Remembering the Dead

Most Parahumans of the Federation do not often like to talk about death, understandably. When you don’t age you can easily believe that you might live forever. But try as they might, parahumanity has yet to conquer the inevitability of death.

The Plague Wars were centuries ago, but they continue to shape Pallene culture to the day. The preference for rural estates over crowded arcologies when possible, infrastructure built by decentralized Houses, the medical microbots that prevent aging, and the coping strategies for the trauma induced by mountains of corpses.

Mainstream sociopsychology has broadly filed these outlooks into two categories, Denialist and Memorialist.

Denialists are by far the broadest category, covering everyone who does not accept that dying is inevitable. This group has many varied sub-categories with different attitudes.

-Supernaturalists believe in some manner of paranormal life after death. Depending on their particular religion or creed this may be reincarnation or any variety of different parallel universes where some essential component of their being is transferred and continues to exist. Often a mix of both. Sometimes this parallel universe is a paradise, sometimes a realm of torment, others are simply an existence. But it’s rare these days to see a faith that condemns anyone to an eternity of suffering.

-Techno-Immortalists attempt to prolong their lives via technological means, beyond even the negligible senescence provided by microbots. Most frequently through mind simulation. While it would be a stretch to call current simulations “sentient”, they have faith that in the future their brain scans might be employed to program true AI.

-Nihilists (in regards to mortality) don’t see much point in wondering about death and actively avoid the subject whenever possible. Some go so far as to actively destroy memorials, but more often they simply don’t talk about it, trying to repress their feelings to frequently unhealthy levels.

Memorialists: The view advocated by the mainstream denominations of Noospherism, this philosophy advocates recognition and acceptance of one’s ultimate mortality. They do not claim that anyone will live forever, in this universe or another, but neither do they believe one simply ceases to exist once brain activity ends. Your works in life continue to impact the universe even after you flatline, every little thing you do spirals out into a unique series of events that will never be repeated exactly. The dead should be remembered, their lessons learned, their deeds emulated or avoided.

Every House maintains a mausoleum where their ancestors are commemorated. Commonly their remains are made into diamonds on which their deeds and works are painstakingly recorded at the molecular level by the Chroniclers of the Harvester and then embedded in the walls of the mausoleum. Wealthier Houses may produce sims to tell their ancestors’ stories seemingly from their own holographic mouths. Mummification is not unheard of, but considered somewhat eccentric.

Federation Sports

What, you thought recreational physical activities would die out in the far future?

Grav Ball: A sport popularized in the Epsilon Eridani system among the orbital population. Played along a 200-meter strip of a Habitat-1 style sphere habitat (500m diameter), centered on the equator. The effective gravity diminishes as one kicks or throws a spherical ball towards the goals on either side but coriolis effects produce some interesting spins that can thrown the ball in unexpected directions to the unpracticed.  Popular legend claims the sport was developed by an eccentric EDI exec and attributes the very existence of rotational habitats in the system to the sport. Though many historians believe spheres were constructed to prevent skeletomuscular degeneration in orbital workers and Grav Ball was invented afterwards to encourage workers to spend time in the high-G sectors.

Meteor: A game specifically designed for parahumans with spacer mods, while players are suited they tend to wear light suits not pressurized below the transparent-aluminum helmet for mobility. The field of play is a cube of space half a kilometer to a side, with 20-meter goal nets on two opposing sides. The teams float in the space without EVA units, using each other or “debris” (originally scattered rocks, now constructs with jutting poles or lines) to maneuver and attempt to fling a 20-centimeter ball towards the opposing goal. Players may use either their natural appendages or a telescoping 10-meter pole with a net on the end to grab and throw the ball. For visibility’s sake both the ball and the players’ spacesuits are covered in blinking lights, the ball changing to the colors of the team that last touched it.  The borders are patrolled by drones with cold thrusters that automatically retrieve balls, debris, or players that leave the playing zone, at the end of the two-hour game they also pick up any players who found themselves dead in the water. Every thirty minutes the game breaks for players to change out their oxygen bottles, delivered by the drones to their positions or vectors. It’s not uncommon for players to spend multiple quarters in the same position until something impacts them.

BloodClaw: Many parahuman species have claws, sharp teeth, or other natural weapons. Historically, many competitive martial artists have been required to cover these in order to limit the chances of accidentally killing a fighter, but the spread of medical microbots changed that. When House Rektol made Outworlder clients fashionable on the world of Janssen literal bloodsports finally crept up from the underground to become an official spectator sport.  Microbots can seal most superficial wounds in minutes, and if their host comes close to death they can force the brain into a state of stasis until they can be resuscitated, with brain scans and external memory up to 50% brain damage is (legally) survivable. Replacement limbs and organs can be bioprinted in hours. With that in mind the practical objections to extremely violent sports were sidestepped.

