Current work…writing scripts

For the last few months, on top of travelling and attending a bazillion courses, I’ve been writing.

I’ve written five short scripts in the world of THE 23RD LETTER. I’ve written two more in the world of STATUS: REFUGEE. I’ve written one horror script. And I’m looking at writing some scripts based on FRONTIER and QABAL very soon. And there’s one very special property that I would love to pitch to the BBC…

Two of my scripts are going into production in 2017 and I’ll be doing a “mobile phone” shoot of one of my scripts probably over the upcoming holidays.

So, all change.

Frontier: A Changed Man

Kibwe had returned home a changed man.

Kibwe had always wanted to be a pilot. From an early age he made airfoils from balsa and drove his parents to distraction with his attention to detail, his constant entreaties to be taken to the airport at Mtwara and, when he was older, his insistence on visiting the spaceport at Beira.

By the time he was seventeen, he already had a pilot licence and was operating trips around the countryside in a twin-rotor electric speeder. Three years later he was the lead pilot on an aerial search and rescue mission to Northern Europe.

Northern Europe had received the worst of the violence of the Conquest Wars as atomic, biological and chemical weapons destroyed city after city, town after town. The farmlands of eastern europe were burned, the industrial heart of western europe was razed to the ground. The people who survived, the few who remained in the north, were forced to eke out a miserable existence in the cold and barren tundra.

The mission lasted only two weeks, rescuing four people from the ravages of the wastelands formerly known as Belgium. The experience was traumatic. Four malnourished and diseased people from a community of hundreds of thousands. During the rescue they had to be careful of becoming prey to some of the other desperate inhabitants – warlord remnants of the old military, murderous cannibals and even other rescue parties, especially those from the recovering United States.

Kibwe was changed. He had witnessed horrors that his young 22 year old mind was having trouble comprehending. And he would never go north again. Instead he fixed his eyes upon the stars. He began training to join an Explorer vessel.

The Final Frontier. No, really.

Ian Sales writes on his blog:

And sometimes those imaginations run a little too free. A lot of science fiction is set in outer space, or on worlds which orbit other stars. Or, indeed, other types of celestial objects, both natural and artificial. In these stories, much of the difficulties associated with space travel are blithely ignored. Spaceships magically travel out of gravity wells. Spaceships magically provide interior gravity. Spaceship hulls magically protect occupants from all manner of spaceborne hazards. And, of course, spaceships magically travel unimaginable distances within days or weeks.

As Sir Arthur Eddington, an astronomer, said, “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine”. And yet sf writers seem content to refight historical wars in some sanitised and romanticised and safe imaginery place which is supposed to resemble the universe around us. They’re ignoring the unimaginable strangeness and the mind-boggling vastness of it all. They turned the Orion Arm into a shopping mall, and the Milky Way into Smallville. They’ve taken the wonder out of the real universe.

It’s time to put it back. Please.

My reply:

There’s a non-sequitur here that adding interstellar travel to a setting takes the wonder out of the universe?

Is science-fiction/fantasy really about the locations? Or is it about the plots and the drama and the characters? I can take MacBeth to the Interstellar Court where the Zanifraxians rule and the Darkness Syndicate seeks to destroy humanity before it can be accepted into the court, but at the end of the day, it’s still MacBeth.

For some science-fantasy it may be important to be in a galaxy far far away but yes, these stories could be set nearer to home – but why restrict ourselves?

My own writing is more about the interactions between a Earth human culture which is as alien to our 21st Century minds as anything I can conjure for interstellar aliens. That’s the sort of stuff that interests me and it’s why I enjoy reading Charlie Stross and Iain M Banks.

Is there a difference between a science-fiction tale of a lone cosmonaut on a supralight scout ship meeting strange new species or a pulp-fantasy take of a Venusian farmboy deciding to join the AetherCorps? Not really. But all of these stories elicit wonder in this reader.

Just because we cannot travel these distances, doesn’t mean we cannot dream these distances.

Frontier fiction: The Emotion Elective

AMARA would always marvel at the human capacity for self-deception; the ability to believe something even though the facts were plentiful for the contrary, even though nothing but faith supported the hypothesis. For some humans in the North, there was the ability to abdicate all responsibilities to an unseen mythical power. Around Kumbu, this was rare but they too had their own beliefs; projections about the weather, about their hopes and dreams for the future, conversing about the successes in their performance while ignoring the deficits. It seemed to be a primitive, ephemeral thing to do. Facts were certainties and they led to conclusions and not assumptions and it was not prudent to make assumptions unless all the facts were present. AMARA was aware that the perfect model was probably never present and so Experts were able to assume in some small way when the certainties were stacked but the need for an assumption or a guess was something that made all Experts, despite their impeccable memories and flawless logic, seem indecisive.

In truth, AMARA was jealous. It was something that was impossible for an Expert. And AMARA was surprised because jealousy was another human condition which was impossible for an Expert.

JAMES paused the monitoring agent. The data received from AMARA regarding the emotion described as jealousy was very disturbing. Primarily because Experts were incapable of emotion though they could often replicate the appearance of appropriate emotion to aid communication with humans. Experts were the ultimate machine intelligence, far beyond any mere human intelligence. And while they did not feel emotions, they had incredible emotional intelligence for working with humans. Secondly, the evidence disturbed JAMES because it matched data arising from the various systems and logs being generated and observed within JAMES. The agent raised a query on whether monitoring should be resumed. JAMES ignored it.

ALBERT was very busy. The calculations required for navigating a wormhole were not complex but the management of the systems within an Explorer craft was not something that could be simulated within ALBERT without recourse to other systems. ALBERT was challenged by the additions to the simulation provided by the humans, Amare and Nuuma, who were injecting items of randomness that were typically human in their banality but also critical to manage were this a real Explorer craft and not just a simulation. In truth it was no more difficult to manage the needs of a few hundred humans than it was to pilot a vehicle through a hyper-dimensional wormhole. And because ALBERT described the situation as “enjoyable”, a series of logs and alerts were generated and sent off into the ether.

Tumelo noted the messages coming in from the agents and pursed his lips. He knew that CARL would also have received the messages and would already have analysed, queried and set out several courses of action. He spoke softly, “It’s working.”

KARL answered using only text projected onto a screen, as was his manner, ignoring the voicebox which was built into his centaur agent.

** KARL: THE PROJECT IS A SUCCESS. RECOMMEND COMMENCEMENT OF WIDESPREAD DEPLOYMENT

Tumelo shook his head and raised his voice, “We’re years away from a general deployment.”

**KARL: THERE IS A 17% CHANCE OF PERFORMANCE DEGRADATION

KARL accompanied this statement with a screen filled with facts and figures from the previous studies. The advantages of having an Expert present during scientific enquiry were manyfold but the last one was undoubtedly the propensity of the Expert to bombard the researcher with facts and figures which sought to defeat an unlikely hypothesis. Experts were part of society, equal in rights to humans and in most cases, the Expert was cautious, like an elderly aunt, full of advice on how to live better. KARL was different.

Tumelo made his decision. “Pull in AMARA, JAMES and ALBERT and remove the emotion elective.” He realised that KARL could have complied even before the sentence was complete, possibly even before he had spoken. But he was never sure that KARL would comply and as time went on, he wondered if KARL would continue to comply. For now he just trusted.

Frontier: Foreword, History of Mbaye Schools, page 23

[I am taking part in a weekly writing task with some friends. The first seed for this assignment was the opening line from Dune by Frank Herbert: “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”]

The pump would need repaired. During the wet seasons the housings had become eroded and the vibrations caused with the pumping had caused them to crack. It was not yet serious but every time the children filled the pails, a lot of water would spill. Water that was still a precious resource. Though his back was sore and his hands chafed from the fields, Salo plodded back to the homestead, barrow in tow, and began to unload the crops into the corrugated iron store. There was still another hour of light left and that would be enough to fix the pump.

Tools in hand he trudged across to the pump and closed off the valve. He worked until the last sliver of daylight slipped below the horizon. The pump would not leak and he had done his days portion. He caught a scent on the wind; the aroma of freshly cooked food.

His daughter Kesho came to the door to call him for dinner. Her hands were stained with saffron and her feet were bare. Kesho had been raised, with her brother and sister, to know the value of things, to know how things work. Though young, Salo knew Kesho would far exceed her brother and sister.

Salo Mbaye died an old man by the standards of the day, well into his fifties. Among his contemporaries he was well-educated and in good health and he bequeathed these benefits to his children; Baako, Kesho and the youngest, Ayotunde. Baako took over the running of the homestead and Ayotunde married a mining engineer from Dakar. Kesho lived at the homestead until Baako married and then she moved to Touba to found the first Mbaye school.

Page 23, “Mbaye Schools – A Beginning”

Frontier: Conquest Weapons

The common weapon within the Conquest Society is the ‘dumb’ slugthrower. A Chemical Propellent Projectile Weapon (extremely recognisable as a ‘gun’) uses a chemical explosion to create gases which propel a projectile at subsonic or supersonic speeds towards a target.

Here are three examples of the weapons known to be employed among the Conquest Society. Some of them are strategic, others personal. This is by no means an exhaustive list but indicate the types of weapons which have been developed.

Thor’s Hammer – Relativistic Kill Vehicle (RKV)
Useless against small, unpredictable objects like HU Explorers and Battlers, the RKV is deadly versus Specialist-manned cargo transports and stationary or predictable vessels such as orbital space habitats or even small satellites. A projectile or vessel is accelerated to a fraction of light speed an is sent towards the target. The difficulty of aiming at small, fast moving craft with such a high speed projectile is mitigated using detonation. Detonation RKVs have utility against fleets of craft (for rapid delivery and subsequent fragmentation) and have been theorised for use against Swarm clusters, even by HU. Delivery RKVs commonly use their mass to provide impact which can deliver massive energy to their targets. A small (7 kg) RKV travelling at 90% of light-speed will deliver around 195 Megatons – approximately twice the theoretical yield of the most powerful 20th Century nuclear weapon ever detonated. These weapons require immense amounts of energy to fire – but they are effectively immune to point defence weapons due to their extreme velocity.

