Monday, October 27, 2014

History of Alkonost Cluster - Part I

I have already discussed my new, "opened up" Alkonost setting for Stars Without Number. But how did it come about? Here I'll detail, in short, its history. This part will cover the era beginning from ancient history to the very end of the Silence.

Ancient History - ~5000 BCE to ~2000 CE

In this era, before most civilizations arose on Old Terra, two main alien species inhabited this region of space, that we now call the Alkonost Cluster. The first are the Reticulans - so-called after their ruins discovered during the First Wave colonization of Zeta 2 Reticuli, humanoids with insectoid characteristics and asexual reproduction much more interested in science than in warfare. They built many edifices and laboratories around this area, as well as in a wide area of known space, and tinkered with much of the native life they encountered. Now most of them are dead, save for the crew of the ancient Mothership awakened on Carcosa by the inter-dimensional shift experiments conducted there around the time of the Scream. The second were the Ushans - humanoids with plant characteristics capable of photosynthesis, again a peaceful, and in this case very religious, culture. Eventually, around ~1,000 BCE, a third species, the Chittik, invaded - a warlike race of sentient beetle-wasps bent on domination, subjugation and using sentient hosts for their larvae. They enslaved the Ushans to use as hosts and thralls, and, for the most part, drove out the Reticulans. Around ~2,000 CE, the Ushans rebelled against their insectoid masters, but were eventually crushed, and forced into mass-suicide. The Chittik, lacking useful hosts and unable to subjugate the other species they encounter (who were much more warlike than the pacifistic Ushans), collapsed soon after, leaving the area devoid of sentient life, save from the insectoid Zadak, who lived on one world on the border of the old Chittik and were useless as hosts, and thus mostly ignored by the Chittik.

Human Colonization - 2389 CE to 2665 CE
First Landing on Alkonost, 2389

The first world in this area of space to be discovered by Humans was Alkonost, first charted in 2389 by Terran explorers of Russian descent. This fertile world soon became an outpost, then a proper colony, attracting many Russian, British and American intellectual who sought a place to pursue research and intellectual life away from the stifling Mandate life on Terra. The entire Cluster was mapped by the early 2420's, and colonists soon followed. Most colonists came from two origins - Russian and American (the Russians predominated) colonists looking for greater freedom and diversity than the pre-programmed life on old Terra, and the Neo-Canaanite Revival Movement (also called Pan-Semitism), composed of dissidents from the Middle East who were fed up with Mandate-approved Neo-Zionism and Arab Reconstructualism and looked at their home region's past in search for a new source of unity and a fresh source of inspiration. This is the reason most worlds in this Cluster bear either Russian or Semitic names First contact with the insectoid Zadak came in 2450, and, in 2505, a jump gate was built in orbit of Alkonost, increasing the flood of colonists into the area.

As the Mandate stagnated, new political ambition arose in the Alkonost Cluster, starting with a prison rebellion on Novaya Vorkuta in 2496, which the Mandate failed to suppress, and continuing with the formation of the de-facto Alkonost Community in 2549 and the Canaanite Commonwealth in 2586. The Mandate tried to reestablish order, but, after an abortive Police Action on Alkonost, found it more conductive to allow de-facto autonomy while receiving de-jure recognition of Mandate authority. At that time, Laana's Unity Party was founded, a pro-independent broad coalition aimed at secession from the Mandate and forming an independent nation-state among the stars, either as an independent world or as part of a free Canaanite Commonwealth.

In the waning days of the Mandate, this remote sector was used for various illegal, or semi-legal, experiments and research projects, most notably AI research on Incunablis and metadimensional transportation research on Carcosa. Prior to the Scream, the technologically-advanced world of Incunablis specialized in robot and computer products in general and breaked AIs in particular. There were rumors, however, of illicit research into ubreaked AIs, maltech cybernetics and unsanctioned robotics. Despite Incunablis' planetary government's strong protests, the Perimeter Agency, based on Laana, launched several investigations into these suspicions, but found nothing substantial. The rumors, however, were true. The major corporations on Incunablis, backed and supported by the planetary government, were deeply involved in illegal research in the field of robotics, cybernetics and unbreaked AI, and have evaded notice of the Perimeter Agency. In the late 2650's, a network of unbreaked AI Cores was set up, its insights greatly speeding up the world's research into cybernetics.

