Beta Pictoris
Beta Pictoris b
Image from Steve Bowers
Beta Pictoris b, before depletion. The planet had a rotation period of only 8 hours, so was visibly oblate, despite its high gravity. In the Current Era, this planet has been stripped of most of its volatiles, to become the artificial chthonian world Little Chafont.

Beta Pictoris - Data Panel

StarBeta Pictoris
. Class: A6V.
. Mass: 3.480E+30 kg (1.75 x Sol)
. Radius: 1,252,260 km (1.8 x Sol)
. Luminosity: 8.7 x Sol (bolometric)
. Temperature: 8,052 Kelvin
. Age: 23 million years
. Distance from Sol: 64.1 light-years
Planets. Evendale: Ferrinian, 0.45AU, 0.45 terrestrial masses
. Boston: Chthonian, 2.5 AU, 0.5 jovian masses (formerly a gas giant)
. Allentown Belt: asteroid belt, 4.5 to 6.4AU
. Little Chafont: Chthonian, 9.2 AU, 30 terrestrial masses (formerly a superjovian gas giant)
. Dayton, 25 AU, 0.5 terrestrial masses, LithicGeldian.
. Altoona Belt 2: asteroid belt, 16 to 30AU
. Hackensack, 44 AU, 0.1 jovian masses, SubJovian.
. Addison Belt 3: asteroid belt, 52AU to 60AU
. Huntsville, 70 AU, 3 terrestrial masses, Gas Dwarf.
. Amargosa Belt 4: asteroid belt, 80-100AU
. Melbourne: 1.1 terrestrial masses, Nebulous Type Super-Terrestrial.
. Arlington Belt 5: asteroid belt, 130AU
. Ashville Disk: 16AU to 1835AU
AllegianceMetasoft Version Tree.
. Ruling Archailect: Metasoft-Exa Node 3, S4
Colonized912AT (Diamond Belt), 948AT (Exa Energy)
Population11 million nebs, splices, rianths, borgs, synths; 320 billion vecs; several thousand transapients; 1 S4 God-Star
Travel7 Transport Wormholes mostly leading to Metasoft systems (Calypso - Aldebaran, Kandinsky - Zeta Tauri, Prokofiev - YY Geminorum, Shackleton - Monostheria, Mare Crisium - Church-Turing, Island One - Eta Telescopii, and Bernal-2 - Beta Trianguli Australis)
The star system Beta Pictoris in the Easel constellation is a young, bright star that recently entered the main sequence. In the First Century AT, it was noted for having a substantial protoplanetary disk and a number of large planets. The system follows a naming convention of using important centers of business and industry for General Electric, an Industrial Age and early Information Age corporate conglomerate. A descendant company constituted the oldest continuously operating part of the corporation Exa Energy when it formed in a merger in 243AT. The names were selected by subcontracted astronomers in SolSys during the Third Century, and the stodgy, loyal Exa ais maintained that naming convention. Their oft-copied substrate memories keep the names in use to this day. Space-based facilities within the system, such as the wormholes, tend to be derived from Bernal Power Systems sites c243AT.

The disk has largely been consolidated into a tamer, lower eccentricity cloud of asteroids busily being consumed by Metasoft's industrial operations, though the neat asteroid belts and debris disk are marred by ripples and gaps caused by RKKS bombardment. These stem from events 300 years earlier in the Oracle War.

Unlike the similar vec-dominated Gearhead, Beta Pictoran vecs and Metasoft have shown no reluctance to consume local resources, though the system has not yet been fully utilized. The superjovians once called Beta Pictoris-b (now Little Chafont) and Beta Pictoris-c (now Boston) have been stripped to Chthonian cores to support the construction of a number of large wormholes. The Neumann population is expanding once again as Metasoft plans to convert much of the asteroid belts' mass into a Matrioshka Brain over the next thousand years, making the system a major computational center as well as a transport node.


After the Cygnus Project's automated phase wound down in the late 200s, Exa Energy's hope to send launch additional automated colonization claim staking flights was stymied by the limited of the technology of the time. Accordingly, Exa spent decades accumulating capital, refining technology, and doubling down on its 61 Cygni investment with additional automated industrial flights.

