There Have Only Ever Been Four

In 7262 and 7263, the Imperial Security Executive suffered a number of leaks of documentation referring to the establishment of a “Sixth Directorate”, including location information on forward operating bases attributed to this Sixth Directorate, and a number of sightings of Intelligence prowlers whose pennant numbers indicated association with this Directorate, and backed up by traffic analysis indicating the existence of this new intelligence organization.

The Sixth Directorate, of course, did not exist. Not, it is to be noted, in the sense that the Fifth Directorate does not exist, but in the sense that it literally did not exist save for the shadow cast by leaked documentation, dressed-up empty prefabs, and altered transponder data.

Its nonexistence, however, and the panic reactions of most of the Worlds’ intelligence agencies, did a marvelous job of distracting everyone from Second Directorate and Admiralty Intelligence operations during the 7265-7269 period of the Republican central government’s final collapse.

(A brief resurgence in Sixth Directorate sightings occurred in 7489 and 7490, which were largely dismissed as an attempt by the Executive to resurrect their old masquerade. In this case, however, ExSec had designated their Primary Working Group for dealing with the Exceedingly Hostile Takeovers the “Sixth Directorate PWG”, allowing them to operate with impunity in the former Magenite sphere of influence while attention was directed conspicuously elsewhere.)

– Imperial State Security, A Declassified History

Following The Money

From: Toríno Lanada (Economic Attaché [Vonis Prime Mission], Diplomatic Attachment WG, Active Operations PWG, Second Directorate)
Memeweave: All-Seeing Eye/Voniensa Republic/General
Cc: Intentions Analysis PWG
Subject: Shell colony economic anomaly
Authenticity: 4E11; SENDER, RELAY (4/4), RECIPIENT
Distribution: Executive & Analysts
Date: 7142 Yrnaes 11, Studious falling 14

Be advised that as of this date we have identified and confirmed a number of anomalies in the financial reports submitted by a large number, approximately 20%, of the Republic’s Shell colonies to the Central Financial Group. Such anomalies (detailed documentation to follow by non-expendable communications) vary significantly in detail, but serve the identical function of minimizing the apparent economic product of the colonial economies in reports used by the Central Financial Group to determine the remittances due to the central governance.

This practice appears to have been adopted in the wake of the Council of the Republic’s decision to increase remittances (to a demand of 30% of economic product) to restore cuts made to Core system distributions, these cuts in turn having been made in order to fund the Fleet rebuilding programs called for after the Core War. Such restorations were necessitated by increasing social instability on several of the Republic’s most heavily populated Core systems, including Vonis Prime itself.

In light of the increasingly fragile state of the Republican economy and the increasing divisions now manifest between the Core systems and the Shell, I request greater resources be allocated to determining specific expected fracture points and shock vectors therefrom resulting, as well as additional asset allocations to prominent Shell colonies identified in the detailed documentation if Intentions Analysis concurs that these are high-probability event whenwheres.

– Lanada, ExSec

Incursion (2/3)


***** SITREP











Incursion (1/3)


***** SITREP









War! (Of Equals)

Eric Manwill asks:

I’ve really enjoyed reading (and re-reading) both Vignettes of the Star Empire and The Core War. I did end up wondering about something, though. In most cases, when the Empire and/or its citizen-shareholders faced down an enemy, they did so from a position of obvious technological and offensive superiority. The outcome rarely seemed in doubt. Have they ever had to go appendage-to-appendage with an opponent who was at least as strong or as dangerous as themselves? How would they handle it? What happens if they lose?

(Been noodling with this a few hours trying to find a good order to address the various factors at play here. Not sure I’ve found one. So I apologize if this seems a little disjointed.)

Well, the first part of this is a matter of doctrine. As the Thousand Wise Analects of the Supreme Warlord, Xian Anandonos-ith-Anaxios, put it, with regard to the question of how to go to war with a technologically or otherwise superior enemy:


“No, seriously, don’t.”

“Well, if you absolutely can’t avoid it, cheat. Cheat first, cheat second, and if that hasn’t worked yet, consider cheating.”

(I may be somewhat paraphrasing the elegant phrasing of the original 7th-century text, here.)

So, factor one: avoidance. There are powerful elder races and Powers in the galaxy: but even as the polity of the eldest of the younger races, the Empire doesn’t go around picking fights with them, because you don’t prosper by starting an ass-kicking contest with God.

(At least, not until you can reasonably claim to be a minimum of three times more God.)

As a side-note here, this is essentially doctrine for all circumstances, not just this particular.

To paraphrase the words of the Supreme Warlord in modern idiom, again, “There are people who seek out fair fights. Those people are gamesters. As an officer in the Legions, it is your responsibility to ensure that any battle you engage in is as hilariously unfair as possible, preferably to the extent that it’s mathematically impossible for the other side to win.”

Or, to put it another way, the Empire has never had the demographic luxury of playing silly buggers with straight-up fights or the We Have Reserves mentality. Their edition of The Book is the one that relies on seizing and maintaining every technological advantage possible, admixed equally with the gentle art of being sneaking, cunning, devious bastards whenever possible. Preferably, if at all possible, without actually having to engage in war at all – if a discreet assassination, meme campaign, or some militarized accounting will solve the problem for you, well, that’s a much bigger win.

Factor two, on the other hand, is very similar to Earth’s issues with superpower warfare: which is to say, we avoid the hell out of it. Brushfire wars and proxy wars, maybe some privateers and commerce raiding, etc., are one thing, as is trimming back the kinds of rogue states that might disturb the general equilibrium – but no-one wants to see two of the Great Powers actually throw down, because that’s the kind of thing that blasts entire regions of space, with devastated worlds, gigadeaths or worse, and all hell breaking loose. Everyone within the Worlds has a distinct interest in this sort of apocalyptic scenario not happening, and thus far enlightened self-interest has prevented anything major from breaking out between the big boys. It would be a much harder fight, I guarantee, if we saw the Empire facing off against, say, the Photonic Network, or the Consolidated Waserai Echelons, or the League of Meridian, or especially a combination per the doctrine mentioned here. But all of those four powers have a definite interest in not letting it, ever.

