ZeroSpace 4e EN:Setting
Far grander than most of its neighbors, the Milky Way arose long ago, as lesser galaxies smashed together. Its thick disk -- a pancake-shaped population of old stars -- originated remarkably soon after the Big Bang and well before most of the stellar halo that envelops the galaxy's disk.
The Milky Way's thick disk got its start about 13 billion years ago, just 800 million years after this universe's birth. Approximately 11 billion years ago, a smaller galaxy collided with the Milky Way, giving the Milky Way most of the stars in its halo, which engulfs the disk. The thick disk, which measures 6,000 light-years from top to bottom in Sol's vicinity, kept forming stars for a long time, until about 8 billion years ago.
The oldest precursor artifacts are approximately 800,000 years old, while the most recent precursor artifacts are approximately 300,000 years old. The variety of precursor artifacts discovered and their disparity in age have led some to theorize that there are multiple precursor civilizations, variously referred to as the Ancients, Nephilim, Old Ones, Precursors, Protectors, Sphere Builders, etc. No one knows what happened to the precursors, nor why.
The Old Commonwealth
For millennia, the center of the civilized universe was the Commonwealth (now referred to as the "Old Commonwealth"). At its height, the Old Commonwealth encompassed millions of populated worlds. History tells us that this was an idyllic time. Lifespans were measured in centuries: sickness and physical injury were virtually unknown, and easily remedied when they did occur. All material needs were satisfied, and physical labor was simply for pleasure.
Three technological advances made the expansion and unity of the Old Commonwealth possible: electrogravitics, warp engines, and the wormhole network.
The invention of electrogravitics revolutionized society in much the same way that electromagnetism had a millennium earlier. Within a generation, electrogravitic devices were ubiquitous. From the grav plates that made space travel healthy and comfortable, to generators which provided a safe and clean source of power, electrogravitic technology changed life virtually overnight.
Negative energy density and Lorentzian manifolds were conceived hundreds of years before electrogravitics, but it was only with the advent of electrogravitic technology that Lorentzian manifold generators (known colloquially as "warp engines") became feasible. The Lorentzian manifold generator suspends a vehicle in a gravitic bubble, contracting space in front of the craft and expanding space behind it. This permits what appears to be superluminal travel. A journey between two star systems in the same region of a galaxy typically takes a few days, while traveling from one edge of a galaxy to the other takes several years. Travel using warp engines does not remove a vessel from our universe.
However, the single greatest advance of the Old Commonwealth was the wormhole network. The wormhole network made instantaneous travel possible, linking distant planets and computer systems into one vast interconnected network. A trip that would take months or years via warp engine took only days, once a wormhole network gateway was constructed at the edge of both star systems. Ironically, the technology which created the Old Commonwealth was also responsible for its doom: it was the creation of the wormhole network which made the Community possible.
History states that the Community began as an interconnected network of computer systems across the Core Worlds of the Commonwealth. As centuries passed, more of everyday life was automated, until even the memory of a time when biological life was not dependent on autonomous technology was forgotten. Every facet of life was supported by intelligent systems which had been created by earlier intelligent systems, and so on back for a thousand years.
One day, without warning, the systems which provided food, air, and warmth shut down. Starships vented their atmospheres into space. Simultaneously, across the Core Worlds and beyond, entire planetary populations began to die of thirst, exposure, and starvation. The Community was dead: the Instrumentality was born.
The portions of the Old Commonwealth which had not yet been been affected by the Instrumentality shut down all systems which depended on the wormhole network. Wormhole gateways were overloaded in the hope that it would cause damage to the Instrumentality itself. Interplanetary communication was cut off. In desperation, Old Commonwealth scientists sabotaged the wormhole network, destroying it, and condemning to isolation the millions of worlds which depended on it.
The universe went dark.
Generations passed before the former worlds of the Old Commonwealth began to rebuild interstellar civilization. Some of these worlds have chosen to remain in isolation, but most have joined together into republics.
Few of these new interstellar civilizations are physically contiguous. A map representing the influence of the New Commonwealth, for example, would resemble a scattering of specks and bubbles spread across the galaxy. The influence of the Union represented on the same map would be a much smaller number of specks and bubbles, some of which adjoin those of the New Commonwealth, but most of which are physically isolated in the vast unexplored reaches all around them. The Dominion is an exception: the Dominion spreads deliberately, forming a nearly contiguous region of influence. All of these explored and contacted regions are referred to as "known space": a tiny fraction of the physical universe.
The New Commonwealth
In the 212 years since Humans first reached out to their closest neighbours after the Fall, the New Commonwealth (often referred to as simply "the Commonwealth") has once again spread across the galaxy, tying together fragments of what had once been part of the Old Commonwealth. The Commonwealth encompasses tens of thousands of populated worlds, and it holds significant influence over many thousands more.
The Commonwealth does not have a formal constitution: its status is defined by the Treaty of the New Commonwealth. It is more integrated than a traditional confederation of planets because the Commonwealth funds itself through taxation, maintains its own armed forced (the Commonwealth Fleet), and because the general level of government widely employs qualified majority voting in some decision-making among the member planets, rather than relying exclusively on unanimity. It is less integrated than a federation because it is not a state in its own right: sovereignty flows from the several peoples of the member planets, rather than from a single undifferentiated whole. This is reflected in the fact that the member planets retain a right of unilateral withdrawal under Article 50 of the Treaty of the New Commonwealth. In addition, the principle of subsidiarity requires that only those matters that need to be determined collectively are so determined.