Between the end of automated industrial probes sent to 61 Cygni and beginning of new contracts, Exa had accumulated a starship building infrastructure that it could either expensively mothball and revive when needed, or continue operating for slightly less expense if it continued to build clones of the Cygnus industrial probes. Exa decided to build more probes, even if its only customer was itself.

A total of three probes were built for Exa's internal projects and found very different applications. A common element was the hope that decades in advancement in ai creativity and flexibility would allow the von Neumanns of a single probe to develop a system, unlike the seven probes launched to 61 Cygni. (The desire for ai creativity and flexibility was often contradicted by human paranoia about ais and concern about ai loyalty after centuries of flight. It was desirable for one model of von Neumanns to flexibly adapt to local star system resources and environmental conditions without extensive pre-planning, study, and destination-specific customization. The inability to produce such flexible payloads had stymied Exa Energy's grand plans after the Cygnus Project launches. However, it was also preferable for those very expensive missions to remain obedient to their future Solsys owners to avoid another Alpha Centauri debacle. These disparate goals certainly made their mark on Exa's probes sent to Beta Pictoris.)

One probe was launched as an inexpensive effort to develop Proxima Centauri, eschewing even a beam boost to reduce costs (at the expense of velocity). It would arrive there in 562 and establish the infrastructure and braking beam arrays that made Proxima a popular target for Great Expulsion refugees. Another (with beam boost) went to Gliese 65 hoping to exploit the noted dense asteroid belts, but was destroyed during its braking phase in 448 by Diamond Belt ais who had reached the system first. The third (launched in 350) was sent to Beta Pictoris, which made it the longest target mission to date: 64.8 light years. Even with beam assistance and reduced payload to achieve 0.11c and quick acceleration phases of 11 years, the "Easel Project" probe would not arrive until 962. It was a gamble, but one of the goals of the Easel probe was to study truly long duration starship operations.

(During this period of internally funded starship flights, Exa did win an outside contract. A group of Chinese polities and megacorps accepted Exa Energy's bid to develop Procyon in 338, which developed into a notable failure when the mission was hijacked.)

By 462, Exa had noted that extrapolations from the Easel Probe's debris shield performance and maintenance reports said it had 92% chance of reaching Beta Pictoris while still functional. With this information, it found willing investors and launched two additional, modernized von Neumann flights. The very fresh experience of Gliese 65 prompted Exa to also launch a faster security probe. The launches would arrive in 948 (security), 962 (Easel Project), and 967 (follow-up probes).

Exa Energy would not exist to see the success of the Easel Project. Indeed, the probes had been grappling with Exa's demise for centuries of flight as they teased some information from Solsys's transmissions during the Technocalypse and Great Expulsion. The Easel Project probe and follow-up probes had originally planned to simply develop Beta Pictoris and communicate with Solsys to identify Exa's inheritors, but an immediate conflict with ahuman AI settlers in the system forced a change in plans. The security probe took control of the situation and established an independent decision-making group of AIs necessary to manage the conflict. After defeating the Diamond Belt AIs in Beta Pictoris, the flexible managerial AIs had no trouble justifying continued independent governance without input from distant, possibly lost Solsys.


Beta Pictoris became a militarized system that briefly terrified the First Federation because of three Diamond Belt colonization missions. These reached Beta Pictoris between 912 and 1070. The energy- and mass-rich system was extensively studied for colonization by Diamond Belt systems, but mutual greed, risk of conflict, and distance from the Diamond Belt worlds reduced the number of ahuman AI missions to Beta Pictoris to just three.

The first Diamond Belt mission to arrive was an ultralight starwisp that brought very limited industrial abilities, less than a kilogram of payload softly braked to the edge of the system in 912. With the limited, non-transapient payload available during its launch in the Sixth Century, this first colony required decades to scale up to macrotech production in an environment that was starved of energy and heavy elements. (Substantial resources had to be spent building large solar collectors to operate on the fringes of the system.) That scaling industry was, however, on an exponential curve. Most historians agree that if the Exa security probe had arrived even two years later then there was no chance for a victory by the Exa probes. Even so, their victory is considered improbable.

