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.

Pantropic Modification

In certain environments the Parahuman Baseline actually proves disadvantageous. Technological tools can mitigate most of the discomfort but for long-term inhabitation, or an embargo on certain technologies, bodysculpting and gene therapy to adapt to the environment can be worthwhile. Several “templates” are in fairly common use.
Spacer: The original baseline, retained by the Centauri population but vanishing from the Cetan and Eridani gene pool between Exodus and Contact. Those born without this mod can choose to take it through nanosurgery, as well as plating their bones with titanium to prevent degeneration in zero-g.
Aquaform: The oxygen concentration of Terran water is insufficient to sustain an endothermic metabolism, but it can supplement it. This mod adds gill slits to the sides of the neck and between the ribs, while closing off the alveoli of the lungs with sphincters while submerged, along with extending the webbing between digits. With this mod alone most can go fifteen minutes or more between breaths of air, combined with Spacer mods this time can be extended to two hours.
Arid: Amplified renal system combined with subdermal water sacs to prevent water loss. On hot worlds enlarged ears with veins for heat radiation are popular as well.
Heavyworlder: Gravities between 1 and 1.5 gs can be handled with some simple bone reinforcement and hard body training. If you want to live on a planet with 2 gravities or more you need far more drastic modifications. Over the course of several months in a healing vat at steadily increasing gravity (usually in a specially designed Bernal sphere) synthetic muscles and bone are layered on until the subject looks somewhere between a gorilla and an elcor from Mass Effect. All heavyworlders are quadrupedal, relying on waldos or occasionally lifting a hand-foot to grab something.
Low-Oxy Atmo: A lighter version of the oxygen retention modifications included in the parahuman baseline intended for thin planetary atmospheres or high altitudes. So modded parahumans have their ribcage expanded to accommodate larger lungs along with slightly elevated hemoglobin and myoglobin levels. Spacer mods function just as well in thin atmospheres as any, but they require a much heartier diet and many Cetan or Eridani colonies, as well as Outworlds, favor this mod.
Polar: Adapted to icy planets with very low surface temperatures. Usually patterned after polar bears or arctic foxes with small ears, expanded nostrils, thick fur, blubber and frequently black skin with transparent fur.
Cytoran suite: Designed specifically for the heavy metal rich environment of Cytoran, the entire population of this savage Outworld can tolerate downright toxic levels of lead, aluminum, and osmium in their diets, and they need to. During growth their system deposits these metals in their bones in the form of metallic glasses, making their skeletons extremely hardy but on the off hand that they do break the ingestion of a decent amount of native meat can accelerate the knitting process. Once this bone mass is grown their digestive tract simply stops absorbing the metals and excretes them harmlessly.

Created Deities

The Noospherist religion is distinguishable from most faiths in that it does not believe in a divine creator or an immortal soul, rather they believe in emergent phenomena from the primordial chaos. Balls of acid and lipids form cells, cells join together into biofilms, specialized cells in films form organs, complex biofilms become multicellular organisms, a central nervous system enables communication between organs, these impulses invoke responses, responses become reflexes and behaviors, behaviors become memes, memes and reflexes and impulses all meet together in a sufficiently complex CNS to form the cacophony known as “consciousness”.

 

Noospherists believe that the interaction between conscious beings forms a sort of superconsciousness similar to Jung’s “collective unconscious”. Within this collective stray bits of parahuman brainpower and sets of memes form into entities known as egregores. Early humans, so the narrative goes, attempted to deal with these entities by wrapping them around fictional and/or historical characters, allowing them to be addressed and theoretically negotiated with. Initially known as “gods” and “spirits”, later societies added their “emblems,” “founders,” and “mascots” to the morass. 

 

The Church of the Noosphere makes no secret of the nature of these entities or that their acts of worship are attempts at negotiation with them. While most Noospherists don’t believe egregores have any direct control over the physical world, they can influence the people who host their component memes and that’s enough to worry many people and organizations.

 

The Church tends to describe archetypes rather than naming specific egregores, allowing converts to slot their existing gods and national heroes into them. The “One True SecLand Church” tends to name notable members of the House of Silver as their egregores for instance.

 

Some Archetypes:

 

Imperator:

Names: Ra, Caesar, Selkd the Uniter

The source of authority, they who provides guidance and direction for society. But whose power must be tempered lest the populace be reduced to cogs in a machine.

 

Justice:

Names: The Blind Lady, Lirdrill

They who bring punishment to wrongdoers and recompense to those wronged. Kept separate from the Imperator as a check to their power.

 

Weaver:

Names: Prometheus, Argentum

The force that knits order from chaos. Societies, lifeforms, and celestial bodies alike. Tends to be a favorite of the SecLand Church as the progenitor of the genus they revere was a genetic engineer.

 

Trickster:

Names: Coyote, Loki, Florida Man, Kumiho

The necessary agent of chaos that prevents institutions and entities from becoming too stagnant and set in their ways. Commonly mistaken for a creation of the Kitsune secret society rather than its progenitor.

 

Death:

Names: Thanatos, Azrael, Jack

The prospect of death is nothing but pure terror to the near-immortal parahumans of the Federation. They expect to live for a very long time, if not forever, and the possibility of their eternity being cut short is horrific. Death represents the self-destructive impulse, the decay of all things unmaintained, the ultimate punishment. Their worship is almost exclusively focused on holding them off, much as medical micromachines hold off personal death. But some Destroyer cults borrow from the official cult of Death.

 

Fortune:

Names: Fortuna, “the Dice”

The randomness inherent in life is clearly apparent in the Federation’s clan-based economy, where the circumstances of one’s birth can decide one’s entire life path. The cult of Fortune tends to be one of the most “magical”-thinking deific cults in Noospherism, thinking that the egregore can influence quantum wave collapses in the supplicant’s favor.

The Janssen Incident

The Janssen incident of 1534 Post Exodus is widely believed to have popularized the “Para-Imperium” nickname for the Federation of Parahuman Species.

Janssen is a carbon world with eight times Earth’s mass inhabited by a few thousand miners with extreme pantrophic modifications to withstand the planet’s gravity. For the first couple centuries of the system’s occupation one of the Houses of the inhabited moon of Janssen IV avoided taxes for planetside operations by disguising their cyborg workforce as AI-driven robots. Their attempts to maintain this ruse culminated in the death of the system’s Emissary, drawing the attention of the Federal Guard.

While most would agree that the House’s Exile was justified, many felt that the Guard’s heavy-handed approach, in particular their use of ortillery, was unjustified. This had the unintentional effect of giving many in the Rim Worlds the impression that they were more subjects than members of the Federation.