Pluton Volume, The (and the Epp War)

Wealthy region in the Perseus Arm, with a large xenosophont population; site of the conflict between the Epp and their Methanoid allies, and the Perseus Princes (with the aid of the System of Response)

Image from Steve Bowers
Pluton is a depleted ice core, a former ice giant which has been stripped of its atmosphere and much of its mass by mining. The equator is insulated and terraformed, while the icy surface is colonised by Muuh xenosophonts

The Ice Core World Pluton

Far to rimward at the edge of the border between the Designated Muuh Reserve volume and the Terragen Outer Volumes, is the resource rich system of YTS 37739 990. The large post-neptunian ice core world Pluton has been the most important of the three giant worlds in this system, and has been extensively mined for hydrogen and ice.

Pluton was mined using scoopships and dynamic orbital rings, and for a long time a deep well industrial zone was used to manufacture useful elements for export. This DWIZ has now been relocated to Croesus, the second largest world in that system.

These vast resources were used to construct and fuel a fleet of exploration ships, allowing the Perseus Prince Vatsceh to colonise several hundred local stars in the Perseus Arm, mostly red and orange dwarfs.

E was assisted in this endeavour by a coalition of the xenosophont alien species the Muuh, and one of their client races, the Epp (a subclade of the species known by humans as Soft Ones). Both of these ancient races were dwellers in very low temperature ammonia and methane based environments. A clade of ultracold temperature humanoid neogens that called themselves the Methanoids were the main Terragen colonists in this region, although some ten per cent of worlds were terraformed for an Earth-like environment. During this period only a minority of the human-derived individuals in this volume were warm-blooded and adapted to Earth-like conditions, although an ever-increasing number were capable of rapid acclimatisation to various environmental regimes.

Vatsceh decided in 9012 to abandon mining of Pluton when the ice core was 20,000 kilometres in diameter, with a surface gravity of 1.2 gee, and convert it for low temperature inhabitation. Sublimation of the ice quickly formed an atmosphere of H2O vapour and methane, with a high helium content left over from the industrial activity. A deep and wide canyon circled the equator; a relic of the orbiting deep well accretion disc, and here an oxygen-rich habitat was established beneath an environmental worldroof. With an arctic temperature range, the Equator was much warmer than the rest of Pluton, and holds a population of provolved Mammoths and a few arctic nearbaseline human clades. The surface gravity in this equatorial dimple is 2.5 gees, so the various species living there are all short and very powerfully-built.

The Epp and the Methanoids dwell in the northern hemisphere, sharing a methane rich atmosphere, whereas in the south the Muuh have imported nitrates to increase the ammonia levels to a (for them) more comfortable level.

Fractalism and Trillennialism

The spiritual belief sponsored by the local archailect Vatsceh and many others in the Muuh border volume is Fractalism, a developed form of Buddhism which is informed by the beliefs of the ancient Muuh race itself. The Muuh long ago had come to the conclusion that there were many adjacent universes, or branes, which had minuscule effects on our own plane of existence through quantum effects and shared gravity. The extension of existence into higher dimensions found resonance in the fractal cosmology of the ancient sage Sri Aurobindo, and the infinitely recursive cosmology of the Etodists.

Fractalists believe that there are gods in the adjacent branes, similar to the Great Archailects of our own world. Furthermore, the fifth dimensional plenum that contains the adjacent branes has an even more powerful being (or set of beings) which influence or control the affairs of these many worlds. Beyond that they believe that there are many higher manifolds, and these plenae hold even greater gods and so on forever, with universes and powers increasing in scale without end.

Similarly Fractalists believe that the archailects are themselves lesser gods, which exist to rule the lesser transapients, while the transapients are above Humans (and the Muuh, the Epp and others), who are set above animals and plants, and these are set above minerals and sub atomic particles down to the Planck length.

In contrast many of the cold temperature Methanoid clades that poured into the Pluton volume were Trillennialists, an offshoot of the Omegists who believed that entropy would spontaneously reverse itself after a trillion years, and all they had to do was cool the stars and themselves down to near absolute zero in order to survive the interim period. Waiting for the Trillenium, many (but not all) Trillinarians have relocated to long-lived red dwarf stars.

