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Forging Ahead (GURPS Interstellar Wars/Celestial Forge)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by cliffc999, Nov 12, 2022.

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  1. ryune

    ryune Versed in the lewd.

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    Yes and no. Honestly any tech that Sophia gets that is applicable to space travel is likely to be able to out compete anything the Vilani imperium has. The biggest problem she is likely to face is that the humans as a whole are tiny as far as industrial base and population is concerned. Any tech that she has and can make their ships anything less than perfectly invincible is going to be not enough to win a war that the Vilani actually prosecute with any level of attention.

    And whatever tech it is… unless she gets memetic black boxing, going to be eventuality reverse engineered to the Vilani’s benefit. That is kind of the thing about tech focused jumpers. Tech is an advantage because it can be shared but it’s detriment is that it can also be stolen.
     
  2. Narwhale

    Narwhale Getting sticky.

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    So more or less, the best tech she could get at the moment would be tech that improves humanity’s production ability. Actually, no, three things would massively benefit humanity’s ability to survive a conflict with the Vilani.

    Better FTL (meaning faster, more accurate, less activation restrictions, etc), tech that enables more efficient resource production, and tech that allows for better ship production would be the highest priority tech as they would allow humanity to boost it’s production capacity by logarithmic magnitudes.

    After that, in my eyes at least, would be improved weapons and stuff. And yeah, without the ability to blackbox technology, prolonged conflicts would not be a good idea.
     
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  3. Domino

    Domino I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Cliff, I will always respect your ability to resist giving your protagonists stuff like the entire Necron tech base in perk form. God knows I can't resist doing it myself.
     
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  4. Faralis

    Faralis Versed in the lewd.

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    200 tons in a ship is smaller than a escort destroyer. Hell is smaller than some patrol boats...
     
  5. cliffc999

    cliffc999 Well worn.

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    Note that at 200 dtons we're talking about one of the cheapest models of smaller civilian cargo hauler here.

    In the Interstellar Wars era, warship sizes start at around 400 dton for system patrol boats without jumpdrive or what the game calls "patrol cruisers" (which are functionally frigates), on up to 20,000+ dton superdreadnaughts. The only ships in the Confed Navy as small or smaller than the Beowulf are fast picket ships and scout/couriers.
     
  6. Narwhale

    Narwhale Getting sticky.

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    Oh, I fully realize that. But still, 20000+ dtons is still not that much compared to larger ships nowadays, like the example I gave earlier of the massive fucking cruise ship.

    Really though, it’s kinda nice to see a setting that doesn’t have ships that are just fucking casually a kilometer long. That size isn’t really all that realistic, not for a hard-sci-fi setting like this.
     
  7. sworded

    sworded Know what you're doing yet?

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    One major advantage would be FTL communication tech. Right now everything takes a minimum of a week to transfer between systems one way, plus actively moving a ship that might be used for other things beyond courier duties. Anything that can cut into that delay and allow for much tighter coordination and responses to enemy action would be a massive boon. Of course individuals envious of such tech could also be the very reason to start a war.
     
  8. Blade4

    Blade4 Experienced.

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    If they can do much with it. Which actually is not a guarantee. From the sound of it the empire sounds like a very stagnant feudal house of cards so focused on useless political infighting it is a impenetrable mess. Even with members turning coat to join them they have little understanding of the greater empire or even if it has a emperor. And apparently the confederation outpaces and outclasses the empire in time without outside help so anything she gives them might well only hasten the collapse. Mind you I only know anything about them from this story and a quick walk through the traveler wiki.
     
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  9. nobodez

    nobodez Bringer of Context

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    200 dTons is a tiny cargo ship. Heck, considering a TEU is just about exactly 2.5 dTons, a small brown water cargo ship able to carry a dozen and a half 40-foot containers is a 90 to 100 dTon ship.

    But, remember, it's not supposed to be realistic for shipping, it's supposed to be a fun ship to use for PCs in an RPG, where the tropes of the Tramp Freighter is the heritage (from pulp novels).
     
  10. cliffc999

    cliffc999 Well worn.

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    Yup. Tramp freighter, intended for interstellar freight service where sending an entire bulk carrier is impractical. Because it actually costs less to build 200 dtons of ship to send those few cargo containers than it does to tie up an entire bulk carrier to make the dog-leg and add a minimum two extra weeks to the travel time of everything else sitting in a much larger dton hold that now isn't on the most direct route to its destination.

    As you can imagine, freight service in Traveller is very much on a hub-and-spoke system; you move shit down main routes on bigass bulk carriers built for long jumps until its as close to its destination as the route will manage, and then you put it on something much smaller with shorter legs to get it there the rest of the way. Splits the difference between 'you have to build more starships' and 'your big freight ships spend as little time as possible going off-route just for a small delivery' and 'nobody off-route gets any delivery'.

    Basically, the original Traveller RPG made some very arbitrary assumptions about what tropes they wanted in their setting... and then did a lot of math designing the rest of the universe around them so those tropes at least made some kind of sense in local context.
     
  11. Prince Chrom

    Prince Chrom Versed in the lewd.

