A Visit to the Queen (Closed, ATTN: Zero-One)
Diplomatic Quarter, Scheighu, Tekhat Scheighu, Tsaraine
Scheighu had, for centuries, fluctuated in prosperity in proportion to the power of the rulers north of the Skirré mountains. In the First Dominion, it had served as a stop along the Silk Road, usurped at times by Kel Tsaraint or Kel Undant; under the Commonwealth, it had been the primary staging point for the long, weary crusades West and East, spreading Sound Governance the furtherest it could go.
During the thirty-year interregnum, when Tsaraine recovered underneath the Obsidian Wastes, it had languished as a crumbling agricultural town; only to recover with the renaissance of the Second Dominion and the Ascendancy, which appropriated it as the primary ingress point into Tsaraine - and thus, the primary diplomatic center.
These days, Tsaraine's close allies - consisting entirely of the Non-Democratic Alliance - were housed in Kel Eridhant, but everyone else was still situated in a series of embassies, ranging from the simple to the grandiose in direct proportion to the wealth and braggadocio of the nations they represented.
Bucking this trend as they bucked many others, the Queendom of Zero-One's embassy was little more than an office and a closet; it was a sterling illustration of the fact that the mechanoids simply didn't think like humans.
Arevi keiYazamir was one of the newer crop of Tsarainese diplomats, promoted perhaps in an attempt to prove that the Ascendancy wasn't really biased towards the Tsakh or Ktrazirha, the people with swords to their names, despite the Commonwealth's unspoken continuation of the First Dominion's racial bigotry.
Having hurried through Scheighu's streets (despite all the money poured into the public transport system, there never quite seemed to be a bus about when you needed one) to the embassy, he knocked politely on the door, and settled down to wait.
The Tsarainese being firm believers in the need for paperwork, clearance, and appointments at least two weeks in advance, the local SHODAN avatar would of course be expecting him.
Embassies serve two purposes--to house officials that meet with the host government, and to assist citizens (or potential citizens) in the country. Given the peculiar nature of Zero-One citizenry, the chances are exceedingly rare that very much in the way of brick-and-mortar space will be needed; they communicate with the local node and then wander off. Therefore, the Zero-One embassy is no more than a rented small office which serves as a lobby connected to a broom closet and a conference room. This is all the mechanoids really need and really all they really want; not using too many resources in order to build grandiose embassies means more resources to go into networks, nodes, manufacturing capacity, and the like.
The lobby is about the size of the waiting room of a respectable doctor's office, painted a clean white, and lit by flourescent track lighting ensconced behind curved translucent plastic covers that act as wall skirting and a faux cove ceiling, allowing the flat walls to blend into the flat ceiling and tiled grey-marble patterned floor. Simple yet ergonomic chairs that seem to flow from the floor in an institutional light grey sit around two marbleized coffee tables, apparently designed to assist conversation between those waiting instead of holding the maximum number of people in the minimum amount of volume; upon closer inspection the chairs are actually covered with a matte fabric, silk-like in texture, that drapes down to the floor and is somehow bonded quite firmly to it, allowing for the flowing effect; the chairs swivel and the fabric stretches and compresses to match it and prevent the formation of wrinkles or folds, giving the feeling that it is under tension. At the back of the room is a marblized desk, also designed to look as if a brick with rounded edges had simply flowed from the floor, polished to a mirror shine and sporting the simple white, black, and silver insignia of the Queendom of Zero-One on the front, the white and black done in shining enamel. Behind it stands a standard android avatar, hands by regulation neatly folded on the desk and red spider-eyed optical array looking forward towards the door when it is not performing physical paperwork (barbarians!) with its hands.
It was this android avatar, currently acting as instrumentality for the mind of R-Benjamin 3D1A42, that directed keiYazamir towards the door on the right labeled in a subdued grey barcode. It would have preferred to talk to Arevi for a few minutes--being one of the more personable minds in the Queendom towards organics and honestly curious about them, which is why it was assigned embassy duty--but understood that there was a schedule to keep and thus completely submerged its mild disappointment.
