Darkness Within

Darkness Within, the third book of Tales of the Associated Worlds, is now officially released, in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats. It can be obtained here:

Primarily set after the Core War, this book returns to the style of “Vignettes of the Star Empire”, with more nanofiction from the Associated Worlds, including some of the events following the war in “Aftershocks”, and the multi-part story “Darkness Within”.

[Buy now as an e-book for Amazon Kindle.]
[Buy now from Amazon.com.]

I hope you enjoy it.

The fourth book in the series, Unscheduled Reality Excursions, is currently planned for late 2020 or first half 2021.

State of the ‘Verse

So, it’s been pretty quiet around here this month.

Part of that is post-book recovery, of course, but another part is that in celebration of Book III, I’ve been working on a fairly comprehensive revamp of the technical end of this site and its associated operations to make them work better, stronger, faster, cooler, and all that.

Top of that particular list is that we now have a Discourse as a discussion and chat site for the reader and fan community, which you can get to through the “Community” link at the top of the page. This is part of a greater effort to stop splitting said community up across multiple incompatible sites and services, which will later also include replacing the WordPress comments for new posts with shiny new Discourse topics embedded right into the pages. In the meantime, if you want to talk about the ‘verse, or have questions you want to ask, or the like, the Discourse is the absolute best place to do it.

There’s more, of course, but that’s for later. In the meantime, please enjoy the new community site!

Eldraeic Phrase of the Day: traäzik ulalath

traäzik ulalath: literally “stony ignorance”, (or for the convenience of Tellurian readers, “stone stupid”, even though the backing metaphor is entirely different), the very special kind of stupidity self-inflicted by and on the extremely loyal, be it to contract, person, cause, or necessity, characterized by making extreme deeds and ludicrous plans appear logical, sensible, and sane.

See azkith, “loyalty”, from azik “stone” + ankithel “emotion, passion”.

(Incidentally, for the MLP:FiM watchers among my readers, Tanks for the Memories is pretty much exactly what an episode of traäzik ulalath looks like.)

The King and the Planet Are One

KALLAER (SAPROS DEMESNE) – As the Laeth Pact entered its third year of economic recession, the reign of Hieros Navat atir-Laeth ul-Sark was brought to an end today. After failing to successfully address the Pact’s ongoing economic problems, the Elder Chieftains of the Pact directed that the Hieros be dedicated to the shadows of the overworld in accordance with the customary usages.

The ritual sacrifice was performed at the Omphalos by the chosen Successor, na-Hieros Rabil atir-Laeth ul-Rank. The former Hieros met his end with the dignity proper to his office, walking willingly to the altar after exchanging a few words with the Successor.

As is traditional, the flesh of the former Hieros will be plowed into the fields for the fertility of the land, his blood poured into the aqueducts serving the capital as a blessing on his people, and his bones gifted to interstellar merchants for good fortune in the marketplace.

An announcement of policy changes from the new Hieros is expected in three days, local time; 4.1 days, Imperial Standard.

As We Wax Hot In Faction

To understand the Conclave of Galactic Polities, it is perhaps most important to understand the various alignments within it, of which there are six major alignments (although these together make up less than two-thirds of Conclave members) and a large number of minor alignments which may or may not associate with one of the major alignments.

These alignments, of course, are almost entirely informal blocs; such power as their leaders may have over their members or benefits which their members may receive is exercised outside the Conclave itself.

The Empire, as you know, is the foremost polity of the Imperial Axis, a minor alignment composed of our satrapies, client-states, allies, and close friends. The Axis, in turn, is one of the leading lights of the major Freedom’s Necessities alignment, known to our detractors as the “Minimalists” or the “Irresponsibles”.

In the Conclave, Freedom’s Necessities acts to promote the hands-off, laissez-faire approach to interstellar governance coordination we favor, ensuring that the Accord does everything that it must, and nothing else.