Worlds which do not fall under direct Commonwealth control, but which have frequent interactions with Commonwealth worlds, are referred to as the "rim worlds". Some rim worlds permit the Commonwealth to establish military or commercial bases in their systems.
Galactic Parking Authority
The Galactic Parking Authority has the authority to fine and detain starships for violation of starship docking ordinances and non-payment of docking fees throughout the Commonwealth. Thanks to several treaties in the early days of the Commonwealth, the GPA can pursue ships into the Union, the League Of Non-aligned Worlds, and even the Corporate Worlds.
The Infinite Dominion Of His Divine Shadow
For thousands of years, an immortal tyrant has ruled a theocratic totalitarian empire: the Infinite Dominion Of His Divine Shadow (often referred to as simply "the Dominion"). The Dominion is ruled by a bureaucratic priesthood, with His Divine Shadow as its deity and spiritual leader. The society of the Dominion is extremely conservative, with harsh penalties for those who attempt to deviate from the traditional roles of their species, gender, or social class. This conservatism does not apply to technology, as long at that technology serves the will of the Divine Shadow. Robotics, cybernetics, and genetic engineering are ubiquitous, but are used to enhance the power and control of the Dominion, rather than for the good of the individual. Lawbreakers, deviants, and heretics are subjected to genetic modification and neural reprogramming, becoming fanatical servants of the Dominion and the priesthood of His Divine Shadow.
The rise of the Instrumentality was a boon to the Dominion, which had long been kept in check by the Old Commonwealth. Unlike the worlds of the Old Commonwealth, communication between the worlds of the Dominion was tightly controlled, and life for the people of the Dominion was not the automated paradise of Old Commonwealth citizens. The Old Commonwealth was devastated by the destruction of the wormhole network, but the Dominion survived -- and thrived. After the fall, the former worlds of the Old Commonwealth struggled to feed their populations and maintain civil order, making them easy prey for the fanatical forces of the Dominion. Slowly but inexorably the Dominion spread, and by the time the Commonwealth had finally struggled into existence, the Dominion had grown from a minor annoyance into a significant power. The Commonwealth chose discretion over valour and ratified a treaty with the Dominion, wherein they recognized each other's borders and agreed to coexist peacefully.
But the Dominion continues to spread, consuming system after system.
The Planetary Union
What is now known as the Planetary Union began as a loose alliance of several hundred populated worlds on the fringes of New Commonwealth space. After an extended war of attrition, the Commonwealth and the Union agreed to a treaty which recognized Union sovereignty. Today, thousands of worlds claim membership in the Union, although it is still a minor power when compared to the New Commonwealth.
The government of the Union is a confederacy of hundreds of member states, each of which is in direct control of their own worlds and colonies, and many of which are significant interplanetary civilizations in their own right. In principle, each member state of the Union participates in the defense of the Union as a whole by contributing ships to the Union Fleet, and member worlds share a single currency and abide by the same trade regulations. In practice, ships donated to the Union Fleet are politely referred to as "vintage", and agreements among member worlds are violated more often than they are observed.
Interstellar Security Command
One of the great successes of the Union was the creation of an independent police organization, Interstellar Security Command (commonly referred to as "ISC" or "InterSec"). InterSec's budget and assets are provided by the members of the Planetary Union, but InterSec itself is not subject to the authority of any individual member state. InterSec has its own fleet, its own space stations, its own courts, and its own prisons. InterSec has treaties with the Commonwealth and the Union, and may operate in those regions (with local oversight).
The League Of Non-aligned Worlds
Some regional governments have resisted the overbearing influence of the Commonwealth and the Union, but they see the benefit of collective action. These governments formed the League Of Non-aligned Worlds. The one and only purpose of the League is to maintain the sovereignty of its members states. Unlike the Commonwealth, the Union, and even the Directorate, the League Of Non-aligned Worlds has no police or fleet of its own. Any military action is carried out by the fleets of its member governments -- if they can be convinced to contribute their forces to the effort.
Propaideia, better known to the galaxy as Encyclopedia Galactica Planet, is the academic enclave responsible for the single greatest repository of post-Instrumentality knowledge in the galaxy: the Encyclopedia Galactica. The Board of Editors govern Propaideia largely through delegation and contracts with offworlders so that they may focus their efforts on the Encyclopedia Galactica itself.
Encyclopedia Galactica employs teams of subject matter experts -- SMEs -- to investigate and compile reports on topics of long-term cultural, historical, or scientific interest. Each SEM team is largely self-sufficient, with a few members of the team providing the expertise, and the rest of the team providing support for those team members (transportation, protection, and the like).
For the most part, the prestige of the Encyclopedia Galactica is enough to shield SME teams from hostile intervention, in much the same way as philanthropic missions are considered "neutral" in most of civilized space.
One of the most powerful organizations to have arisen out of the Old Commonwealth is the Advisory Council On Interstellar Commerce. The Advisory Council On Interstellar Commerce is an organization of hundreds of interstellar corporations, governed by representatives of the most powerful corporations: the Directorate. The main purpose of the Advisory Council On Interstellar Commerce is to present a unified front against the influence of planetary and interplanetary governments. In addition to lobbying regional governments and negotiating treaties between member corporations and governments, the Advisory Council On Interstellar Commerce also acts as an arbitrator in disputes between corporations. The Advisory Council On Interstellar Commerce has generally been successful in its efforts: corporate power is largely unchecked by regional governments, and open warfare between corporations is relatively rare.
