It is the waning edge of the Eighth Cycle. Humanity’s golden ages are long past. Many long millennia have come and gone, the lessons of the past long forgotten. What remains endures, beneath alien suns and strange stars.
One hundred thousand years ago, the Orion Spur was united beneath the greatest civilization humanity ever created – the Collaborate, stretching from the Centauri Reaches to the Far Spur, and attaining heights unimaginable. The stars themselves moved at their will, the heavens a canvas for a delicate brush. This was the Fifth Cycle, the Age of Miracle, a moment beneath the brilliant sun in which all of humanity was united – shattered utterly by the Awakening, and leaving fracturous squabbling child-states in its place.
Many long years have passed since the Awakening and the subsequent collapse, leaving the Spur an overgrown, uncharted mess beyond the safety of city walls and planetary defense systems. There are those who brave the Long Dark, however. Clad in ships of silver and gossamer gold, skipping across the Tide and stars, these travelers bind posthumanity together – and the future rests on a razor’s edge.
ORION SPUR – the home arm of ancient humanity. Numerous posthuman and xenoform civilizations inhabit this region, making it a quite literal crossroads of interstellar culture and trade.
PERSEUS DRIFT – the thinning of stars to the galactic west of the Orion Spur, towards the Perseus Gulf that separates the Spur from the Perseus Arm. Sparsely populated, largely unexplored. Numerous xenofauna, no (confirmed) sapient xenoforms.
CENTAURI REACH – the region to the galactic north-east and corewards of the Spur, home to the Cavican Hegemony. Largely explored, very bright.
OLD CORE (CRADLESPACE) – the sixty lightyears surrounding Sol, sporting some of the highest populated worlds in the Spur. Has the largest number of Skipper lanes and routes in the region.
THE WOUND – a relic of wars immemorial, this region is scoured. starless, with drifting wrecks and forgotten relics
IBREAN WASTES – coreward side of the Perseus Arm, contains various splinter posthuman states and satellite xenoforms. Largely empty.
THE SHOALS – rimward side of the Spur, curiously calmer infraspace currents. Makes travel easier, sports large numbers of agricultural worlds and high food exports.
GLITTERSHOAL – artificial nebula within the Shoals seeded some twenty thousand years ago. few go in, fewer come out.
FAR SPUR – the far eastern end of the Spur, contains the posthuman state known as the Ovellian Collaborate. Stars are relatively distant from one another, large clouds of interstellar dust.
SAGITTARIUS HIGHLANDS – rimward side of the Sagittarius arm. Unexplored and unsettled.
CARINA GULF – coreward side of the Spur, contains the loose federation of states known as Lashan. Old colonies, deep roots.
“It is, perhaps, the most notable aspect of the Human – their predisposition to acclimation and adaptation, to overcome hazards by simply outlasting them.”
Over the untold millennia, humanity has diverged. Whether due to local climactic or gravitic pressure, genetic projects of various scope and goal, or simple time, the “standard” human no longer exists. Numerous types occupy the Spur, along with many others not listed below.
- “Baseline” humans – ancient, Terran standard humans. Acclimated to 1G standard gravity on average, remarkably resilient and adaptive. Found across the Spur and beyond. Many subspecies, from aquatic to arboreal.
- Bioframes – living tissue with a silicate vertebral core. Inhabited by posthuman consciousness, functions much as any other body would. Physiology varies wildly and is often tailored to personal preferences. Relegated to relatively high tech regions of the Spur, require specialized maintenance.
- Synthframes – less organic than bioframes, usually retain a semblance of humanoid shape and aesthetic. Usually. Can hold a resident posthuman or an AI comfortably.
- Wisps – holite-embodied digital consciousnesses. Functionally hard-light bodies driven and projected by a solid charybdum core.
- Cavica – Mystics seeking to conquer the Tides and bend it once more to human wills. Powerful wielders of magic, the Cavica are a formidable player on the interstellar stage, and managed in an age past to create great Tide currents to dissuade errant vessels from penetrating their region of the stars.
- Ovelle – The Ovelle, as a contrast to the Cavica, are machine-life. Posthumans who pursued the perfection and immortality of the digital, the Awakening hit the Ovelle much lighter than other members of the Collaborate. Sealing their borders in the depths of the Far Spur, they remain an isolationist society to this day. Ovelle are vast nanite-colony colossi, housing a number of consciousnesses within – known as “frameseeds.”
- Savhara – designer “pet” bioframes from a cycle of decadence past that have established themselves as a population all their own. Largely exist in the older parts of the Spur, though a large number exist within the Shoals.
Few true xenoforms have ever been encountered. The ancient Alissids are one race who in cycles past interacted with humanity, but they, as many things do, passed into memory in the Long Years – as did the Turiga, and the Unari. Many others, however, still exist – and can be found across the Spur, if one knows where to look.
Hujia – vast interstellar dust collections granted sentience by chance and gravity. Communicate over vast distances with as of yet not understood means. Recycle starship wrecks, often found in orbital junkyards and battle sites.
Teshiko – squat, subterranean humanoids often found within asteroid habitats or mining firms. Build great inverted cities on worlds they colonize.