Two other Presidium powers, the Photonic Network and Consolidated Waserai Echelons, also commonly align with us. The Rim Free Zone, also, is a dedicated supporter of the alignment, but one which frequently ends up opposed to us in internal debates. We also attract considerable support from the minor species of the Worlds, since we are happy to offer these species concessions and benefits (such as can be offered) in exchange for cooperation and support, contrary to the demands so often made by more interventionist powers.

Of the other alignments, there are four of particular significance:

The Council for Economic Justice & Development

Also known to cynics as the “Levelers”, or the “Parasites on Parade”, the Council’s concern is the transference of income from rich polities to poor ones. In practice, this means that their primary support comes from emerging market polities which resist economic integration into upper-tier markets, but aren’t sufficiently kleptocratic as to caucus with the Socionovists for self-preservation.

In the long run, they would dearly love to institute a progressive tax on gross polity product across the Worlds to fund aid to their members, but without a Presidium seat, their current business model is largely holding up Conclave business (and in particular the establishment of new colonies) until sufficiently bribed.

The Responsible Government Movement

Sometimes shortened to the “Federalists”, or derided as the “Meddlesome” or the “Alliance for Pecksniffery”, the Movement’s grand dream is the conversion of the Accord from an intergovernmental association into a full federated interstellar governance, with the Conclave as its legislature. Concomitantly, this would also entail much deeper intervention into the affairs of member polities to enforce its policies and expansive view of sophont benefices, and it is an open secret that the federation the Movement wishes to see is one of democratic – or, more realistically, oligarchic – republics.

The Movement’s prime mover, the League of Meridian, is also a Presidium power. It attracts support from a variety of strong republic-model polities across the Worlds.

The Socionovist Association

Pithily summed up as the “Union of Repressive Autocracies”, the Socionovist Association is composed of – by its own description – those polities opposed to the current political and economic order of the Worlds, who seek reform along better and fairer lines.

By everyone else’s description, the Socionovist Association is a collection of malcontents, rogue states, despots, kleptocrats, and the generally despicable, united primarily to prevent interventions in polities’ internal affairs, limit peacekeeping operations, and generally to stir up trouble.

The principal members of the Socionovist Association are those polities which are, if we may be permitted use of the vernacular, “begging for a good kicking”.

The Systems’ Rights Alliance

Also known as the “Localists” or the “Disintegrationists”, the Systems’ Rights Alliance sees itself primarily as a watchdog on interventions. They chiefly oppose the Meddlesome, whose interference in their internal affairs would be unwelcome, but also oppose us in our desire to open up free trade and travel across the Worlds.

Unlike the Socionovists, however, they are prepared to back interventions against governances engaged in, for example, slavery or democide, and fully support peacekeeping operations against interstellar imperialism.

Much of the support for the Alliance comes from members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms – as a matter of principle – but they also draw considerable support from polities with particularly unconventional governance forms, including many utopian, religious, and ideological colonies, and also from the Microstatic Alliance, who see themselves as easily steamrolled by larger factions.

– MoSaO briefing book for new Conclave attaches

Book Announcement

After a troubled period in its development, I am delighted to be able to announce that the third book in the Tales of the Associated Worlds series, Darkness Within and Other Stories, will be released on December 12th this year in Kindle e-book and paperback. Pre-orders will be open soon.

Additionally, to accompany this release, the previous two books in the series, Vignettes of the Star Empire and The Core War and Other Stories will be on sale starting December 1st, so if you haven’t already got them, that would be a good time.

(Or if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for a fellow SF reader, of course!)

Those Pesky Belters

In pre-space speculative fiction the image of the belt miner recapitulated the image of the prospectors of old. Grizzled belters in small ships, big enough to hold them, a small partnership, or perhaps a family, who would set out, hunt down a “motherlode” rock, hack the ore out of it with traditional miner’s tools loosely adapted to space, then net it up and sling it on its way to a smelter, cash-for-density.

This concept was, as you might expect, wrong in almost every respect.