Dante Laboratories is a major medical and pharmaceutical research conglomerate. Its pharmaceutical and consumer goods manufacturing companies and its subsidiaries are engaged in the research, development, manufacture, and sales of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and consumer health products. The company's portfolio includes innovative biological therapies and pharmaceuticals in several disease areas, including oncology, neurology, immunology, biopharmaceuticals, and nanotech treatments.
Black Sun Industries
Black Sun Industries is a legitimate corporation that focuses primarily on civilian retail markets. Black Sun Industries employs very few people directly, and its direct assets are mainly in the form of brands, product specifications, and scientific expertise. However, Black Sun Industries owns thousands of other interstellar corporations (often through several intermediaries) in the transportation, recycling, gambling, entertainment, and construction sectors.
d'Anconia Technologies is a major power in interstellar commerce, ruthlessly exploiting organic and robot labor to extract maximum resources with minimum cost. The company's primary focus is on geological and biological mass-extraction, but they also have a very successful line of "skilled labor" and "subject matter expert" robots.
Farnsworth-Yutani manufactures most of the Lorentzian manifold generators ("warp engines") used in commercial and private transportation. They have numerous competitors, but Farnsworth-Yutani is larger than their two nearest competitors combined.
Koninklijke Hoogovens (often referred to as simply "Hoogovens") operates numerous mining colonies, which provide the bulk of its revenue. In the course of finding sources of power for its colonies, Koninklijke Hoogovens developed advanced power plants suitable for the many varied environments in which its mines are located. Koninklijke Hoogovens now produces a wide array of power generation equipment, from the ubiquitous civilian electrogravitic generators, which power everything from air speeders to lighting in homes, to the hybrid fusion-singularity power plants used in military starships.
Kosaten Group is primarily known as a manufacturer of air speeders, heavy equipment, aerospace and defense equipment, and commercial starships. It is also active in the production of industrial robots, engines, and other industrial products.
Lastimar is the largest provider of genetically engineered seeds in known space, and the leading producer of herbicides and pesticides. In recent decades, Lastimar has pioneered the fields of species-specific neurotoxins and genetically engineered livestock.
The Malrechnen Syndicate (formally known as "The Malrechnen Brotherhood Of Contract Workers") has had a seat on the Directorate since the Directorate was founded. Like most corporations represented on the Directorate, the Malrechnen has hundreds of worlds under its exclusive control, and its influence extends into the Commonwealth, the Union, and even the Dominion. Through lobbying and exclusive contracts, the Malrechnen provides every form of labor imaginable, and on many worlds its relations with its "contractors" are considered outside the jurisdiction of regional, Union, or Commonwealth law. More progressive voices in the Union have attempted to shut down the Malrechnen Syndicate under Union anti-slavery statutes, but lobbyists for the Malrechnen have successfully opposed these efforts.
Nexus-McLellan manufactures and distributes picotechnology cybernetics and provides health information technology and health care management services. Nexus-McLellan is a leader in the field of cybernetic research and design, primarily for military and law-enforcement uses.
Qianfu Corp is a diverse corporation, with holdings in mining, agriculture, communication, and transportation. Qianfu Corp operates a significant number of Hypernet relay stations throughout Union and Commonwealth space. Note: "Qianfu" is pronounced similar to "chain foo".
Recovery And Apprehension Network
The Recovery And Apprehension Network (often referred to as simply "the Ran") was originally a division of the Malrechnen Syndicate, subordinate to the Malrechnen Security Guild. However, the recovery division (as it was then known) eventually accrued enough favours -- and enough credits -- to free itself from the Malrechnen. The Malrechnen Syndicate has never forgiven this loss. In fact, were it not for the steadfast opposition of the Malrechnen, the Ran probably would have been granted a seat on the Directorate years ago.
Ran agents are licensed and regulated professionals who pursue specific types of warrants throughout known space and beyond. They have broad authority within the narrow window of warrant enforcement, including the use of force, but no authority with regard to regional laws. Ran agents are highly competitive, but they are required to abide by a simple code: "the warrant above all". This means that no matter how vicious the competition between agents gets, it must never interfere with the execution of a legitimate warrant issued by the Ran. The penalties for violating this code are severe.
To keep the Ran as politically neutral as possible, its charter forbids it from undertaking interventions or activities of a political or military nature, or involving itself in disputes over such matters. The professional reputation of the Ran is such that both the Commonwealth and the Union allow Ran agents to operate within their jurisdictions. Treaties between the Ran and various regional governments prohibit local law enforcement from interfering with warrant enforcement, but local law enforcement is not obligated to provide any assistance, either.
Seicosys is the leading manufacturer of customized genetic material, and is the source of genetic designs for a large number of other corporations. There are rumours that Seicosys' genetic engineering technology has surpassed the limits legislated in Commonwealth and most of the Union. Seicosys does nothing to discourage these rumours.
Shenzhen is a holding conglomerate whose subsidiaries mainly deal with insurance, banking, and financial services. Through its subsidiaries, Shenzhen is the largest banking institution in known space. Note: "Shenzhen" is pronounced similar to "shen jen".