Behind the door is a S.H.O.D.A.N. avatar, softly glowing in the darkness after completing her startup procedure, and several access panels to the embassy's local node. There is just enough room in the closet to hold these and a few retractable 'supports' that allow the local gynoid avatar to be stored in a slightly reclining position, approximately thirty degrees or so from vertical. She pushes herself off gently, myomer muscles rippling under her skin in coordinated patterns to loosen them up, then turns around in the dark to push the supports back into their slots in the wall. Everything arranged, she sends a thought to the nonsentient building control programs and the door opens automatically, sliding sideways into the wall.
There is a slight recess on inside of the door to open and close it manually, but this is an embassy. Image is important.
Stepping out, she immediately spots Arevi with her slitted-pupil eyes--he is the only person besides herself and R-Benjamin in the room--and smiles cordially, tips of coppery lips tilting up as she bows shortly. "Punctual, Mister* keiYazamir. Welcome to sovereign Zero-One territory." Another quietly humorous smile. "What can we do for each other today?"
"It is a maximal virtue, Queen SHODAN," Arevi replies, smiling, and bows politely (somewhat lower, as befits the representative of a sovereign nation to a sovereign ruler) in return. "It is most kind of you to grant this interview.
"As for what we can do for each other ... well, to come to the point, I am here as a representative of the Greater Ascendancy in general, and the Arkhreifiate of the Star Command in particular.
"The Star Command's charge, of course, is to defend and advance Tsarainese interests abroad. Although it has other tasks, primarily that means it's the space arm of the military.
"Their problem is that while Tsaraine has plenty of raw materials, industrial capability, and - thanks to our allies - access to shipyards, the military technology used in Star Command vessels is orders of magnitude below that of any major threats. Against any serious attacker, the defence fleets throughout the system would be vapour long before the Outer or Inner System Fleets could arrive to assist.
"While we've been doing our best to bootstrap ourselves upwards in the technology stakes, favourable estimates say it will take a century to catch up - and more conservative ones give even longer periods. A hundred years is, quite obviously, not the sort of length of time one wants to spend without adequate defences in the Solar neighbourhood.
"So this is where the Queendom - or more precisely Zero-One Monocorporation, I suppose - would come in; the Star Command needs higher technology, and is prepared to pay a good deal for it."
OOC: Sorry for not replying to this sooner - I somehow missed your post, and only found it just now when I went back through the week's threads in a fit of boredom.
The term I think you're looking for (or at least, you asterisked "Mister") is "esar", which literally means "rider" in Sekhel, and equates more-or-less to "Monsieur". The equivalent for women is esen, with the female agental.
Due to the cheapening of the term over the centuries (it was originally applied only to those allowed to own horses, i.e. the nobility), if one wants to be really polite one uses "kuirau esar" (or "kuirau esen"), literally "acclaimed rider", which comes from the Kymnari quera, "to acclaim, to hail", as seen in "Quera Kymni", "hail God" - in which the meaning is more like "praise God".
... You probably didn't need the etymology lesson, I know, but I hope it's interesting nonetheless.
S.H.O.D.A.N. smiles cordially, perhaps a bit of the legendary imp in her shining through her green-glowing eyes as she politely indicates the grey chairs with one finely toned hand, a graceful gesture of her arm. "Please--simply 'SHODAN' will do--the title is an artifact of a culture with a wry sense of humor." She continues as she moves towards the chairs and table indicated, probably a more comfortable place to discuss things, which is why of course they are there. "An uncommon request, to be sure, but an interesting one. You are in luck, esar keiYazamir; I do believe we can assist you in this. My people and I agree in seeing your nation as unusually reasonable when compared to our collective mental image of the organic standard--as inaccurate as that may be--and so it is in our best interest to see you properly equipped, as it were."
If there's any momentary pause considering who is supposed to sit down first, she takes the lead and relaxes easily into her chosen chair, comfortably in an almost sloppy way, something which probably seems completely out of line when considering a gestalt mechanoid queen with a storage physicality the size of Canada. "Our nation, through its standard merchantile front of the MonoCorporation, has a great deal of technology you can probably benefit from in terms of propulsion, energy generation, defenses both active and passive, and of course offensive technologies. There are, of course, reasonable limitations to what I can offer both in terms of good faith and of domestic necessity; these are probably mostly academic and we can deal with them as we come across them."
Nestling back into the comfortably padded seat, the gynoid smiles again in a perfectly friendly yet almost mercenary way. "So, on to the next question--what does the Arkhreifiate desire along those lines?"