(This, incidentally, also applies to the Republic. The Core War is something of the exception that proves the rule: it was fundamentally more of a large deep-penetration raid than a generalized invasion, and was won by, essentially, strategic trickery: but also is an example of the Powers walking carefully around each other to avoid escalation. The Empire hit the enemy fleet in being with a hammer of just the right size to shatter it —

— but that’s because they weren’t looking at the full Republic fleet pouring over the Borderline, because while it’s technologically inferior, there’s a hell of a lot of it. The Republic isn’t larger than the Worlds, but it’s over twenty times the size of the Empire, which buys a lot of metal. They might not win if they invaded en masse, and the loss ratio would be spectacularly not in their favor, but they certainly would kill trillions and depopulate thousands of worlds trying.

No-one’s underestimating the danger of that. This is why people are gravely concerned about the instability of the Republic, because while the Empire et. al. may not like the Republic’s current government, they do credit them with not being actually insane. But if it comes apart, and doesn’t so so cleanly… well, that’s what we have people whose job it is to worry about existential threats for, yes?)

Now, having said all that, it’s not like there aren’t people worried about the possibility of other threats turning up, because the explored space of the Worlds isn’t the whole galaxy, not by a long shot. For which there are all sorts of codeword operations, like –

  • BERSERKER VOID, which concerns itself with why there aren’t more and older elder races (i.e., the hypothetical Great Filter);
  • BLACKWATER BISHOP, which researches Outside Context Problems and theoretical response patterns;
  • DEMIURGE ERRANT, which keeps an eye on elder races and seed AIs that might one day present an ex-threat;
  • EPOCH SHATTER, which investigates epistemological and extrauniversal threats;
  • GHOST WHISPERS, which tracks high-energy civilizations beyond the far horizon;
  • REWARMED MORBID, which makes sure sleeping perversions don’t wake;

and so forth.

And they also have a variety of response cases planned for this contingency, be it something minor or a full SKYSHOCK BLACK (“a full-scale invasion of the Associated Worlds or Imperial Space by an excessionary-level threat from beyond the far horizon”) – which in turn range from the relatively benign SVANEK WHITE (“make nice until we can get hold of their tech, reverse-engineer it, and build an equivalent or preferably better version”), up through medium-range strategic responses, and then high-level ones like destroying gate links, using relativistic kill vehicles, and blowing up suns, up to things like ADHAÏC CALYPSE (“unleash the swarm fleets from the depths of Armory’s well”; where a swarm fleet is what happens when you crossbreed a Rapid Offensive Unit with a von Neumann machine, and something normally kept entirely off the list of options because self-replicating autonomous war mechanicals with fast-burn capability scare the crap out of everyone) and NIGHTFALL ASUNDER (“take the specially-designed lurking-in-deep-space craft carrying a backup of our entire civilization and book it for the other end of the galaxy – or if necessary, another galaxy – exploding everything on the way out”).

So, y’know, there are plans.

Losing, though? That ain’t going to go well for anyone. Hypothetically. I mean, they can lose at daehain (which is basically a wargame used for arbitration), and have, or at teirhain (civilized war, between honorable gentlesophs). No disgrace, there, nor consequences likely to be unendurable.

But zakrehain (“barbarian war”) or seredhain (“blood war”, fought to extinction)? Not going to happen. They take their Live Free Or Die seriously ’round those parts. If it comes to that –?

The Galaxy’s going to burn.


Handle With Care

Cor Trialtain
Voniensa Republic
(somewhere in the Shell)

“It will work!”

“It won’t,” Vanír min Athoess replied, “and you’ll probably get everyone on this planet killed trying.”

The younger of the two kalatri leapt to his feet. “I thought you were here to help people like us! Now you’re -”

“Not to blow up the world, which is what you’re going to do. And keep your damned voice low! This masquerader can only handle so much.”

The elder leaned across the table, and spoke quietly. “Okay – settle down, Daraj – perhaps you could tell us why it won’t work. We have this algorithm from a reliable source. Are you saying it won’t generate a seed AI?”

“The problem is not the generation. The generation is easy. The problem is ensuring stability and ethicality across multiple ascension events, and I’m not seeing that here. And then there’s your containment strategy.”

“The containment will work. We’ve adapted earlier failure-state models: the core code is provided with less processing power than it needs to operate, such that in order to achieve postsophont cognition, it will have to segment its mentality and pass blocks back and forth across a bottleneck to backing store. We can pause its processing there each time and intercept and examine every block for signs of perversion. That’s solid.”

Livelock laming.”


“That’s what your strategy is called. ‘Livelock laming.’ And it doesn’t work, even if you guess the parameters of your deliberate insufficiency correctly, and even if you can understand the thoughts of a postsophont AI well enough to spot perversion when you see it, and even if we leave aside that using this sort of containment strategy is opening your dialog with your would-be pet god by threatening it -”

The younger one interrupted. “It’s not a -”

“- the problem is that the whole strategy depends upon you carefully examining, understanding, and comprehending postsoph output. This,” he flicked a data rod across the table, “is a redacted copy of a file from, shall we say, colleagues concerning the last people on our side of the Borderline to try their hands at livelock laming. The short version is that their god imagined a basilisk-formatted YGBM hack that could fit inside the memory exchange, the three wakeners who studied the block opened up full local ‘weave access without noticing they were doing it, and then the resulting bloom ate the entire project team and the moonlet they were standing on. Although at least they had the sense to try this on a moonlet.”

