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Literature / Souls In A Vacuum

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Concordia Station was founded in the name of harmony, to provide a forum for representatives of the hundreds of species and thousands of religions in the galaxy to work out their differences. Politics being what they are, it quickly became another battlefield. One wielding soft power rather than battlecruisers.

Steven Anderzone is a Cosmist priest on Concordia, and finds himself in the unenviable but necessary position of negotiating a seemingly irreconcilable difference between the Followers of Rays, who worship light, and The Shadow Choir who worship darkness. All egged on by a representative of the local empire that has its own reasons for encouraging conflict.


A short story about religion, politics, and making sure everyone wins.

A holy text's worth of tropes here!

  • "Ass" in Ambassador: Vilmael, of the Denebian Imperium, who once greets someone by wishing for their loved ones to be gutted before their very eyes. Politely. He is doing it deliberately to throw others off their game, and for fun.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Everyone in this story is acting entirely reasonably by their own wildly differing standards. Even the villain, who is operating from unabashed desire for power, is entirely sincere in his belief that this is what his religion demands.
  • Death Of A Thousandcuts: The conflict in the story, despite affecting billions of people, is ultimately fairly small scale by galactic standards. Even a worst case scenario is hardly the end of the world. But it is one part of a large and dedicated effort to poison relations between the major powers that stand against the Denebian Imperium and needs to be stopped before it can corrode the alliance.
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  • Dyson Sphere: A major focus of political power in the setting. They are simply the most efficient form of energy production around, enough to make both zero point and antimatter reactors obsolete. The Followers of Rays do not approve, since it involves caging a star and trapping its light.
  • The Empire: The Denebian Imperium. The state religion both promotes literal worship of the nobility and advocates for seizing power by any means regardless of morality or compassion. They keep slaves, despite the economic inefficiency, to remind people of their place. When their embassy on Concordia wasn't allowed real slaves they made subsapient robotic slaves instead, in the form of aliens to make sure no one missed the point. Oddly enough they're at least nominally a meritocracy, since serfs are rarely promoted to the nobility for exceptional service.
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  • Evil Gloating: Before it's all over Vilmael has seemingly grabbed the Villain Ball, publishing a blog mocking everyone involved for how easy it was to manipulate them and laying out his process, step by step. He is deliberately undermining his own original plan, at the behest of Anderzone, in exchange for a personal victory rather than a political one.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: The Denebian religion frames itself as aiming to gain enough power to defeat The Annihilators, saving the galaxy. The rest of the galaxy will then be subjugated as slaves, as is only fitting.
  • Evil Will Fail: Anderzone is unconcerned that, technically, Vilmael pulls out a personal win. Because, just as technically, in doing so he traded external conflict that would strengthen his empire for internal conflict that would weaken it.
  • Expy: A few references. The Spider we meet acts like Pinkie Pie, and of course there is the Paragons' Path and the background threat of The Annihilators.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: The story is all about this, and resolving the conflicts it causes through diplomacy.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Vilmael is unfailingly superficially polite, though he makes no secret of his disdain for other species. He presents himself as, essentially, a Friendly Enemy speaking with Brutal Honesty. In truth he is a manipulative troll working to advance the agenda of a particularly evil empire, and smirkingly remarks that after his empire's inevitable victory he's going to make a point to get Anderzone as a slave.
  • Hive Mind: The Spiders don't have one naturally, though they are a swarm species and can smell each other's emotions. But advancing neurotech is changing that.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Not presently, but Vilmael looks forward to owning Anderzone as a slave after his empire's victory and says he would look good in a collar.
  • Insectoid Aliens: They are simply called The Spiders, and are a major power on good terms with the main characters.
  • Light Is Good: The Followers of Rays believe that light is literally divine, with a particular focus on reverence for stars.
  • Like a God to Me: The Shadow Choir have a different view on divinity than many religions. They don't consider gods infallible, they consider them sacred. This means that, while mortals may be flawed, it's fine to worship them anyway because the sacredness means it will all work out in the end. They intend to worship the Silen, or at least those involved in the Hypersphere project, for killing a demon lord.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Vilmael, naturally, and Anderzone as a well intentioned one who opposes him.
  • Path of Inspiration: Inverted. The religion Anderzone's sister follows, The Paragons' Path, was artificially constructed by memetic algorithms. It is entirely open about this, makes no claim that the Paragons are real, and was designed to be maximally beneficial to its followers.
  • Precursors: The Denebians were one of them, and despite getting knocked back to the stone age they are still the only ones who managed to survive and rebuild after The Annihilators went through. The cultural trauma forms the justification for their current religion.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: The Shadow Choir certainly think so, after enough hard work has been done to understand them at least. The conflict in the story revolves around a prophesy which all circumstances seem to indicate was perfectly accurate despite being made in the iron age, pre contact, and has finally been understood. Anderzone is not convinced. While he agrees about the circumstances, it's a big galaxy and there are uncountable prophesies: eventually some of them have to be right just by chance.
  • Religious Robot: The Silen, who inherited their religion from the creators they overthrew. This was in part because, when the government tried to keep them enslaved, many in the church advocated for their freedom and declared that they had souls.
  • The Sacred Darkness: The Shadow Choir, which originated in a nocturnal species, believes in this strongly. To the point that they consider the stars in the sky to be an army of demons.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: Averted pointedly. It is pointed out that this conflict ultimately involves only a few billion people.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: The Denebian Imperium's state religion teaches this, and unabashedly advocates for power and domination by any means. Vilmael gives a speech to the effect that everything you value is worthless without power to defend it, and that without that power it can all be taken from you by the strong.
  • Small Steps Hero: Anderzone understands the importance of working for good even in relatively minor conflicts. Vilmael is a small steps villain who knows a minor operation against his enemies still has value.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Not only is it horrifying, it isn't even economically efficient. The Denebians practice it anyway, despite knowing this, to make a philosophical point about domination.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Vilmael is actually pretty low in it, being merely a serf of an influential house conducting minor operations against their enemies.
  • Space Elves: The Denebian Imperium tend to choose bodies matching this aesthetic, being notably handsome even by human standards. They're also quite unpleasant.
  • Star Killing: This is the closest description anyway. The Silen, the species which most of the Followers of Rays belong to, have a plan to capture all the energy of an upcoming nova. The Followers of Rays consider this not only blasphemous, but essentially the equivalent of mugging God.
  • Troll: Vilmael claims he messes with everyone around him to shake them up and throw them off their game. Anderzone thinks he just likes screwing with people.
  • Win-Win Ending: In the end everyone gets what they want, even Vilmael. The Shadow Choir get to make their pilgrimage, the Followers of Rays get recognition and respect, and Vilmael secures a major economic victory for his house. But the heroes come out ahead anyway, because Vilmael's selfishness has increased the internal tension in the Imperium and resolved the conflict between two allies against them.