To begin with the nature of the beast, ore veins are not to be found among the asteroids. Without a planet’s gravity to differentiate them, or hydrothermal processes to concentrate it into ore bodies, pay dirt tends to be evenly differentiated throughout the rock. And to call an asteroid a rock is itself generous, insofar as the majority of them1 are little more than heaps of rubble glued together with a dusting of regolith.

Thus, the smeltership.

In its modern form, the smeltership is instantly recognizable; they look as if a starship had collided head-on with one of the larger breeds of industrial plant2, and decided for whatever reason to keep on going, accompanied by their flock of parasites and the inescapable halo of dust3. From these ships, the collector drones, “spikers”, travel to nearby target asteroids and wrap them in finely woven titiridion nets, preventing the escape of fragments, then haul them back to the maw of the smeltership proper.

Behind the maw, the smeltership incorporates a maze of ore processing and smelting equipment. While in theory plasma-fountain distillation can reduce anything to its component elements, it is an inefficient process reserved only for otherwise intractable residues of ore processing. More conventional processing chains, therefore, handle the commonplace elements once the asteroids have been powdered by the initial grinding step at the back of the maw.

Meanwhile, flocks of lighters, typically drone freighters and tankers – for the volatiles driven off – attend the stern of the smeltership, collecting the ejected ingots of metal and blocks of other elements, bundling them together, and hauling them to market.

The “almost”? While the largest operators, such as Atalant Materials’ space subsidiary, Celestial Mining, operate entire fleets of fully automated smelterships, many smaller or more specialized mining interests instead contract smelterships owned and operated by independent belt miners – often, indeed, small partnerships or family outfits whose homestead-hab is permanently docked to their ship. So while incorrect in method and scale, the writers of yore did, to their credit, predict the demographics of belt mining correctly…

– A DirtsidersHistory of the Belt


  1. And, ironically, those preferred for mining. More solid asteroids have other uses, while rubble piles are generally considered only of use for mining, and thus the claim-staking fee is lower.
  2. Not the vegetative sort.
  3. Even with high-grade electrostatic traps, regolith fines get everywhere.

Themes: Paracausality

So, stepping out of the ‘verse for a moment, why does paracausality exist?

Thematically speaking, the existence of paracausality says something very important about the nature of the universe. It means that it’s impossible to deny the existence of free will. (Or, rather, you can, but it’s about as useful as standing on a planet’s surface and denying the existence of gravity.)

You make choices, and your choices make you, and the universe you exist within. Create or destroy, heal or harm, save or damn, it’s all down to choice.

And either way, it’s your fault. No-one made you do it, not without rooting your brain and turning you into a non-volitional tool. Not society, not your parents, not circumstance, not culture, not memes, not instincts, not your friends, not your enemies, and certainly not the deterministic unfolding of acyclic causal graphs. Just you.

You chose, and the world responded. You did it. And the consequences are yours to own and to live with, forever and a day.

This gives the world a rather vital quality, especially in fiction: meaningfulness.

Rolk On!

Precursor artifact Spirel-1,147: “The Rolkifier”

Recovered from a vault in the Spirel Precursor site (located on Spiridon (Dexlilal Convergence)), the Rolkifier is a 3″ x 3″ x 5″ teardrop-shaped artifact constructed from an unidentified green-bronze substance. Attempts to examine the interior reveal it to be solid and apparently homogeneous to currently available scanning technology1.

All solid objects touched with the operant end of the artifact acquire (or lose, should they already have it), the property of “rolky-ness”.

This seems to be an ontic, rather than cognitive effect: while various different species and linguistic clades may construct their own names for the property (rolky being the identifier used among cosmopolitan Imperials), nonetheless, all are able to identify which objects in a random set are rolky, and which are not, with complete agreement across groups. None, however, are able to provide any explanation of what it means to be rolky, which perceptions allow it to be identified as rolky, nor does the possession of rolky-ness appear to affect any of the other properties or behaviors of any object in any way.

Thus, artifact Spirel-1,147 has been tentatively classified as an cosmontological semantic pointer editor capable of assigning and altering arbitrary universal conceptual tags tied, in an unknown way, to conceptual objects.