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    Yeah, and even then scout ships end up about 100 tons, which isn't bad for a ship that can fit 6 people semi comfortably with space for life support and engines.
     
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  12. mannan

    mannan Versed in the lewd.

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    So any guesses what new technologies will be developed if she releases what insights she gained from what observations she made?

    Did she get enough from the nanospores that she can get started on nanotechnology development?

    edit: She has understanding on design of molecular machinery and an alien computing language probably designed to run said machinery, but don't know if that is enough to begin developing practical applications rather than the start of a R&D project.
     
  13. Domino

    Domino I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I mean, if nothing else, I'm sure she can extrapolate some absolutely ground breaking miniaturization advancements, likely some good advancements in energy efficiency and... robustness? Nano-scale devices must be notoriously delicate, so if they're going to be operating outside of a sterile environment they're going to be able to take some shaking around. Maybe some advancements in modularity, because I'll bet that if she can get some modular design ideas going, it will be amazing for expansion

    Hell, if she could develop some kind of basic fabber from what she's taken away, that would be a game changer for humanity.
     
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  14. Oblivion2007

    Oblivion2007 Getting out there.

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    I have a problem with the decision last chapter to destroy the sample and the discussion around it. The complaint is mainly over the reaction because the story still makes sense with the decision included, I simply didn't like it, so I'll be focusing on that.

    I see many people saying that Sophia destroying the sample makes sense, which is true, but then some people continue to say it was a moral decision or the right decision. Most of the opposing arguments I noticed were largely utilitarian, ceding the moral grounds entirely, and the few that did argue morally mostly focused on an alternative Darwinian morality system arguing that in exceptional circumstances using a genocidal virus would be right; I also heavily disagree with that idea as well. The section at the end of the chapter where Sophia declares the Celestial Forge either immoral or amoral because it doesn't reward her destruction of the sample implies that she considers her decision a moral victory as well. I'm going to argue that it isn't a moral victory it is a moral failing due to cowardice, Sophia isn't actually making some grand moral gesture, she is running away.

    What would an actual moral victory look like? Confronting the temptation, debating it, making a decision that it is wrong and you are not going to do it, and then holding to that decision. Sophia here hasn't actually made the decision that people seem to think she has made which is that "genociding the enemy is bad no matter the circumstances and I won't do it!" If she actually had made that decision there would be no need to destroy the sample. Perhaps there would be a call to secure it better or be more careful who has access to it in the future, but not destroy it. By destroying the sample she shows her actual decision was "I'm not sure if genocide is the right answer, it might be, that scares me so I'm removing it as an option!" This is not a moral victory or actually positive character development (By positive I don't mean good quality, I mean developing a character in a positive direction as opposed to a negative development arc or a flat development arc) it is running from her problems because this is far from the scariest thing inside the Forge, some of the scary options don't even seem scary simply from reading the perk. She hasn't grown from this, though I'm not sure if I would call it a regression either, she mostly stalled.

    If this is intended by the author then carry on, I don't personally like that type of character arc but it won't ruin the story, I hope my thoughts added to the discussion. However, if this wasn't what the author intended to happen and he wanted to show actual character growth I would suggest following the idea some people had to make the sample fiat-backed and have it respawn on her. She could then either actually confront it or lock it away somewhere, continuing to run from it, but always have that temptation in her mind so that she can eventually actually confront it when the story deems it appropriate. If the author doesn't want that mechanic as part of his story then I would suggest at some point later in the story having her accidentally pick a perk that can't simply be destroyed which presents a very similar dilemma and make her confront her failings then.

    Thanks for the story so far, I rarely post but this was an interesting enough plot element that it really made me think. I knew that what happened bothered me but it took some time to actually think about what the problem was a formulate my thoughts, which I've done as well as I can for now I believe.
     
  15. Narwhale

    Narwhale Getting sticky.

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    To be fair, she did note that she could still remake it if she needed to in the future (at least that’s how I read it), so the temptation is still technically there, it’s just not in the immediate vicinity.
     
  16. ryune

    ryune Versed in the lewd.

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    Honestly, Sophia could go literally anywhere if she wants at this point. Well Researched gives her an utterly absurd breadth of knowledge all on it's own and Programming was memetic Hollywood bullshit in the source material.

    That said, even with the other advantages she has... the knowledge she got from the Ceph nanotech is advanced by literally centuries from what anything else granted her. It would be unsurprising if she finds herself getting drawn to designing things in a cellular bio-mimicry format for inventions. Anything from designing a plankton strain to be used as both waste disposal and air generation on a ship to a water filter that functions way too much like a liver and kidneys for the engineer's comfort.

    On the other hand, if she wants to go bigger? Drones and swarm computing. She already has a perfect example of a machine that works perfectly in large swarms with no degradation of performance with increased network size. She could even do a passable imitation of the dude from the Star Trek: Beyond and make them actually effective against a prepared enemy by arming them.

     
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  17. Vrenze

    Vrenze Know what you're doing yet?