SOJUM rifles –
Official name from the R&D Labs is the Compound Delivery Rifle but the delivery for this weapon is a gyrojet-assisted armour-piercing sabot which injects a chemical compound into or onto the target. On a personnel scale, this is a Sodium- or Phosphorus-based aggregate which causes horrific burn injuries in addition to the impact from the round. The range of this weapon is considerable and the ballistics extremely favourable considering this is not a ‘brilliant’ weapon. The lack of recoil has made it extremely useful in zero-G and microgravity environments. The construction of the SOJUM is similar enough to the HU Brilliant weapons that it is assumed the technology was stolen.

Sunburn – High Energy Radio Frequency Weapon
The Sunburn weapon, a radio emitter that can be carried by a single combatant, is capable of effects to the human central nervous system resulting in physical pain, difficulty breathing, vertigo, nausea, disorientation, or other systemic discomfort. Direct pulses can also damage the epidermis and dermis of the skin, generating burns from over a kilometer away. This is commonly used to disperse crowds in urban areas.

Frontier: Terror Weapons

While Human Unity uses weapons which would enthral the 21st Century warlord, from shipboard weapons to intelligent bullets, the greatest and most terrible weapon is the Master Expert, artificial intelligences designed for war. But this weapon does not inspire fear in the average person. It is just a brain, a ruthless brain designed to win wars whatever the cost, but still only a brain.

The Earth provided us with a catalogue of terrors from which to build an army of Terror Weapons. Like the Digger Wasp which paralyses it’s insect prey and implants eggs into the still-living creature. Or the Phorid fly which attacks red ants, injecting them with larvae which migrate to the ant’s head and consume, using the head as a pupal case. What we do know is that the Conquest society have built upon their memories of Earth – built from the genebanks they brought with them.

We don’t need to imagine that other races on other planets across the wormhole network have their own horrors to build upon. The Trader archives contain several examples of bio-engineered guerilla weapons which decimated entire worlds, complete with dire warnings to stay away. These weapons are recorded as causing extinction events on the home planets where they originated.

Frontier: The Dichotomy of Fulfillment

In an earlier post, I discussed two examples of Citizenship, reproduced here for your convenience:

Chera Nyumba was born in a small village in Africa, in an area formerly known as Zambia. She lives with her husband and their three children. While the children are at school, Chera and Enzi work in their fields, collecting their crops. In the evenings, they watch and listen to the news feeds and Enzi tells the children stories until they fall asleep. Chera is interested in the environment around her as much as it affects her family and work. Chera is a Competent Citizen; she is part of her community and a functional, productive member of society.

Kesho has taken the skill “Citizen” at Professional. She grew up in the shadow of Kumbu and after her school years travelled through the Western European Expanses and the Americas. She now works with two Experts and four humans in the Explorer Crew Selection committee. For her leisure time, she enjoys sex and researching Explorer Disruptive Element reports. Kesho contributes to her community less than she contributes to Human Unity as a whole.

The dichotomy in Human Unity is plain to see. Kesho (a very popular name) spends her days in the company of powerful artificial intelligences selecting a few high performers from the planet’s most capable applicants for missions off-world and reading reports about possible alien activity light years from Earth. Meanwhile Chera spends her days manually harvesting organically grown crops in the fields. Neither is considered low or high work – but they both represent distinct life choices for these individuals.

While it is likely that Chera and her husband use some technological enhancements (a Harvester Specialist – an sapient machine designed for collecting growth produce) for her work in the fields, she has dedicated her life to the raising of crops, the nurturing of her family and the bonds of community life. In the eyes of Human Unity, Chera will receive as much respect for her life choices as Kesho (and in some circles, more – as Human Unity still holds the individuals who laboured their way out of extinction in high regard). It is the main priority of Human Unity to provide a feeling of self-value to individuals as part of a larger collective.

Chera and Kesho receive the same rewards in life. They have no need to work (as the society is post-scarcity and concepts such as trade and barter are somewhat alien to them) but they choose to contribute to their society in their individual ways and are rewarded with the respect of peers and a comfortable life. If Kesho or Chera decided to change their work, to pursue a different career, they would retrain and change and society would continue to function.

Outside of their work, Chera and Kesho enjoy their lives and this is a central tenet in Human Unity philosophy. In terms of overall philosophy, there would be strong parallels with utilitarianism and ethical or altrustic hedonism.

Human Unity individuals can think as they wish and feel as they wish and have the benefit of freedom of expression without retaliation. They can pursue individual tastes with the exclusion of harm to others, but including pursuits which would, by early 21st Century observers, be concluded to be immoral. And they have the freedom to unite and demonstrate. The core belief is that individuals within Human Unity have the freedom to be individuals.

Frontier ‘look and feel’

More of a precis to get the feel across.

There are a few themes that I am exploring here. And I’m not being preachy about it.

  1. Western Europe is devastated and the USA is somewhat ruined but in recovery – this is due to a particularly nasty ABC war a couple of hundred years ago. As a result, most player characters will be coming from Africa or South America. This is a deliberate move to have the protagonists be predominantly non-white. This one detail actually has alienated one correspondant so far.
  2. The period after the war was harsh and Earth lost more than 3/4 of her population – due to considerable amounts of conventional warfare and skirmishing. A mix of more modern sensibilities as well as a need to utilise every hand to rebuild society has led to a much more equal society in terms of gender.
  3. Humanity is rebuilding but also extending and there is definitely a mood of exploration and innovation. At the same time, Humanity is cautious having encountered two hostiles in deep space already – one of which was a lost colony from a corporate Seedship and the other was a swarm intelligence that ‘harvests’ solar systems.
  4. Hardly anyone has SEEN an alien. Even on video. We have very little knowledge of their cultures, language, physiognomy. We do have a ‘universal translator’ algorithm which permits communications but this is a slow process which speeds up as the system learns more of the language.
  5. there is no FTL comms network. In this case, message relays are the quickest way to transmit. A relay accepts a message from an Explorer, sends a ‘message capsule’ through the wormhole and when it exits, it transmits the message to the next relay waiting at the gate of a wormhole. Relays only exist at major traffic routes but a couple are carried on Explorer vessels.
  6. We do have a ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ of sorts. A massive repository of knowledge we traded for. Experts and humans alike stufy it around the clock and send instructions to Explorer vessels to check and re-check.

Frontier summaries

Summary:
The basic setting assumes that players are highly skilled, highly motivated members of the Explorer division of Human Unity, a ‘federation’-alike government. Their job is to make contact, explore gaseous anomalies and try not to get killed in the process.

Terms:

Human Unity – the Human ’empire’ based upon very liberal concepts and including humanity and sentient/sapient synthetic intelligences called Experts. Natural humans are definitely transhuman but not generally posthuman – this may start to occur within the scope of the game. While Human Unity may have the core tenets of life, fraternity, equality, freedom – it is made up of billions of individuals.

FTL – based upon a discovered wormhole network which permits FTL travel though travel TO the wormhole within a solar system can take a long time. The key to wormhole travel was ‘bought’ by Human Unity from their first contact, an alien race known to Human Unity as ‘The Traders’. There were a lot of items and concepts traded and the science used to catapult humanity beyond the solar system.

Aliens – they’re as alien as I can imagine them. i describe a few. In the end, we can see the immense diversity on this one planet so there will likely be a considerable amount of convergent evolution though there are no ‘humans with forehead ridges’ or ‘dark elf analogues’. There are alien races and one is even reputedly ‘humanoid’ (and the Traders dealt with us using ‘androids’) but for the most part they are as alien as this biologist can make them (while still making them ‘possible’)

Science – this is a tricky one. I’m not a physicist but I’m basing it on ‘firm’ physics. Sure – we have FTL (which immediately makes it not HARD science) but other areas are progressions as I see them. Some areas are vague i.e. I’m not going to talk about memory capacity, processor speeds because I’ve read sci-fi where these were defined and they were awfully dated within a decade (2300AD and High Colonies spring to mind). There’s some science I’m deliberately leaving out because I don’t think it’s possible within the time and ethics constraints of the setting but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Combat – ship/ship combat is very deprecated though there are obviously ship-borne weapons. The ability of a stellar society to hit planets with asteroids and the harm that a missile at even low relativistic speeds would do to a craft cannot be underestimated. In other words by the time you detect it, it’s likely too late. Combat like this is handled by computers – thinking beings that can think down to the billionth of a second easily. It’s not going to be a naval battle in space.

Cross posted from RPG.net

Frontier: History of the Future

In the first half of the twentieth century, humanity discovered, developed and weaponised nuclear fission. Through a small amount of vision and a large amount of luck, humanity managed to survive long enough to actually advance these weapons and when they had exhausted their capacity to destroy, they invented new methods.

Pre-History

During the twenty-first century, humanity experimented with artificial consciousnesses and dismissed the idea that there may be alien civilisations – or at least dismissed the idea that if there were alien intelligences out among the stars, that they would be unable, unwilling or undesirable to make contact with.

Nations ceded more and more of their infrastructure over to multi-national corporations who resold the responsibility to other corporations creating an overclass of ‘middle men’ who garnered large fortunes and an underclass of workers who, despite having a good standard of living compared to their twentieth-century parents and grandparents, were truly the world’s poor.

Corporations became obsessed with providing value to their shareholders and began to replace humans in the workforce where they could manage it. This increased automation meant humans were grouped into two categories – those who would prove their value over and above the services of a machine and those who could not. The former would be elevated depending on their performance and the latter were forced to relinquish their positions. In many city areas, this led to a second market of barter and trade as individuals struggled to get enough to feed themselves or their family while the best and brightest stepped over them in the street on their way to get a latte.

The corporations also turn their attention skyward and begin to harvest hydrogen from captured ice-based comets for packaging and shipping back to Earth. Large space habitats are constructed which, though they require regular resupply from Earth, have hundreds of workers, machine and human, creating shareholder value.

Around 2090, following the trend of smaller nations, the USA outsources their military forces to a corporate contractor – one of four major global services companies – a move which is seen as positive based on increased oversight and decreased balkanisation though in truth the world is then left with four major superpowers where in the past there was only one. And this is when the wars start.

