Things to See, Places (Not) to Go (11)

Ulijen (Cordai Gap): Honestly, if I have to tell you it’s a bad idea to visit a planet that looks like someone took a bite out of a giant apple, you probably aren’t able to read this book anyway.

Ulijen is the infamous site of the eponymous Ulijen Disaster, in which an ill-advised attempt to tap power from the system’s primary using a wormhole resulted in the planet being bathed in heart-of-a-star conditions for long enough to vaporize a substantial chunk of its mass: the resulting crater covers a quarter of the planet’s surface area, and the rest of the planet is not a habitable world any more, either.

But that all happened long ago (circa -1,000), you say?

Well, there are three very good reasons not to go that still apply:

One, it’s astonishingly radioactive. Being effectively dunked in a stellar core causes a lot of neutron activation, and while to my knowledge no-one’s actually computed how much shielding you need to visit a planet that glows from orbit 8,000 years later, it’s certainly more than you have.

Two, to call it tectonically unstable would be to call Leytra (Ringstars) ‘bright’. When you vape that much mass off a planet, it tends to collapse back into a proper sphere under its own gravity. This is not an easy, short, or comfortable-to-be-around process.

Three: you want to go there to salvage paleotech, don’t you? Of course you do; that’s why anyone goes to a fossil world. But even if it wasn’t all vaporized in the disaster, you’re then going to try and sell someone a power generation system with a known history of destroying civilizations.

The likely consequences of this are best appreciated by reading my companion book, 1,769 Sophs Who Were Airlocked, And Why They Had It Coming: A Cynic’s Study Of Consequences (Bad Stuff Press, 7920).

Trope-a-Day: No Warping Zone

No Warping Zone: You could, in theory, put a wormhole pair anywhere you liked – high mass notwithstanding.  The traditional location out on the edge of star systems has more to do with size, ease of construction and transport, accessibility and defensibility, and minimizing the consequences of their extremely explosive, if mostly theoretical, failure mode if something should go Horribly Wrong than any sort of physics-derived limitation.

Recall, for example, the Ulijen Disaster.

Trope-a-Day: Earth Shattering Kaboom

Earth Shattering Kaboom: The Ulijen Disaster.  If you’re going to build an experimental power plant that taps power from your sun using a wormhole, don’t build it on the planetary surface!

Also, relativistic kill vehicles and really big strangelet bombs, or even antimatter bombs; and in theory, some other esoterica like twist-pinch bombs and causal weapons.  All of which are utterly, utterly illegal to use (which doesn’t stop everyone with a sense of paranoia from maintaining a relativistic deterrent fleet, of course) under pain of serious obliteration.

Doom, Idiocy, and Weirdness

“A few special adhocs aside, the Fifth Directorate is divided into three primary working groups: Existential Threats, Inadvisably Applied Technologies, and Exceptionary Circumstances.  Or, as they’re less formally known, the PWGs of Doom, Idiocy, and Weirdness.”

“Existential Threats handles exactly that; the end of everything, or at least everything local.  Some of their adhocs are as public as the Fifth ever gets, working on problems like why, exactly, we relative latecomers qualify as one of the eldest of the younger races and why no-one from the Precursor era or earlier seems to be around these days; or preparation for natural disasters like gamma-ray bursts or the upcoming galactic collision.  Most of them, though, concentrate on action against more direct threats, like Leviathan Consciousness intrusions, the ambitious that bypassed the Corícal Consensus and incautiously cooked up unstable gods, and any number of insufficiently careful archive-resurrectionists.”

“Inadvisably Applied Technologies is our benevolence PWG.  Their adhocs are responsible for intervening in places where we have no particular authority to do so because someone’s playing with fire in the explosives warehouse, and it’s not in anyone’s interest to see a repeat of the Ulijen Disaster.  More importantly, it’s especially not in our interest to have people become paranoid about advanced technologies just because someone didn’t read the documentation and flash-fried his entire planet, or worse.”

“Yes, it’s not normally considered appropriate to save people from themselves; but really, that’s just a side-effect of saving large chunks of the rest of the known galaxy from them.  Usually, useful ones.”

“Exceptionary Circumstances?  We can’t tell you about Exceptionary Circumstances.  If we knew what they were or had any idea what to do about them, they wouldn’t be Exceptionary Circumstances.  But when we don’t, or we haven’t – that’s what the adhocs of Exceptionary Circumstances do.”

– org briefing to new members of the Select Committee on Imperial State Security