The Collapse

In the 25th century PX Centauran astronomers observed a notable dimming in the light from the long-abandoned Sol. When an expedition was dispatched to investigate they confirmed the Federation’s worst fears, that the Destroyers were constructing a Dyson Sphere in the ruins of their destroyed home. The expedition was quickly discovered and intercepted by the machines, but they managed to fire off a weapon they’d brought directly from the Star Forge’s most hidden labs, a strangelet bomb. The mass of strange matter the device unleashed into Sol triggered a coronal mass ejection sufficient to fry the remnants of the planetary system, reducing the unfinished Sphere to its’ constituent atoms.

Unfortunately, the blast front, and the strangelets it carried, did not stop at the heliosphere. As soon as the QComm warning reached Alpha Centauri the Federation began planning to evacuate the Core Worlds. The next four years saw a mad dash through the star gates for the far reaches of the empire, first the elites attempting to secure their own corners of the wreckage, then the greater population once the news leaked. Small wars broke out in the center of galactic civilization between those attempting to escape the radiation by burrowing deep within planetoids, and those who sought to dismantle them for ship materials.

When the wavefront came within one AU of the central gate nexus on the edge of the Alpha Centauri system ships were still streaming through, but the Federal Guard had their orders and weren’t going to wait. The wormholes that had enabled Alpha Centauri to spread its imperium to the stars could just as easily carry solar ejections as ships, so to save parahumanity the Federation broke its own backbone. Every wormhole-connected system saw a planet-cracking flash in their skies, but the great distance between gates and stars mandated by the Federation spared the bulk of their populations.

The once unrivaled imperium of the Federation of Parahuman Species is no more. Where once there was a united empire there are now a dozen pretenders reaching desperately through the fragmented remnants of the gate network, and hundreds more stars that feel no fealty to anyone.

But all is not gloom and despair. In the centuries since the Federation’s fall cultures and peoples they once stifled have flourished. Quarantined Outworlds build crude chemical rockets to claim their ancestral birthright. Posthumans in their hidden lairs contemplate mysteries unfathomable to mere mortals. And a grainy compressed video allegedly from the Solar expedition gives hope not thought possible for millennia.

Destroyer vessels exploding, several minutes before the radiation wavefront reached them.

Project Paladin

After the nova of the 25th century the Federation’s grasp over the outlying systems was severely weakened. With interstellar travel immensely more difficult without the majority of the stargate network, local governments frequently found themselves fending for themselves. Planets and stars isolated, vulnerable to predation by pirate clans, renegade posthumans, and even other federally recognized governments, desperate for resources.

The ambitious system executor Ronkall Argentum revived the long-discarded idea of a small corps of posthuman enforcers of the peace, with an additional variation. Project Paladin would package a set of augmentations suitable for empowering paragons of Federal virtue into easily portable modular kits that would fit onto a small starship, along with VR suites specially designed for the memetic priming of these champions. Rather than attempting to transport a peacekeeping force or nakedly extort tribute with ortillery, they could convert locals into ambassadors of a greater power with the means to win over hearts and minds through shock and awe.

In several systems it proved quite successful, however, in the Tiere planetary system things went somewhat awry…

Continue reading “Project Paladin”

Eridani’s Full Circle

In sharp contrast to the 500-year cold war on Secland and feudal caste system on Schwarzwelt, Epsilon Eridani seems to have been remarkably unstable during the Long Silence. Yet, of the three core systems Eridani also seems to have changed the least since colonization.

When the Ceres Directorate seedship first arrived and began bioprinting colonists the crew promptly declared themselves the “board of directors” and presented the colonists with a bill for their creation that they would spend the whole of their lives paying off. When the colonists’ debts were passed on to their children the board saddled them with additional debts for education, equipment, housing, childcare… The third generation were the ones who finally had enough and killed the board, declaring themselves the Eridani Cooperative. However a small group within the Co-op bought the shares of many struggling workers for a pittance (in some cases a bottle of liquor) and consolidated their power as a new board of directors. This new board would respond to complaints of disenfranchisement by repeating splitting shares and selling only enough to maintain their majority stake, often buying them back for a profit later. However, the lower ranks of their security forces often had the fewest shares and eventually a charismatic sergeant assassinated the CEO and forced the remaining board members to give their shares to his faction. Thus was the Eridani Directorate born. The next revolution came shortly after re-contact. Exposure to Pallene memes of “democracy” provided a rallying cry for zero-share gangs to become a political power, to whom Pallene merchants sold arms on credit.

The latest incarnation of the Eridani Directorate, founded by the democratic activists and their allies, has remained in power for more than a millennium. Political scientists attribute this longevity to three reasons that amount to: the Federation, the Federation, and the Federation.

First, the activists who overthrew the security board passed a law banning existing owners of EDI shares from purchasing additional shares, but only after the revolutionaries had seized the old board’s shares and distributed them to their key supporters. These revolutionaries and their supporters have formed a permanent overclass with as many collected votes as the one-share masses. Whenever the population reaches a certain threshold the board splits shares, sells off a token amount, and encourages the new two-shares to sell off their “spare share.”

Second, after incorporation into the Federation Pallas distributed immortagenic micromachines to the populations of all three systems, meaning that many of the revolutionaries are still alive. An even larger proportion of the population remember being personally worse off under the previous regime than they are under the current one, even if their great-grandkids aren’t so lucky.

Third, the stargate network provides an outlet for the discontented and a steady stream of replacements. Epsilon Eridani has the highest emigration rate of the core systems but also the second highest immigration rate after the capital. Every time an Outworld is admitted to the Federation the EDI holds a recruiting drive and attempts to set up a branch office. As the quality of life they offer is still better than on the majority of Outworlds they nearly always get many new employees. They also make sure to set up their presence on new Federated colonies as soon as their ships can arrive, both bringing in their own colonists and offering shares to homesteaders in exchange for the use of their lands.

That said, many in the upper echelons of the Federal government are worried about the potential collapse of the current EDI regime’s support system and have been making contingency plans for dealing with the next one.

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.