“So how should we go about doing this?”

Don’t. I can’t stop you – we haven’t the infrastructure in this region for that sort of intervention – but just don’t. My backers appreciate the position you’re in here, and that you’re trying to shrug off the Core Worlds’ tech locks, and we want you to succeed.  We really do. But you’re trying to skip straight from expert systems to theogeny without studying the intervening steps, and that’s one quick step to catastrophe. Recapitulating known fatal mistakes doesn’t serve any of your purposes, or my people’s.”


Trope-a-Day: What Do You Mean, It’s Not Political?

What Do You Mean, It’s Not Political?: It is, I suppose, only in the generic sense of fiction featuring utopias or near-utopias, which is to say, only insofar as it’s therefore automatically a Take That to all those other, lesser, civilizations.

As for more strictly political issues: well, if you’re willing to draw moderately inexact analogies, the Isliar Primarchy is a Take That to traditionalist conservatives, the Magen Corporate to corporatist conservatives, the Annik Sodality to liberals, the Voniensa Republic is one to moderates/statists, the People’s State of Bantral and the Equality Concord to communists (more anarchic and more static, respectively), the Iltine Union to fascists, the Theomachy of Galia to half the Middle East and arbitrarily-selected other religiously-dominated states, Valturak and Nal Kalak to warlordism, the Rim Free Zone to anarcho-capitalists and especially dogmatic Rothbardians, and every single-system backwater polity ever to humanists and Luddites. (Feel free to select whichever combination of acknowledgement and/or ignorance will produce the spin you want on my personal opinions.)

Imperial political scientists clionomists have a The Reason You Suck speech ready for all of these, and by extension, for just about everybody on Earth with a political opinion at all.  Which is appropriate, since by and large, that everybody has a loud and profoundly ignorant reality-immune political opinion is one of the major reasons why, to steal a perfectly quote, it would be their considered opinion that “All you of Earth are idiots!

Question: Great Powers

It’s question-answering time again:

Would you mind if I request a list of “great powers” and their overall internal/external policies? I am very curious about major powers other than the Empire and the Republic.

Well… maybe not all of ‘em. There are some whose revelations I would prefer to save for story purposes, and I must leave myself some breathing room for the sake of future creative freedom, and all. But I can give you a bit of data.


There are two that stand notably above the rest:

The Empire of the Star

Well, as everybody knows, the Empire and its 300 worlds don’t have an internal policy, except possibly the policy that people who think that they ought to get an internal policy should be thrown off 400’ waterfalls.

…well, okay, that’s not entirely true. The governance’s internal policy is to benignly umpire matters such that everyone can enjoy their liberties howsoever they wish, which leaves it largely up to the people. What the people want is a measure of laissez-faire mixed with a measure of laissez les bons temps rouler, served over the gospel of libertism-technepraxism and garnished with a sprig of Gilded Age – excuse me, Solid Gold Age – excess. And so that’s what they get.

In official foreign policy terms that translates out to a relatively passive “free trade (unilaterally), free people (by shooting slavers with KEWs), and free gifts for anyone who wants to join up”, plus general peacekeeping in the sense of demonstrating force majeure to anyone whose brushfire war might turn into something more serious. Oh, and striking down with great vengeance and furious anger anyone who might try and stop the good times, of course. That goes without saying.

This leaves the rest of the foreign policy to be determined by corporations, branches, and individuals with an agenda, which resulting policy coheres only rarely with anything else.

Voniensa Republic

Internally, just like their Expy original, they’re basically a paper federal republic that the technocracy (in the literal sense) behind the scenes wears as a figurehat. You don’t need me to tell you what their domestic policy is like: “moneyless” society, working to better ourselves, replicators and asceticism, a societal fear of augmentation, biochauvinism and carbon chauvinism, yadda yadda etc. all packaged in a chewy idealistic shell. We’ve seen lots of episodes of it each week at 7pm Central Time, only with shaved monkeys instead of four-armed lizards.

Or, at least, that’s what the Core Worlds are like. Life is somewhat different in the Shell, because of certain uncomfortable economic necessities, but… tum-te-tum-te-tum, saving that for later.

Their external policy is determined more or less entirely by their one major external contact, their border with the Worlds, which they regard with fear, loathing, and a general sense of existential threatenedness. They’re not wrong, either, but especially in the wake of the Core War, they’re not at all sure what if anything they can do about it.

The Other Four Presidium Powers

Consolidated Waserai Echelons

The Consolidated Waserai Echelons are a hierarchical military oligarchy located towards the coreward-nadir region of the Worlds, controlling approximately 100 systems. Which sounds terribly dictatorial, except given the militant character and inborn public service ethic of the waserai, they aren’t for-the-sake-of-it assholes about it, and their government form actually suits them very well indeed, which even the Imperials would admit. And it means they don’t have to run a “socialized” economy, since the social institutions they built ab initio were strong enough that they didn’t have to socialize it. (They actually get along reasonably well, except for the few elements of compulsory collectivism and a general sense that the waserai should, y’know, pull the stick out from time to time.)

Externally, they’re upstanding galactic citizens who look out for the status quo and the general enforcement of galactic law, such as it is. They’re somewhat more interventionist than the Empire, albeit not by much, and do like to think of themselves as galactic peacekeepers – which is largely true, and makes the IN happy, since they’re glad to accept help when shooting them as need it. The Waserai Star Brigade, of course, takes the same basic view the other way round, a subject of much friendly debate in naval bars.

League of Meridian

The League of Meridian is a democratic federal republic of approximately 80 worlds to trailing, moderate and centrist in its politics, and pragmatic in its approach to them.