In original Janssen rules BloodClaw athletes are limited to their phenotype’s natural weaponry, no augments, fighters score points by drawing blood from their opponent and the match ends after five minutes or when one fighter loses consciousness. Many variants exist, ranging from lightning-fast “first blood” bouts to agonizing mutilation bouts and an “aug league” where fighters try to stick on as many blades and bioware as their bodies can fit.

“Flatline” has yet to breach the mainstream, except in the lawless habitats of Barnard’s Star and similar Tortugas. In this variant of BloodClaw the match only ends when one fighter shows no brain activity. Usually the loser can be resuscitated, but Real Death is not an uncommon occurrence. If the victim of this underground match was sufficiently valuable to their patron they might be cloned, but said clones are prone to existential depression that often goes untreated before they die and are replaced by another iteration.

Organized Crime in the Federation

The Federation is no utopia, make no mistake, and while nobody goes hungry there’s still more than enough black market activity and social stratification to sustain multiple categories of organized crime syndicate.Their specific activities vary from world to world, depending on what vices the local government has banned. For instance, Secland has a habit of banning some product from nearly every newly colonized planet or recontacted Outworld for fifty years before the legislature experiences enough churn to reverse the ban. Swarzvelt doesn’t like weapons in the hands of commoners. EDI restricts most narcotics that could make their workers sloppy.The source of their membership also varies based on their culture.

Shadow Houses: Legitimate Centauran Houses are frequently engaged in a fair bit of shady activity already, but Shadow Houses don’t even have the veneer of a charter. Most have been formed by klientoj who were forced into contracts that left them no room to escape or improve their situations, they banded together to look out for each other and get some extra resources on the side. A few Shadow Houses claim to go all the way back to the post-plague annexation and the first ex-SPPS klientoj, but those claims seem dubious at best.

Cetan Tetrads: Shortly after the species caste system was established on Swarzwelt the “worker” species figured out the warriors didn’t much care about them and they had to look out for themselves. Hence, the quadrads, named for the four states of matter and the four castes. Quadrad members are stereotypically lapines, rodents, or vulpines, but a surprising number of clans consist or ungulates.

Zeroes: In the Eridani Directorate, ownership of shares in the corporation is the key to (legal) power, for those without shares, the law is less kind. “Zero gangs” live under the radar of the security forces, keeping their activities hidden from the security officers they haven’t paid off. Media tends to portray them as reckless teenagers breaking shit for fun, some younger gangs might be like that but they tend to dissolve or get absorbed by an older established gang quickly. The “Cyberpunk” subculture on Secland and other worlds is thought to be based on anti-Zero propaganda, but the genuine Eridani gangs tend to look down on Cyberpunks as “posers.”

Pirates: There are two types of pirates, privateers and idiots who’re likely to be dead soon if they don’t get out. Because there’s no stealth in space it’s extremely difficult to sneak up on another ship and any battle is going to be noticed by the system government. Sometimes in-system commerce in fringe systems can be raided and the pirates get away with it, but interstellar data traders are liable to delete or transmit their cargo if they can’t catch the pirates in their exhaust plume. About the only way to make a profit off piracy is to “take commissions”. Privateers might legally be hired to hunt down known pirates on the fringe, and it’s rumored the Federal Guard has authorized some to disrupt the space programs of advanced Outworlds, but they’re most notorious for intercepting data traders competing with their clients in deep space. There tends to be a degree of crossover between private security contractors and privateering, it’s not unheard of for a mercenary ship to approach an isolated asteroid and offer their long-term policing services while pointing their mass driver towards the main hab.

Superheroes Revisited

A while back I wrote about how the concept of superheroes might not fly in a transhumanist setting where anyone with sufficient resources might rebuild themselves into a superman.

But after writing about the different legal systems in the Para-Imperium I had a couple ideas for implementing them. One “above-board” and one “below.”

Sanctioned heroes: The “memetic badass” approach, where the security forces attempt to reduce expenditures by focusing not on big police departments, but on a small group of celebrity supermen with customized augmentations, movie-star good looks, and extensively marketed adventures. Not dissimilar to the purpose of Knights in Shining Armor in Middle Ages Europe. In this case, their purpose is less to fight crime as to dissuade people from committing crime in the first place, so only those with the resources to field their own super-villains, or attention-seekers like the guy Rorschach dropped down an elevator shaft, will dare to commit crimes. Either one tends to suit the entrenched oligarchy just fine, the fights make for good publicity.