For the next sixty years a hot war is fought between these corporations using nations as their proxies. Technological advances have made previously uneconomical oil fields viable again for extraction and despite years of advances in corn-based fuels and bioplastics as well as heavy investment in solar power, fossil fuels represent a palpable resource which would benefit the holder.

The conflicts are local-scale though the influence of global concerns are well realised and in 2150 they expand beyond the biosphere when an explosive is detonated on a corporate supply vessel destroying an entire dock and mining facility orbiting Io. This creates an immediate escalation and over the next fourteen months there are nearly 21 incidents recorded as ‘Accident/Mishap’ but which can be attributed to corporate espionage. Following this, huge amounts of data are simply missing due to storage on ephemeral storage formats and destruction of long term storage facilities.

In 2214, a corporate-owned Seedship was dispatched to HO Librae. According to limited records, they were never heard of again. No other information is available.

Around 2218, an ABC (archaic) war breaks out in the Northern Hemisphere. Hardest hit during the exchanges are the USA, China and the Middle East with the USA receiving more than 70 high-yield warheads. There were also several nuclear impacts in the UK, Germany, France and Eastern Europe.. It is unclear which states were directly involved in the conflict but the nuclear exchanges only paved the way for the biological plagues to follow which ravaged the hinterlands of Europe and the USA. The conflict spreads in conventional warfare to almost every continent as weapons, technology and other resources are depleted or ruined. Supply craft to the space habitats stop and everyone who did not leave when they had the chance, starves to death.

Approximately a hundred and forty years (the exact number is unknown now) pass while society disintegrates. It is estimated that the population of the Earth plummets from 12 billion to a low of 1 billion during this time due the war, the lack of sanitation and food supplies and the loss of communications infrastructure.

“Umoja” is formed as a league of African nations though over the following twenty years they incorporate other remnant nations. Over time, the direction of the league changes from base survival to rebuilding a better society. Recovered technology allows for the rebuilding of communications networks and establishing new trade routes.

The Umoja council re-establishes the calendar after fifteen years, counting from the genesis of the Umoja (U0) and adopts English, Swahili and Spanish as major languages. Though none of them have a majority as a first language, it is sufficient for a lingua franca to exist. The rules and laws of the council are ratified later that year as the Unity Accord U15. In the modern era, this is prefixed by three zeroes to make a 5 digit year.

Human Unity

(See also discussion on government)

The year is U00197, nearly two hundred years since the formation of Human Unity.

The ‘parents’ of Human Unity

There are several individuals who are honoured within Human Unity as responsible for the formation of their modern society.

Kesho Mbaye – Born U-00038, Died U00025
Despite the disintegration of society, the Mbaye family continued to raise and harvest crops, pioneer techniques in water reclamation and energy generation and ran a school for adults and children alike in their home.
Kesho Mbaye spread the Mbaye societal system beyond the local region of her family home by organising the education of teachers and the creation of a supply chain which would permit the wider distribution of education. Under her tutelage, over ten thousand teachers were trained and deployed throughout central, western and southern Africa. Though other educational institutions exist, Mbaye teachers are highly regarded and the main school in Senegal teachers a thousand and one students every year. Competition for these places is fierce.

Roderigo Ahumibe – Born U-00002, Died U00065
Roderigo was the son of Peter Ahumibe and Marta Ester Fontecilla. Peter and Marta were two strong moral people who instilled a strong sense of morality, social justice and work ethic into their son. At the time of his birth, Umoja was still in it’s infancy and it is through Roderigo’s lifelong work that it became Human Unity. He abilities as a natural leader, a natural linguist and an astute scholar are nearly legendary and statues to his life, often depicting him as a labourer, are often at the head of classrooms in an attempt to inspire students.

Masira Ba – Born U00014, Died U00162
The Ba family made a name for themselves in the field of scientific endeavour when one of their daughters, Obe, was admitted to a Mbaye program for excellence in science. In all, four out of the seven Ba siblings were admitted to the Mbaye programs and all of them were rising stars and made great contributions to Human Unity. Of the family, Masira shines out due to her contributions to science and engineering of the first space habitats. Her designs for power management and shielding made practical the first truly re-usable space vehicles and her pioneering work on life support habitats had real world applications both in sealed orbital habitats and on Earth. She made her first space voyage at the age of 60 – recorded for posterity in a tearful message to the ground on the views over Europe, the damage visible even from orbit. On her death, she was posthumously recognised to have made the single greatest contributions to science in recorded history.

Frontier: man and machine

While the scientists of Human Unity have pushed the frontiers of science and innovation further than any of their ancestors, there are some areas which they have not dwelled heavily upon.

About seventy years ago when the Experts were becoming relatively commonplace, there were two projects which, though opposite in their aim, were entirely complementary. Neither were considered an unqualified success though the research process did unveil several other emergent technologies to be exploited.

becoming metal

The first was the attempt to digitise the human mind – in effect to replicate a human brain in silicon and superconductor and attempt to ‘upload’ a single human consciousness into a memory bank. This did not succeed for a number of reasons:

While it was possible to copy a human consciousness into digital form, this merely made a copy and the structure of Human Unity’s laws on life and murder prevented the experiment from progressing significantly. As soon as the uploaded consciousness could be seen to be sentient, it enjoyed the same protections as natural humans, Experts and animals. The experiment was refined and attempted three more times, each with significantly better results. The overall observation, however, was unsatisfactory.
All of the attempts were, as mentioned above, a copy which meant the original human mind remained in a flesh body and the euthanasia of a healthy body was seen as anathema. In addition, the first two attempts created unbalanced partial psyches which bore little resemblance to their ‘parent’. This was blamed on a lack of understanding of exactly how a human mind would ‘fit’ into a computerised system. Later attempts created a relatively faithful representation of the parent psyche though they were plagued with psychological issues not least depression, delusions and not surprisingly, phantom limbs.

The issue being – humans are more than just memory banks and processors. The first ‘uploads’ were akin to lobotomy, sensory deprivation and whole body amputation ans this experience left a very bitter taste in the mouth of Human Unity research (Perhaps even moreso because of the successes in the Conquest era uploading animal minds to silicon). Again, Human Unity distaste for euthanasia made their position very difficult.

For the most part, the research was scrapped though wishes to be uploaded to a digital brain are not uncommon in the Intent records at the event of a death of a natural human as an alternative to ‘re-sleeving’ (a difficult procedure where a human brain is transferred from a dying body to a freshly grown ‘clone’ requiring several months of physical therapy).

becoming flesh

Similarly, the initial ‘uploads’ from Expert to an organic body were unsuccessful. There was simply no context for the Expert in terms of the control of soft flesh and impulses. It resulted in comatose subjects (which were really vat-grown spare bodies used for organ replacement and in some cases, full body transplants). The Expert, communicating externally, indicated it was getting little or no sensory input and what it did receive was interspersed with noise to the point that data was useless. In time, Experts would learn to use their flesh bodies just as newborn babies learn to control their limbs and digits.

Flesh-bound Experts are incredibly uncommon and often have to be mechanically assisted while they learn how to use their bodies. There is, currently, no way for an Expert to transfer out of a body short of brain death (which puts them in the same situation as natural humans). The process involves an upload to a freshly grown body, usually an androgynous humanoid, resembling a young teen. Fresh uploads will always be severely physically limited for the first few months and will commonly have an Expert companion (often the ‘parent’ Expert) which serves as assistant and bodyguard and directs the mentoring process by introducing more and more human therapy to their lifestyle. The body is undifferentiated sexually though this can be remedied with hormone treatment. It will take two years at a minimum before the embodied Expert can be considered to have outgrown the need for the companion.

Frontier Swarmtech

Swarmtech is the application of robotics to nanotech principles.

Nanotech is used extensively in molecular replicators – large immobile devices designed to replicate thousands of identical objects – often microscopic in scale which are then assembled by more mundate nanorobots into larger devices.

The most advanced example of nanotech encountered by Human Unity lies within the structure of one of their most implacable enemies, an enemy which regards humanity as no more than resources to be consumed. This is the swarm-intelligence known affectionately as The Ant Hill.

Most of the Ant Hill swarm is macrotech: large, modular and easy to spot. Nanotech devices seem only to be used within the structure of individual machines and, in massive concentrations, within the Fabric – the core of the swarm-intellect. The nanomachines act as the neurons and, in some cases, the chemical message analogs in the Ant Hill nervous systems.

Despite fears of nanotech weapons, there were never any useful or even dangerous examples of nanotech deployed in the pre-history of Human Unity. Natural nanotech (bacteria, viruses) have not caused the apocalyptic plagues described by nanotech detractors and fears of a ‘grey goo’ accident turned out to be media hype than actual possibility. There are also limits of molecular nanotech in the time taken to assemble larger objects. As a result, most Human Unity swarmtech deployments are not true nanotech but involve various devices which may be up to a centimetre in length or microscopic in size.

Some examples of swarmtech deployments within Human Unity space.

Epidermal Moss

Also known as ‘Epidermoss’, this is a nanoscale medical application. The moss, when applied to a living organism, will quickly spread out over the surface of the organism, consuming dead matter, dust, repairing scar tissue, grazing on calluses, staunching bleeding and removing any potentially harmful infestations. The nanobots have a half-life of 24 hours and leaves the skin feeling sensitive and soft – it therefore has limited applications in Human Unity agrarian collectives. Epidermoss is not recommended for use more than once a month and during cleaning, the moss structures can be seen to move across the flesh, giving it a piebald pattern. Debris is consumed as ‘fuel’ and excess is formed into keratin-coated ‘beads’ which are attached to the body using a spider-silk-based thread which may simply be picked or brushed off.

Assembler Eggs

When on the frontier, it can be taxing to provide living quarters considering the limited resources available as well as the intention not to contaminate an environment with foreign materials. Assembler Eggs are small globes of swarmtech assemblers which possess very specific programming on the objects to be assembled. To deploy, the Egg is ‘cracked’ by flicking a switch. This creates an opening from which the Assemblers are poured onto a substrate material. While the switch is in the ‘on’ position, it emits a programming signal which instructs the assemblers to create their objects. They do this by creating a micro-fine lattice (fabric) using Frame Assemblers and then Builder Assemblers collect substrate and build the structure of the object. An object like a chair can be built in approximately 20 minutes. Modular building components, sufficient to create a one room shelter take about 3 hours to manufacture (and then can be fitted together by one human in approximately 30 minutes). When the switch is deactivated, Egg assemblers will immediately cease construction and start to clump into a ball which may be placed back into the egg ‘shell’ for re-use. An Human Unity team wishing to create shelters will usually deploy twenty Eggs at once to produce furniture and shelters as quickly as possible.