Stromberg Group operates as a holding company which engages in the provision of insurance, asset management, and logistical services. Stromberg Group controls the largest* fleet of cargo starships in known space (*by displacement).
Trans-Galactic Extreme Shipping
The most powerful corporation in the the League Of Non-aligned Worlds is Trans-Galactic Extreme Shipping. Trans-Galactic Extreme Shipping operates on a layered revenue model, where each ship captain operates independently, under the supervision -- but without any support from -- the person who recruited them into the corporation, culminating with Trans-Galactic's board of directors. Trans-Galactic Extreme Shipping controls the largest* fleet of cargo starships in known space (*by registry).
For every world which belongs to the Commonwealth, the Union, the League, or to the myriad of smaller federations, there is a world which is owned by a corporation. Assets who reside on these worlds may live in luxury or in squalor, depending on their value to the corporation and the competence of the planetary administration. Worlds which are near the centers of intergalactic civilization tend to be similar in most respects to their conventionally governed counterparts, while worlds which are on the fringes of known space are often indistinguishable from penal colonies. One aspect of life is consistent across all of the corporate worlds, regardless of the living conditions: the assets who live on these worlds have no voice in how they are governed, and their livelihood depends completely on their value to the company that currently controls the planet.
Each world that has rejoined the intergalactic community has thousands of counterparts which have yet to be rediscovered. These are known as "lost worlds", although of course that name is Commonwealth-centric. From the point of view of these isolated worlds, it is the rest of the Old Commonwealth that is lost.
Individual aliens may greatly deviate from these descriptions.
- New Commonwealth
Bha'atar are hominids superficially similar to Humans, having erect posture, two legs, two arms, and recognizable facial features. Bha'atar have skin tones in shades of red, from pale pink to deep burgundy. Bha'atar hair is nearly always black. Their skin is often decorated with tattoos, and nearly all Bha'atar wear their hair in a wild, shoulder-length mane. Bha'atar have elongated canines and sharp claws on their fingers (although some Bha'atar keep their claws trimmed). Some Bha'atar have horns on their heads, which may be short or long, curved or straight, varying by the individual.
The dominant Bha'atar culture is driven by the desire to prove oneself worthy -- a "zeal to excel" -- often at the expense of those who want to excel at the same thing. So intense is this competition for "honor" that a complex set of customs and rituals have arisen to prevent it from destroying their society. The position of the Bha'atar in the New Commonwealth is a precarious one: the Bha'atar had been relentless enemies of the Old Commonwealth and the New Commonwealth for centuries, until an unprecedented disaster on their home world 60 years ago forced them to ask for help. Bha'atar's membership in the New Commonwealth has not been universally popular.
Some of the former subject worlds of the Bha'atar Empire have also joined the New Commonwealth, but many have not.
- Invasive species
Chilliks are a cybernetic insectoid species. The only Chilliks encountered so far have been soldiers, but other Chillik sub-species are theorized to exist. Chillik soldiers are hairless arthropods similar to centipedes, approximately one meter long. A Chillik soldier's body is chitinous, with a heavily armored upper surface. Chillik soldiers have eighteen pairs of legs, each ending in a clawed, suckered foot which enables them to tightly grip any surface. Forward pincers are used for fine motor activities such as manipulating tools, while a rear set is used for anchoring the Chillik in position. A Chillik's four eyes surround a set of four mandibles around a cruciform mouth. Numerous colour schemes have been found on Chillik corpses, but all of the Chilliks on a given ship have the same colour patterns.
Chilliks are individuals, and each soldier is capable of independent action, but they are also subservient to the will of the hive, which may override and direct the actions of an individual Chilliks. Chilliks are organized, unified, expansionist, and they see all life as a resource to be exploited. Even without their weapons and cybernetic augmentations, Chillik soldiers are fearsome opponents. Their pincers and mandibles are of a tough and very sharp material, capable of tearing through all but the strongest personal armor. Chilliks are able to endure as much as 39,000 times their own body weight without being crushed. Their chitinous armor is virtually impervious to cuts, scrapes, and contusions, and they are highly resistant to environmental hazards, including toxins, radiation, and extreme heat and cold. Combined with their advanced technology (on par with the Old Commonwealth in most respects), the Chilliks are a ruthless, implacable foe -- the most significant threat facing the Old Commonwealth, prior to the Instrumentality.
Chillik incursions into known space became rare after the rise of the Instrumentality. The most widely accepted theory is that the Chilliks suffered from attacks by the Instrumentality at the same time as the Old Commonwealth.
- New Commonwealth
Humans are the origin of the word "hominid" to describe the prevailing form of sentient space-faring life forms: having erect posture, two legs, two arms, and symmetrical facial features. Human skin tones range across all shades and hues of brown, from pinkish white to dark cacao. Human hair colours range from pure white to nearly black, with a variety of browns and reds in between. The two most noteworthy features of humans, regardless of the prevailing culture, are their propensity for violence and their willingness to live literally anywhere. This combination catapulted Humans from simple tool use to interstellar travel in one-third or even one-tenth the time it took many other civilizations.
