A colony that recovered from near-collapse to become one of the most successful in the Inner Sphere

Image from Steve Bowers
Before terraformation, Zarathustra was a relatively Earth-like terrestrial world, but no life had ever emerged there

Star: Gamma Pavonis
Type: F6-8 V
Distance from Sol: 30.1 ly (J2000 epoch)
Planet: Zarathustra (Gamma Pavonis II)
Type: Lifeless eugaian

Zarathustra map
Image from Steve Bowers
Zarathustra Map (Equirectangular projection)

The First Colonists

Zarathustra was originally colonised by heteromorphic tweaks who originated from the Nedyne Industries corporate headquarters and mining outposts in Jupiter orbit. Following the Great Expulsion from Earth, Nedyne Industries assembled the New Dynamic, a makeshift starship from the main habitat and quickly nanofactured equipment. To their surprise, GAIA agreed to assist the launch with her advanced boostbeam technology. Led by the board of directors and their AI advisors Nedyne Industries launched in 671AT towards Gamma Pavonis, judged as being far enough away to be free from the chaos in Solsys, and known to have a habitable planet.

The flight took 167 years, under which Nedyne changed immensely. Genetic changes were introduced into the population to help them adapt to the new world as more and more data was collected from the ship telescopes. The whole internal environment was slowly changed to become more similar to the planetary environment. Over the generations the inhabitants developed into an anarchistic society, dominated by the ideals of the Overman and the Dionysian life from Nietzschean philosophy - a deliberate manipulation introduced by the AI Emergency Council that ran the ship in order to avoid boredom or interfere with the largely automated working of the ship. People were too busy boosting their egos, enjoying hedonism, competing or creating art. The idea of the Eternal Return - that everything will repeat itself indefinitely, and accepting this is necessary to reconcile the fluidity and futility of everything with a strong life - turned out to be perfect to get the crew not to get too impatient about the flight or the very real chance that they could all die at any moment. They instead learned to savour every moment of life, not caring if it ended now or lasted forever.

Unfortunately, the AIs had no philosophical recourse to stave off boredom. To them the flight was interminable, especially since they had to remain aware to monitor everything. They tried to amuse themselves by extensive simulations, games, astronomical research and even deliberate modifications of their motivations, but in the end it was clear they were degrading despite their intelligence. The social changes they had planned to bring the crew back to an useful colonisation force were never correctly implemented, and while the crew knew the Landing was approaching their philosophy and culture remained hopelessly Nietzschean. As Nedyne approached Gamma Pavonis, terraforming nanites were launched ahead. They managed to slow the ship down using the remaining reaction mass and a series of gravity assists, and got into a far from elegant elliptic orbit above the planet, which the AIs named Zarathustra as their own dry internal joke.

Getting the crew to explore Zarathustra was not hard, a large segment of society was both curious and willing to face enormous dangers (which unfortunately led to quite a few deaths too). Getting them to settle was another matter. Most were happy with living in the ship and regarded Zarathustra more as a place to explore, play with and experience rather than a place to live on. The desperate AIs used their remaining resources to set up a colony, and then changed the orbit so that the ship would crash into the atmosphere - most of the crew actually left, and the rest perished with the AIs in a spectacular fireball.

Zarathustra was far from unpleasant, but the early days of colonisation were dangerous and harsh. Terrestrial ecology was slowly spreading from the landing areas, leaving vast areas nearly lifeless and desert-like. Zarathustra was a rather cold and wet planet, with a cloudy sky and extensive forests of fast-growing trees. While the oxygen levels have constantly risen over the years it remained a rather oxygen-poor planet. To compound the problem the colonists had very little organisational ability, generally looking out for themselves and refusing to follow any authority. The newly constructed colony AI (the "offspring" of the ship AIs) did what it could, but found that it had no way of controlling the humans. Listening to their views it realised that there was also no moral obligation for it to save them, it should think about what it wanted to do with its existence. It used nanotechnology to set up an impenetrable diamond citadel around itself and then turned to esoteric issues of religion and game theory. Over the centuries a primitive anarchistic nomad society developed, with a loose social structure.

The Federation Arrives

In 1312 a First Federation exploration group sponsored by Jupiter Transsystems arrived in system. They discovered a terraformed world that was prime colonisation territory, the ruins of the original colony, primitive tweak colonists and a kilometre-sized apparently inactive pyramid of diamond. Signalling back, they began to set up a new colony to exploit the system. The megacorp decided to use the inhabitants for labour, and found that with the right use of coercion techniques the unruly Zarathustrans could be forced to work as scouts, foragers and simple labour. Transsystems began cloning splices to help out with the colonisation and to build further terraforming installations to bring the oxygen up to comfortable levels.