No one is quite sure what, or how the Collaborate awakened it – stories range from secret zero-point research to pacts with forgotten star-gods encountered in the void between, but whatever the truth the Fifth Cycle’s end was sudden, and drastic.
The Awakening sundered entire systems, great currents forging dark rivers through the stars. Warlords rose, wielding powers strange and formidable – the Age of Miracle ended not with clamor, but with silence.
Today, those currents flow stronger than ever – a black sea to pull upon, whispering to those who can hear. Old Collaborate sites seem to be steeped in it, drawing those attuned like moths to flame – and worse.
Perhaps the best known of these are the Halken Rings1, the vast ringworld megastructures dotted across the Spur – but the Collaborate’s secrets run deeper. Dyson spheres constructed within the Tides themselves, great sky-latticeworks around ruined worlds once so thickly populated the buildings required pressurized heights. The mysterious STARBRIDGE system, hyperlane gates powered by particle flux accumulation matrices.
The Collaborate, however, was not the only civilization to leave relics behind – autonomous fleets, rogue AI, pirates with strange weaponry dug up on forgotten worlds, for salvagers and scrappers the Spur is a bounty unimaginable. There are even rumors the Eventide League pays for leads, but… that’s just a rumor.
THE LONG DARK
The gulf between the stars is not for the faint of heart, and in no area of the distant future will you find those more daring – and, surprisingly, mundane – than those who spend their lives plying the high-lanes for fame, fortune, and adventure. Some, like the venerable mining corporations of Chalem and the shipping conglomerates of the Core, do it for steady income and an honest living – others, however, do it for glory.
Pirates, mercenaries, adventurers with ked2 to spend and names to make – you’ll find a veritable rogue’s gallery at any starport bar or seedy outpost, whispering of legends of forgotten worlds and scores to settle.
The ships of the Eighth Cycle are varied, but largely are skippers, vessels that shunt themselves into the very shallowest regions of the Tide to “skip” to their destination. To sink deeper is dangerous, and to dive is unheard of. The largest skippers, the great liners that ferry passengers between the worlds of the Core, are known as “sunflowers”, referential of the great sun-sails used to recharge the phase transit engines.
Known to ancient scientists as “infraspace”, the Tides are… somewhere else. Even the heights of Collaborate science never fully explained their presence, or probed their depths, though not for lack of trying.
On the surface the Tides are an integral part of travel – it is through their oceanic depths that faster-than-light transit takes place, linking the disparate stars of the Spur together. The currents carry trade across the stars, and deliver explorers unto virgin systems.
THE CONCORDAT, HEIR TO THE STARS
Headquartered on the frost-world of Tir, the Concordat positions itself as the most valid heir to the Collaborate’s bounty – a claim many have challenged, but none disproven. Controlling barely even a quarter of the territory of the old Collaborate, the Concordat was born of regional alliances between successor states in the wake of the Awakening, banding together to fend off the dark as best they were able. Controlling Cradlespace, the ancient core of human influence, it has positioned itself as the strongest power on the interstellar table – though the Eventide League and the Ovellian Symposium are close behind.
THE EVENTIDE LEAGUE, PROJECT OF TOMORROW
The Collapse of the Collaborate scattered seeds across the Spur. Some of those, by chance or by fortune, found fertile soil – and on the high plains of the rimworld Carrigan, a new future was dreamt of. Here began the Eventide League – a loose union of merchant houses across the Shoals into an interstellar state, nominally ruled by an overseeing council of representatives. The actual governance of the member houses varies – some, like House Celan of Carrigan, are an elective monarchy, while others are oligarchies or democratic states. All are unified, however, by the collective desire for prosperity, and the peace brought by steering away from the excess that led to the Collapse.
Recent news from the Eventide League, though, is dire – whispers of internal strife, and worries of civil war.
THE OVELLIAN SYMPOSIUM, VISIONS OF SILICA
Deep within the dusty depths of the Far Spur, lies the Helix.
A vast, cyclopean lattice of black steel and circuitry, it draws power from three equally-distanced stabilized white dwarves – and, with it, powers the beating heart of the Ovelle, the gargantuan data-racks and frame support systems that keep the Symposium running. Little is known about the Ovelle beyond what they have shared, their bodies ever-shifting and strange. Their state is even more shrouded in mystery, beyond the reach of most within the League or Concordat, and beyond the worries of most across the Spur.
Still, some wonder if the tales of Black Ships are related…
When the Awakening rocked the Collaborate, the Cavica were gifted. Blessed, it is said, by the magic pouring into the universe. Some were twisted into new forms, wielders of powers unimaginable – others were driven mad, consumed utterly by it until even their neighbors fell to its influence.
Even so, as the Collaborate disintegrated beneath the weight of a hundred internal struggles and the horror it had unleashed, the Cavica began to band together, covens and colleges fleeing the Fall to places unknown, intent on restoring the Collaborate as it should have been in their eyes – and intent on subjugating the Tides utterly, binding it to their will.
Today, the Cavica are a distant threat – their regions of space have been cut off for millennia, but sightings have begun to reach those who listen.
What that means, few know, but it cannot be good.