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    God damn that part of the film was so fucking stupid. The song choice (not a bad song just it's use), how everyone acted, the fact that the drones were coming at them like a wave for them to 'surf' unlike how they attacked earlier.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 5
    cliffc999

    cliffc999 Well worn.

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    I sat on the edge of the barrier, fully five meters high and almost equally as thick an expanse of fusion-formed ceramacrete, and stared down between my feet at the Atlantic Ocean.

    The environmental crisis of the early 21st century had been the first impetus behind making the United Nations more than a toothless advisory body, with sheer impetus of survival at last forcing the great nations of the world to concede at least some actual regulatory authority - and the wherewithal to back it up - to an international organization. The Treaty of New York in 2024 had been a massive political compromise that no one had enjoyed, least of all the former Security Council permanent member nations. Especially not considering that one of the provisos of that treaty had been revising the UN Charter so that the Security Council would be dissolved and replaced by the Advisory Board, which did not have the 'veto' provision but instead merely required a two-thirds majority vote.

    But when coastal areas on three continents were already starting to see the tide line inch closer and closer to flooding their streets then even bitterly hated change could find itself accepted, however reluctantly. So despite all the concerns from the major nations that their international authority and sovereignty would be diluted and the widespread fear among many minor nations that any movement towards one-world government would be in effect an empire that they would forever enjoy second-class status in, the first major steps in that direction were taken anyway because all the other alternatives were worse. Even though a true one-world sovereignty underneath the Terran Confederation - complete with the abolishment of national military power and a full consolidation into the Confederation Armed Forces - would take the arrival of the Vilani to make even halfway palatable. As is, even over half a century later nationalist and separatist terrorism was still simmering at low boil in more than a few nations, and the Confederation Army had "civil affairs" and "disaster relief" deployments in at least two places on Terra's surface at this very moment that were actually counter-insurrection and peacekeeping detachments in all but name. Not that any single nation - not even the United States, let alone one of the smaller nations in Africa or Southeast Asia - could hope to resist the full might of the Confederation, not without suborning enough of the Navy and the Army to make it a Confederation-shattering civil war and not merely a secession movement. But of course, nobody ever wanted it to even begin to get that far, particularly not with the Vilani still out there.

    Still, despite all that the United Nations and then later the Confederation had done to reverse the environmental degradation, along with the invention of fusion power allowing both independence from fossil fuels and economically viable wide-scale recycling due to the abundance of cheap, clean energy, the rise of the oceans had not been stopped until overall water levels had risen over two meters all around the world, and while no further rises were projected nobody was projecting that the ocean level would decrease any time soon either. Which, considering how many millions of people worldwide lived in coastal areas less than one meter above the tide line, meant that giant barrier walls like the one I was currently sitting on were familiar pieces of architecture on five continents. And as a monument to the unintended consequences of unrestrained technological process, as well as a testament to the ability of said progress to eventually help alleviate many of the problems that it had caused in the first place, I'd decided that the Cambridge Seawall was an appropriate place for me to sit and do some serious thinking.

    I was self-aware enough to know that my panic reaction at destroying the Ceph nanotechnology several days ago had been precisely that, a panic reaction. I'd gone through my initial chain of reasoning at great speed and with sheer force of adrenaline powering my thoughts, then executed my decision before I could stop and think again. And I was also entirely aware that human brains were very good at post hoc rationalizing of things you'd decided to do anyway. But for all that I was still more than a bit shaken up by the whole experience, no matter how many times I ran it through in my head I kept returning to the same conclusion I'd initially reached.

    Part of why I'd been so shaken the past several days was my realization that part of me actually might be capable of committing genocide. Of dehumanizing the enemy to the point that 'several trillion dead' became nothing more than a statistic to me. And what the heck was wrong with me that I'd felt even that momentary an impulse? Did I truly hate the Vilani that much? Lord knows that "Do Your Part!" and all the other patriotic slogans that I'd been raised on didn't exactly encourage a worldview of not fearing the Vilani and wishing to remove their imminent threat to the Terran Confederation, but there was a rather large gap between wanting a stronger military and eliminating almost 99% of the known human population of the galaxy!

    For all that I was a survivor of Warsaw, and that too many of my family hadn't been, my parents hadn't raised me to lust for vengeance over it. If anything, they'd always tried to tone down any depth of feeling on the issue, both in me and in themselves. After all, we were Polish. Our homeland had been the victim of attempted cultural genocide for centuries. We had no natural borders and everyone wanted to conquer us as their road map to everywhere else. There were other ethnic groups on Terra that had an even worse history in that regard than we did, many of them with that history far more well-known to the planet at large, but obscure or not we were still well up towards the top. Everybody knew the famous saying about what you risked when fighting monsters.

    And everybody also liked to believe that they were a good person who had lived a good life, and I'd certainly tried my best to do that so far. So finding out that any part of me, however deeply buried, was capable of feeling even an impulse to actually do it... well, some people might call it moral cowardice on my part to have immediately destroyed the sample to foreclose any possibility that future me might eventually succumb to that impulse. But if you knew what your weakness was, then it was your responsibility to deny yourself at least the easy opportunities to succumb to it. Recovering alcoholics sholdn't keep beer in their freezer, people with anger management problems and prior assault convictions shouldn't go out partying with football hooligans, and people who'd found out that their moral compasses had a software fault in them somewhere to the point where a genocidal act was even a momentary temptation shouldn't hang on to the most advanced nanotech WMD ever seen in the universe. But no. All of the above was true to a point, but after I'd sat myself down and forced myself to confront it I finally worked out the real reason I'd felt even a momentary temptation.