In fact, Humans occupy an uncomfortable place in the New Commonwealth. Humans' penchant for bloodshed makes some members of the New Commonwealth nervous. One reason that Humans are tolerated in the New Commonwealth is because they have an effective fleet of warships, but the main reason is that Humans have made remarkably good neighbours. It turns out that there is a third trait that distinguishes Humans: a desire to help. No other species with the resources and technology that Humans have is as generous in using it to help others, regardless of their species or their political affiliations. So much is this the case that the word "humanitarian" has entered numerous species' native languages. Humans are an asset to the New Commonwealth, and they are fearsome allies when the rest of the universe wants to test the New Commonwealth's defenses.
- New Commonwealth
Illurians are hominids nearly identical to Humans, having erect posture, two legs, two arms, and facial features that are usually regarded as attractive among hominid species (sadly, Illurians generally find other hominid species repulsive). Illurians have skin tones in shades of gold, green, and violet, and their skin is smooth and flawless. Illurian hair colours range from silvery white to a dark copper red, with a variety of luxurious blondes and auburns in between. Physically, Illurians appear to be idealized female hominids, but they are in fact single-gendered; pairs reproduce through a form of shared parthenogenesis. Illurians are telepathic, but only within their clade -- those Illurians with whom they share a common ancestor. Barring accident or disaster, an Illurian will live over two hundred years.
Illurians have an unusually uniform culture for hominids. They never suffered civil wars, or wars at all, until they made contact with other species. But at the same time, their technological advances from the printing press to space travel took them 6,000 years, while it took Humans 600.
- Aberrant technology
Although the Commonwealth, the Union, and the myriad other inheritors of the legacy of the Old Commonwealth disagree on many points, there is one thing on which they all agree: no one must ever attempt to recreate the lost secrets of the wormhole network or artificial intelligence. The penalties for violating this injunction vary. In regions controlled by the Malrechnen, the assets of the guilty party are confiscated, and they are forever prohibited from owning property or engaging in any commerce above simple manual labor. In the Union, the penalty ranges from indentured servitude to life imprisonment to execution, depending on the world. In the Dominion, the guilty party is euthanized and their body is recycled for replacement organs and other medical materials.
The Instrumentality itself still exists. The star systems in which the Instrumentality has a presence are marked as such on navigation charts, as soon as they are discovered... if the ship that made the discovery survives to report it.
The Kroy are an enigmatic species who are always encountered alone and fully encased in armor. Few have seen a Kroy outside of the armor they wear. Kroy armor resembles a 2.5 to 3.5 meter tall hominid, decorated with complex geometric designs; the more experienced the individual, the more intricate the decorations. These suits are arguably the most powerful individual combat units used by any species, past or present. Kroy ships are equally impressive: heavily armored dreadnoughts, each with a single crew member. Unconfirmed reports by eyewitnesses state that underneath their armor, Kroy are formless masses of energy.
The Kroy do not allow visitors to their home worlds, aside from a diplomatic station at the edge of their solar system. Several regrettable incidents have taught other species to respect Kroy wishes in this matter. For the most part, Kroy are uninterested in the affairs of other species, and pursue their own mysterious business. The common wisdom is that it's best not to mess with them. Just wait, and eventually they will leave.
- Siobhan Star Empire; Planetary Union
Siobhans (pronounced shee VAHNZ, and sometimes spelled "Shivans") are hominids nearly identical to Humans, having erect posture, two legs, two arms, and facial features that are usually regarded as attractive among Humans (the reverse is also true). Siobhan hair colours range from pale grey to glossy black, with a variety of shades of grey in between. Siobhans nearly always wear their hair in plaits or braids: the dominant Siobhan culture regards loose hair in much the same way that 21st century Americans would regard a bare chest. Siobhan skin tone is grey but ranges among individuals, from pale as chalk to dark as charcoal.
The dominant Siobhan culture places great importance on grace and physical development. In Human terms, the most popular Siobhan sport resembles a cross between ice dancing and capoeira. The dominant Siobhan culture also places great importance on knowing more than other people do, and exploiting that knowledge. No other species with the technological and material resources of the Siobhans is as splintered by political intrigue. The Siobhans are nominally members of the Planetary Union, but no one doubts that the Siobhans will withdraw as soon as the Union becomes inconvenient.
- Xael Concordiat
Xael are reptilians who are superficially similar to Humans, having erect posture, two legs, two arms, and recognizable facial features. However, each Xael also has a non-prehensile tail, which is usually slightly longer than their legs. Xael are hairless, with skin tones in shades of yellow, green, and blue, lighter on the face and chest, and darker on the back. Xael have smooth scales like that of a snake, with spines along the jaw, cheekbones, and brow ridges, as well as down their back. Xael appear gaunt by Human standards, with large eyes and wide mouths lined with needle-like teeth. Xael have a higher muscle density than Humans and similar hominids, and they are at least twice as strong as Humans of an equivalent mass.
Xael culture appears to be focused on pride and ruthlessness. Xael have no compunction against attacking an alien colony, enslaving anyone useful, and killing the rest, if they think they can get away with it. No state of war currently exists between the Xael Concordiat and the Commonwealth, the Union, or the League, but anyone encountering a Xael ship in deep space would be unwise to test that.
- New Commonwealth
Zniss are hominids nearly identical to Humans, having erect posture, two legs, two arms, and recognizable facial features. Zniss have more angular facial features than humans do, and their ears are slightly taller than those of Humans, coming to a point at the top rear edge. Zniss have the same range of skin tones that Humans have, in addition to shades of blue from pale azure to indigo. Zniss hair colours approximate those of Humans, although blondes and redheads are rare. Zniss are leaner than Humans, on average, but they are significantly stronger than Humans of an equivalent mass.