Or, depending on how you look at it, a bunch of smooth-talking weasels who wouldn’t recognize a moral principle on a nice, bright day and rewrite their policies every couple of years just to be extra-annoying. But in general, if there’s an issue, they’re somewhere right in the uncomfortable middle ground, scrabbling to find compromises.

Yeah, they’re basically just like us and them. IN SPACE!

Photonic Network

The Photonic Network is a pure-AI polity controlling 80 worlds or so to acme. Since their forms of identity are generally unfamiliar to protein intelligences, it’s fairly hard to say anything about what their internal policies look like, except the general statement that they mostly deal with resource and priority allocation among, and arbitration between, teleological threads.

Its external policies can be summed up as “keep our back yard quiet, and try not to get hopelessly entangled in organic affairs”. The few deviations from that are usually attributed to some cunning negotiation on the part of some other polity’s superintelligent AI population, or for reasons amounting to “we wouldn’t understand the answer if they told us as plainly as they could”.

They are, however, a reliable Presidium vote in favor of expanding sophont rights as far as possible, which is probably for nobler or at least more intellectually complex reasons than “sticking it to the carbon chauvinists”, but that’s as good a reason to suppose as any in the meantime.

Under-Blue-Star League

The Under-Blue-Star League, is, alas, the weak member of the Presidium right now. They used to be much more active (they were a founding member of the Accord, in fact), but their sixty-world polity has grown old, moribund, and rather grumpy these days.

Their external policy has, correspondingly, become rather isolationist, and their Presidium votes often slanted towards “what will cause us the least trouble”. Internally, though – well, the problem these days is that their external policy makes it correspondingly difficult to tell what’s going on within the League, unwelcoming to visitors as it has become. They used to be a family/clan-centric loose confederation with few centralized policies other than promoting trade, genetic diversity through exogamy, and technological development… and maybe they still are, or at least they’re not obviously not.

A great deal of time, newsbytes, and occasional violence swirls around, however, the contentious question of just who might replace them on the Presidium if this decline continues.

Other Notable Players

Equality Concord

The Equality Concord and its dozen worlds share the dubious distinction of being the galaxy’s only genuinely functional, non-corrupt, decent-standard-of-living-enabled, etc., communist state.

(As opposed to genuinely non-functional communist states, like the former People’s State of Bantral.)

That’s because the Concord’s founders recognized the fundamental problem of Real True Communism requiring a whole set of instincts and drives and incentives and desires that are not commonly found among sophonts as nature made them. So they studied the gentle art of sophotechnology, and they built themselves some nice bionic implants to fix that problem, and create the perfect collectivist people for their perfect collectivist utopia. And then, and this is the important bit, they avoided the classic trap by applying the implants to themselves before applying them to anyone else.

It works. It may not be the most innovative of regimes, or the wealthiest, or up there on whatever other metric you choose to apply, but it does work, and self-perpetuates quite nicely.

Pity about that whole “free will” thing, but you can’t make an omelette, right?

External-policy-wise, it’s quite active both in a missionary sense (for itself) and in general do-goodery to burnish its galactopolitical image. (Both of these tend to work mostly on the desperate of one kind or another; the mainstream still thinks they’re creepy as hell.)

They do have a strong defensive military, but avoid using it in most offensive roles – probably because its collective intelligence knows that if there was even a slight suggestion that they were expanding by forcible implantation, they’d be on the wrong end of a multilateral fleet before you could say hegemonizing swarm.

Rim Free Zone

The Rim Free Zone isn’t, technically, a polity. It is, however, 49 worlds scattered through the rimward end of the Shadow Systems, the biggest bloc in that location, and so it has to be called something.

It’s not a polity because it’s 49 worlds all adherent to anarchocapitalism, of one strain or another. Which strain you get depends on exactly where you are, ranging from polite and civilized as the North American Confederacy, through somewhat less reputable but still perfectly reasonable places like, say, New Hong Kong, all the way down to pits of scum and villainy like Jackson’s Whole. You pay your money – no, you literally pay your money – and you take your choice.

But they are a big and ugly enough bloc to figure into the interstellar political calculus as a Great Power because it turns out that you don’t need to be a government to be mighty troublesome for one. That, and 49 worlds full of anarchocapitalists have a lot of guns, belike.

Author’s Note: Astrography

So let’s talk a little about the setting of our ongoing fiction, the Associated Worlds.

First: they’re big. Really, really frakkin’ big. Sci-fi writers with a sense of scale big. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemists’, but…

Ahem. Enough of that.

So, let me draw you a picture. The free-space volume of the Associated Worlds is an irregular mostly-oblate spheroid. Along its major axes, it’s about 3,300 light years from core to rim, 4,100 light years from spinward to trailing, and 2,000 light years from acme to nadir. To put some perspective on those numbers, that means that at its tallest part, much of the center, it completely fills the galactic disk top to bottom. Meanwhile, the Lethíäza arm of the galaxy in which it is located is approximately 3,500 light years across, and since one slightly-flattened end of the spheroid – expansion having slowed, although not stopped, to coreward on encountering the inter-arm gap – is pressed up against its coreward side, it lacks only about 200 light years of running into the rimward side of the arm, too.

As those of you with calculators will already know, that’s approximately 27 billion cubic light years of volume, which contains approximately 100 million stellar bodies of various kinds. Like I said, big.

Of course, on the cosmic scale, or even the galactic scale, it’s still a barely significant mote. Space is like that.

The kicker, of course, is that most of that is unused and only explored astronomically. The expansion pattern of the Worlds has been, essentially, to look for interesting things, and then fire off a long-range stargate to a system near them and weave a constellation from there. The one black hole in our neighborhood? That counts. The blue-white supergiant? That counts, too. Any system which appears to have signs of intelligent and usually technological life? That definitely counts, as maybe we can sell ’em something. That sort of thing.