One issue was the different intellects of the opposing ais. The Diamond Belt ais delivered by the Starwisp were creative, flexible colonial units. The Exa ais of the 200s and 300s were considered unimaginative entities and, in the view of ai rights advocates, typical products of bionts terrified of unchecked ais. Historians attempting to simulate the war often start with old SolSys and 61 Cygni records of such ais, which indicate they were launched with relatively strict goal structures and mission plans. While it is incorrect to say the Exa ais were sub-turing or slaved ais, they were not the height of ai flexibility at their launch. Instead, they were considered perfect by Fourth and Fifth Century Exa Energy human executives for loyally settling a system centuries after launch.

But the Exa security probe defied expectations and had a run of luck. Rather than simply blundering into the system, it made clever use of parlays and diplomatic exchanges with the Diamond Belt probe - first, attempting an honest exchange to peacefully secure some territory in the system and, second, to pinpoint the Diamond Belt colony's major facilities.

When the diplomatic exchanges failed, the security probe (like its Cygnus Project sibling) was equipped with guided tungsten projectiles with which it crippled the nascent Diamond Belt colony. It released the projectiles early in its braking phase so they would enter the system at 0.09c. While the dust and debris of Beta Pictoris wrecked many of the projectiles, they achieved several lucky hits on targets that had defenses completely inadequate for such hypervelocity threats. This bombardment did not completely destroy the Diamond Belt colony, but reduced it to scattered peripheral facilities with little more than simple repair systems that had to be repurposed for industrialization from scratch. This opening salvo gave the Exa probe years to establish its own industrial foothold.

The predictable action for the Exa probe would have been to settle in the outer reaches of the Beta Pictoris system, which was a low risk decision and thus gave the probe the best chance of successfully starting an industrial base with which to fight the Diamond Belt colony. Instead, the probe dove into the heart of the system during its final braking maneuver, even though it considered its chances of success - given the worn state of its debris shielding - to be about 22%. The reason for this gamble was that the payoff was much better: immediate access to the mineral-rich, high-energy inner system.

The actual probe - not the fresh instances created from ancient records - had spent its centuries of flight remotely studying the growing, developing interstellar colonies in the Inner Sphere. It had been particularly concerned by the exponential development of ai-settled systems. Centuries of speculation and wargaming during its flight to Beta Pictoris gave the probe a number of approaches for dealing with such threats, and the strategies usually started with building industry as fast as possible. That industrial expansion would follow a compound interest formula sensitive to initial conditions, so if it had settled the energy- and resource-poor outer edges of the Beta Pictoris system then it probably would have lost the war.

In contrast, the Diamond Belt starwisp had arrived in the fringes because it lacked the shielding to enter the inner system, nor had its tiny original payload developed into sufficient industry by the time of the conflict to launch missions to the inner system.

The 940-999 war was a case study in mismatched industrial bases. Both sides started with limited maneuvering options; the Diamond Belt's efficient core facilities had been wrecked, and the Exa probe had virtually exhausted its fuel by the time it finally halted in the inner system. The security probe improvised a generalist industrial base and made good use of its solar energy and heavy element-rich surroundings. Among other things, it produced interplanetary coil guns that boosted simple nuclear-armed hunter probes into any areas with Diamond Belt activity, often hundreds and even one thousand AU from the inner system. The industrially impoverished Diamond Belt colony necessarily focused on subverting the Exa facilities and had some luck, but the distances and poor communications hindered its efforts. The Diamond Belt colony eventually succumbed to an escalating bombardment, though the ever-paranoid Exa security probe would monitor that region of the system for another two centuries.

In the middle of the conflict, the original Easel Probe arrived to find a war that it could contribute little to. The 460s-era follow-on probes offered greatly updated security protocols with which the Diamond Belt colony was unfamiliar, removing its primary, long-ranged offensive ability.