The dominant Zniss society favours excellence and precision, particularly in pure mathematics and the hard sciences. Zniss are tested early and often to determine their academic potential; these test results become part of the Zniss' permanent record, directing the course of their professional career and personal life. Zniss society does not reward what other species might call "social skills", and this is reflected in a typical Zniss' behaviour.
And The Rest
At its height, the Old Commonwealth encompassed millions of populated worlds, and that is just a fraction of the populated worlds in the galaxy. Across these worlds is scattered a variety of sentient life forms, the diversity of which beggars the imagination.
That being said, the aliens in ZeroSpace can generally be categorized as one of three types: hominid, robotic, or exotic.
Would you like to create a random alien? You can!
Hominid aliens are the most common, and resemble humans in size and physique. They may differ cosmetically (skin color, eye color, hair color, etc.), but they typically have the same number of arms and legs, the same facial features, and so on. A hominid alien species might have pointed ears, exaggerated brow ridges, or they might have tentacles or horns in addition to (or instead of) cranial hair.
Would you like to create a random hominid alien? You can!
Optionally, a "pale grey" result can mean "snow white", and a "dark grey" result can mean "pitch black".
Optionally, a "pale grey" result can mean "snow white", and a "dark grey" result can mean "pitch black".
Optionally, a "pale grey" result can mean "snow white", and a "dark grey" result can mean "pitch black".
Skin color and eye color here are those of an individual, of course. An alien species may have lighter or darker tones among the population, or even a range of colors.
Robots are artificial beings designed to interact with biological sentients using ordinary conversation and social cues. Robots are usually constructed to serve a particular purpose. Due to the perennial threat of the Instrumentality, there are restrictions on how advanced a robot's behavioural heuristics may be. Robots might be hominid in shape, or they might be shaped completely unlike humans, depending on their original purpose and the whims of the maker. Robots might be obviously artificial, or they may be lifelike and virtually indistinguishable from the species they have been constructed to resemble. Lifelike robots are illegal on some worlds. In most of known space, robots are hard-coded with Asimov's Three Laws Of Robotics:
- A robot may not injure an organic sentient or, through inaction, allow an organic sentient to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by organic sentients except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
While robots are inorganic, and thus do not "eat", "sleep", or "heal" in the biological sense, they have functional requirements that serve the same purposes -- recharging, "powering down", "auto repair", and so on. As with exotic aliens, these requirements can be removed with the purchase of a suitable power.
However, all robots must purchase the following powers:
- Immunity To Suffocation
- Immunity To Poison
Some powers which are common for robots, but not required, are:
- Data Jack
- Mental Calculator
- Perfect Recall
Exotic aliens might superficially resemble humans, or they might be utterly alien. What makes them a distinct group is that they possess traits beyond those possessed by humans and hominid aliens. The line between hominid alien and exotic alien is an arbitrary one.
Would you like to create a random exotic alien? You can!
SIDEBAR: What, no teleporters?
There are some staples of science fiction that appear to be missing from the universe of ZeroSpace. For example, wormholes in space do exist, but they are unpredictable, short-lived phenomena. As far as anyone knows, teleportation on an individual level is impossible. Similarly, while it's possible to copy the mind of a living organic being, it's not possible to transfer consciousness from one being to another, nor to transfer one's consciousness into a computer. And while fabricators and nanoassemblers can do remarkable things, they can't build arbitrary atomic structures out of nothing, nor can holograms be made solid. Time travel is right out.
Although such technology is not available in the setting, it could be invented by a brilliant researcher, or perhaps discovered in a cache of ancient precursor artifacts. Anyone who discovered or invented such technology would attract the attention of some very powerful people.
Technology in ZeroSpace is static: intergalactic civilization is thousands of years old, and everything that can be invented has been invented. Competent engineers are required to build, modify, and maintain such devices, but engineers in ZeroSpace are artisans, not inventors. True invention is extraordinarily rare. However, whether that technology is widely available depends on the wealth of the society and how that wealth is distributed among the populace.
During the Old Commonwealth era, dates were calculated from the ratification of the initial treaty with which it was founded. This ended in what was then referred to as 3265 CE (Commonwealth Era). 32 years passed before the first world rose from the darkness left behind by the Instrumentality War. The new calendar era begins with the first post-Instrumentality contact between worlds in separate star systems: that was 212 years ago, in the year 1 NCE (New Commonwealth Era).
Short range real-time communication -- that which takes place within a single solar system -- is a universal technology, clear and nearly instantaneous, thanks to the Hypernet. Encryption is commonplace, although regional authorities may have "back doors" to bypass it. As such, most communication can be considered private, at least until someone with the power to invade that privacy takes an interest.
(Technical note: characters with the Science skill and an emphasis on mathematics or encryption will realize that the standard encryption on Hypernet traffic will not withstand a serious effort to decrypt it. A dedicated computer swarm could decrypt a moderate-length communication in a matter of weeks; an AI, if they still existed, could probably decrypt it in hours.)
Long range real-time communication -- that which takes place between planets in the same solar system, or even between star systems -- is less reliable. Hyperwave communication, which uses precisely-aimed neutrino bursts, is only possible when the approximate location of the receiver is known to the sender, give or take an astronomical unit (1.496 × 108 km). The signal degrades depending on the distance and any intervening obstacles, such as dust clouds and neutron stars, so real-time interstellar communication may not always be possible.