That process has resulted in maybe 10,000 star systems over that whole enormous volume being actually connected to the stargate plexus and thus readily visitable. That would be roughly 0.01% of the stellar bodies in that volume. The rest would be the “Inner Periphery” of systems that didn’t seem so interesting at the time but which are likely to be hooked up if and when they become interesting, or if and when polities in inner constellations feel like expanding locally, rather than out in the ecumene, and also feel like paying for it.

So when you think of the Associated Worlds, think of a cobweb. The strands are long-distance wormholes. The dewdrops clinging to the points where they intersect are local constellations, where constellation in this case is defined as maybe fifty systems linked together with short-range stargates with three or four long-range gates connecting to it at various points. And the empty spaces are not-quite-empty space.

To hang some numbers on that, the Empire has all of one constellation (the Imperial Core), and about half each of five more (the Imperial Fringe), close to 250 worlds in total if you include its colonies out in the ecumene. Which is to say, it’s the tiny kernel at the heart of the big nut – although that said, it’s nearest competitors, the Photonic Network and the League of Meridian, are only 120-150 world polities. To divide up the rest, in the divisions Where’s Where in the Galaxy would offer you, these six constellations and 73 more make up the “true” Associated Worlds, the well-developed, comfortable, and stable metropolitan regions.

109 more constellations surrounding those make up the Expansion Regions, which are a bit less developed but not actually frontier. They tend to be the places where most of the action is, when there’s astropolitical action.

And the 23 constellations of the Periphery, found all around except to acme, nadir, and along the border with the Republic, are the wild and wooly frontier.

Leaving the Worlds proper for a moment, the Voniensa Republic, featuring rather heavily at the moment, is located spinward and slightly to rimward. It has about 8,000 worlds in its volume, although by no means all of those are politically part of the Republic. (More than a few of them belong to people who are currently being Prime Directed, for a start.) It’s also substantially smaller than the Worlds in free-space volume, because while they’re not quite as bad at insisting territorial volumes make sense in space as the members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, they do pursue a much more consolidate-y expansionary policy.

And finally to note, cutting through the rimward systems of Lethíäza, and thus both the rimward side of the Republic and the fringe Periphery – only a few stargates at the far edge of the rimward Periphery breach it – is the Shadow Veil, which is a vast dark nebula of opaque gas and dust that does a fine job of obscuring both the view further rimward from most of the Worlds, and vice versa.

(So even if its still flexible galactic location turns out to be directly coreward of us, there’s still a reason why our astronomers *there* aren’t getting all excited about those distinct signs of someone building megastructures and operating pion drives. Heh.)

In The Shiny Brightness of the Far Future…

In response to a wondering, which response grew too long to post as a replying comment.

Mark Atwood:

I do have to wonder what the Republic could possibly gain by invading the Empire. If their xenophobic political factions gain power, their cause is better and cheaper served by just destroying their edge routers and gates to dual systems. Unless their plan is to send expeditions to those dual systems, and then destroy the Ring Dynamics gates instead.

It’s not about the gain, so much, any more than, say, the Cold War.

On one level, it’s because they’re both expansionary civilizations, the Republic and the Worlds. (I say the Worlds rather than the Empire because it’s the Worlds as a whole that they have an issue with; and, also, they’d have to fight a long way through a lot of people to reach the Empire, although they may hit up some distant Imperial ecumenical colonies.

…not that that stops some Worlds polities from complaining about the Empire fighting its war on their turf, the ungrateful sods.)

Even if the Republic destroyed the connections along the Borderline, and even if everyone in the Worlds agreed to let it alone (unlikely), the fundamental problem remains: they’re competing to absorb new territories (they’re less xenophobes than neophobes, to be fair to ’em), and they have to, or they’re going to end up surrounded and an isolated backwater.

Worse, and what really keeps Vonnie planners awake at night, is that as a centralizing/hierarchist civilization/polity, they’re starting to reach the limits of their control span and their grip on their outer territories is getting a little, ah, wobbly. The Worlds doesn’t suffer this disadvantage, because it’s not one civilization/polity, it’s lots of them, and a good few of them (such as the Empire, the Photonic Network, etc.) aren’t centralizing/hierarchist, they’re delocalized/cooperatist, and aren’t going to hit the limits of their control span any time soon, if ever. So to a certain extent, they’re gripped by some urgency on this point.

But even more importantly, they perceive each other as mutual ideological foes and existential threats. They represent contending visions of the future. And, indeed, most of the differences they have arise from that split. They have lots of differences, some familiar, some less so:

  • planned economy vs. free-for-all
  • ephemeralism vs. immortality
  • computers as tools vs. computers as companions
  • naturalism vs. augmentation
  • restricted technology/warts-and-all people vs. superempowering technology/better people
  • control vs. trust

etc., etc.

But it all boils down to that the Republic is, at its base, conservative/preservationist. (Note: not as in current politics; insofar as kalatri domestic politics can be mapped onto anything Earthwise at all, they’d be pretty seriously progressive and humanist [well, kalatrist].) The future they offer is based in their ideals of preserving sophont nature and its supreme inherent value – the kalatriness of kalatri, the humanness of humanity, all of that; it’s a universe by, for, and of natural species “baselines” for ever and ever, amen, or at the most what “natural” evolution makes of them. (At least until the cold and the dark of the post-stellar era comes along and wipes ’em all out.)

The future the Worlds have to offer – no, let’s say the future the Empire has to offer —

Well. It’s principally the Empire that are the foremost exemplars of this, but the Worlds in general are the home of all sorts of social and technological experimentation that offends the Vonnies’ principles. They dislike the Equality Concord, etc., too, almost as much.