A sanctioned superhero’s jurisdiction rarely extends beyond their home planet or habitat, and they’re typically part of a planet- or star system-spanning organization of other heroes. Attempts to form a Federation-wide group like the Green Lantern Corps or their Lensmen predecessors have thus far been stalled in committee.

This approach is vulnerable to the death of a superhero, as crime tends to skyrocket until a new hero manages to build an equal reputation to their predecessor. As such superhero leagues tend to have the best medical care available, including, it is rumored, illegal brain cloning.

Vigilantes: The “shadowrun” approach. These tend to arise most often in polycentric legal systems like the Pallene or Cetan law systems, in which feuds can simmer between factions for decades, centuries with life extension. The romanticized version is a tragic figure like Batman or Zorro who has a legitimate grievance that the conventional authorities failed to address. That type of vigilante does exist, but tend to be short-lived as they right the wrong that led them to take up the cape and then retire, or die trying. The more common variety are mercenaries more akin to Deadpool, supersoldiers for hire willing to act as deniable assets for any House or company with sufficient credit.

Legal Systems of the Core Worlds

The modern Westernized legal system is by no means the only way that things have been mediated throughout human history. It should be no surprise that parahuman legal systems vary widely as well.

Pallene: The Houses prefer to handle things internally whenever possible. The House Primus is responsible for settling disputes between members of their House and is even empowered to impose penalties for misdemeanor crimes against other members. When disputes arise between people in different Houses their Primii will try to sort something out first. But crimes against another House, or torts that get out of hand, the parties involved hire an Arbitrator from the Civil Guard, paying equally. Arbitrators are also called in for every instance of a felony, and especially in the case of murder. Premeditated murder carries an unambiguous death penalty, voluntary manslaughter (“spontaneous murder”) may be reduced to a hefty fine and probation for up to a century under drone surveillance or house arrest. Conspiracy to commit murder merits exile to an Outworld. Lesser penalties tend towards fines and probationary periods that might be reduced if the convict goes to therapy. Punitive incarceration is unheard of.

Gepatrono-klientoj contracts establish somewhat similar legal relationships between patron and client to that between a Primus and their House, but with a key difference. Nobody can be compelled to testify against another member of their House save in the case of capital offenses, but a patron can be made to testify against their client while the inverse is not true. However, patrons are also required to pay their clients’ legal fees and unofficially expected to use their connections in the oligarchy behind the scenes. Simply having a client who’s been convicted of a crime is a stain on the patron’s reputation, if the patron were to break contract when their client got arrested it would be even worse. In fact many Pallene oligarchs have become known for recruiting clients from members of less-wealthy Houses who’ve been accused of a crime.

Cetan: Old system: A caste-based system, when both parties were of the same caste they were judged by a local elder of their caste. For Labor-majority villages this was typically the village headsman. However if the dispute involved members of different castes a judge of the warrior-noble caste was called in. The warriors themselves benefited from a privilege similar to the kiri-sute gomen of Japan’s medieval samurai, allowing them to pass judgement and sentence on commoners who offended them. It was uncommon but not unknown for a commoner who bumped into a warrior on the streets to be cut down on the spot.

Federated: After contact with Alpha Centauri and the formation of a central government the warrior-nobles’ relative power has steadily eroded. Judges are now certified by a central testing system, with others prohibited from passing judgement regardless of caste. More recently it became possible for judges of any caste to arbitrate inter-caste disputes, so long as the judge doesn’t share a caste with either party.

Eridani: The Eridani Directorate (Inc) relies heavily on their surveillance system to detect crimes and dispatch security officers rapidly. Officers will then subdue (if necessary) and issue fines on the spot. The accused can attempt to appeal, but usually they’ll be lucky if they’re allowed to pay gradually. Very little private property in EDI areas is not owned by the company, with residents only leasing it, and the company tends to rate crimes based on damage to its’ property first and the livelihood of residents and employees second.

I recommend looking into David Friedman’s Legal Systems Very Different From Ours for more information.

Barnard’s Star

This small red dwarf was passed by for larger stars in the initial exodus from Sol, but during the re-contact era an enterprising Pallene senator by the name of Herdal de Sally a Frederick had an incredibly costly idea. He was convinced the star system was in a prime location to act as a trade hub between the parahuman worlds and future colonies further out in space. While Barnard’s star lacked any inhabitable, or even easily terraformable planets, there was plenty of material for constructing habitats where traders could meet and exchange cargoes.