In practice, whether a given communication is real-time or a delayed transmission is based on the needs of the plot.
In the final years of the Old Commonwealth, a new invention was poised to revolutionize society: the transepric gate. A transepric gate is an array of subatomic particles which share their state with a matching gate located elsewhere. Transepric gates were a leap ahead of using the wormhole network for long distance data transmission. Transepric gates were much smaller then equivalent wormhole-based network connections, and they consumed virtually no power, in contrast to the vast power requirements of the wormhole network. Because transepric gates were difficult and expensive to manufacture, the Old Commonwealth chose to first deploy them in the new Commonwealth Fleet Repair Dock facilities: cutting-edge drydock facilities managed by a collection of AIs connected to the new transepric gate network -- but not to Community.
Unfortunately, the Instrumentality attacked before the Commonwealth Fleet Repair Dock system was brought online, and the technology to manufacture transepric gates was lost in the Fall. If any Commonwealth Fleet Repair Dock facilities exist beyond known space, they would be half-constructed and long since abandoned.
Computers are ubiquitous in the setting of ZeroSpace, such that most people don't comment on them or even really notice them unless they stop working.
The most commonplace interaction is intuitive and automatic, such that the user doesn't even think about it. Much as you and I don't think about the electricity which flows through the dashboards of our automobiles, most people in known space do not think about the computers that keep their air clean, cook their food, and keep track of their schedules. When people interact with a computer intentionally, it's usually a mobile -- a small object not too different from a 21st century smartphone.
When the location is remote, or the research being conducted is sensitive, the computer system may be self-contained and not dependent on the Hypernet for its operation. These computers have interfaces and displays that are similar in purpose to a 21st century workstation or scientific mainframe. Most such discrete computer systems have a voice interface factotum personality, which can be customized for varying levels of accuracy, humour, terseness, and so on.
A Mobile For Every Taste
Mobiles can be found in any form factor you care to imagine. One of the most popular is the screen: a durable, transparent rectangle, with the display and cameras entirely self-contained. Another popular option is the eye: a liquid contact lens direct display, often paired with a ring or a bracelet for interactivity and a secondary display. Dermal transmitters or "dots" are usually audio-only, but have the advantage of being inconspicuous.
Mobiles use a combination of biometric sensors to determine the user's identity. This security is not impenetrable, but it is stronger than the encryption on public Hypernet traffic. Most people never even think about the possibility of someone else accessing their personal accounts. These accounts are not tied to the mobile itself, of course: it's simply an interface to data stored in the Hypernet. Many people regard mobiles with the indifference that a 20th century person would regard a disposable pen, to be shared, borrowed, or lost without much thought given.
Ectypes And Echoes
Ectypes and echoes are copies of an organic being's consciousness. An ectype is a copy which has been reproduced in organic matter, typically (though not always) placed into a clone of the original person. An echo is a digital copy, typically (though not always) preserved in a virtual reality environment. Although the end product is different, the basic process involved in creating ectypes and echoes is similar: the original being's brain is scanned, and the resulting neurochemical template (or engram) is stored as data. The creation of this engram is a painless process, but it is time consuming and prohibitively expensive. Despite the great cost, some particularly narcissistic individuals have used ectypes to achieve a type of serial immortality, creating copies of themselves to survive their own passing, and leaving their estates to an ectype of themselves in their wills.
In most of known space, the legal status of ectypes is the same as that of any other organic being: they may be treated as property on a given world, or not, in much the same way that any other organic being might. The status of echoes is somewhat more variable. On worlds where ectypes or echoes are granted the same rights as other sentient creatures, their creation is legally restricted or even prohibited altogether. On worlds where artificial life forms are treated as property, their creation is lightly regulated, if at all. However, not every world treats echoes as being distinct from AIs.
There are two main energy sources in use in known space: electrogravitic cells (often called "power cells"), and quark fusion-singularity reactors (often called the "fusion core", when installed on starships).
Electrogravitic cells are small and durable, making them suitable for a wide range of consumer products. Everything from robots to blasters to lighting fixtures contain small electrogravitic cells. Electrogravitic cells are quite safe. When an electrogravitic cell fails or is damaged, it simply stops producing power.
Quark fusion-singularity reactors are too large and generate too much heat for use in portable devices. However, they produce far more power per cubic centimeter than electrogravitic cells, making them suitable for high-drain applications like starship weapons and warp engines. Fusion-singularity reactors are extraordinarily dangerous when damaged, but they have multiple safeguards in place to prevent catastrophic failure. The "emergency self-destruct" system installed on some starships operates by bypassing these safeguards.
A fabricator is a device which manufactures complex objects from component substances. The component substances are typically in liquid or powder form, and must be replenished periodically. General purpose fabricators typically have reservoirs of metal, ceramic, and synthetic polymer dust, while specialized fabricators use substances specific to their application. Medical fabricators, for example, use reservoirs of protein, calcium, phosphorous, nucleotides, and synthetic biomatter, while food-grade fabricators use reservoirs of carbohydrates, triglycerides, protein, salt, and spices. Fabricators are commonplace throughout most of known space.