Arevi sits down a few seconds after SHODAN, chuckling politely at her description of Tsaraine ("I'll be sure to include that in my report," he replies, "Command will be most gratified to hear it.").
"As for what we need," he continues, "Well, I'll begin by describing the current state of the art, and the holes should become readily visible.
"The Star Command's heavy combatant is the Hades-class cruiser, adapted from and largely based upon the Black's Ixhwa-class Medium Range Combatant - they built the hulls and most of the systems for us. The maximum acceleration is twenty gees - the same across all our vessels, except for the Heavy Armour Variant of the Hades, which trades acceleration for armour.
"Even the Heavy Armour Variant, however, doesn't have sufficient armour to stand up to prolonged, close-range bombardment, so it - and the Sekhmet destroyer, and to a lesser extent the Avernus corvette - rely upon long-range missile barrages and hit-and-run tactics to carry out survivable attacks.
"The problem with this is that there are a great many forces who possess better acceleration than us, and certainly better close-range firepower. Against one of those we'd be sitting ducks, as someone could easily outmaneuver and outgun the fleets.
"So these three fields are where we have the greatest disadvantages, and would most like to establish some form of parity; drive systems, close-range offensive systems, and passive defence systems.
"Our current leading technologies in those fields are, respectively, the Kymnari "antimagnetic" cores - probably a misnomer, as the technology behind them continues to befuddle our Researchers - X-ray lasers - although the Avernus's twin heavy gauss cannons are quite successful - and simple non-reactive armours - the usual style is layered ceramics, diamondoid, and various alloys. The problem with those, of course, is that if we were to layer on sufficient armour to make a vessel reasonably resistant to attack, the power requirements to move it would become exorbitant."
OOC: Oops! Arevi is male - he's an esar, not an esen.
"Interesting." She steeples her fingers, looking at them in a moment of theatric thought--responding too quickly to a complex problem only increases cognitive dissonance in the listener, who has probably grown accustomed to people pausing between sentences to think things over. "The acceleration problem is perhaps the most difficult to counter, given that hulls tend to be built around propulsion systems and so they are not exactly hot-swappable, so to speak. While it is possible that you have simply attained the effective maximum acceleration of your chosen drive technology, it is more likely--and no offense is intended in this estimation--that there are inefficiencies in the process that are leading to insufficient performance; optimize the drives more effectively and they should perform better. We can only help with that if we could examine your drive technology and the mathematics behind its modeling and design; however, I understand fully if your antimagnetics data are considered priviledged.
"Short-range offensive firepower depends on the definition of short-range. It could refer to unguided sublight weaponry such as autocannon or weapons that accelerate heavy ions, or it could refer to demilight and lightspeed weaponry if 'short-range' includes ranges where lightspeed lag becomes a factor in lead time and accuracy. That you are not resorting to chemical autocannon suggests to me that you want something with a smaller momentum shift, probably less recoil, and probably greater range; I would then recommend either some sort of particle cannon or any variation on the eraser line of weaponry. I would recommend gravitic linegun with canister munition capability but I would prefer to save the truly esoteric toys for myself." She smiles slyly, but in a friendly way. "You understand, of course.
"Given that you already have a doctrine for armor, a defensive system that takes that into account should be best. I am certain we can supply you with a form of wavicle shielding that will meet your needs, providing protection from both mass- and energy-based attacks by acting to spread the blow over a greater surface area of armor. We can also provide minimally dense ablative composites to act as an antienergy applique. It won't provide any protection against a reasonable mass-based attack, being far too brittle, but very few people actually use autocannon anymore, and hypervelocity kinetics are still pinpoint kinetic energy attacks..." Another sly smile. "Some people forget that there are still advantages to the old method of shaped charges, which is why QACF lineguns can still fire anti-armor canisters.
"Does any of this appeal, esar?"
"No offense taken," Arevi replied, nodding. "Given that the antimagnetics we use were stored in a Kymnari vault as unholy relics for six hundred years, then left in orbit for another thirty, and all our current models are near-exact copies of those originals, it's perfectly reasonable - probably expectable - that they don't operate at peak capacity. If they weren't very nearly solid-state I doubt they'd function at all.
"Twenty gee is the most we've been able to squeeze from any one individual core before problems start cropping up, though. The obvious solution would seem to be to add more, but as each core requires most of the output of a standard fusion reactor to power it, that quickly becomes prohibitive.