Unfortunately, the economics of space travel worked against Herdal and his fledgling House Barnard. It cost just as much fuel to reach one star as another, and a direct line from Alpha Centauri to Tau Ceti was much quicker than a stop at Barnard’s. The establishment of the stargate network was the final nail in the coffin of Herdal’s ambitions. His debts piling up, he turned to the one group who was interested in the location, organized crime.

Smugglers carrying illegal or stolen goods, mercenary legions who took an unsavory contract from time to time, the occasional outright pirate, they all had reasons to turn to Barnard’s star. It’s relative proximity to the Core Worlds without a stargate made it ideal for striking deals one didn’t want the authorities snooping upon. The Federal Guard has a small presence in the system, but it’s not generally a high-priority post and there’s usually just one cruiser around.

Most of the system’s dozens of habitats are run by one gang or another, but open hostilities are kept to the level of small feuds. Large scale actions are prone to result in both sides’ leaders getting an anonymous hit placed on them via the mesh, if not a contract with the mercenary legions.

Anima Field

A somewhat new fashion, this device consists of a U-bot hive and sufficient U-bots to suffuse the area desired, be it a house, a field, a ship, or a temple. When called upon the U-bots may move objects, clean or repair, or project images. After installation the Anima requires only power and periodic supplements of elements (mostly aluminum) it can’t scavenge from the environment. The Field is usually operated by an AI, sometimes multiple AIs for larger Fields, and some Houses have been known to load their founder’s sim-personas into the Anima Field. It is also possible for a BCI to operate an Anima Field directly, though the subconscious access option is not recommended for troubled minds.

More Aliens

The majority of non-Terran sophonts in the known galaxy seem to have been wiped out by the Destroyers or natural disasters, parahumanity’s survival appears to have been a fluke. However, a few sophonts that have not yet developed the radio signals that draw unwanted attention have been discovered by Federation survey teams.
Cephalogongs: An aquatic species named for their superficial resemblance to a wobbegong carpet shark, except with a larger brain and tentacles unfolding from inside its’ mouth. Cephalogong society tends to be less “tribal” than “a bunch of individuals living in close proximity.” When cephalogongs find a spot on the seabed where they can build a fortified residence safe from predators, others tend to follow. Outside of mating season, neighboring cephalogongs tend to only interact under one of two circumstances, a sort of posse that forms ad-hoc to drive off an obnoxious individual, and the construction of fish traps. The traps are constructs of stone and shells that help to corral schools of fish-analogs towards a point where the builders lie waiting. Builders place their pheromone markers on the stones they handle, and will chase off any “freeloaders” who try to use the trap without contributing a stone. Aside from pheromones they also communicate via electrical pulses similar to nerve impulses, some parahumans and neoctopi have compared it to telepathy. Unfortunately it is most useful for indicating directions and actions, not so useful for communicating philosophical concepts.
The Pack Mothers: A plains-dwelling species with a life-cycle unique among the known sophont species. They have long, hexapedal fur-covered bodies with a narrow muzzle topped with three eyes and four large ears. They can rear up on their rear pairs of limbs to spot prey or predators. For the first 14 local years of their life they are raised by their mothers in a community of other mature females, but upon reaching maturity all become functionally male and leave their maternal tribe to hunt in the wilderness. Some males attempt to survive on their own, but the majority join loose packs that cooperate the bring down larger prey. Roughly once a year the males seek out female communities to mate with, typically offering large kills or rare fruits as incentive. If a male survives ten years in the wilderness they undergo a hormonal and glandular shift to produce ova rather than sperm and seek to join a female tribe. Few females rejoin the same tribe they were born to, but maternal instincts are sufficiently strong to compel mothers to care for any juveniles of their species and a tribe will rarely turn away a mature female if they have room, especially one already impregnated by her former pack.
Geror: Initially, this planet seemed devoid of intelligent life, with no visible structures or tool-using species. However, shortly after landing the survey team found themselves under assault by a veritable army of animals of assorted species. Mercenaries were quickly brought in to defend subsequent landings, but the strange hordes kept coming and worse, seemed to adapt to their strategies. The first hints of the cause for all that strangeness came with the distant observation of a tree-analogue producing some of the more aggressive “fauna” by budding. A dissection of one of those tree-analogues exposed massive nerve bundles with entangled with those of neighbors through roots and that the “trees” exuded pheromones based on their neurotransmitters that could direct the mobile creatures. It seemed that they were fighting a forest-sized brain that directed its’ troops with smelled thoughts.
Working theory on Geror is that the species of the planet evolved advanced scent-based communication to warn of natural disasters produced by multi-moon tides and wandering asteroids earlier in the star system’s history. As most species had mobile and sessile phases this allowed sessile parents to remotely direct mobile offspring and have them settle close enough for their nerve cords to entangle. Species that could smell the same pheromones had an advantage over those “out of the loop.”
It is uncertain how far the forest-brains extend or if the whole planet is one vast mind. More than one Noospherist sect has adapted it as their patron, though its’ biochemistry remains incompatible with Terran life and they have yet to enable communication with Geror.