    I'd been afraid.

    The more I studied the problem, the worse it looked. I already had access to at least one technology that could utterly upset the current balance of power, and even if I never earned another point of CP from the Forge I still had enough banked and enough options to purchase that I could find more. It was likely that I could invent at least one or two of my own from scratch just from the genius and knowledge I already had, particularly given that even without the Ceph nanotech sample I still retained all the insights that Bolthole Protocol had already obtained from my initial studies of it. But I couldn't see any way yet to turn any of those possibilities into a Terran victory, because I was neatly and deeply impaled on the horns of a catch-22.

    The Vilani tech base was extremely mature, stable, and resistant to innovation - but that wasn't because they were incapable of it. Everything that they had now, they'd originally invented for themselves at one time in the past. Quod erat demonstratum, the Vilani gene pool was potentially capable of producing creative geniuses. Even if they were apparently much rarer there than here - and that was still just me guessing - they still existed, and I was living proof that if the discovery were groundbreaking enough then you only needed one genius to change things. And there were trillions of Vilani to help improve those odds. And reverse-engineering was substantially easier than discovery.

    So I didn't just have to invent something wondrous enough to break the stalemate. I had to invent something wondrous enough to break the stalemate and that the Vilani could not reverse-engineer to regain the advantage. Because as greatly as they outnumbered us in both population, resources, and industrial base? If Terra and the Vilani ever fought a "total war" with even mostly equivalent tech, then Terra was dead. We'd only survived so far because the Vilani hadn't fought any of the Interstellar Wars that way. Hell, Kadur Erasharshi had been noteworthy in being the first Vilani fleet commander to even want to take his fleets all the way to Terra, and he'd also been noteworthy as the first Vilani fleet commander to not only succeed in doing so but to nuke our planetary surface. Which was a very disturbing trend. Especially considering that he'd only withdrawn because domestic political concerns had forced him to, not because we'd forced him back.

    Looking at that in hindsight, the Confederation's current attitude of 'peace dividend!' seemed less of a well-reasoned analysis and more of an urgent need to mentally blot out very ugly truth about how precipitous our long-range position still was. Which hunch of mine had no guarantee of being accurate, of course but if it was accurate... well, I suppose there was a reason the Forge had given me the warning that it had about Terra's unaided chances in a Fourth Interstellar War.

    So. What the heck could I invent for Earth that would give us the win, but that wouldn't give the Vilani the win if they ever figured out how we'd made it? Seeing as how they had thousands of planets to our dozen-plus, and trillions of people to our billions? Seeing as how I had to presume the Vilani would figure it out eventually, unless we somehow managed to not only defeat the entire Imperium but do so relatively quickly? I had no idea.

    ... except for that one option I'd already found. One overwhelmingly deadly, insidious, and unstoppable option that would have removed the Vilani from the face of the universe before they even knew why, let alone who.

    So yes. I now knew exactly why I'd felt the temptation. Because the cold equations had stated that using the Ceph nanotech to its fullest, most horrifying potential was the first real chance of victory that I'd discovered. And possibly the only real chance of victory that I ever would discover.

    I sighed and drew the metaphorical deep breath, readying myself to take the plunge. I forced myself to shunt aside anger and fear and consider the problem as clearly as I could, taking it as a problem, and subordinating superstition and dogma to reason.

    Because the cold equations could just go fuck themselves.

    If I drove myself insane in the process of trying to win, I would only lose. And then everyone would lose, because a madwoman with the power that I could hypothetically yield could potentially be a catastrophe worse than a Vilani conquest, both for us Terrans and them. And it was simply not possible for me to be emotionally indifferent enough to committing several trillion murders by my own hand to not psychologically shatter in the process of so doing... not unless I'd already gone completely psychotic in a different direction before I even started trying. I had to maintain my faith in a higher power. I had to believe that even if I had no idea what form it could possibly take yet, there was a possible route to victory that wouldn't need me to sacrifice my own soul in the process. I had to hope.

    I stood up and nodded out east towards the horizon, towards my far-away home.

    Time to get back to work.

    My newfound resolution did not send me back into the lab, because I'd also come to the conclusion that I'd need to put advanced scientific research on the back burner for a while and refocus my efforts in another direction. I hadn't just given up on trying to obtain a more in-depth understanding of Vilani society and culture after my first attempt at recovering Captain Dubicki's notes from his privateering expedition behind-the-lines during hte Second Interstellar War had failed, and thanks to an unofficial double major in history and the power of collegiate interlibrary loan I'd managed to obtain them through the MIT library. Along with as many other source materials in the same field of interest as I could manage to get my hands on, because while I was hardly going to get anyone to give me access to the classified War College level material and analyses - yet - for obvious reasons there was also a thriving interest in academia for Vilani cultural and social analysis of all kinds on a non-classified level, some of it generously funded by Confederation grants. And the warnings of student advisors afraid of the latest wunderkind giving herself a serious case of burnout and overwork were followed by me more in the breach than in the observance, and so I managed to cram a lot of that in.