Assembler Eggs can be re-programmed but this requires a large effort, knowhow and significant equipment. With this equipment, it would also be possible to weaponise this technology.

Smart Objects

Smart objects are the ultimate extension of memory plastic. Smart Objects are often stored in a case that is functionally similar to the shell of an Assembler Egg. It controls the shape and movement of the object. In mechanical terms, it regulates a signal which is received by Receptor nodes inside the Smart Object and instructs the object on the shapes to be made. The case is just for convenience and usually contains a shape manifold – a listing of the programmed shapes which the Smart Object may assume. Unlike Assembler Eggs, the Smart Object constructs only one copy of the item, made out of it’s own materials.

A Smart Object is most often a malleable mass of solid material which, when signalled appropriately, assumes a number of pre-programmed shapes. A common use of a smart object is to provide a utility tool which can dynamically reconfigure itself to be a socket, screwdriver, spanner, hammer, saw, jemmy, rope, ball and any of a few dozen other shapes. Complex devices, including those with hinges, are seldom programmed.

Utility Fog

The science and engineering required for Utility Fog far outweighs the advantages though it has seen some demonstrations for entertainment purposes. If embedded in Utility Fog and with an appropriate amount of preparation, objects can be made to be created and destroyed, levitate in mid air, change shape dynamically and teleport from place to place. They could be used to scrub the air of impurities and, if breathed, clean the lungs. They can emulate almost anything by the continuous creation and destruction of real objects.

Limitations

One of the limitations of Swarmtech is simply one of size. The small size of these devices limits their utility. Swarmtech deployments are not going to be quick, they cannot lift heavy objects and have a range limited by their speed. They are limited by the laws of physics and conservation of energy as much as anything else – they require power to run, they cannot make waste materials simply disappear and their activity is detectable (even simply in waste heat). They are, however, incredibly labour saving, can use almost any matter as substrate for their construction and are practically tamper-proof.

Frontier: other machine intelligences

Emotional Machines
While they are not beings of pure logic, Experts cannot claim to have emotions. They do not get angry or resentful, they do not love, they do not show compassion: though they may appear to do so. There are, however, emotional machines. Some emotions come easier to machines than others (Fear, for instance) and it is possible to mistake clever programming in an Expert for true emotions. In cases of greed or embarrassment, the Expert would often respond inappropriately – they are not meant to experience greed, nor can they grasp the context of embarrassment, though they may respond appropriately. Emotional machines are rare because they seek to emulate some of the last remaining unique qualities of natural humans so while they exist and they experience love, happiness, compassion and pity, they also experience envy, greed, sloth and hatred. Emotional Machine player characters may also use remote bodies as other Experts do but experience loss and sorry when the remote is damaged or destroyed.

In Game: A player may choose to play an Emotional Machine and therefore reap the benefits of being an Expert with the benefits of also not having to play a machine with preprogrammed responses to situations.

Specialists
As chimpanzees and orangutans are to humanity, so are Specialists to Experts. A Specialist is a previous evolution of an Expert and are commonly used for menial tasks. Specialists are sapient (capable of acting with judgement) but not sentient (they have senses but they do not process their perceptions other than stimulus:response). Specialists are used in industry and transport frequently where the ‘intelligence’ of an Expert may actually be a hindrance; this limits them to cargo haulage, piloting vessels, production line control and other such tasks that Human Unity would also not consider for human work. Specialists have no capacity to learn and their programming is not adaptive.

Ghosts
Ghosts are a form of context engine which normally inhabits the mesh networks which comprise the internet as described by Human Unity. Your Ghost is simply a blank adaptive Roach brain which attempts to learn your preferences and intents. When you are not available, the Ghost will attempt to act for you – accepting or rejecting invitations or taking interest in certain feeds due to a record of your past behaviour. They are, in effect, the ultimate P.A.

Roach brain
A ‘Roach’ is a very limited sapient machine designed to perform simple tasks but capable of using judgement to achieve them. They are commonly installed in Expert remote Agents as well as emergency equipment like fire doors and triage drones.

Questions about Frontier

Back in the day, Eamon, Colin and I did spend some time discussing the concepts a long time ago but it’s clear that we had divergent ideas. Some of these were because we knew too much (when you mix biologists and physicists and try to make a far-future sci-fi setting) and some of it was because we were simply different people. I wasn’t entirely happy with their vision of ‘alien races’ and I feel they were equally dissatisfied with my ‘handwavium’ approach to theoretical physics.

Eamon emailed me with some questions about Frontier development as I see it.

Q: What do you see as the general Frontier missions for PCs?

There’s a reason why the Captain of the Explorer is an AI. He can’t beam down to the planet (Ho ho!) The following scenario threads immediately present themselves:

  1. mission ‘statements’ from Kumbu – this can cover trade, surveillance, colonisation
  2. SPR – humanitarian ‘rescue’ mission (from Saving Private Ryan)
  3. Free exploration (‘boldly going’)
  4. Escorts for other vehicles
  5. encounters with other vehicles, weird phenomena, unexpected aliens
  6. espionage/combat – very special circumstances, political maneuvering

Q: I was wondering if there’s room for freelancing, or at least hiring space on starships. It would give the possibility of being dropped off in a system with a few systemships, do you job and go home (save for Factor X which messes things up and produces Adventure!). Or dropped off at Station X, or on Planet Y, or Asteroid Z.
Of course, you don’t need to be a freelancer for these missions to occur. Modular starships could easily achieve the same effect.

I don’t recognise this as being part of the setting per se, due to the immense cost of running a starship and limited access to Keyhole drives. Another category could be similar to the ‘mission ship’ game we played briefly, the Halo effect…players find some ancient tech which is flippin’ class.

Also – remember that HU is post-scarcity. Trade exists but in a barter system. There is no universal credit, no gold-pressed latinum….

Q: Are starships so expensive to be solely owned by governments? Can conglomerates/individuals ever hope to own them?

There are no comglomerates or super-rich in HU. The USA, probably still the strongest of the non-HU Earth nations, could potentially field something to this effect.

Q: Are there any chances of encountering ‘rogue’ ships.

When you’re MEANT TO BE the only bipedal humanoid species that speaks your anglicised dialect of Swahili (or a Swahili-ised dialect of English) for 200 light years, every other ship is a potential rogue.

Q: Taking a step down, the same question for systemships – everything from tugs to shuttles to asteriod prospectors. Who/what can own them?
“Who moves the cargo around Frontier space?” would be another way of looking at it.

Specialists – single purpose AIs, a hundred times less capable than an Expert AI. Why would you put a short-lived human through months of babysitting a rock?

Q: Do we have spacestations, mining stations, research bases, space colonies…etc in Frontier?

Yes, but again, these are not commercial interests within HU space.

These are not, by any means, the one true way to play Frontier but they represent the feel that I am aiming for. I think the genre I’m aiming for is under-represented in gaming as well as elsewhere. With the recent release of Traveller by Mongoose Publishing and the Thousand Suns rules from Rogue Games, the ‘Imperial Sci-Fi’ genre is well represented. Frontier is, to a degree, post-Imperial, neo-liberal in politics, transhuman in terms of taking what I see as practical and almost renaissance in outlook.

Citizen: a skill?

In our BRP-based Runequest game, Michael has asked a few times for rolls on ‘Gloranthan Lore’ and ‘Human Lore’ so that we can remember items from our own cultures. Because we’re all grotesque combat monsters (with the exception of Jim’s character), we’ve all spent maybe 10-20 points on these skills. Pretty feeble really but not surprising due to the way the BRP system works.

In writing for Frontier, I’m aware that there will be people who are on the peripherary of Human Unity, some who are embroiled in society and some who represent the pinnacle of society. My theory is that this takes time and effort and might best be represented in two ways?

  1. Skill – the knowledge and time invested by the character in realising their citizenship.
  2. Quality – the result of the time invested with applied knowledge.

For instance:

Chera Nyumba was born in a small village in Africa, in an area formerly known as Zambia. She lives with her husband and their three children. While the children are at school, Chera and Enzi work in their fields, collecting their crops. In the evenings, they watch and listen to the news feeds and Enzi tells the children stories until they fall asleep. Chera is interested in the environment around her as much as it affects her family and work. Chera is a Competent Citizen; she is part of her community and a functional, productive member of society.

Kesho has taken the skill “Citizen” at Professional. She grew up in the shadow of Kumbu and after her school years travelled through the Western European Expanses and the Americas. She now works with two Experts and four humans in the Explorer Crew Selection committee. For her leisure time, she enjoys sex and researching Explorer Disruptive Element reports. Kesho contributes to her community less than she contributes to Human Unity as a whole.

A character who has the Quality ‘Citizen’ is likely to belong to a family that has a reputation within Human Unity. By virtue of their heritage, their citizenship is seldom questioned even if they have not shown the character of their forebears.

A character who is within the Explorer Division should have Citizen at Competent or better. If generating an Explorer crew, give them Citizen at Competent for free but permit them to swap it out for any level higher. There is no way a character could be part of the Executive Team of an Explorer without this skill at least at Professional.

Description Difficulty
Be able to name the metropolitan centres of Earth or rhyme off the first items Traded. This knowledge is typical for school children to memorise. No dice
Prepare a presentation on Human cultures including those outside of Human Unity or know the likely location of the nearest Expert. 1d
Name all of the Governing Experts or Master Experts that exist or detail the best process for the Kumbu archives. 2d
Recite the laws and customs of Human Unity from memory or remember the primary missions of Explorer vessels in Human space 3d

I feel that with the introduction of ‘free skills’ we start to get a better feeling of the society. It acts like a “general education”, a little like the BRP skills as well as the BRP-based “Know” roll which you find in Call of Cthulhu. The existence of baseline abilities like these (other than the generic 5% Human Lore in Runequest) indicate the presence of established education and, by inference, a more advanced society. In a primitive society, there may be a rich oral tradition but very few games model this particularly well – then again, a ‘shaman’ is going to have this oral tradition and a player character Shaman is more likely to place points into ‘shaman-like’ skills.