That this effect is not explained in any way by any of the three major ontophysical theories understood at this present time, and may imply contrary to all current scientific understanding that the universe has a notion of “conceptual object”, make this among the most puzzling artifacts presently undergoing research.

Footnotes

  1. The Rolkifier does not appear to be in and of itself rolky.

“I’m done, or at least taking a lengthy sabbatical. We all find our outweirding limit eventually, and this is mine. I’m going to the High Cysperia Luxurium and not dealing with anything more outré than a green-fuming finelle and a high-class honey-dream for the next decade.”

– Academician Excellence Alleyne Celdinar, chief researcher

Eldraeic Word of the Day: xatírár el rótaní

xatírár el rótaní: (“do the needful”)

  1. (common) A request to do that which is necessary or required in a given context, with the respectful implication that the other party is trusted to understand the needful and operate autonomously.
  2. (rare) A request to do that which is understood without being spoken. Used in situations requiring deniability.
  3. (rare; ISS) An instruction to arrange a cauterization.

The Extranet Is For Porn

From: Anethil 0x98AA45B2 (COO)
To: Ganly min Retholl (VPO, Calianus Passage)
Subject: Data filtering – need official refusal?

Ha! I almost admire their jír. Not often someone comes to us and requests help in censorship.

Anyway, obviously, we’re not doing that. Tell them that it is against Bright Shadow corporate policy to interfere with data in transit in any way, even so far as to inspect packet contents – and that even if it wasn’t against our policy to do that, the structure of IIP-based networks requires end-to-end encryption which makes it impossible for us to do so. By design. If they want to impose traffic filtering, they’re going to have to do it at destination, on their side of the border routers.

Then tell them that even if all of that could be overcome, it would require a steep increase in connection charges, because while, certainly, it may not be the most ‘enlightened’ use of our data transmission capacity, its packet fees nonetheless subsidize extranet traffic rates for – essentially – everything else, pay for network expansion and relay maintenance across the outer regions, and bought the last round of stock options and my third vacation moon.

Maybe don’t tell them that last bit.

Updated Definition

necromancer:

  1. (archaic) In legend and story, an evil figure who makes pacts with various personifications of entropy, offering service in exchange for power. In these stories, the fundamental error of the necromancer is their belief that they hold the advantage in such dealings – perhaps not the most wise belief where beings which crave destruction without qualification are concerned.
     
  2. In modern eschatology, people, organizations, or even polities that trade with unknown information entities across the extranet, or which they have discovered in some lost but functional archive. Such entities normally offer valuable information or computation in exchange for services in the physical world, typically intended to provide them with computational power, assembler resources, or access.

    As with their legendary counterparts, the modern necromancer is prone to believe that they hold the advantage in their dealings (or can if sufficient precautions are taken), and are aware that their patron will attempt to exploit them. Likewise, they are incorrect in this belief, and the consequences from a necromancer who succumbs to the wrong patron can include finding himself the first, and by no means only, victim of a blooming perversion.

    Thus, Imperial State Security and its counterpart organizations in other polities enforce the Archive Safety Code on dealing with such entities with great vigor, deploying both regular agents and combat eschatologists accordingly.

– A Star Traveler’s Dictionary

skitter skitter skitter

From: Tiryns Anandonos (AIB)
To: Academician Iliys Roquentius; Academician Meris Tarisia
Subject: Incident 7922/0011867

Gentlesophs,

It is certainly the case that research into self-concealing patterns of information (so-called cryptomemes) is important, as is research into their applicability to and existence in the living world. This is only the more true since field teams from your laboratory have already discovered a hitherto-unknown genus of commonplace cryptid (Cryptomustelidae spp.).

It is also the case that it is necessary to perform experimental and evolutionary studies upon these, and as such my branch takes no issue with the experiment series in which you proposed to splice the Out-of-Mind visual textures and elements from the Citizen Nondescript bioshell design into laboratory mice to create a convenient pseudocryptid for study, and observe the development of ongoing generations.