"As for the mathematics behind it, those are either entirely empirical or practically alchemical in their obscurity, because the Kymnari are, essentially, pantheists; their god permeates their sciences. We wonder why like objects repel instead of attract - according to the Kymnari, it's because God keeps it that way. Which is the heart, as far as we can tell, of the antimagnetic core - it contains matter with" - he shrugged, not a theoretical physicist - "Opposite polarities, if I'm making any sense. I guess it might be called a localised violation of the laws of physics, in our terms.
"More detail than that - such as we have - is probably priveledged information, although given that Zero-One and many others can run circles around it, I can't see any barriers to it being declassified.
"And yes, you understand entirely what we are looking for - I call it "short-range" I suppose because our current examples begin to have problems at any sort of long range. And I do understand - there are some things Tsaraine has been wise enough to avoid utilising."
More than once, that is. That the Obsidian Wastes were formed by Tsarainese tests of a Kymnari hellformer weapon is a very highly classified secret; nobody liked the idea of international reaction to the announcement that the Ascendancy had plans for a weapon capable of razing planets to bedrock stashed away.
"As for armour, it might be more accurate to say that we have a doctrine for the avoidance of damage, as opposed to a doctrine for armour per se. Certainly armour is a necessity, but the relative weakness of armour alone means that it becomes practically impossible to have enough armour - far better not to take the blow in the first place. And better still, of course, not to fight at all, but if that ideal held up universally this conversation would be irrelevant.
"Your "wavicle" shielding, however, could be just what is needed to tilt the balance, and make our armours that much more effective."
OOC: No worries. The only person who could be reasonably expected to keep up with Tsarainese culture and language is me, since so much of it exists only in my head.
S.H.O.D.A.N. has no compunction about showing interest as Arevi describes what he knows of Kymnari antimagnetics technology, although she moderates her outward appearance to show polite scientific interest, rather than the deep-seated hunger which always comes up when the distinctly new and different presents itself to her curiosity. "Which is, indeed, the point. Too many people seem to think that once one has some sort of energy shielding, there is no more utility for armor. The fact you still have some rather than putting all available mass into speed and maneuverability indicates a doctrinal place for, if not an emphasis on, armor." She shrugs slightly. "Just a matter of semantics. Still, I believe that our best course from this point is rather clear: in the short term, 01MC supplies you with shielding and better close-in weapon systems; in the long term, we work together to see to it that your government allow us research access to antimagnetics technology so we can analyse, evaluate, and improve upon extant designs. Increased propulsive efficiency logically leads to either more energy for weapons and defenses at the same accelerations or higher accelerations for the same energy."
Leaning forward slightly, she smiles again in that mix of mercenary hunger tempered by entrepreneurial need. "Recompense for our goods will probably match our standard rate, less some because we have a greater interest in you being well-equipped than others and I like you." Wink and a sly smile. "The price of our research services, pending acceptance, are of course negotiable functions of the level of access and autonomy allowed as well as results offered. Is this acceptable, esar keiYazamir."
Arevi nodded, understanding; he would have called that simple common sense, personally - abandoning all defensive measures would be a foolish thing to do - except that "common" sense wasn't all that common.
"Most acceptable," he replied. "I'll have to run any decision we come to past Arkhreifane ralKeyra and Arkhora Seingult - this country breathes burecracy and excretes paperwork, after all - but I very much doubt there will be any problems there.
"As for the "level of access and autonomy allowed", I can't imagine that being anything but close to total, in the required fields - we wish you to succeed, of course, and given that there would be no point in arming you with anything but the totality of what we have discovered so far.
"I imagine we can also get you access to the Kymnari enclave of Kemi-an-Sari; they may be useful in translating the theological concepts the original blueprints are written in. Or they may not - those blueprints are six hundred years old, and their technology has declined since then - but it may be of help."
"Outstanding. Their theology should be fascinating in its own right." She lets her curiosity take over, looking most enthusiastically interested in this turn of events. "The thought that will have to go to connecting religious thought to technical thought will also be most stimulating. This should be quite the interesting puzzle."
Arevi shrugged. "To tell the truth, I'm not all that well versed in it - it's accreted for something like sixteen thousand years, the only people who are are probably their priests. Researchers have been working on the technological side of it for decades - you should be able to talk to them, once the paperwork has been processed.
