I thought I’d get the ball rolling before my shift. I am a little nervous doing so, as this feels very dictatorial compared to the committee approach we adopted for world and character creation. So, to restrain my megalomaniacal urges, here are a few notes-to-self. My fellow editors, please feel free to add to them or delete this section completely, once it’s served its purpose.
- What’s the problem with utopia…? Deceptively idyllic: I like the idea that every culture here appears, in some way, rather nice – and hides some deep, potential or actual darkness. Perhaps the contradiction is obvious (the two paradise worlds at war in the Thicket system) or a tension between different but well-intentioned ideas (Consensus as a whole).
- All worlds are related to Consensus: an idea Hedge put forward was to link all current civilisations to Consensus. Given how much we differentiated them in developing the systems, though, I’m suggesting that all human civilisations share a common, pre-Consensan ancestor. After all, the people of the Consensus system probably took a long, long time to go from basic TL +2 to really very advanced TL +3.
- Consensus walks the knife edge between singularity-level technology and true stability. For them to maintain the stability of the rest of the cluster is a huge risk, as the pressure this puts on their science might one day lead to technologies developing that could tip them over the event horizon…
The Consensus Cluster
An open cluster of several hundred stars, the Consenus Cluster has been home to several homo diaspora civilisations, rising and falling in ten-thousand year cycles. In the present day there are six known and inhabited star systems connected by the slipstream, and for all practical purposes the “cluster” refers only to these accessible systems. The Cluster is named for its dominant culture, that of the Consensus system.
The Distant Past: the Colonisation
The human diaspora began before the recorded past, and all evidence of the original colonisation of the Cluster has faded over the aeons. Myths of the First Homeworld are widespread throughout the Cluster, and there is some evidence that the technological artefacts of the Terre were composed of organic matter in a similar manner to much of the technology of the modern Consensans.
The Terre civilisation is thought to have encompassed much of the open cluster, with colonies on in many more than six systems. Their achievements must have been formidable, their technological abilities virtually unimaginable, but at the height of their power their culture vanished. What little archaeological evidence of the Terre supports the conclusion that they suffered a civilisational collapse – or fundamental transition – over a very short timescale.
The Cluster has seen at least two subsequent cycles of civilisation and collapse since then. In the very distant past a culture developed on the double planet of Harmony in the Fulcrum system, and, much more recently, a civilisation based on advanced information technology collapsed dramatically when its artificial intelligences vanished – some say, “ascended” – leaving the immortal but childlike transhuman population to fend for itself.
The only civilisation advanced enough at the time to witness the collapse of the pre-Lilliputian culture was the ancestor to modern Consensus, by that time already an advanced system-wide government with basic slipstream technology. The people of the Consensus system watched in horror as the most accomplished human culture they knew of imploded in a matter of days, and their own culture was traumatised by the fallout from the disaster in ways that are difficult to imagine.
Now, as de facto guardians of the Cluster, Consensus strives to avoid a prevent a disaster befalling their own culture – and steering the other human cultures of the Cluster away from dangerous developmental paths altogether.
The New Wave
The most recent wave of civilisation to spread through the Cluster began in what is now known as the Consensus system, but when the first slip-ships set out to resettle Fulcrum harvest the light of Korona the ideal of the Consensus had not been born. These were pre-Consensan settlers, in ships salvaged from the wreckage of the AI-dominated culture that had collapsed centuries before.
The ships of the New Wave found scattered human survivors in some systems, notably Lilliput, Fulcrum and Thicket. The history of this period is largely lost in the mists of time but it seems that the pre-Consensans did assimilated into local cultures in most cases. Slipstream travel was too difficult to permit long-range colonial rule, and contact with the home system was so infrequent for so long that truly unique civilisations had emerged before faster-than-light technology had been developed sufficiently in the Consensus system for trade and diplomacy to flourish in the Cluster.
The Distant Future: the Changing Sky
The Consensus Cluster – the astronomical cluster, not the political and economic cluster of accessible worlds – is doomed. Open star clusters have lifespans measured in many millions of years, but, even mid-way through its life, the natural instability of the Consensus Cluster may be having a tangible effect on the lives of its human inhabitants.
If some theories of slipstream mechanics are correct, it is the close gravitational interactions of stars in the cluster that allow a ship to “slip” from the Euclidian geometry of 4-dimensional space time and move to another star instantaneously. It is widely believed that in previous Cycles the civilised Cluster included more human worlds than it does today, and the slow separation of the stars of the cluster may be the reason for this.
Is interstellar civilisation doomed by astrophysics? Or could a radical new technology save humanity in the cluster from eventual fragmentation and permanent isolation?