Inversion Fests

Every long-lived civilization has some form of venting mechanism for the frustrations incurred by daily life in a stratified society. One form, the “inversion festival”, has remained popular throughout the history of Western society under a variety of names: Saturnalia, the Feast of Fools, Mardi Gras, Halloween…

The Noospherists took the meme, like many others, to its’ exaggerated logical extent. Catharsistalia is held on the last day of the Centauran year, once a decade it gets prolonged to the full 19-day month. During this time there is only one rule, “nothing permanent,” no deaths, no ruinous financial damage, no conceptions. Whatever happens during Catharsistalia, stays there. By custom the civil police and even the Bureau of Memetic Health  cannot do anything about the various petty thefts, fights, orgies, or satirical rites of Death worship that may occur during the festival. That said, some token effort at a disguise is customary, most of the costumes worn won’t stop a serious investigation if you commit murder but it’s the principle of the thing.

Many local governments will organize events to limit the damage, especially for the decennial fests. The most common involve designating a park or arcology block as the fair grounds. Residences and storefronts in the area secret away anything of value and lay out cheap snacks or toys someplace they can easily be grabbed. Some places will shell out for a security drone programmed to give chase when something is “stolen” but let them go. Other areas are set up as fighting arenas, in disciplines ranging from wrestling to swordfights with live steel, medichines making even decapitation survivable. Still other spaces are set aside for parties, generally with STD and contraceptive screenings ahead of time. And usually there’s a small space for the minority of pre-pubescents in the population to have fun safely.

Some reform movements, particularly within fringe sects of the Noospherist Church, try to discourage or ban Catharsistalia. Which invariably results in the decennial festival happening early, on their property, courtesy of the local Kitsune skulk.

Transparahumanism

Aside from pantropic modification, negligible senescence, and brain implants there are some parahumans who desire to become even more:
  • Distributed Consciousness: Sharing of memories and thoughts is possible via intensive implants and broad-spectrum signals with AI mediation, but only between bioprinted clones, the brain patterning between individuals is too different. This path is held in particular suspicion after one movement was declared nihilus following an internal war, their descendant forming the Outworlder polity of the Emilia Collective.
  • A variant is the telepathic collective, in which the original undergoes radical hemispherectomy and grows a clone around the removed half of their brain. As with identical twins the original and clone usually share enough natural QEParts to form a telepathic link. By replacing the removed hemisphere with a bioprinted clone organ this process can be repeated, but bandwidth diminishes with subsequent iterations.
  • Cybernetic Expansion: First, the potential posthuman has a digital simulacrum of their brain made, these are not considered sentient by Federation law but are typically used as a sort of “interactive memorial” for the dead. Then they load the simulacrum into a quantum supercomputer capable of running multiple instances of the program, and wire the machine directly into their brain implants. The simulacrums vastly increase the user’s multitasking capability while plugged in but they tend to retreat from the external world as time passes. Their meat bodies lying in hibernation while they mentally explore countless simulations and calculations.
  • Pseudobiological Growth: In it’s simplest form one removes the genetic limiting factors on their growth, allowing their body and brain to continue growing until their mass requires cybernetic reinforcement or a microgravity environment to support itself. However, many end up embracing radical bodysculpting into a body shape more capable of supporting its’ bulk, with many drawing inspiration from mythology. Dragons are frequently popular.
  • Soul Merger: While conventional techniques of recording and saving brain-states don’t allow different individuals to “share memories”, there are translation programs that can attempt to extract a holo-audio sequence that another brain can view through conventional senses. Some people have tried to convert that translation into direct memory information they can use, and either voluntarily or coercively take the brain states of others and add them to their own.
  • Ghul Liege: The “Ghul liege”, unlike most of their kin, is not satisfied with one hard-to-kill body, they have to have several. Along these lines they modify their VN microbots to not only maintain their bodies indefinitely, but to convert other bodies into clones of the original host. At first, the VN bots install a remote puppeting system so the liege can prevent their minions from wandering off, but over the course of several months the minion’s brain is reformatted into a copy of their liege’s brain, connected by microwave network. If the liege is killed or otherwise disconnected their minion may become an ordinary ghul if the process is less than half complete, they may even have the VN bots removed from their system in Fed-space, but if the mind-cloning is near finished they become a new vector for the ghul liege to spread.