The English name “parahuman” was invented by human political activists, in the Esperanto they learned from their corporate creators parahumanity called themselves “preskaŭhomoj”, meaning “almost humans.” Following the revolution many newly independent parahumans instead chose to call themselves “preterhomoj” (beyond humans), a term that has carried over in some form into most modern preterhoma languages.

While Esperanto is officially a dead language in the modern Federation it’s fairly common for people to know a smattering, much like Latin or Ancient Greek on 20th century Terra. The Federation’s official name is actually in Esperanto: La Federacio de Preterhomaro. As do many of the names used by its detractors.

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.

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.