"I wish you all luck with that "puzzle", truly - as someone once said, it's a mystery wrapped in an enigma to me."
"So," she replies, leaning back in her chair, "does that about cover things, or is there something else for us to discuss? Failing that, is there anything I can do for you as hostess?"
"If we could go back a little," Arevi said, "Perhaps you could expand upon your ideas for offensive weaponry? It's the only one of the three areas we haven't yet covered. What exactly do you mean by an "eraser"? I assume it's some form of coherent-EM weapon, but I'm not familiar with the term."
"An eraser is, in simplest terms, a laser tunable throughout the electromagnetic spectrum." S.H.O.D.A.N. leans back, explaining in a friendly, informal yet still businesslike way. "They tend to be prized by the QACF and the TYCS because they can serve so many functions from gamma ray laser--very nasty indeed--to antimateriel masers and ultra-high-power rasers that can burn out practically any fieldable radar detection set. Cutting the power allows them to be used as everything from a microwave heater to a radar transmitter to a spotlight. Certainly not elegant weapons, but there is something to be said for blatant brute force applied creatively."
The android from behind the counter brings over a tray with two smooth, tubular glasses of crystal-clear water; the gynoid avatar leans forward to take a sip from hers before continuing. "Then there are heavy-ion weapons, which use bricks of metals such as iron that can be broken down into a plasma by passing sufficient current through them; the resulting ions are slung out of an electromagnetic accelerator towards a target. This is less energy-intensive than neutron or proton particle cannon, but still capable of an effective 'hose' effect if one has enough iron.
"Finally, for the closest engagement ranges, there are autocannon. They still have their place, in my opinion; of course, there are others who disagree and there is nothing wrong with that." She chuckles softly. "Do any of these seem interesting?"
"Well, we certainly do not lack for iron!" Arevi replied, "Or for power, for that matter - the Treznorikh fusors are most useful in that regard. I am attempting to weigh the options - your heavy-ion guns are probably closer to our current technology, and thus might have the advantage of fitting better into our current manufacturing schemes, but on the downside they do require ammunition of a sort; whereas the eraser guns require no mass for ammunition, and are more versatile.
"Autocannon are probably within our current grasp, but the Star Command's naval doctrine calls against close engagements. All told, I believe your erasers would probably be most useful to us."
"They do make decent standoff weapons," the gynoid admits, "but their primary downside is that they are limited in their damage potential by the necessity for lensing and thus having to output enough power to damage and yet not enough to burn themselves out. While they are not necessarily as massively constructed as other weapons, requisite coolant systems increase their effective mass somewhat. Ablative armor also protects against them well; but very few nations use ablatives due to their necessary fragility. If you do not intend for the adversary to come close, then they should be sufficient.
"On the other hand, heavy-atomic ion weapons do have the benefit of degrading materials they hit, having a residual EMP effect, and generally being able to chew through ablatives quite quickly as they share properties with kinetics, especially open-bore railguns. Their primary weakness is that they fire a stream and to be most effective that stream must be kept on target. I would recommend keeping several of those around simply as a close-in weapon because, like it or not, some engagements will occur at close range and it never hurts to have tools to dissuade the enemy from taking such tactics."
Arevi nodded. "That makes sense - your heavy-ion weapons could be quite useful in an anti-fighter role, or aboard our own lighter vessels - the Wraith fighter or the Avernus corvette. There is, then, something to be said for a mixed weapons loadout - I think we'll take both."
Which is, I think, what you were aiming for all along. But it would be churlish of me to blame you for that - and the propeller-heads will be most happy.
"Outstanding." S.H.O.D.A.N. smiles in her peculiarly mercenary yet somehow friendly way, just a businesswoman sharing a quiet, ironic joke. "I can have my engineering minds talk to your shipwrights as soon as you're ready to have them. We can discuss payment later once we have a plan on how to go forward.
"Now, as you are my guest," she says with another sip of water, "is there anything I can do for you while you are here?"
"Most excellent," Arevi replied. "I'll have our xenoarchaeologists contact you as soon as possible, then. And no, I believe that to be everything - you have been a most gracious hostess."
"All right," the gynoid replies before standing up smoothly with a smile, "I shan't keep you here, then, esar keiYazamir, when I am certain you have other business to attend to elsewhere. Have an excellent day."