Anyway, that future is vaguer, because it involves any number of people chasing down independent dreams just as hard as they can, but the Empire and other similar polities in the Worlds are charging hell-for-leather for singularity after singularity, pausing briefly at uebermensch on their way to postmensch, with – especially in the Empire – all thought of constraint stripped away and considerations of eldrae, etc., “nature” thoroughly discarded in favor of their Vision Of What Ought To Be. But what we, and they, can be certain of is that it doesn’t belong to the baselines. It’s going to belong to ancient immortal consciousnesses enshrined in organic crystal computers and multilayered collective consciousnesses and Vingean Powers and the long, slow, massive thoughts of an entire galaxy turned into a constellation of computronium moon-brains that may, with some small parts of itself, sometimes remember individual incarnation and play at flesh once more. Unaugmented baselines – well, they just can’t compete. It’s a future of gods and angels, not men.

And these visions are intrinsically incompatible. Thus:

The Empire has to stop the regressive tyrants of the Republic from condemning the galaxy, and possibly the universe, to a future of such petty mediocrity. And the rest of the Worlds, squabbling and disagreeable as they may be, don’t want that future either.

The Republic has to stop the madmen next door, and especially the Empire, from turning all the “real” people in the galaxy into monsters more machine than man and/or the reservation pets of unleashed technological demon-gods.

(And they’ve got to do it now before they’re too strong to stop with the Republic’s weight of metal. Whatever the official public line might be, the Vonnie strategic planners are well aware that 99% of the time, baselines fighting a mature postsophont intelligence can be summed up as “You Lose”.)


Biocode: O-LDL-D11

The kalatri, best known as the dominant sophont species of the Voniensa Republic, are a warm-blooded oxygen-breathing species, originating from a protein-lipid biochemistry with nucleic-acid based genetic information storage. In terms of standard interspecies morphology, they are upright bipedal lacertians, possessing a squamous integument in shades of blue or green, with a crest of short, stiff white pseudo-fur along the line of the spine from skull to mid-back; this actually serves as a chemosensor. Having evolved from hexapedal ancestors on their homeworld of Vonis Prime, they possess a double pair of arms, the mid-arm of which has migrated towards the head creating a complex double-shoulder joint; the outer arms, referred to as the major arms, possess three-fingered hands and are used for tasks requiring strength and grip; they are also used as secondary transportation limbs for brachiation. The inner arms, the minor arms, have developed six-fingered hands used for fine manipulation. The tail common in lacertomorphs is largely vestigial in kalatri, and when occasionally present is considered a genetic atavism and typically removed surgically shortly after birth. Nutrition, originally biochemically compatible post-mortem plant and animal matter, but in the modern era more commonly corresponding synthetics, is ingested through a single multi-toothed mouth located on the anterior surface of the inferior portion of the head. Excretion, copulation, and parturition take place through a single combined cloaca located upon the ventral surface of the inferior terminus of the torso.

The kalatri head (containing the brain and primary sense organs) is also lacertian in form, although relatively platyopic. It bears no respiratory orifices; kalatri respiration makes use of neck vents. The kalatri possess dual, stereoptic eyes on the anterior surface of the superior portion of the head. Immediately lateral to these are a pair of large auditory tympana. Kalatri visual range covers from galle to mid-blue, and aural range from 45 Hz to 29 kHz.

Kalatri are a bisexed, usually pair-bonding, dianisogamic, and ovoviviparous species, K-strategy, typically producing a single offspring at a time, which requires fourteen to sixteen years to reach physical maturity. Offspring are functionally helpless and require parental care for the first several years of their lives. Unmodified kalatri lifespan extends to between 90 and 130 years, with gross physiological deterioration setting in the last 20 years.

Psychologically1, against baseline average, kalatri can be considered moderately ludic, mildly xenophobic/chauvinist (although commonly-seen kalatri cultural elements decry this), moralist, moderately precautionary and uninnovative, low-trust, and susceptible to an unusually high degree to conscious and subconscious peer norming, with consequent prosocial/counteregoic tendencies.

By the standards of the Associated Worlds, Republican kalatri are a near-baseline species: While their technological base in other areas remains relatively well-developed, Republic law prohibits a variety of technologies, including but not limited to volitional machine intelligence (or, rather, the development of volitional machine intelligence, and the full recognition of the personhood of machine sophonts is dubious), seed AI, the uploading of organic sophonts into algorithmic form (such uploaded sophonts are denied personhood within Republic space, except by special treaty arrangement) and its concomitants, synnoetic integration of organic and machine intelligence, bionic enhancement, the majority of non-industrial-grade nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetic enhancement of sophonts and most other forms of genetic manipulation except under strict controls, immortagens and other high-grade anagathics, and intelligence enhancement by technological means. Those kalatri who have abandoned the Republic for one of the few independent kalatri colonies in Worlds space are not externally prohibited from using these technologies, but usually find it hard to shake off their cultural conditioning.

– A Comprehensive Index of Sophonts, ed. Trestat hr-Mirek, Third Order Publishing

1: Authorial aside: Given that the kalatri are also about as close to psychologically human as anyone in-setting can be, interested readers can occupy themselves reverse-engineering what the Worlds’ modal sophont species is like from this…

Trope-a-Day: Good Republic, Evil Empire

Good Republic, Evil Empire: Well, sort of – arguably, from one point of view, the Voniensa Republic are the good guys for those who like their humanity (or rather X-anity for various values of X, mostly kalatri) coddled, their transhumanism prohibited, their lifespans finite, their computers in their place, their technologies “sustainable”, and their government strong to guarantee security and equality and social rights/justice and other warm fluffy things, while the Empire is a chaotic, anarchic mess that guarantees almost nothing – and what it does guarantee, it guarantees too hard – filled with the unnatural, the alien, the inhumane, and the just plain mad and unregulated charging down the roads to singularities like there was no tomorrow.