The 1033 and 1070 Diamond Belt colonization missions were defeated more quickly. When the Pictorans' diplomatic exchanges with decelerating Diamond Belt missions proved fruitless, the two missions were quickly attacked. The second mission was eliminated by the expediency of turning some of Beta Pictoris's developing boost beam arrays against the braking ship until its interstellar shielding crumbled and the ship's hulk was nearly evaporated. The third mission heeded the experience of its predecessors, maneuvering erratically during braking to avoid beams, and releasing von Neumann probes ahead of itself to harass defenders. However, it arrived in the midst of a region being swept for remnants of the first Diamond Belt mission's operations and only lasted several years before its foothold was sterilized.

The Pictoran ais then exchanged communications with surrounding Diamond Belt colonies, essentially warning them away. In an era when one solar system was a vast resource, the Diamond Belt ais agreed that interstellar conflict was pointless. Desultory communications with some Diamond Belt neighbors continued for centuries.

Beta Pictoris also responded tentatively to broadcasts from the First Federation, requesting additional information. The probes' owners were gone, but their mission statements remained and instructed the Pictorans to aid SolSys. Or humanity, or the successors of humanity. The mission statements were vague, and so the managerial ais were uncertain. (They were uncertain except that to interpret Solsys's condition and lack of inheritors as meaning Beta Pictoris was functionally emancipated.) The 64.8-light year distance greatly slowed communication, but the first exchanges encouraged the Federation to transmit ai diplomats (prototype FedReps) in 1076, who arrived in 1140.

What they found and reported to SolSys in 1205 was a system swarming in warships, weapon emplacements with interplanetary ranges, and even mass beam arrays meant to spray lethal amounts of debris into the path of decelerating hostile ships. The self-replicating industry behind this effort was appropriately daunting and its potential for interstellar conflict was terrifying.

The diplomats had two effects: first, the FirstFed representatives' attempts to use ancient ownership documents and override codes made the Pictoran leadership wary of this First Federation, which stifled further progress in diplomatic relations until the late 13th Century. (The ambassadors were, in fact, confined to a digitally quarantined virch embassy between 1163 and 1272.) Second, megacorp representatives inspired Pictoran leadership to reorganize the system with the intent of leasing its industrial capacity to Federation trade entities. While diplomats had biased the Pictorans against Federation membership, the system's leadership was not actually opposed to outside trade and diplomacy because it was the reason they were created.

The risk presented by Beta Pictoris's militarization was resolved almost anticlimactically. An enterprising hyperturing transmitted emself to the system, arriving in 1270. The new economic framework established by the Pictorans made it easy for the transapient to buy into the system's economy and gradually into its leadership council. Some have described the action as "subversion" but no hacking was involved, just a transapient talking "mere" superturings into a path they were already on. Beta Pictoris went on to become a center of First Federation interstellar colonization, constructing beam rider links and launching von Neumann probes.

Beta Pictoris quickly became a satrapy of Metasoft Interstellar, and the example presented by the system's independent vecs and aioids were influential in the exclusion of bionts from the corporation's leadership.


There seems to be a common assumption that Beta Pictoran vecs and ais were subsumed and replaced or updated to Metasoft standards. This is reinforced today by the Pictorans lack of external distinctiveness from many Metasoft vecs and Neumanns, though they exhibit some behavioral differences. However, Beta Pictoris remains a sort of "vec baseline reserve." Their development has not been halted or original state preserved, but Metasoft has not heavily supported colonization by Pictoran vecs - they are regarded as "insufficiently deterministic," though they have never acted erratically by biont standards. Rather, the fundamental issue appears to be that most Pictoran vecs are not actually part of the emergent Version Tree archailect. The only major colony of Beta Pictorans is in Eta Telescopii, a distant member of the Beta Pictoris Moving Group.

Though the Beta Pictorans are a minor element in Metasoft, they have played a role some of the more turbulent moments of Metasoft's history. During the Consolidation Wars, Beta Pictoris was rapidly mobilized for war several times, producing fleets that tied up neighboring hostile Inner Sphere systems for years. Later, the Pictorans' independence from the Version Tree and non-Standard (by Metasoft standards) personalities hardened Silicon Generation's position. If the Pictorans could be somewhat more emotional, less deferential to superiors, and more willing to hurt bionts (or any sapient) than the Metasoft baseline, then surely the Version Tree could learn to tolerate the Emotive Cognation. This was not the case, and the situation degenerated into the First Vec War - in which Beta Pictoris was not engaged due to Metasoft suspicions. Much more recently, the Oracle Machines performed an RKKS bombardment of the system in an attempt to cripple the Metasoft transport node in the Inner Sphere and a source of autowars involved in deprogramming the Enthralled. This attack was beyond the primary conflict zones of the Oracle War, but had it disrupted a wormhole Metasoft nexus the result would have been strategically useful.