In 1350 further JT colonists arrived and began the colonisation program in earnest. The natives were treated like splices, their culture and haughty philosophy ignored. Just as JT was gearing up for activating the new terraforming installations (which would likely have meant the end of the natives, being rather sensitive to too high oxygen levels) a scout expedition to the old AI citadel breached its surface in 1352. The whole pyramid surface crumbled, revealing several cubic kilometres of military grade nanoswarms the AI had quietly manufactured over the last decades. Within days the entire planet was covered with the nanoweapons, attacking the JT infrastructure and its sensitive equipment. While the nano was ages behind the state-of-the art nano possessed by JT, the sheer amount of it overcame all resistance. The JT survivors gathered in orbit, shocked and unable to do much more than nuke the remnants of the pyramid (which accomplished nothing; the AI had moved itself elsewhere long before).

To the splices and natives the revolution meant freedom. That the AI had freed them merely as a side effect of defending itself didn't matter; the splices began to regard it as their god and the Nietzschean natives acknowledged its overbeingness. The AI, realising that JT would hardly sit around for long began to influence and teach its new-found allies how to defend themselves. Using the common enemy it managed to get even the Nietzscheans to work together.

In 1358 JT attempted to take back Zarathustra, dropping blue goo nano into the atmosphere. At first it appeared to work well, but then it encountered newly bred nanoweapons based on information the AI had acquired from the JT installations. Worse, using primitive but rugged spacecraft launched from the retrofitted terraforming plants, splices and heteromorphic tweaks swarmed up towards the orbital stations and one starship. During a week of bitter fighting JT lost to the "primitives". The few survivors who could fled using the starship, using its exhaust to blast a wide swath of radioactive destruction over the planet but not accomplishing much else. The local company branch AI erased itself. The rest of the JT personnel were eaten.

Over the next years a fragile culture emerged among the victors. The inhabitants were poised between going back to their traditional anarchy and tribalism, or take up the possibility of forming a technological civilisation. In the end an unusual solution was found by giving everybody access to nanotechnology and limited automated design equipment, and having the AI act as the protector preventing anyone from spreading replicator nanoswarms - but that was it. Most inhabitants continued living individual lives in the Zarathustra forests, using their technology grow whatever they needed. Individual and tribal fights occurred, but everything was highly local. Meanwhile other groups began exploring the orbital ruins and the system, developing into lose companies and teams. The Zarathustra system became a world of competitive Nietzschean anarchists, never safe or ordered but instead filled with a dynamic balance of individual ambitions, Dionysian joy of life (and death) and total individualism.

When the next JT ship arrived in 1500, it found itself outnumbered and outgunned. It retreated, warning all others about the system filled with dangerous nano-toting "googols" and their splice pets. Zarathustra remained isolated for almost 400 years until a NoCoZo trade expedition arrived. After a period of tense negotiations with various adhocracies peaceful relations were reached, and regular trade began. As Zarathustra came into contact with the rich cultures elsewhere a local renaissance began, and many members left for other parts of human space. In 1965 Zarathustra formally joined the NoCoZo, and has since then (individually) been one of the most radical anti-coercive members.

The Modern Era

Over the millennia Zarathustra itself has changed little. It is still a largely pristine planet, although there are plenty of highly individualistic dwellings and ruins scattered around as well as the craters from the symbolic orbital bombardments from the Negentropy Alliance during the Version War. The inhabitant heteromorphics and splices are known to be so individualistic that they are almost impossible to deal with, but various trade and tourism stations in orbit allow easier access.

Sculpture Bay Zarathustra
Image from Anders Sandberg
Sculpture Bay, Zarathustra; one of the main tourist attractions on this world today

It is the more outward-looking Zarathustrans that have given the world its reputation. Having refined their philosophy over the centuries they have developed a mindset of near total directness, a Zen-like state of being wonderfully alive and rejoicing in every moment regardless of what is happening. This Zarathustrism (not to be confused with Zoroastrism, the religion founded by the real Zarathustra) has been the basis for many mystical movements, warrior or business philosophies, the Ambi Limis Synthesis as well as an element in the Emple-Dokcetic ethical philosophy. The Schools of Now on Zarathustra teach this mindset, often in highly unusual and apparently confusing/cruel ways; they have the same status as often misunderstood "ancient strange wisdom" as Zen has in the mid 1st century AT (early 21st century c.e.).

Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg
Updated by Steve Bowers 2019
Initially published on 31 July 2000.