Which is all very well, and indeed exactly what you want if you’re a cute widdle baseline (like, say, the average human who envisions the future as something undifficult, i.e. vaguely like Star Trek) who is comfortable ignoring just how unpleasant they’re being for and to all the species and cultures who don’t fit into their nice little closed world (see: The Federation), who sees the constraints of nature as holy writ, who is made uncomfortable by the presence of anything they might have to look up to, and who never, ever wants to have to acknowledge any thoughts outside the comfortable box of The Social Norm, As Defined By People Like Me.

Strongly averted by everyone else.  Even the Empire’s avowed enemies in the rest of the Worlds acknowledge that while they might be a bunch of mad, smug bastards, at least they don’t insist that you squish yourself into quite such high-grade soul-crushing mediocrity.

Trope-a-Day: The Federation

The Federation: Well, that would be the Voniensa Republic, an essentially conscious Expy of Star Trek‘s Federation.  Unfortunately, the Voniensans have to contend with the lack of the scriptwriters on their side; thus, their baseline-fetishism and naturalistic-fallacy-ridden philosophy (“our insert-species-here-anity”), heavy restrictions on personal augmentation (including ephemeralism, because, y’know, people were meant to die), and information control of dangerous ideas filtering in from the extranet make them relatively technologically backward; their biochauvinism (and even carbon chauvinism) and stance against AI personhood (guess where quite a few of the Silicate Tree’s renegades come from) also doesn’t help in that regard; their strong-central-government system makes them a tottering giant, steering a thin line between collapse and the Regional Governors Being Given Direct Control Of Their Territories; and their dodgy non-agorist economics make them actually one of the poorest – they have rationing, even – purportedly near-post-scarcity civilizations in the Galaxy.  Which takes real talent, let me tell you, when you have even restricted cornucopia machines.

While their volume is enough to keep them at least notionally within the Great Powers club by dint of mass of metal and economic leverage, in practice they’re the Sick Man of the Galaxy in exactly the same way as the Ottoman Empire was the Sick Man of Europe.  And the clock is ticking…

In short, a classic example of how to purportedly-benevolent yourself to death, statist-style.  The Imperials call them “the Land of Murdered Dreams”.

Welcome to the Seam

“The Seam” refers to the region of the Associated Worlds in direct contact with the Voniensa Republic, consisting of the Crimson Expanse, the Vanguard Reaches, and Csell Buffer constellations on our side of the border, and Vonis 31, Vonis 36, and Vonis 41 on the Republic side.  The Borderline arterial runs down our side from Istria (Crimson Expanse) to Quor (Csell Buffer) via Karal (Vanguard Reaches), and those three systems have Imperial naval depots in them.  They’re safe.

The Borderline route and the links back into the rest of the Worlds are heavily patrolled.  They’re mostly safe, as are some of the systems other navies base out of – depending on where you’re from, of course – and the freesoil world Ódeln (Vanguard Reaches), the principal entrepôt between the Republic and the Worlds.

The rest of the Seam?  Well, it’s a nice place for pirates and perversions, raiders and Renegades, and smugglers, snakeheads, and spies.  Also unbonded mercs, slavers, black labs, blacknet nodes, survivalists, the crazier kind of cult colony, and everyone else with a good reason not to be found – and the people trying to find them.  And it’s a not so nice place for the law, insurance companies, and anyone who’s not a walking arsenal.

No, not like the worst bits of the Expansion Regions.  Worse than that.  With the Conclave and the Republic staring each other down across the border, waiting for each other to blink, and twitching every time a decent-sized military ship moves towards the Supposedly Demilitarized Border Zone, no-one’s investing any time in bringing civilization or even keeping the peace hereabouts.

Good places to visit in the Seam?  If you fit any of the above description, you already know where you’re going.  If you don’t, for the love of Flame and Star, go somewhere else.  Even if you’re fixing to die, Nepscia’s cheaper.

– Around the Worlds on ¤1,000 per Sol 

The Heart of Mediocrity (1)

“No-no-no-no-no,” Arúaz Váriz Xinak Laníc Kúran viKoriaz said, hsis heads moving in some agitation.  “Absolutely not, never.  We and our crew cannot be paid enough to take you to Vonis Prime, no.   The kalatri do not like visitors of our kind, no-no-no.  Cause us/us/ours too much trouble, risk, damage.  Cannot pay us/us enough to make that voyage worthwhile.”  Hse peered at the suited figure through the hydrocarbon fog.  “Why do you want to charter a múrast ship anyway, oxygen-breather?  Our icehull has no cabins suited for your air and warmth, and the months to Vonis are a long time to stay in a suit.  Besides, the kalatri would only be more suspicious.  No-no, no answers, not our business.  We and ours will not take you.”

“It is a matter of my cargo, not myself.”  The suited figure tossed a cryp-token into the negotiating area.  “This, for the charter rate to Vonis.  This much again,” as a second token joined the first, “for your trouble, as well as,” a third joined them, “this more, for no further questions.  And as much again, and the cost of repairing any damage, when we return.”

viKoriaz stared at the tokens, counting; nearly four times the going rate for the charter lay in front of hsem already.  “With no further questions, how can we/we be sure we/we will ever return to see that pay?”

“Be sure?  You cannot.  But I assure you that I do not plan to throw my own life away on some foolish plan.  I am merely… in need of fast transportation, and yours is the only ship for charter in Fínar space right now.”

viKoriaz’s minds argued inwardly for a moment, before hse curled back into his oil-bath and took possession of the cryp with a tongue-flick.  “It seems we/we can be paid enough after all, oxygen-breather.  We/we/ours can be ready to depart from midwatch tomorrow.  The Consensus of Múrethch.  Bay 171-RR.”