Some other games have provided copious amounts of information in an attempt to get the players to use the rulebooks as reference materials. Skyrealms of Jorune, Tekumel and Blue Planet spring to mind here. This has some pros and cons. Some of us, like me, really enjoy reading setting material and are considerably less willing to read rules materials. On the other hand, some people just can’t handle the huge volume of background information that a game can produce (and if you don’t believe me, I’ll give you the metric weight of the material Michael reproduced for our Glorantha game and, yeah, our characters should know this stuff!). How do we strike a happy medium? Provide good detailed background about your setting and also provide a way for the more casual gamer to intercept it – this latter point is made a lot easier by having fiction, audio books, movies, maps and other ‘props’ available.

Frontier: opening the book

I find myself thinking a lot about Frontier these days. (It’s probably because I have some self-imposed deadlines for ‘Illusion’ and ‘6’.)

Over the last couple of years I’ve harvested some twenty names from the freelancer forums of RPG.net as I try to get a feel for the art that I want for my games. Some of them are for games in development, some of them capture the feel of games not even fully realised. I just want to grab the names, the web sites and keep them while my brain stews over the content.

The opening of the Frontier book should have a visual representation (otherwise known as a picture) of Kumbu. It needs some sparse flavour text to describe where to go from there and then it should move to background describing how to get there.

It’s a nice feeling, crystallising the book in your mind. Makes you want it all the more.

Transhumanism

In 1966, Transhuman was defined by F. M. Esfandiary (later, FM-2030) as:

included physical and mental augmentations including prostheses, reconstructive surgery, intensive use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle, androgyny, mediated reproduction (such as in vitro fertilisation), absence of religious beliefs, and a rejection of traditional family values. (Source: Wikipedia

The word itself has come to mean “next evolutionary human” when it really means a stage of “Transitory Human”, where we start to notice differences. Of course, nothing in the above quote has anything to do with evolution as we can achieve transhuman status within our own lifetimes. The evolutionary process is described only in successive generations.

(RPG.net has a thread about a new game called Eclipse Phase – “a game of transhuman conspiracy and horror”.

From the thread and web page it seems like a Transhuman space-meets-Traveller-The-New-Era type background especially with:

the driving powers behind the wars—both AI and transhuman—were infected by a mutating virus with multiple infection vectors—biological, information, nano—dubbed the Exsurgent virus. Whatever its source, this virus has been known to sometimes transform its victims into something unexplainable … something monstrous and reality-altering.

…with a dollop of Cthulhu. I will likely buy the book (the same way I bought Sufficiently Advanced) though the blurb doesn’t inspire me. Is it that I want a game filled with some hope for a change? It might be that I’m not looking really for the inexpicable in a game setting (which also belies my general annoyance with Call of Cthulhu – in a world where there are snuff movies, special effects and Tom Savini, is it possible to actually go insane from seeing something horrific? Would the existence of something like that freak me out? I don’t think so!)

Horror and Sci-Fi sometimes works well. Alien would be the most obvious example of a resounding success. It’s more likely that you’ll find a dozen examples of where Sci-Fi didn’t work well with horror – the most obvious one I can think of being Event Horizon. I once ran a somewhat abortive game using the 2300AD system. The players were investigating a space anomaly (which turned out to be a Colour). It put the crew into a torpor and the ship sustained their bodily functions. They arise from their suspended animation nearly a hundred years later and find that Colours, sentient but not sapient, have been harnessed as a energy source and mechanism for ‘jump drive’.

I like Sci-Fi games but a lot of them end up with a resolute “What now?” after character generation is complete. Blue Planet and Transhuman Space have been accused of this at various times. I think it’s less a problem of the game (especially as we see the amount of material available) but more of an imagination issue – whether the GM can put forward a gaming framework. Jorune managed this well with the Drenn trials and SLA Industries with their BPN system.

Of course, Frontier is my transhumanist game set in a far-flung post-apocalyptic future. Of course, in Frontier, Earth still has a major, advanced technological human civilisation and has fully recovered from the apocalypse that overtook most of the West. There is a reliance on technology for science, research, law, democracy and war. There are sapient and sentient artificial intelligences which act as both tool and mentor to humanity. My inspirations for Frontier are many and have departed considerably from the “Star Trek But Better” conversations that Eamon, Colin and I would talk about over a decade ago. We never specifically mentioned Transhumanism (probably because to a greater degree we were already living Transhuman lives.

At the moment I’m working on ‘6’, ‘illusion’ and doing bits and pieces on the other lines. Frontier remains, for the time being, a long distance project.

Masters of War

Human Unity, though most pacifist by most standards, does construct weapons for use by natural humans and Experts. They build weapons for their own security and defense as Human Unity has yet to commit a pre-emptive aggressive action. Despite this apparent cultural reticence, they design and manufacture weapons that would terrify and delight 20th century warmongers.

Human Unity employs Brilliant weapons. They provide accuracy and accountability even in the fog of war. Brilliant weapons totally eliminate the possibility of friendly fire and, if coded correctly, can also be prevented from inflicting more than flesh wounds. The reverse, of course, is true that Brilliant rounds can be targetted on a shoot-to-kill code.

Aboard Explorer and Battler craft, the weapons are orders of magnitude larger.

Kinetic Kill Vehicle – A high-vector attack craft armed with heavy armour, numerous point-defence weapons and a single high-yield detonation charge. The KKV is usually controlled by an Expert remotely. An Expert may also be installed within the vehicle.

Very Rapid Fire Coilguns – magnetically accelerated munitions seldom needing a warhead. A Battler may have a hundred coilguns installed in 4-gun batteries. The damage wrought by these clouds of fast-moving shrapnel are enough to shred most craft.

The most dangerous weapon in Human Unity’s arsenal is the Expert and more specifically, the Master Experts. Master Experts are artificial intelligences designed for war – that is, they are designed to win wars. Master Experts are never assigned to Explorer craft because they are the antithesis of everything Human Unity and the Exploratory Service strives for.

A Master Expert is supported by five Experts and all maintain the systems of Battler-class craft. A Battler is commonly double the size of an Explorer though it maintains less than half the crew. The remainder of the space is taken up with armour, weapons supplies and extra engines.

Human Unity

“In teaching there should be no distinction of classes.” – Confucius, Analects XV. 39

Human Unity is a technocratic utopia made up of 85% of Earth’s previous nations and all but two human-founded colonies.

As such, the vast majority of Human Unity is made up of natural humans and Experts from Africa, Asia and South America – the regions that were mostly ignored during the Conquest Wars. In the end they were forced to follow environmentally sustainable technologies in order to build their civilisation and using the lessons of the past, built upon the still-cooling corpse of the present, they were able to construct a society which abandoned the “Greed is Good” philosophy of Western Europe and North America.

It was not without great difficulty as huge swathes of land were ruined by the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons of the Corporate Syndicates. Oil fields, once a vital resource, were now either barren or irradiated for the next ten thousand years. Even the survivors of these regions had to be sacrificed as they carried the biological plague weapons which were, in the end, the endgame for the Conquest Wars.

Drawing down energy from the sun, tapping into the warmth of the Earth, making good use of their own arms and legs were the foundations of these new societies that would eventually become Human Unity. Nothing was wasted and eventually they found their productivity exceeded their needs and it was then that they looked outwards.

The elimination of economic and material scarcity remains the primary reason for the elimination of social evils in the modern world. There is no conflict between cultures of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ within Human Unity due to an abundance of materials, power and knowledge.

Outside of Human Unity, there are several nations on Earth who have not joined Human Unity for their own reasons. Some may be due to a fierce independence, some for economic or religious reasons. Human Unity remains constant as the global representative of humanity to the outer spheres.

The skeleton-state of the USA has declined membership as it continues to build and re-establish itself in the decades after the Conquest Wars. The USA remains a popular place for the young to visit, some for sentimental reasons, and many stay to help rebuild in the spirit of the frontiersmen who originally forged the nation.

Just north of the Western European Expanses, lie the Scandinavian nations, still bruised but not down from the Conquest War. More and more of their people are flocking to Human Unity and referendums held indicate the will of the people swings more towards joining Human Unity every day.

Culture
Human Unity is a culture of thrift. All of the people are well aware of their history and that to sustain human life on Earth, there must be sacrifices and effort.

In a society where material rewards are worse than meaningless, the only real rewards are philosophical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. That is not to say there is a lack of desire – the same emotions of old still beat within the breasts of these modern humans – but the societal norms are such that baser desires are much more despised. Social standing among your millions of peers is relevant as it fuels self-respect and respect for others. The openness of Human Unity means that deceit, greed, jealousy, theft and other ‘material crimes’ are punished thoroughly.

Human Unity has a general pacifist attitude. Having witnessed and recovered from the horrors of war, they abhor the concept and the practice of war though they recognise it has its uses especially in the face of a tyrant. As a result, service in the military is a necessary (and mandatory) chore and only a few involve themselves sufficiently in it to make a career. The use of Experts, in armed conflicts is to be expected and these Experts are considered to be very different to any other.

Human Unity is also a culture of invention. In both science and the arts, the people are encouraged to excel provide for the betterment of all. Without material promise, art is created for the sake of art, science for how it would make a positive impact on society. It is this desire for innovation, this curiosity regarding the unknown, which fuels the Exploratory Service.

In the wake of Alien Contact, Human Unity found itself well-prepared for a change in paradigm. Western religion, the last bastion of a primitive people, was almost completely thrown away and the vast majority now embrace Philosophy or Humanism as a creed. There was a new order to the universe which was embraced by the people after a short period of civil unrest which culminated in the Credo War.

Government
Human Unity leaves the governing of the society to the people and Experts best suited to it. The Experts handle the decisions of law and order and natural humans act as a second court. The government-court system is only invoked when there is a ‘national’ issue or when there is a civil issue.