    Plus, I actually did take some down time to go do things like play tourist and have fun and otherwise touch some grass. Not as much of it as some people would have liked, but I'd already had one brief approach to an anxiety spiral when I'd buried myself too deeply in research and I didn't want another one, thanks. Besides, I'd never been in the United States before and even almost a century and a half after the Treaty of New York, North America was still one of the two most economically and culturally dominant continents of Terra.

    But soon enough I finally got my hands on not just Captain Dubicki's autobiography but the full logs and unpublished journals of his years behind the lines during the Second Interstellar War, as well as his career as a Free Trader prior to the start of that war. And while a lot of what he'd said had merely been expansions and context to what I already knew about Vilani society and culture, some of it was a legitimate surprise.

    For one thing, I had never heard the term kimashargur before. Although in contemporary Vilani parlance it meant 'dissident', it had actually been a Vilani separatist movement that had occurred over a thousand years ago.

    Now I'd already known, as did any Terran schoolchild, that although the Vilani had been in space since the neolithic era on Terra the current Vilani Imperium - or Ziru Sirka as they called it, the "Grand Empire of Stars" - had been formalized only circa AD 500. Presided over by a ruling council of their highest nobility called the Igsiirdi, who elected one of their own each generation as the Emperor, it had come about as the result of a period of strife called 'the Consolidation Wars' that had ended the great age of Vilani expansion... and that was about as much as the Vilani, or what school textbooks of theirs we could obtain, had really wanted to talk about it.

    But what they hadn't wanted to talk about with us Terrans as the fact was the fact that circa AD 800 a movement called the Kimashargur, or "Virtue of the Foremost", had become popular in several of the Vilani rimward sectors - including the one adjoining Terra. Captain Dubicki had actually had a kimashargur crewman onboard his vessel, hired prior to the start of the war as a translator and cultural consultant, who'd loyally fought at his side throughout the entire war. (Something that his official biography, or at least the one I'd read in school, had not mentioned in an obvious case of Confederation censorship.) And of course he'd talked his captain's ear off about what his forebears had taught him about the old days, even if it had been as garbled as incomplete as an oral tradition handed down through centuries of state control of education crushing the very concept outo of official mention could be expected to be.

    The short version is that the kimashargur had wanted to renew the Vilani expansion into the galaxy and continue with the grand pace of technological innovation that had brought them to their current height, and the Imperium hadn't wanted to. So they went from minority political party to dissident movement to outlawed forbidden society, and some of them had ben able to escape the Imperial crackdown circa 1000 AD to travel beyond the then Imperial borders and set up their own independent colonies on the Vilani rim. The Vilani world of Dingir, 6 parsecs away from Nusku as the photon travelled and only 4 jumps away via accessible jump-2 routes, had actually been the capital of their pocket empire.

    And then the Vilani Imperium had caught up to them in 1100 AD and reconquered their separatists, and that was the end of that. The kimashargur today were nothing more than a convenient blame-word in contemporary Vilani lexicon to refer to any kind of malcontent, and some fragmentary legends passed on down from one generation to another. But it was surprising to find out that if the Vilani Imperium had just been a little more complacent about letting their separatists and wildcatters go, then Earth might well have been discovered by the Kimashargur separatists well before we'd gotten into space on our own, with what effects on history I could only begin to imagine. As is, the mining outpost at Barnard's Star that StarLeaper One had contacted were technically kimashargur, having sort of not quite officially gotten an exploration permit from the Vilani authorities before going off to prospect for minerals in a strange star system. Although being discovered by the Terrans had made them immediately rush to report the contact to the Imperial authorities, so maybe not that outlaw.

    But even this much was a clue. It told me that Vilani society was, while tremendously conformist from everything Terrans had seen and with a political stability that looked positively glacial compaerd to ours, still not absolutely monolithic. They had the impulses of divisiveness and curiosity just as the Terran strain of humanity did, they just seemed to deal with them in very different ways and with a far greater decree of polish and/or subtlety.​

    Definitely food for thought. Also definitely bringing to mind some new questions to ask if I ever had a chance to talk to a Vilani.

    ... hmmm. I wonder where the Beowulf is right now?

    I chewed my lip in thought as I started composing an email. Between the speed of jump-mail and their itinerant schedule, building up a correspondence with Captain Urshargii again to the point he actually might talk to me about such things would take time. Still, sooner started, sooner done...​

    * * * * *​

    One of the things I had learned from the Ceph nanotech before I'd destroyed it was how they were able to fit that much computational capacity inside a nanite that small. Granted, nanites were very small - if you had a nanocomputing element small enough to fit 1 flops' worth of computational capacity instead a particular 1 nanometer on a side, then even with a 99% design inefficiency for your overall distributed computing array you could still get 10^16 flops' worth of computing power into a cubic millimeter. But the Ceph went beyond that to somehow fit a quantum computing dot into each nanite, meaning that the collective computational capacity of any given mass of Ceph nanotech was so vast that their only real bottleneck was coming up with software that could actually use it.