Image from Steve Bowers
Evendale - a heavily populated world


The once-unique government formed by the original Exa probes has given way to a conventional Metasoft cyberdemocracy, with caveats.

The pre-First Federation government was an improvisation. The planned format was similar to that used at 61 Cygni and other systems settled by automated industrial probes: a centralized, resource-managing aiocracy running a planned economy, where the plan was preparing for biont settlers from Earth. However, long years of war against alien Diamond Belt ais and a pressing need for much greater flexibility prompted the Exa ais to instantiate a collective of managerial units with individually varying analytical software. This managerial collective allocated resources according to requests from organizations of task-specialized vecs (sometimes analogized to ministries) and mediated disputes during periods of resource limitations. The system remained in place even as Beta Pictoris's industrialization and technology reached post-scarcity levels and such complicated resource allocation analyses were no longer necessary. This system modified itself to accept outside input - i.e., foreign contracts - during the First Federation. A foreign hyperturing exploited this by gradually putting the entire system "under contract." This subcontracted system later merged with Metasoft. Some modosophont historians compare this managerial group to a parliament. This analogy is incorrect; the analyses and voting techniques of the collective bore little resemblance to biont parliamentary governments.

By the late third millennium, Beta Pictoris had a conventional Metasoft management node (Metasoft-Exa Node 3) that included the merged personalities of the former system "vec parliament." Like a conventional Metasoft system government, this accepts cyberdemocratic input from the sophont and transapient inhabitants of the system. However, the Exa-descendant vecs do not run Version Tree software and thus are not a direct part of the emergent S6 Version Tree archailect.


The brilliant A6V star exhibits the reticulated, patterned appearance of a Godstar. At 1.75 solar masses, Beta Pictoris is too small to host an S5 but is grossly oversized for the current S4 system administrator node, Metasoft-Exa Node 3. Much of the system's virches and public computronium are also in the star, relatively safe from further RKKS bombardment. Eventually, it is planned to starlift most of the star's mass into a Matrioshka Hypernode.

The many asteroid belts of Beta Pictoris have been tamed into fairly neat lanes and seeded throughout with Neumann factories. This is part of centuries of preparation for converting the system into a Matrioshka Brain. The disruptions of the Oracle War are still visible in ripples and gaps in the material lanes.

Little Chalfont
Image from Steve Bowers
Little Chafont is a hot core, slowly cooling but still rotating rapidly. It is surrounded by orbital rings that are removing power and resources over time
Little Chafont is an unusual Chthonian planet, the radiant core of a superjovian stripped to form the seven wormholes of the system. The remnant core is 45 terrestrial masses, a small fraction of its former 13 Jovian masses, and its dense bulk remains ferociously hot thousands of years after being exposed. The vecs of Beta Pictoris were thorough in stripping light elements from Little Chafont and continue to export hydrogen and helium degassing from the metallic core with orbital loops. The core does not figure into the pending Matrioshka Brain operation, but instead serves as a reserve of heavy elements for other projects.

Four McKendree cylinders once orbited the planet Dayton and hosted most of the small biont population of the system, but were badly damaged by the Oracle War RKKS attacks. While the cylinders were repaired and few bionts died permanently, over half the population has migrated to the terminator and night side of the scorched Herminian world Evendale. This tidally-locked world has an ice cap on its permanent dark side, which is supplying the numerous new dome and deep warren habitats with volatiles, water, and atmosphere. The majority of habitats are ultratech, but a handful are lo tek, like the Wind Caves of Cyrus. Evendale was selected as a new home because it was deep within the system's defensive perimeter, had fast access to the computronium of Beta Pictoris, and was a dense world that would survive future RKKS attacks.
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Development Notes
Text by Mike Miller
Initially published on 05 December 2019.