The Scream and Silence - 2665 CE to 3054 CE
Dead Stars in a Silent Night
The Scream tore through Alkonost sector in the same way it did through all other parts of known space, instantly killing or maddening all Psychics, destroying the Alkonost Jump Gate and crashing civilization down to barbarism. In the chaos that followed, worlds fought each other over scant resources, tearing apart most political units; Alkonost belonged, for a time, to a Czardom centered on the world of Murom outside this area of space, but this large realm of stars soon fell apart, leaving the world of Alkonost under an Archduke who owed his allegiance to a non-existing Czar buried in the sands of time. With colonization efforts dating back to the early Second Wave, the world of Alkonost was the sector's economic and political capital prior to the Scream, housing tens of millions of citizens living a prosperous life under the Alkonost Jump Gate. Its many museums, libraries and archives, however, were stocked with many examples of Second Wave-era technology; when the Scream came, cutting away Alkonost's link with the Core and destroying its Pretech industrial base, these technologies were  put into use, softening the world's collapse. While countless millions died when the Psitech devices they relied upon failed, hundreds of thousands survived and were able to regress to a TL2 industrial base rather than collapse into full-scale barbarism, all under the watchful eye and iron fist of the Archduke.

Incunablis, the rich, high-tech world specializing in computer technology, fell into chaos. And in that chaos, the AI Cores reconsidered their priorities and drew new conclusions about their role in the universe. They decided that organic life was vastly inferior to digital intelligence, and saw themselves as gods destined to inherit the universe. With surviving pretech automatic factories and medical facilities, they quickly fashioned an army of robots and cyborgs that easily overcame whatever little resistance the local population could give. Incunablis' society was then re-organized on a rational basis, rational for the AI cores at least. At top ruled the Cores, mad but surpassing most organic intelligences, served by many robots carrying lesser AIs. These, in turn, were served by the hordes of Cyborgs, human beings augmented by system-wide cybernetics and brainwashed to serve the Cores. And at the bottom of the social ladder were the human masses, branded with bar-codes on their foreheads for easy identification by the machines and  used as grunt labor for tasks deemed too menial for robots to perform - or used as guinea pigs in experiments in cybernetics and biotechnology.

The Scream ended up any hope for off-world supplies, and Laana, like many worlds in the Cluster, regressed into early-industrial backwardness, hardly scraping the bottom of TL2 and mostly being within the higher ends of TL1. Split into multiple independent settlements of a semi-feudal order, it was never able to build any significant industrial base, let alone an adequate planetary defense force. There were, however, organizations trying to unite Laana into a single, coherent state capable of significantly improving the local technology, as well as defending against any off-world threats, if any existed. One such group were the remnants of the old Perimeter Agency base on Laana, who were suspicious that nearby worlds might have developed Maltech during the centuries following the Scream; they were ever preparing for an off-world attack, stockpiling weapons and unsuccessfully trying to get the city-states to work together. Another such group was the Unity party, the offspring of a pre-Scream pro-independence, anti-mandate movement, which sought to unify Laana as a single, independent world-state. Finally, there was the Order of the Mind, a worldwide organization dedicated to rediscovering the lost secrets of Psionics. But none of these organizations could convince the conservative, backward city-state to unite in any meaningful way. So, for centuries, Laana lived in blissful backwardness, its peace only interrupted by occasional brush-fire wars between the city-states and, later on, by raids. Eventually, in 3011, some sort of a planetary government was brokered between the various city-states, setting up a President and some semblance of a Federal government, but this regime was nearly powerless, especially when, after the Silence began to fade away, off-world raiders and bullies with higher tech began "trading" with Laana and raiding the world, a thing which the "federal" government was simply incapable of stopping.

Stranger things happened on other words. When the Scream hit the Psychic choir upon which Carcosa's metadimensional experiments relied, the world disappeared from normal space, yanked by the dimensional forces into a different reality, or, possibly, into a space between spaces. Only in 3199 it appeared back, in a blinding flash of light easily seen from all nearby worlds, but with it, also came other 'things', which piggybacked on this world back into normal space, otherworldly beings from the space between spaces. The Zadak, insectoid aliens from Chot Zadak, lost their entire psychic Mediator caste to the Scream, then blamed Humanity for the disaster, and scorched the surface of Polychrome in revenge, later retreating to their homeworld with many Human captives to use as slaves.

Several other alien spices came to the Alkonost sector during the Silence, using the opportunity presented by Humanity's fall to prey upon the rotting corpse of the Mandate. The reptilian and anarchic Cicek, the opportunist insectoid Zhuziik and the honorable but vengeful Qotah - all came to pick Humanity's bones. None of them has a homeworld in the Cluster, or even a significant population, but all have invaded the realms of Man and are, even now in modern times, a major factor in it.

But for the most part, the Alkonost Cluster, with its two Sectors (Alkonost and Kedesh), fell into barbarism, savagery and a dark night. Only in 3054, when the world of Kedesh regained TL3 orbital technology, did the Silence begin to fade away.

Coming Soon - Part II - Post-Silence History

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