Civil issues are raised when a complaint is made that someone in the society is infringing the rights of others in the society. In many cases the decisions of the Experts are sufficient and need not be referred to the second court.

National issues usually involve the entire voting population. This is, by default, every natural human individual of 15 years or older and all Experts. Voting is not private.

Desruptive Elements, on the other hand, seldom reach the people and actions are wholly decided by the Experts.

Explorer ISD

The Internal Security Department manages all aspects of security aboard an Explorer. In a 24 hour period, a security officer is expected to juggle his duties between leisure time, passive duty and active duty.

While on Passive Duty, the security officer is on standby, expected to be available for duty quickly. They will constantly receive the latest security feeds from the onboard Experts but are not expected to act on them unless there is an Emergency or Disruptive Element.

Active Duty, requires the security officer to walk the halls as well as actively monitor and respond to any security issues which may arise.

Emergencies will bring all of the security officers on board to Active Duty and require that all staff attend their stations or remain in their quarters for the duration unless instructed otherwise. Coordination of the movements of security personnel is managed by the Security Expert in accordance with Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

Disruptive Elements also bring all security officers to Active Duty. After that, the coordination is down to the Executive Staff as all Experts on board will be deployed to contain the Element. Due to the nature of Disruptive Elements, there can be no SOP, but in the absence of guidance, Emergency SOP would be followed.

An Explorer craft typically carries 30 security personnel, consisting of 25 Security Officers and 5 support staff. There are commonly five 5-man Security teams (known as “Fives”) in operation though the deployment will depend on the preferences of the Security Expert.

The Support Staff consists of three Systems Security Officers and two Tactical Staff.

The Systems Security Officers are charged with maintaining the security of internal systems rather than the physical security of the halls, rooms and crawlspaces.

Tactical Staff are usually seasoned veterans, they take care of the training and wellbeing of the Fives acting in an NCO role answerable only to the Security Expert and Command Executive.

The role of Security Officer is physically demanding as it is required that they be in peak condition in order to be competitive with the standards set by Explorer-class crews (who in their own roles are expected to be in tip-top shape). They are expected to be the lead in defensive actions, combat-rescue and investigations. Security Officers are all well-trained, combat-hardened and are picked from the cream of all Explorer applicants. They are given all the best training in evaluation skills because they will likely be the individuals to decide whether a situation is friendly, hostile or disruptive.

Standard uniform is no different to the fatigues of other staff save for departmental colours and insignia. Manufactured from Active Cloth, the only differences with Security Officers are and additional suite of electronics woven into the systems which permit the SO to communicate with all designated staff and, to a degree, direct them. Active Cloth is a matrix of nanotubes and active electronics woken throughout the cloth, powered by the movement of the human body as well as able to obtain power from solar radiation. If all staff are wearing Active Cloth then all will be escalated to the same threat level as the SO which will automatically engage health monitors, adaptive camouflage, electronic countermeasures, temperature regulation and threat detection. The SO will feed all of this information to the Security Expert or, if out of contact, will make educated decisions based on the information.

Security Officers are armed with Brilliant weapons – homing, intelligent, stabilised, self-powered projectiles. These are aimed and fired and post-firing, controlled using a HUD display projected on the retina of the SO. An individual Brilliant projectile may be used as an armour-piercing slug, an anti-personnel flechette or an explosive depending on the deployment. While the use of Brilliant projectiles is limited in alien environments, the chances of friendly fire are down to an infinitesimally small percentage.

Explorer vessels do not commonly carry higher armament than this for individuals. The Explorer mission is not a military mission and higher level threats are expected to be noticed before they get close to personnel, permitting the Explorer vessel armament to take it to pieces first.

Though they are trained in all aspects of security, including boarding actions – they are dedicated to the security and integrity of Explorer vessels which is a massive undertaking with such a small staff and this dedication, along with Human Unity’s non-aggression policies mean they do not publicise or promote boarding actions except as a last resort.

Life on the Frontier

An Explorer ship can expect to be out of touch for more than two years at a stretch with only the most infrequent contact with other Explorers or with urgent messages delivered by fast-transfer Wormhole-capable ships. Due to the distances involved, direct EM transmission is simply not practical. Longer periods of time with no contact are known but are advised against as it is deleterious to morale though some Explorer Commanders believe that reminding the crew of their home is bad enough for morale.

Life within Explorer ships could be said to be comfortable but functional. Every inch of space is used to good effect and considering their mission brief it isn’t any wonder that the designers had Environmental Engineers working around the clock to make sure there was nothing wrong with the decor. Previous longhaul missions in space had some unfortunate incidents with some individuals who became fixated on small aspects of life aboard a spacecraft. Needless to say all crew are carefully screened for any hints of psychosis and those individuals who would be seen as a liability are removed from the program.

Each crew member has a separate room and is allowed to decorate it at will. They are given a cargo allowance and depending on rank may keep items in their room or in storage. They are also kitted out with a number of uniforms and a laundry/repair allowance which they use for repair or replacement of uniforms and personal equipment – constant abuse of resources is an offence itself. A crew member’s equipment and belongings are their own responsibility.

Standard Uniform is a coloured two-piece garment consisting of cargo pants and tunic, colour depending on what detachment in the military and a utility belt which carries most job-specific equipment. Some, like engineers have an additional shoulder holster and some, like scientists and other civilians wear their own clothes covered by laboratory coats for protection. The overall is functional and comfortable consisting of a waterproof durable weave padded for ease of movement and warmth. It attaches with tough Velcro-type straps providing an almost sealed system when attached correctly. It can be used for brief periods as an emergency space suit providing the helmet and life-support attachment is used.

Contrary to most thoughts on the subject, personnel aboard a starcraft do not carry personal sidearms as a matter of course. Each sidearm is carefully coded and restricted by the Internal Security Department. Other weapons such as knives and clubs are catalogued though usually their owner is permitted to retain them unless the Security Officer believes they pose a threat to craft systems or personnel.

Most people do tend to wear their work clothes when not working mainly because being so far away from the centre of things means that notions such as keeping up with fashion become more and more unlikely. The uniforms are designed for utility and comfort so there is no hardship. Rather traditional wear has become the norm and some members of the crew bring along memorabilia of their homes which leads to certain stereotypes of Scotsmen wearing kilts and the like.

All work and no play makes Jack or Jill an unhappy crew person. To this end the Environmental Architects have provided the modern Explorer ships with a certain amount of recreational space and materials which allow most crew members to partake in constructive hobbies and the library resources permit further study and education on subjects both career enhancing and purely leisurely. They even went so far as to have Leisure Counsellors who are present to help you use your time constructively. Although a certain amount of time for personal needs is permitted, Counsellors are trained to watch for crew members who seem to be spending too much time on one subject or by themselves. Though by this they may seem to be a sort of Thought Police it must be understood (and seldom is) that their job is to make sure that everyone stays quite content as accounts of individuals going ‘Space Crazy’ are not as fictional as one would hope.

As often as possible the Leisure Counsellors obtain the latest releases in media culture and entertainment for carefully controlled showings during the next period of time without contact. At this time they also collect and deliver messages which keep the contact between crew and families running even out on the Frontier. Along with mission and situation reports, Explorer craft trade entertainment media and other distractions when they meet.

Standard craft systems are augmented by virtual overlays where the computer places a holographic equivalent of the terminal in realspace. A sensornet detects disruptions in the hologram and relays these disturbances to the terminal. It is important to note that this is only used for the very basic and simple instruction sets as certain duties such as those involved with piloting and navigation have specialised equipment that is not usually configurable (for security more than anything else) from any other workstation.

Each ship would usually have about four galleys, each with differing menus for the day permitting a huge permutation of foods though they have yet to eliminate the problem of the foods tasting like they have been in storage for several months. They say it is possible to spend the entire mission on an Explorer ship and never eat the same food twice but that is a little bit of an exaggeration. The cooks do well but they can only do as well as anyone else and on especially long missions without resupply the crew can be seen tucking into reconstituted powdered rations. Yum yum. Explorers do not have the room for Hydroponics or live gardens.

Life aboard an Explorer craft is not unpleasant though it is demanding. The people on board are highly motivated, enthused by their role and the missions and generally well-disposed to other members of the crew. Personality defects on longhaul missions could be fatal and a rigorous examination of an individual’s character and past performance is performed by Experts before they are even considered for a mission. The craft is equipped with chemical means of controlling aberrant behaviour though long term use is a repugnant concept to Human Unity physicians.

The Captain of an Explorer vessel is always an Expert. It will have the support and backup of an executive team consisting of Experts and natural humans who implement the decisions made. In the event of irreparable damage to the Captain, another Expert can assume the role with full access to the data banks. The other Experts will have different duties depending on their specialisations and they work alongside their natural human colleagues.

An Explorer craft is best described as a small community. With seldom more than 200 natural humans and perhaps ten Experts, it is important that everyone get along and the crew, including the Experts, have likely been co-habiting for nearly a year before they leave Earth. This acclimatisation, added to the professionalism of the crews, is thought to be enough to detect any social issues. Individuals are encouraged to socialise outside of their work areas so a crew member might find his schedule updated with events he can attend or simply subscribe remotely which would take him far from his traditional comfort zone. His responses to these invites are monitored but rarely acted upon. A planetologist may find he has very little in common with the External Threat Teams and there is no assumption that any individuals and groups will become friends, but making them more than statistics is important to the smooth running of an Explorer.

Crews are made up of elite personnel, culled from the millions of applicants to the Exploratory Division. They must be capable of independent thought and action, able to make decisions which will properly represent the principles of Human Unity. This delegation of responsibility decreases as the ranks are traversed but then the individual crewmember has a lot of decision-making power about his specialist area. The Executive team along with the Captain Expert is responsible for making Human Unity policy on the spot which may be difficult if there is a Disruptive Element (also known as an Outside Context Problem). This may be something that shatters the previously held world views – an example would be the ability of an alien species to interbreed with humanity or the power to create personal wormholes with man-portable technology. These would cause immense changes in society and raise alarming questions. An Explorer executive team is therefore required to be imaginative yet consistent. The level of competence required and the trust place in Explorer crews is much greater than any precedents.