    I felt a major pang of regret at having burned the thing, because my life would be so much simpler if I was able to put that kind of computational capacity into a little knickknack I could carry in my pocket. Sadly, I didn't have the tools to make the tools to make the tools to make more Ceph nano q-dots, even if I could have commanded the sample to arbitrarily self-replicate more of itself. But what I could do with that innovation is reduce many of the techniques I'd reverse-engineered back to first principles, then start applying them from the ground up again towards already-existing contemporary experiments into molecular circuitry blocks. Because integrated circuit design had already started to intersect with quantum theory in the early 21st century, when CPU paths became measured and spaced in so small a unit of nanometers that quantum interference effects began to become a concern, and nowadays making a modern molecular circuitry unit was as much art as science given that the math of such complex 3-dimensional potential interactions was only partly understood.

    Until now, because with the example of the Ceph nanotech to work from I had been handed the product of at least centuries' worth of R&D efforts in the field to work from. Ceph technology was at least as thoroughly worked out, as thoroughly polished, as Vilani technology was. They'd stuck with the same basic principles and designs long enough to work out every single possible bug and irregularity in the field, then micrometrically file off every metaphorical rough spot until what was left was as precise and smooth as a geometric equation. It was the sort of thinking that rejected the entire Terran concept of an 'R&D cycle', but while it was horrible for speed of progress it certainly did wonderful things for reliability. Even Terrans used that philosophy from time to time - in addition to the historical examples of the Kalashnikov rifle or the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, the United States' old NASA space agency had originally taken mankind to the Moon using spacecraft computers at least one generation more primitive than the best they'd known how to build precisely because you got much fewer surprises from older designs as opposed to cutting-edge and they were operating under conditions where one significant hardware fault risked stranding three men hundreds of thousands of miles away from any possible recovery. Goodness, just look at what had almost happened to Apollo 13!

    And with that kind of knowledge to work from, working out a mathematical breakthrough that absolutely revolutionized the field of molecular circuit design to the point that an almost full order of magnitude increase in efficiency would be possible once someone translated my theories into hardware. Because the Ceph's understanding of quantum interference effects at that supreme a level of miniaturization and how to avoid them had of necessity been vastly ahead of our own, and all I had to do was draw upon even the beginnings of their insights to actually qualify as a revolutionary leap forward by Terran standards. I'd originally arrived at MIT several weeks into the 2167 fall semester, but I'd timed my 'discovery' for midway through the 2168 spring semester - or a couple months before my scheduled graduation, as I'd managed to work in enough course credit to be able to matriculate within a year. I could have done it much more quickly than that, of course, but I'd had reasons for pacing myself.

    For one, I didn't want to entirely explode the suspension of disbelief in my case. Being on track to be a leading genius of the age was not only desirable for me but necessary, but going too far beyond that ran the risk of provoking fear instead of wonder. I wanted authority figures to see me as a golden goose, not an eldritch abomination. One of the things that had slowed down my research into the Ceph nanotech as much as it had been slowed had been the fact that I'd needed to be very careful about getting unobserved lab time, as well as using my programming genius to the utmost to make sure that the laboratory systems didn't record me doing anything but my officially approved research. Because even if you were a trusted enough student to have unsupervised time with the equipment, of course the software was still recording everything you did with it. In addition to safety and liability concerns, the instrument logs were part of your grades for lab period! Thank the Forge for my super-programming abilities or else I'd never have been able to hack those things, because for obvious reasons they made academic reliability software on the campus of Terra's leading tech university as hack-proof as they possibly could.
    Which is one reason I'd chosen to make my next breakout discovery in the field of pure mathematics, because you didn't need any research logs to back that up. Math was something you could do in the privacy of your room with a paper and pencil if you wanted, and my meticulously filled-out proofs and theorems and calculations didn't need date stamps to exist. So I turned it in as an independent study project, and waited for the academic staff to freak out at the Fields Medal-worthy work I'd just done. (There was no Nobel Prize in Mathematics.)

    Although I was surprised when I showed up for the interview with the chairman of the Mathematics department that I'd been asked to report for and was instead greeted by Mr. Dumonte... the placement officer at the PSB that I'd spoken to after returning from Peraspera.

    "You're not really a PSB placement officer, are you sir?" I said, sitting politely down in front of the chairman's borrowed desk.

    "Oh, I am." he said amiably. "But I also have additional duties ."

    "Office of Naval Intelligence?" I probed.

    "No, but one of my colleagues is." he nodded to me in acknowledgement of the point. "And another is a representative of DARPA, and a third represents the Ministry of Education. In addition there is also Dr. Ahmedi, who you've already met."

    "The testing psychologist at Mumbai." I agreed. "So... some type of multi-agency project whose job it is to find and recruit geniuses." I stated, rather than asked.