We of the Board, further, acknowledge that neither of you can be held personally accountable for the incident of two days since, in which a laboratory technician left the habitat containing your Mus crypteia open during cleaning, in the mistaken belief that it was empty.

We must, however, insist that you devote a substantial proportion of your research time, in the immediate future, to determining exactly how we can effectively clean up an infestation of mice which can only be perceived as zero-volume mouse-shaped holes in the world.

Respectfully submitted,

Tiryns Anandonos,
Accident Investigation Board

for and on behalf of

Agathis Túkunra
the Sane Man

Bring Me The Head Of… (2)

ALL SECURITY SITES // ORANGE SENSITIVE
NOCONTRACT // NOFORN
ROUTINE
RED LIST // SPECIAL // UPDATE 7129/08/09

CANCEL REQ: Istar Oricalcios Veneri a.k.a. “the Mechanic”

REASON: Subject acquired internally (7129/07/24).

NOTES:

Subject recovered from debris created in an attempt to access Secure Storage Facility CINDER NOISETTE. While subject possessed partial knowledge of CINDER NOISETTE defenses, subject was intercepted and destroyed by defenses operating under threefold ignorance protocol.


ALL SECURITY SITES // GREEN SECRET
NOCONTRACT // NOFORN
IMMEDIATE
SECURITY ACTION MESSAGE

FOR IMMEDIATE EXECUTION

Place into immediate effect all security procedures required by CASE HONEY LAUREL.

Investigation of remains recovered of the renegade fork of Istar Oricalcios Veneri (per Red List updates 7912/06/01, 7912/08/09) were limited due to destruction of over 80% of vector stack and execution of ISS mind-state security self-erasure program. However, traces were found of a contaminated metagrammar of weakly angelic complexity, sufficient to compromise the self-integrity of a disconnected fork (i.e., in the absence of coadjutor-provided Transcendent security). Such linguistic-memetic infoweapon systems are not currently documented as being within the capacity of any non-Power agency within the Worlds.

Based on these established facts and analyses current within the All-Seeing Eye, the Executive additionally requests and requires all security and counterintelligence instrumentalities to be alert for potential necromancer activity and to immediately perform comprehensive security reviews of all archives and Precursor sites within their operational areas.

Deliver confirmation and full documentation within 72 hours.

BY ORDER OF

Anming Tsurilen,
Director of Operations, Third Directorate

Dead Orbit

WANTED

ADVENTURERS, BOUNTY-HUNTERS, AND SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE

In recent months, at least one starship of scavver low-lives have been picking the bones of our deceased brethren rightly and properly committed to the Deep, walking bright on the dead orbit, and stealing genes, grave-goods, and the memorials set out for them.

We offer the sum of 50,000 exval for these grave-robbers, dead or captured;

the sum of 100,000 exval if, in addition, the stolen grave-goods and memorials are recovered;

the sum of 250,000 exval if, in addition, these are returned to our brethren, and they in turn are returned to their proper drift.

APPLY FOR DETAILS

Fraternal Society of Gentlesoph Spacers
above Spacer’s Hiring Hall, Solid Street, Startown

– bulletin posted at the starport,
Thurid (Sarkandine Wall)

Question: Dark Stuff

In recent questions:

What’s the status of dark matter/energy in the setting?

Munson sez: ‘There ain’t no such thing. Somebody just needs to correct their math, is all.’

The honest answer is “I haven’t established that yet”…

…but here’s some bullshit I just made up that should not be considered official canon:

If the in-‘verse theory of information physics (and its non-local hidden variable implications) is true, then the universe has a lot of metadata to keep track of. (Traditionally described as kept “Elsewhere”.) The more interesting interactions happen in any given location, the more metadata is generated.

Let us now handwave some sort of information-energy equivalence, or at least that information has its own effect on the space-time metric. (In honor of the original author who came up with this one, we can call it Pratchett’s L-Space Hypothesis.)