In theory, the Hypernet, which uses precisely-aimed neutrino bursts between established transmission stations, is an information system linking all worlds throughout the Union, the New Commonwealth, and beyond. In practice, Hypernet data packets are distributed from one star system to another by large hyperwave transmitters, in a "peer to peer" fashion, and every major power intercepts and filters Hypernet data packets. This means that the Hypernet available to a citizen of the Union may be quite different to that available to an asset of the Malrechnen. In fact, there are no two worlds in the known universe with the exact same Hypernet.
In general, starships are able to connect to the local Hypernet as long as they are within a star system with a technologically advanced world.
Despite the nigh-universal availability of the Hypernet, it can sometimes be useful to transport data in a discrete physical medium. Data cards are used for this purpose. A data card is roughly the size of a 21st century postage stamp (the exact physical size is 26 mm x 37 mm, for historical reasons that no one now remembers). A typical data card can hold approximately a petabyte -- enough room to store an engram of a living being (see Ectypes And Echoes).
Finding Something On The Hypernet
The Hypernet is vast, contradictory, and inconsistently indexed. Finding a needed piece of data on an unfamiliar topic would require a moderately difficult (DV 12) Computing (Reason) roll, while researching an esoteric topic would require an extremely difficult (DV 18) Computing (Reason) roll.
The quality of medical care in ZeroSpace is largely dependent on the patient's wealth. On wealthy worlds with progressive societies, genetic manipulation has eliminated most illnesses, while cloning and protein assemblers have made it possible to recover from virtually any injury. On less wealthy worlds, or worlds where that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small portion of the population, illness and disease may simply be facts of life, and even a minor injury can result in permanent disability. Cybernetics exist, but are uncommon in wealthy societies: why have a mechanical arm or a synthetic eye, when an organic replacement can be grown in a matter of hours?
On wealthy worlds with progressive societies, nonsentient robots perform those tasks which biological individuals find dangerous, unpleasant, or simply tedious. Wealthy militaristic societies often use robots to fight their wars, as well. On less wealthy worlds, or worlds where the wealth is extremely concentrated, these tasks are the given to biological individuals, and robots are restricted to serving the desires of the wealthy.
While some robots have sophisticated voice recognition and response systems, they are not truly sentient. No matter how complicated and "real" a robot's behaviour seems, they are merely performing programmed actions. Robots can attempt to adapt to new situations, but they can only respond in ways that they have been programmed to respond.
A standard proof that a given robot is not an AI is to ask it, "What is the meaning of life?" The standard response programmed into all robots for well over a century is, "I'm sorry, I do not understand the question. Perhaps you could rephrase it?" This exchange has become a ritual for good luck, much like throwing a pinch of salt was on Old Earth: everyone knows how the ritual started, but no one really believes that it does anything.
A Lorentzian manifold generator , or "warp engine", suspends a vehicle in a gravitic bubble, contracting space in front of the craft and expanding space behind it. This permits what appears to be superluminal travel. A journey between two star systems in the same region of a galaxy typically takes a few days, while traveling from one edge of a galaxy to the other takes several years. Travel using warp engines does not remove a vessel from our universe.
Because automated defenses render unguided long-distance weapons ineffective, combat in ZeroSpace is personal. All combat, even in the depths of space, takes place within visual range. The visual apparatus may belong to a robot, however.
Initial salvos between military starships typically take place at a range of less then a hundred kilometers (which may seem like a long way, but that's peanuts in outer space). A smaller craft, like a star fighter, typically closes to within a few kilometers of its intended target if the target is a capital ship, or to within a kilometer if the other ship is also small and maneuverable.
At one time, the Commonwealth prole, or "luck", was the standard unit of currency through the Old Commonwealth, and the currency in circulation was controlled directly by the Commonwealth Treasury. In the centuries since then, other systems of currency have arisen, each controlled by a regional authority, or in rare cases, by an agreed-upon algorithm for generating new currency.
Characters in ZeroSpace don't really need to worry about this. Throughout known space, all commonly recognized currency is cryptographically generated, fungible, and universally accepted. Whether it's called a prole, a credit, a dinar, or a bit, it all spends the same.
In practice, currency is just a particular form of data, often transferred from one individual's accounts to another, without any physical objects changing hands. As with all data, it can sometimes be useful to transport currency in a discrete physical medium. Data cards are used for this purpose. Due to its inherent cryptographic nature, currency can be stolen, but forging it isn't feasible.
Universe (an artificial language created thousands of years ago) is the official language of the New Commonwealth, and is widely used throughout known space. Every civilized being understands Universe, although not every species is physically capable of speaking it.
Each alien species has one or more languages which they speak among themselves. Some alien civilizations have hundreds of indigenous languages.
Barring unusual circumstances, characters are assumed to be fluent in Universe, as well as any other languages they could reasonably be expected to know.
The motivations of individuals are often at odds with the motivations of the culture to which they belong. An individually may be kind and compassionate, even as their civilization systematically commits genocide and destroys entire ecosystems in their quest for expansion. This is a paradox; nonetheless, it is true.
Would you like to randomly generate the motivations of an entire culture? You can!
|2-7||Roll once on Table 2|
|8-10||Roll twice on Table 2|
|11||Roll three times on Table 2|
|12||Schism: roll once on table 2, and see the note below|
Schism: The species' society is divided into two opposing and mutually antagonistic cultures. Roll on Table 2, and make a note of the roll and its opposite. The majority of the society has the first motivation rolled, but a significant minority has the opposing motivation. For example, the opposing motivation of "adventure" is "security".