    "And now we've found you." he smiled back. "Although you can't be too surprised at that, given that you were clearly trying to attract our attention."

    "Well, someone's attention." I agreed. "I hadn't known it was you, specifically."
    "We do our best to remain in the background." he agreed. "In addition to the part where it enables our work, we prefer a very soft touch when dealing with extremely intelligent people. Putting opportunities in their path provokes far less resentment than dictating choices."

    "But I'm getting an open recruitment offer." I said. "What's different in my case?"

    "From your IQ tests alone, if nothing else, you are already aware that you are not merely very intelligent but intelligent on a scale beyond any other known case." he said. "That's one reason. There are several others. But the debate over whether to continue long-range monitoring on you or to approach you openly was still ongoing... until we finally received the results of your ONI background investigation."

    I gulped inwardly, and my brain finally caught up to the realization that there was almost certainly instrumentation rigged here to analyze my voice-stress patterns and bio-readings. I'd been talking on a lie detector for this entire conversation, and it was a damn good thing I hadn't actually lied yet! But-

    I raised an eyebrow in an obvious inquiry and didn't say a word.

    "'To save the Confederation'?" he asked me, with a raised eyebrow of his own. My faultless memory prompted me with instant recall of exactly when I'd said that during the celebration on Peraspera, and to who. Damn. Mr. Stepczinski had been right, I really shouldn't have had that second glass of vodka.

    "I'd hoped it hadn't stuck in his head." I conceded, because of course a complete Top Secret clearance background investigation would interview your former employers and supervisors among others, and of course the retired Chief Warrant Officer Stepczinski would have cooperated fully with the ONI in detailing anything weird or suspicious I might have said - particularly if it was vivid enough to still be in his memory months later. "And yes, the obvious question that statement begs is 'To save it from what?'' I sighed and decided there was no real way out but through. "The Vilani, of course."

    His lips narrowed slightly in reaction, if not surprise. "The analysts project that the current peace will continue for at least a generation, now that we've firmly established ourselves as not worth the cost it would take to conquer us." he stated the official party line. "Why don't you believe that?"

    "I can't rigorously prove it with charts and graphs." I replied, which was true. "But... it's not just a hunch, it's a recurring worry on my part." Also true. "I mean... all else aside, what if the analysts are wrong? If you don't know, but a wrong guess in one direction means you only went to some inconvenient effort and a wrong guess in the other directions you lose everything forever, which direction you guess in is obvious."

    "Pascal's Wager, only applied to interstellar politics." he acknowledged. "That makes sense, but it doesn't usually drive someone to dedicate their life to a project of single-handedly averting it."

    "It was hardly going to be single-handed." I said, doing my best to defuse his worries. "As you opened the conversation with, I was clearly trying to attract attention. The Confederation's attention. I'd hoped to be recruited for advanced research, to build... well, better chances." I eventually found the right words. "For the Confederation. For humanity."

    "Sophia, I'm sure you learned very early on about how to tell other people what they want to hear." he eventually said mildly. "But what do you want?"

    Crap, he's good. Entirely ignored the shiny bait and is staying on target like a point-defense laser.

    "I wanted..." I sighed and let the bitterness flow out of me. "I wanted to be an ordinary girl. I wanted to fit in, to find a career, to make my family proud, but..." I blinked back a tear. "To just be as responsible as anyone else had to be, not to be... this." I waved at myself. "To find out that I had a singular talent, a something extra, that lets me do what even I'm only beginning to figure out the limits of. To see things, figure things out, that potentially scare the pants off me." I sighed. "But I didn't get a choice. I have these gifts, and I have to figure out how I can use them best. And yes, I also have normal human desires like not being poor or the approval buzz of having a major science advancement for humanity credit me with success and all that, but at the risk of sounding egotistical, I'm really not expecting that part to be hard for me." I paused, and waited for him to show a reaction before I shrugged and continued without it. "I want to not be afraid anymore." I trailed off faintly.

    Because if I really was under a lie detector right now, then my only hope of steering this conversation away from the really dangerous topics was if I could make honest feelings do some dishonest work.

    "You feel single-handedly responsible for the defense of the Confederation?" he probed after a thoughful pause.

    "I believe that due to my genius and aptitudes, I am capable of making contributions to that defense that few if any others can." I said carefully. "And that having the capability to do that, considering the current galactic situation, means that I have a responsibility to."

    "But you turned down multiple chances for military enlistment?" he asked.

    "I can take orders like an employee from a supervisor, especially in a research position, but military discipline probably wouldn't be the best fit for me when my brain kept moving multiple times faster than my officer's." I conceded. "Also, earning any real seniority in the Navy would take so much time, but like I already found out on Peraspera, nobody cares how young you are at a science roundtable if your math works out."

    "That's not always true, depending on the lab environment." he said. "Still, yes, your strategy has worked out quite well for you. So... if you were me, what would you do in my position?"