Conclusion: dark matter is actually all the universe’s metadata distorting space-time from its secret lair. It tends to halo around galaxies because that’s where all the interesting stuff happens.

(Let the weeping of the physicists now commence.)

((For those who don’t mind a particularly silly universe – and this one is definitely not canon – we could also postulate that dark energy, which has the opposite – universe-expanding – effect, is produced by ignorance; or, I suppose, technically, computational operations which could have happened but didn’t produce it as a byproduct. So study hard, folks, and keep thinking — or the universe will explode!))

Máquina de Carne

The infamous tragalrás athánar (“meat machine”) – by whichever regional designation it is known1 – is both a awful and an excellent weapon. On the former point, certainly, it is crudely designed, generations obsolete, dumb, inelegant, and a wide assortment of other things which tend to give professional Imperial weapons designers fits of the vapors.

On the latter, however, it is durable, reliable even under the most stressful conditions, adequately lethal against soft targets, simple enough for even low-tech cottage industry to manufacture, and adaptable via an assortment of relatively simple kluges. It is these latter qualities that have made it the favored personal weapon of paramilitaries, asymmetrists, and criminal gangs the Worlds over.

Tracing its mixed heritage back to a variety of pre-gauss automatic rifles, the contemporary Meat Machine inherits a centuries-long evolution of design features chosen for maximal simplicity. The basic systems of the MM are an open-bolt design, using a spring-loaded magazine to push cartridges into the breech, where a gas piston advances them to firing position in the chamber when the trigger is pulled. It lacks any ejection mechanism; the cartridges are caseless, cast from a foamed propellant/oxidizer mixture – enabling it to operate in vacuum, in exotic atmospheres, or even submerged – beneath the bullet. This propellant is ignited by a mechanically or piezoelectrically generated spark. Residue build-up is generally loosened by the action and purged by the next shot, but does require periodic barrel cleaning.

Its design is very simple for ease of manufacturing or repair, using a wide variety of materials. In the most basic designs, the receiver is typically stamped (or occasionally machined) out of a single steel billet, whose scraps are used to construct the entirely mechanical action, mounted on or in a plastic or scrap wood frame. This makes it trivial to construct for most fabrication facilities, and simple even for pre-fabber cottage industry to turn out workable examples. Common dry lubricants – even animal grease – complete the assembly.

Performance varies widely depending on the quality of the assembly and the components of the foamed propellant, from barely adequate to sufficient to penetrate most civilian and low-grade military armor – proof that while the industry as a whole may have moved on to mass drivers, old chemical propellants still have some use. In addition, the flexibility of the weapon where propellants are concerned make it easy to avoid traces that show up on commonly-used sensors, including that of high-energy powercells.

In short: it’s a piece of junk that has its uses, and one not to be surprised by the wrong end of.


1. Common examples include “Meat Machine”, the name given to it by Resolutionist Faction ironmongers; the Nal Kalak Type 43, as it is known to one of its official manufacturers; RUSTY LEMON, the cryptonym assigned by Imperial State Security; the “Sewerslum Special”, a nickname from League of Meridian law enforcement; and “the ablative meat-stick”, as it’s known in the mercenary trade.

Eldraeic Word of the Day: Demév

demév: (from old Cestian deméthír, “wizard”) skilled practitioner, professional, one of notable expertise in a given area.

Casual descriptions of such expertise can be given using tra- compounds; however, various formalizations of these exist both general, such as alathdemév (loremaster), eléfdemév (obligator, “oath-master”), haindemév (warmaster), and mahademév (craftsmaster); and specific to individual professions.

Examples of this latter include alételídemév (pilot, “master of winds”); brandemév (blacksmith, “iron-master”), a specialty of nistrademév (smith, “forge-master”); riandemév (blademaster, meaning by extension a master of the martial arts); sashírdemév (fashionista, “master of glamor”) and leirdaërdemév (manipulator/intriguer/diplomat, “master of mist-games”).