be people like the Imperial Navy, whose Combat Pragmatism and notions of cost-effectiveness are such that, for example, if told that the terrorist leader is hiding in an impenetrable range of cave-ridden mountains, will reply “okay, fine, we’ll just bombard them from orbit until the sonofabitch has to learn to breathe lava”.  And if it’s something less terrain-y – well, the Laws and Customs of War are very clear on this: voluntarily standing in the crowd the enemy is hiding in, once you’ve been warned, is giving aid and comfort to the enemy and the ensuing predictable consequences are entirely your own fault.

Subverted a little with the Conclave of Galactic Polities, even with the tremendous law enforcement powers and independence of the Operatives of its Presidium, mostly because it works very much for the highly select list of Great Powers making up said Presidium.

Positive Externalities

All income earned, by individuals other than the Imperial Service or duly contracted security providers where the activities in question are within the scope of their contract, in the course of:

  • Defeating or preventing existential, species-level, or Imperial security threats, whether global or local;
  • Repelling raids or invasions;
  • Preventing acts of terrorism or exceptionary crime;
  • Preventing or ameliorating ongoing natural disasters or technological accidents;
  • Or otherwise engaging in activities falling within a reasonable definition of ‘saving the world’;

And all income deriving from technologies or other intellectual properties or physical properties developed or appropriated (when duly condemned by a prize court) during such activities, for a period of twelve years subsequently;

Shall not be subject to general taxation.

– Imperial Revenue Code, Vol. 2 (Special Exemptions) § 17.

Not-a-Fic-a-Day: Transportation Security

So, there isn’t an actual fic-a-day today, because ever since I read a news article about the TSA’s latest shenanigans, I’ve been too mad to have an idea – or rather, all the characters in my head have had nothing to do but deliver variations on The Reason We Suck, snark, and related items about transportation security all day, and refuse to get down to anything plotly.

Yes, I have an unruly muse.

So, instead, I’m just going to accept losing a day’s writing, and in some compensation – and despite my pledge to avoid message fiction in my real writing – herewith some fictional people expressing some opinions on that whole mess…

“Descend to ten thou so we can chuck the bastards – or whatever’s left of them once the passengers are done – over the side.  What else?”
– Idris Allatrian-ith-Lyranth, airship captain, extranet interview

“Multiply, old chap, multiply.  You can’t seriously propose that we punish hundreds of millions of travellers every day because of, what, a few tens of thousands of fanatics of dubious rationality?  Do you have any idea how many of those we could find and cauterize for the same cost?  Especially once you take into account the the insurrection we’d have on our hands if the Senate even thought about demanding searches of citizen-shareholders going about their lawful business, never mind if the Curia actually lost all grip on law and sense and approved it.”
– Quoril Irithyl-ith-Issarthyl, security consultant, extranet interview

“Due to current geopolitical tensions, passengers on international flights are requested and required as a condition of passage to carry a pistol capable of running our aeronef-compatible frangible-flechette and Fragile Fire Inhibition softpatch (a free download from our ‘weave) for flight security.  If you do not possess a suitable weapon, one can be rented for the duration of the flight at your Golden Skies check-in desk for an Es. 7 surcharge.”
– Golden Skies Express Air ticket, supplemental information

“Oh, they don’t want to get into a terror contest with us.  We have much bigger sticks to beat them with than they can find to use.  And I can promise you this – I’m scarier.”
– a brightly smiling Caliéne Sargas-ith-Sargas, IN Admiral, Worldburner, and Deimarchess by Birth and Profession, extranet interview

“Ahem.  Or, somewhat more diplomatically put, the first duty of any government is to protect its citizen-shareholders.  The Imperial Charter is quite clear on that.  It does not, on the other hand, say anything about everyone else.  And while we don’t like having to shout and threaten like a cliched serial villain, if it takes parking the threat of annihilation over someone to get them to clean their damned act up, well, we can do that.  And will.”
– Esitaria Cyprium-ith-Avalae, Stellar Council (Emeritus), extranet interview

“Yeah.  When I’m on one of those worlds, I take the shuttle to orbit and back down again every time I need to go from place to place on the surface.  I won’t use their own transport, not for — why?  Seriously?  They try and ban all weapons.  No gun, no sword, not so much as a utility knife.  What for shit and waste heat are we supposed to do if someone does try and take the plane, or rob us in the air, or something?  Throw nuts at them?  Beat them to death with the seat cushions? Maybe try harsh language?”

They may not care about their natural responsibilities, but I’m not going to be put in that position, thank you kindly but no thank you.”
–  Corvis Peressin-ith-Perrin, frequent interstellar traveller, extranet interview

“It may be a slightly riskier model, in terms of risk from terrorists and hijackers.  I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, but I’ll accept it hypothetically.  But there are three essential points I would make in answer.  First, neither model is particularly risky in an absolute sense, and our population is, by and large, capable of computing simple probabilities.  Second, risk is one of many factors in any trade-off, and we are also aware of the costs in economic terms, in liberty terms, and in terms of dignity – and also, you will find, quite determined as a principle of ethics, morality, and law that where there are costs to be suffered, they will be suffered by the people responsible for them rather than the innocent bystander.  And third?  Third, the Imperial hasn’t been born who intimidates worth a damn.”
– Quoril Irithyl-ith-Issarthyl, security consultant, extranet interview

“Talk to me like that again, zakhrehs, or put so much as one finger anywhere, and you’re going to be looking for a new body.”
– Jynen Cerron-ith-Cerron, shortly before being deported from Villami (Iesa Drifts)


“Sophonts of Gervés.  Observe.”

The images accompanying the broadcast were an aerial view of a crater, carved abruptly into a landscape that was otherwise blue-black and growing.  Within the crater, the ground bubbled and seethed around a few shattered remnants that might once have been buildings, rock and earth half-melted by the violence of whatever had happened here.  Beyond the fringes, roads cut off abruptly, freakishly undamaged for anything that close to such total destruction.  The forward half of a shattered vehicle hung balanced on the lip of the crater, tipped, and toppled into the ruin.  Nothing living was visible.

“This morning at 0.434 local time, Talyn Peressin-ith-Peressin, a visiting academician from the Imperial University of Almeä, was kidnapped by a Gervéssin separatist group, the Solidarity Faction, while travelling to an outlying research facility, and taken to the village of Résené, a known and officially tolerated center of Faction activity.”

“In response, at 0.443 local, this village was destroyed by orbital kinetic bombardment from the diplomatic cruiser First Under Heaven, assigned to our embassy here on Gervés.  Citizen-shareholder Peressin is being restored from backup, and is expected to have lost no more than one hour of memory.”

The images of destruction ceased, replaced by a man in the blue-and-gold of the Imperial Navy with arctic eyes and voice to match.

“A personal word for associates of the Solidarity Faction in particular: While you addressed your communique to us in terms of your ‘rightful freedom’, assuming no doubt that we would sympathize with this, you should understand that we are understandably less sympathetic to such appeals when they come from self-demonstrating petty tyrants and kidnappers.”

“In addition, your planet’s World Assembly is accustomed to treat you with a light hand, in the interests of reconciliation, stability, and due proportion.  We, however, are disinclined to do so when barbarians indulge the notion that they may prey upon Imperial citizen-shareholders; rather, we prefer a disproportionate response that only becomes more so should we be compelled to repeat it.  You will cease to have such notions, or you will all die.  Either will satisfy our requirements.”

– Admiral Kalkis Roquentius-ith-Roquel, responding to the Gervés Incident, 5331