    "You said that you've already run a Top Secret background investigation on me, and if I'd failed it you wouldn't be here at all." I thought out loud. "So I have the clearance necessary to work in a defense research lab, and I've certainly proven my scientific bona fides. But you've already decided not to do that, or else I'd have just had a corporate or DARPA recruiter approach me at the pre-graduation job fair like any other student. So I would offer me a chance to prove myself in the field. What exactly that would entail, I can't guess at without knowing what resources and influence you actually have available to you."

    "An excellent analysis..." he steepled his fingers dramatically before continuing. "... but if you've ever had any belief that you are infallible, you have just proven that you are not. Because you were partially correct in your reasoning, offer is not exactly the verb I would use."

    "Wait, are you saying-?!?" I sat up bolt upright as with his final clue it all suddenly fell into place for me.

    "Exactly." he nodded to me. "Sophia Anna Nowak, you've been drafted."

    * * * * *​

    Author's Note: I could have gone longer, but sometimes you just reach the perfect cliffhanger point. And so, short chapter.

    Regarding the Treaty of New York and all affiliated matters: I do not want to have to remind anyone here of Rule 8. At least, not more than the one warning I have already put in this author's note. Regardless of opinions on the topic of climate change or anything else, we do not need to discuss them here. Not only is this a fictional universe, but Sophia's own beliefs on the topic are not in any way supposed to be presented as the author's beliefs. She believes what she does because it would be implausible for her to believe anything else given her education and background, so she believes it. What I believe is irrelevant.

    And yes, this is legal. There's a reason that Sophia keeps referring to her initial Public Service tour, and that's because the mandatory service term of 4 years is just the traditional beginning. The Confederation has the option of recalling anyone to active service up until age 40, although for obvious reasons this is normally done only in time of war.

    Normally. A state of war is not actually required. And the genius patrol gets to do a lot of things with the bureaucracy that it does not normally do.

    Unspent CP: 400​
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2022 at 1:04 AM
  19. TheSwicky

    TheSwicky Getting out there.

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    Thank you for the meal~ c:
     
  20. darkcloudt2

    darkcloudt2 Getting some practice in, huh?

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    They need to really sweeten the deal with the draft because you don’t draft a 200 plus IQ and except anything but for them to funk you over.
     
  21. Powergoat

    Powergoat Not too sore, are you?

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    Considering their conversation right then, this seems like a very antagonistic move towards her, when she just confessed towards wanting to do probobly exactly what they are now forcing her to do. I can only imagine this wasn’t a unanimous decision, because it seems very dangerous to force the once-in-a-millennia Genius when they would be willing with a lighter touch.
     
  22. Blaflaix

    Blaflaix I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    One possibility is that he still had discretion at this point.
    If she had given the impression that she would be absolutely opposed to the position, she might have "failed" the evaluation and been let go.

    And going at it from the other perspective, drafting someone and pretending they weren't drafted would be even more annoying.
    Especially if they're smart enough to see through any lighter touches.
     
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  23. Domino

    Domino I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Readers who are thinking this is an aggressive and unwanted move on the government's part? Remember that this is what she wants. She wants to be snapped up by the people in charge of research, because thats where she can get the most value out of her gifts.

    This is like Briar Rabbit telling Mr Fox to please, please, pleaaaaaaase don't go throwing him in that there briar patch and then getting thrown in, just without the reverse psychology.
     
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  24. mpbjunkie

    mpbjunkie Getting sticky.

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    Thanks for another excellent chapter.
     
  25. Narwhale

    Narwhale Getting sticky.

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    Pretty sure the dates are off, aren’t they supposed to be 2167 and 2168?

    Also, yeah good chapter, I look forward to more.
     
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  26. cliffc999

    cliffc999 Well worn.

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    I have got to stop doing that. It seems to be a consistent brain fart.
     
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  27. krayken0422

    krayken0422 Getting sticky.

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    Thanks for the chapter.

    Style nitpick, the complete with the... section feels more like an aside. Using parentheses or two em-dashes would flow a bit better in my opinion.

     
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  28. GrayBowser

    GrayBowser Getting sticky.

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    I've been thinking about the moral dilemma myself, and one more reason to commit to not using the nanotech that way is that there are other aliens out there. If the Vilani are wiped out, it will be impossible to hide what happened and humanity will be the obvious ones to benefit. That would permanently sour all future contact with aliens who would understandably fear a similar fate if humanity would benefit from it, provoking intense suspicion at a minimum and a preemptive war of WMDs at worst. Act like that and the universe will become a dark forest.
     
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  29. omegasrevenge

    omegasrevenge The Epic of Alexander (Ultimate)

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    So what are the exact consequences? She is forced into working for and on whatever her new boss wants her to work on? Until she is 40 at least?
     
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  30. omegasrevenge

    omegasrevenge The Epic of Alexander (Ultimate)

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    Philosophy like that are for armchair philosophers only. If your family is threatened, you defend them. You fight for them. You kill for them. I would murder quadrillions of aliens if it meant the survival of my family. I don't give a flying fuck what other people think of me, only that the people I love are safe and sound. If I was given a red button that would kill trillions of aliens to save my city from getting nuked like this fictional Warsaw had been, I would press that button thrice for good measure, and sleep like a baby afterwards.
     
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