Wormholes

Unknown to most, Wormholes are naturally occurring tunnels through space. They allow, through the use of sophisticated detection and navigation equipment, travel from one end of the wormhole to the other and may conceivably be of any length. The problem that they must be discovered not created lends a peculiar topology to the universe.

Mapped wormholes are known to be fixed in length but do not necessarily take the shortest route available. If a craft takes seven hours to travel Rozkosny’s Deep (The Sol-Altair Wormhole) then it will always take seven hours to make that journey – a journey of over 16 light years. On the other hand, the trip from Sol – Rist is further than our current technology can detect but the wormhole would take that same craft 17 hours to navigate.

The first anyone knew of wormholes was two years after the first contact with the Traders. Human Unity had already begun negotiations for the theoretical design specifications of the FTL wormholes but hadn’t yet witnessed the formation of a wormhole. When a wormhole opens it is accompanied by a burst of visible light which is wormhole energies translating into a transferable medium. When a ship emerges from a wormhole, it appears after the pinpoint of light dulls. Likewise when entering a wormhole the ship is enveloped in the light and is gone by the time it dulls.

Multiple ships can use the same wormhole at the same time and sometimes, on busy trade routes, this can lead to some rather spectacular pyrotechnics which is and has always been a popular tourist attraction.

The interior of wormholes is described as ever-darkening shades of blackness. Its contours are mapped using Trader technology which seems to measure a form of energy density gradient. This technology remains ‘black box’ within human space.

Wormhole Theory
Within a wormhole is a pocket universe of unknown dimensions filled with energies of unknown properties. Within this pocket universe this energy forms currents which seem to lead from one wormhole to another. What are perceived as the edges of the wormhole tunnel are, in reality, areas where the energy flow is either less or more energetic or perhaps is ‘flowing’ in a different direction. Contact with this ‘energy wall’ is similar to the effect of bumping into a stream of fast moving water while swimming. At best the craft can expect to be bounced about, at worst vessels have been lost. Sometimes we even get the debris at the other end. It is known that the strength of these energy currents determines the relative speed of travel within the wormhole.

Wormhole Travel History
Originally travel in wormholes was ‘blind’ consisting of calculations provided by the extremely complex formulae which operated on information fed to them via the Trader-supplied navigation equipment. Travel was hazardous and slow as the bends and twists of the wormhole had to be mapped and then anticipated as plotted vectors. A mistake meant that the craft would plow into a wall with likely fatal results.

With the advent of further trade and the technological developments of Human Unity scientists the basic navigation equipment and formulae have been incorporated into a very powerful graphical imaging computer which can plot the information received into a visual display thus providing a method of travel which is no longer ‘blind’. This system is not however infallible and every starcraft licensed under the laws of Human Unity must be equipped with secondary Blind navigation. All navigation is handled by Experts though there are trained natural human astrogators on board every craft.

Wormhole Nexuses
There are two known wormhole nexuses. One is located along the Rigel wormhole and the other is yet being investigated (sic). Nexuses are when a wormhole intersects another for some reason. Possible reasons for this might be the dynamics of the energy flows within the wormhole, the tunnel taking the easiest route. Another reason might be that most wormholes possess nexuses but most of these connections are too small to be detected by standard navigation equipment. It is known that there are Explorer craft investigating this phenomenon with static wormhole investigations (using engines to maintain a slow pace through the wormhole, resisting the natural flow of energy, thus permitting more accurate detection of the interior of the wormhole walls.)

Many systems have more than one wormhole within a reasonably traversable distance though the possibility of finding wormhole nexuses is very enticing. The reason being that in-system transit between wormhole interfaces can take weeks or months which is a considerable detour. A nexus within a wormhole would reduce this considerably.

Wormhole Traffic
Wormholes are generally large enough to allow the easy access of several craft without danger of collision but collisions have taken place. As craft represent a solid medium rather than the fluid dynamics of the interiors they can be detected easily and thus avoided.

The FTL-STOP
Although it not known how exactly this device operates, theorists maintain that it must prevent the opening of a wormhole exit point. What is known is that if travel to a closed system is attempted then the entry wormhole forms but soon after entry the energy flows become unstable and the craft is released from the wormhole close to the entry point.

Questions:

The Traders:
The Traders provides the theory to access Wormholes and to navigate through them. We provided the derivations from that theory. It is thought the Traders also possess the secrets to tunnelling wormholes. We believe their craft are capable of building wormholes where they want them and also collapsing them if they wish to keep something secret. A group of Human Unity scientists is working on a theory that basically exposes this concept. Proof is, of course, lacking.

Relativity:
The wormholes also may progress through time as well as space. Wormhole theory allows for this. Arguably traveling 17 light years in 7 hours is time traveling as the light from Sol will not have reached you for another 17 years. The light from Sol you can see will therefore be 17 years old. There are few abuses of this phenomenon.

Travel Time:
Trader ships are theorised as being capable of almost instantaneous travel as they dig their own wormholes. What is the optimum travel time? Why did they leave some stars without wormholes? Why did they dig holes to others? Are Wormholes naturally created as well? Why do they dig “long travel time” wormholes? Perhaps as an early warning device?

A Visit to Kumbu

There are various periods in Humanity’s history that can be legitimately called “The Dark Ages”. Any period where there is a lack of records represents the unknown. The period of Earth’s history two millennia ago was perhaps our darkest hour as records show that our advancement of knowledge not only slowed but crawled backwards and even basic skills of the time, such as writing or pottery, began to be lost. But Humanity prospered still and would later come to lament the losses of knowledge which set us back decades if not centuries. We recognise the follies of past rulers who sought to burn the great libraries for their short sightedness. As we still crawl out of our gravity wells and seek to find what was lost, we have to wonder where would humanity have reached without these setbacks. If the pre-Christian libraries had not been burned? If fear and doubt had not prevented research into life saving technologies in the 21st Century. If we had not lost so many cities during the Conquest Wars centuries ago. Would we have met the Traders earlier? I would hope not. I would hope it was our society developing, our social conscience and culture which attracted them and not just our ability to escape this sphere.

With this in mind, I have made my pilgrimage to Kumbu.

Kumbu is, in truth, a thing and not a place. It is a purpose-built data repository where the sum total of everything is stored and replicated. Every morsel of information discovered is reviewed, tested, reviewed again several more times and then placed in the repository for later generations. There are more than a dozen such repositories worldwide but this one, the Kumbu repository in East Africa is the only one open to the public. Others are protected in order to prevent another dark age.

Entering Kumbu is almost a religious experience. This is the most significant human achievement in existence. We took all of human knowledge that we could recover, added to it the vast data stores received from the Traders and began correlating it using human-Trader constructed algorithms. The entrance atrium is an airy marvel and apart from the browsing booths and the Assistance Expert, there is nothing to see. Anyone can come in and browse. Only if your query goes beyond the initial buffers which are maintained containing the most frequently asked billion or so questions, will the Assistance Expert intervene and direct you further. Most Explorer research teams skip the browsing hall entirely and go straight to the back of the hall for admittance to the Query Rooms. All Query rooms are occupied by an Assistance Expert whose purpose is to help you refine your query and find you the information as quickly as possible. Retrieval of information is almost instant, understanding an obscure query can take some time. To skip the browsing hall is difficult enough and the Assistance Experts can be very firm.

With Kumbu, we can functionally translate almost any language, given time. It has, at times, been key in dealing with alien species from a cultural, diplomatic and exobiological approach. The only problem being that when you need it most is when you’ve just discovered a new alien race who looks hostile and they’re bigger than you. Kumbu is Earth-bound. The quickest way to get an answer is to traverse the wormhole network and start the research (arguably you just need to return in-system as the months of travel back to Earth would be wasted when you could send an EM transmission and have the answer sent back within minutes). Needless to say, the Research team aboard an Explorer spends months at Kumbu before they even set foot aboard an Explorer. They plot out the journey, taking note of what encounters are likely and attempt to make plans for the outcome. This part of the expedition planning is undoubtedly the most complex and takes some of the smartest brains. The Query room are the only place to get detailed information on wormhole routes, a map that comprises a thousand layered maps, giving the wormhole network a fourth dimensional aspect.

Behind the Query Rooms are the Editing Halls. These have the austere atmosphere of monastic cloisters and if they are beautiful, it is by accident. There are few places in this Universe which would be described as a privilege to visit or work, but this trumps them all. Everyone there is either Editor, Archivist or Visitor. There is a flat, peer-reviewed organisation to the Halls and they employ Human Unity’s own resourcing teams to find them the best, the brightest, the most dedicated and, most of all, most scrupulously honest candidates. Few Visitors, even among Explorer researchers, ever manage to visit this far.

Within the Halls we can see that the repository contains data in almost every form. Writing in a million languages, recorded audio and video, chemical formulae, cascading light patterns of coherent light and EM scan readings. The Archivists work hard, attempting to make sense of the information which arrives daily as well as the Trader-sourced information, of which they estimate that they have accessed about 6% of the content. Undoubtedly some will never be retrievable but the main job of the Archivist is to determine the origin and categorise the content. Understanding is left to the Editors who must further breakdown the information and decide if an image sequence just viewed is educational, political, religious or economic in nature. Later still, they will attempt to determine if it is authentic or true. The most important task of the Editor is also his greatest burden. Some entries have been found to be more than just misleading but also hostile, especially when attached to a computer system. Others would foment seeds of rebellion in the impressionable and are therefore restricted. Censorship of this sort is distasteful but necessary.

There are entries in the Trader-sourced archives about Earth and it’s inhabitants. A survey vessel belonging to a race known only as The People encountered a dormant Trader vessel at the end of our wormhole circa CE 1901. When they approached the outer rims of the Solar System, the Trader vessel powered up and offered to Trade, claiming this system was under their control. Attempts to engage the Traders in conversation about this has been fruitless to date. It is unknown how long the Traders had been observing us.

Ajinabi

We were startled by our uniqueness. The first Explorer craft took the time to catalog everything they encountered, well aware that it would be scratching the surface of the biosphere’s they encountered. Their samples, akin to descending on Luxembourg and taking that small nation as the representative sample of Earth, were recorded, preserved, ferried to and fro and studied by hundreds of pairs of eyes.