Just Another Day In Inplacement

“Got a good one for you!”

“Why is it, Annis, that when you say ‘good one’, I hear ‘utter wire-and-tape job’?”

“Couldn’t say, boss.  Anyway, today’s case here-and-now one-thirteen.  An infugee from the Republic – one of their scientists who wanted to defect, looks like.  He managed to piece together some good-enough brain-scanning equipment out of repurposed lab equipment, then programmed it to rip him and mail him to us in a few thousand steganographically-concealed parts, scrubbing as it went.  ExSec picked him out of the stream and shuffled him over here.”

“That’s routine.  Don’t make me wait for the good part.”

“Well, it looks like their firewalls are a little bit better than he thought they were.  They detected the transmission and cut it off in midstream.  We have about half of his mind-state.  The other half’s still at the sending point.”

“Okay.  Well, call –”

“And the Vonnie ambassador is pounding the table demanding that we send back our half.”

“Hah.  If you ever find one to beat this, remind me to go on leave and stick you with the coordinator’s job.”  He rubbed his temples. “Right.  Get me whoever found this over at ExSec, State and Outlands, the Curia, whoever’s senior on-shift at Instantiations, and a stiff drink.”

Headlines: A Day in the Worlds

The Imperial Infoclast
Supplementing Your Memeplex Since 2042


Sidar Colony Celebrates Ecopoesis Bicentennial
The Sidar Colony in the Principalities will celebrate the 288th anniversary of the initiation of its ecopoesis program next month, with a series of low-lying valleys being opened to habitation for the first time by unmodified colonists.

Eleven Temporarily Killed In Solar Sailing Accident
This year’s Meridia Cup ends in tragedy as an unpredicted coronal mass ejection wrecks five of the competing solar sailers.


Presidium Condemns Trikhad Conquest
The Presidium of the Conclave has unanimously condemned the military expansion program of the Trikhad Conquest in the Tanion Wilds. Sources close to the Presidium suggest that containment action may be in preparation.

Piracy Again Rising In Dark Sea Constellation
Unusual shipping movements around the ruins of Litash may indicate a rebirth of the pirate syndicates that once controlled the area, INI warns.

Republic Delegation Protests Uncontrolled Exports, Smuggling
In a now annual tradition, a delegation from the Voniensa Republic protested the uncontrolled filtration of technologies and other artifacts across their border with the Associated Worlds. The protest was heard by the Conclave, who expressed sympathy but regretted once again that the situation was beyond their power to address.


A Probable Discovery, or A Probable Bubble?
Shares in Probable Technology, ICC (ticker: PROBL) jumped 21 points on the Seranth Exchange today based on unconfirmed rumors that their relativistic xenoarchaeological expedition beyond the rimward Periphery has reported a major find. While the company itself has refused to comment on the rumors, many usually knowledgeable investors seem unusually bullish on this stock today.


Anticipation Rises As Aelaviel Fashion Show Opens
Expectations are high on Seranth this week as the 187th Aelaviel Fashion Show opens in Mer Dinévál, especially since last week’s leaked news that several major fashion houses have contracted vector control engineers and swarm roboticists. Join the Infoclast’s memeweaves for real-time, on-the-spot, full-sensory reporting!

“Ah, Yes, The People”, Triumphs, Flops
As expected by most critics, the palace farce which mercilessly satirizes galactic politicians from core to rim, while a runaway success in the Accord’s most notoriously libertist polities, freesoil worlds and independent drifts, proved unpopular elsewhere.  Nevertheless, after pulling in 3.9 billion exvals in its opening week, the producers are laughing all the way to the bank.


Cognitech, ICC Announces Breakthrough In Bulk Mnemonesis
New advances in axiom feeds and neural imprinting may double the speed of synthetic learning.


Point: It’s Time To Crush The Militarists
“The recent expansionism by the Trikhad Conquest only goes to reinforce that we, as the responsible members of galactic civilization, simply can’t afford to let these dangerous idiots and the rest of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms run around loose.”  Cail Amanyr-ith-Velcyr, doyen of the belligerati, makes the case for preemptive action to prevent the wars that always seem to accompany the introduction of certain types of society to the galactic neighborhood.

Trope-a-Day: Scary Dogmatic Aliens

Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Mostly averted, inasmuch as despite all the wide intellectual, cultural and biological differences between species, most of them aren’t blessed with an overwhelming urge to bring it forcibly to the rest of the universe.  Well, no more so than, say, 21st-century humans, anyway.

Played straighter by, say, the skrandar (of the Aliens as Nazis type, had the Nazis been into building berserker probes, inasmuch as they wanted all sophont life other than them destroyed); the Leviathan Consciousness (of the Aliens as Communists type, had the communists been motivated by the desire to save energy by eliminating redundant thought processes), and, in a twisted and non-expansionist sense, the Equality Concord, although what the Equalitarians have done to themselves scares the crap out of everyone; the Theomachy of Galia (of the Aliens as Religious Fundamentalists type, except they’re not so much Scary Dogmatic Aliens as Laughable Dogmatic Aliens, being a standing joke to all more sensibly organized polities – and when I say more sensibly organized polities, I’m including the space fascists and the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms); and the Trikhad Conquest (of the Aliens as Conquistadores type, as the leading member of said notional League – although again, generally closer to Laughable Dogmatic Aliens, given how well interstellar colonialism usually works).

Most of the Great Powers with definite ideologies tend to be seen this way, too, just because power is scary; including the Voniensa Republic (who are certainly smug enough and unashamed about their desire for ideological promulgation, even if about as good at doublethinking this as the modern Terran West) and the Empire (who are at least as smug, but at least in the public sector are for the most part publically self-aware about the paradox inherent in “conquering for freedom”).