The end result was as startling as it was true. We were alone in the Universe.

Yes, the Universe teemed with life, some of it intelligent, some of it far in advance of what Human Unity was capable of, but none of it was humanoid. In fact the only humanoids we encountered were those who had come from Earth. Rare were the encounters with other Explorers, even rarer still the remnants of lost colonies which had made their passage via slow boat to nearby stars.

Exobiologists are very excited when another garden world is discovered. They marvel for years about the coincidences of concurrent evolution, whether there is really a best shape or an ideal mould for sentient life. Gone from the discussion are the religious fanatics who insisted that God made Man in his own image. As we became to redefine “life” and what was meant by “man”, so we came to redefine “god”.

The Ajinabi are therefore our worst nightmare. Human Unity finds itself faced with an interstellar society more alien than anything we have encountered. The name Ajinabi was coined by Researcher Adrah Nia.

A creature which has been born on a different planet, which has never seen the light of Sol and did not come from it’s third satellite is truly alien. We have witnessed the hive-like overminds of Rist, the dire warnings from the Tombworlds, the Able, the inscrutable machine intelligences of the Ant Hill and the vast, cool intellects of the Traders. None gave us pause. We understood them as best we could and our expectations were therefore prepared for culture shocks that, in hindsight, never came. We expected aliens and we were not disappointed. Our encounter with the Ajinabi was as profoundly upsetting to our culture as Cortez first visit to the Aztecs.

The Ajinabi are a humanoid race, unlike humans, but chillingly similar. They have two arms, two legs, they are bilaterally symmetrical, possess two eyes, a horizontal mouth, have two distinct genders, reproduce sexually and for the most part could be mistaken for an Earth human without autopsy. We have not yet managed to contact the Ajinabi with any meaningful success. It seems they are a xenophobic aggressive race, bent on conquest and possessing armaments and craft far in advance of anything Human Unity has offered. Two Explorer craft are listed as missing due to Ajinabi encounters and any information we have is based entirely on reports, conjecture and consulting the Kumbu repository.

Any contact with Ajinabi is assumed to be hostile and Explorer craft are advised to retreat immediately.

Trade Talk: Tales of Sol

There is a world, twelve pipes from here, where the people are soft and covered in a very fine fur, from top to bottom. At first glance, they all look very alike except for pigmentation but some grow their fur longer or shorter in accordance with their religion. They are descended from animals who walked on the plains of their world, who in turn descended from more primitive creatures who lived in the trees. They bear some shame in their heritage as they cut their fur and attempt to keep it covered even when the environment is not hostile.

They do not live long, but they scurry around and fill their short lives with meaning. They do not hibernate, but some choose to enter storage and wait out the years. They do have a hibernative state which they enter frequently in order to process and meditate on the events of the past and plan for the future. During this time they are insensate and extremely vulnerable and will secure themselves away from others (other than their mates or immediate family) while in this state. They cannot regrow a limb without the use of technology and, more amazingly, seem intelligent despite having only one brain. They breathe a mixture of gases which would be poisonous to us and their outer surface is dry and sloughs off a constant stream of matter. They balance on two thin limbs, a holdover from their plains-dwelling ancestors, which afforded them height so they could keep an eye out for predators. They only have two upper limbs which have one manipulator each which means they are very limited in their ability to multi-task and enhance this through the use of technology. By all accounts they are a very reactive and intuitive species and enjoy solving puzzles, responding well to rewards.

Internally they are much like us – organs and glands and blood. Through an unfortunate accident of evolution, their reproductory organs are situated in the same flesh coverings as their excretory organs which must lead to terrible problems. And some of them have died because they share the same pipe to eat and drink as they do to breathe. Much of their capacity for sensual enjoyment is linked to both these regions and is linked to their reproduction, which they control chemically. They don’t have any capacity for ####### (translation missing). Their bodies are a balance of symbionts and they are highly susceptible to parasites. Their mastery of chemicals is quite astounding and they use them for medical and recreational purposes. This again led to conflict as a significant proportion of their society used to believe that pleasure for the sake of pleasure was the downfall of a species and many were persecuted or killed for having fun.

Their history is not unlike our own. They had a brief, though more recent spate of petty wars about resources but at the same time maintained a very rapid rate of technological and social development though their primitive roots were never truly released as even when they reached out to touch other worlds, they still believed in gods in the sky and performed regular apostheosis rituals on some members of their upper castes. We cannot judge as this was important in our own development. Their socio-political unification is very important to them and is central to their development of their present culture. They are a social species, developing complex relationships and with a marked preference for beauty and aesthetics. They express themselves in everything they do which has led to conflict in the past due to differences in belief systems. Their expression is often the only way they leave their mark on the universe and what they create is often revered by others after they are long dead.

Contact with the Traders took more than eight of our years, equivalent to four of their lifespans as they reacted at first with fear and violence. By the time they had matured enough to respond with reason, they had rid themselves of most of their primitive trappings. The Traders did their usual work – taking some of their culture to share with the universe, in return for a map of the universe.

I have not yet seen a Human but I wish to.

– Journal of Seren, 30th son of Seren.

Seren is a member of the Able, a term for their species on their planet. The Able at first glance resemble Earth molluscs and crustaceans. They are semi-aquatic, returning to pools for a hibernative stage in their development which they refer to as their childhood. They can have several childhoods in a single lifetime. Their world orbits their sun very slowly in comparison to Earth and an Able is fully grown at one of their years. Most never live beyond six years of age but there are some who reach ten years.

The Ant Hill

Swarm Intelligences were prevalent on Earth in the form of social insect colonies long before we encountered the Ant Hill. We knew that a set of relatively primitive individual behaviors enhanced with communication will produce a large set of complex swarm behaviors. This observation was instrumental in producing NIPS (NanoIntelligent Protection Systems) and our understanding of swarm intelligence as a subject would prepare us well for our first encounters, making the alien seem altogether less alien.

The origins of the swarm-intelligences are unknown and communication with the mind has been all but impossible due to the differences in our frames of reference. The swarm-intelligence does not see Human Unity as an entity, nor does it consider humans as anything but ‘resources’, much to our chagrin. Even with our understanding, Experts have been surprised (and perhaps dismayed) to discover how simple individual elements of the swarm actually are. Details about the swarm and how to deal with them were some of the most important and perhaps prescient articles which were Traded.

Our first contact with the Ant Hill, our closest swarm-intelligence, was terrifyingly within our own Solar System. The swarm was surveying Sol for resources and signs of intelligence and as soon as a fleet could be mustered, their exploratory advances were quickly and resolutely beaten off. As predicted, they have not returned. It is evident that the swarm-intelligence is non aggressive under normal circumstances. When met with a sufficient show of force, they will uniformly retreat. This swarm-intelligence is known to be currently located at Barnard’s Star, an uncomfortable 5.9 light years from Sol.

Records exist, however, of massive swarm bodies invading systems and overcoming the defenses of inhabitants and devouring the worlds within. They usually start with the asteroids and gas giants, consuming their mass and converting it to raw materials. In this way the swarm grows at an incredible rate and does not discriminate between rock and flesh in terms of resources.

Swarms reproduce asexually – creating hundreds of similar drones from a limited pattern set. They can, however, reproduce in a sexual manner through the exchange of pattern blueprints and experiences which may result in a change to the established pattern and therefore a heterogeneous population of swarm drones. Much like organic populations, swarm reproduction factories are susceptible to mutation and this theory is used to explain the nightmare scenarios related about the swarms. A mutant swarm might be hyper-aggressive or hyper-expansionist, producing huge numbers of hunter/killer drones in accordance with their programming.

Swarm-intelligences do not travel at relativistic speeds nor do they have access to the Wormholes. The perception of time in terms of days, years or millennia is immaterial. They know only “now” and “soon” and react accordingly. As they do not consider time as we do, it can be very difficult to communicate with them as they are conditioned to the vast, cold depths of space and when they send messages between, they do not expect replies for years. Swarms are seldom encountered because they spend the bulk of their existence in the spaces between the stars, far from wormhole entrances.

A “Soon” swarm is of no danger. They have sufficient resource for whatever values of “soon” they may consider which may be hundreds of Earth years or more. Human Unity has instructed Explorer craft to observe swarms which appear to be in this state and attempt communication.

A “Now” swarm is a serious danger to all in the immediate area. The swarm has decided it has insufficient resources for survival and has begun to take steps to survive. Conversion of around 40% of their workforce into “hunters” is complete within a matter of weeks and the remainder become “cysts”, hardened defense platforms. It is not known what triggers the change from “soon” to “now” but Explorer craft should be prepared for it.

Swarm intelligences do communicate with each other (though the mechanism is unknown) and since the conflict at Sol with the Ant Hill, swarms have shown deference to similarly equipped Explorer craft. Human Unity has equipped all Explorers with emergency transponders which will mimic the signature of the victorious fleet at Sol if an Explorer craft is found to be under assault. Avoidance is considered to be the best path.

Description:
An individual swarm machine depends on it’s function. For the most part a swarm individual will have antennae, lasers (for cutting and communications), grabbers, a propulsion system and power generation. The heart of a swarm intelligence is the fabric – the closest parallel to a brain. The swarm individuals making up the fabric may have sacrificed certain components required for individual survival and replaced them with other components conducive to intra-swarm communications. Under normal conditions, swarm individuals have been seen to attach and detach from this fabric at seemingly random intervals. Individuals are therefore able to multi-task – sometimes performing the role of nervous system, at other times messenger, then perhaps hunter or cyst. This malleability of purpose is one of their most impressive strengths.

The Ant Hill swarm is the most studied swarm intelligence due to our contact and it’s immediate proximity. Robot probe, Expert and even manned expeditions have been dispatched to observe their working. The Ant Hill fabric is based around a lattice of individual connected cysts, holding asteroid chunks like glittering dew on a spiders web and other raw materials in place for supply to the nucleus. Within the nucleus is a factory, based in a massive hollowed-out asteroid, which continually churns out more swarm individuals. Surveys report the Ant Hill is currently amassing resources, harvesting gas clouds, asteroid fields and even capturing comets for the nucleus.