The Attack of the Nargonn

By 9050 the stars in the Pluton Volume were reaching a critical stage of development, and the archailect Prince Vatsceh was working on a limited network of wormhole stargates between fifteen of the most developed solar systems. Those systems closest to the Muuh reserve had become centres for the study of Muuh by humans (mostly by the Methanoid cold-tweaks); and also centre for the study of humans by the ancient, slow, wise Muuh themselves. Towards human space the Epp and the rest of the Methanoid inhabitants of this volume were forging a somewhat more vital hybrid culture, still at a pace that would seem slow to most of the rest of human society.

The Methanoids had been living on cold worlds throughout the Terragen sphere for thousands of years, and often were in competition for these worlds with the various colonisation efforts that employed hi-tech terraforming as a means of producing an earth-like environment.

The radical Trillinarian zealots amongst them formed a secret terrorist organisation dedicated to driving the warm bloods back into the inner solar systems where they belonged. Finding common cause with other extremophiles they were responsible for many acts of violence, the worst at Sadelmelik in MPA space where they destroyed a half built Banks Orbital in 9311. Following this event the radicals were hunted down all over Terragen space, and finally some found refuge in the Pluton Volume, hidden among so many others of their kind.

Image from Steve Bowers
The Nargonn, a Tiger Rianth warship from Sadalmelik

After an epic journey across the breadth of the Civilised Galaxy the relativistic warship Nargonn from Sadelmelik finally arrived at Pluton in 9583. Alpha-Hough, su-rianth captain of the fierce tiger Therianthrope crew that had come so far, demanded that the Pluton Methanoids yield any radical fugitives hiding amongst them. Prince Vatsceh attempted conciliation, and for the protection of the therianths surrounded the ancient ship with protective seraphim.

To the shock and horror of the inhabitants of Pluton all the seraphim disintegrated into glowing dust, together with all Prince Vatsceh's higher consciousness loci in the Pluton system. Now the Methanoid population of Pluton was defenceless against whatever weapon the tigers had deployed. The therianth warship was left in a cloud of expanding vapour, unharmed, and began to approach the great icy world through the storm of radiation. If Alpha-Hough ever attempted any further communication shall never be known, as seconds later the warship was targeted and destroyed by unknown weapons from beneath the surface of Pluton itself.

The Muuh System of Response

For eighty million years the Muuh had ruled a spacefaring empire and encountered many intelligent species, some capable of much more rapid thought than themselves. They had managed to survive these encounters by developing an automated response system, essentially an artificially intelligent weapon with no consciousness or conscience, which had defeated every hostile advance against its masters for tens of millions of years. Finally a similar but even more ruthless automated attack system, known in Muuh and Epp legend as the Hunters of the Dawn, had defeated the Muuh Response and caused them to flee coreward to human space.

The System of Response buried beneath the surface of Pluton had reacted without mercy, destroying the Nargonn and any chance of negotiation. For a long slow decade, the Muuh Advisor/Challengers investigated the incident at their glacial pace. During this time much of the Northern Hemisphere of Pluton emptied as the Methanoids and their close companions the Epp xenosophonts abandoned this devastated system for their new hybrid colonies in the local volume.

Finally, together with secondary copies of Prince Vatsceh that returned from the outer colonies to assist the investigation, the Muuh arrived at a conclusion; the Rianth warship had utilised no weapon system at all, but the prime copy of the Prince had been destroyed by an attack from within the system, apparently by an adapted copy of an Amalgamation-like virus. The radical Trillinarian terrorists were implicated as the originators of this attack, so Vatsceh and a newly manufactured contingent of the Muuh automated Response system set off to confront the hybrid worlds.

The Epp War

For two hundred years the Prince and the System of Response patiently cleared system after system of the foam and weaponry, and the Trillinarians either capitulated or fled. Media teams and Xenoscience researchers fell like magpies into the war zone, in search of news and new data.

Living in close proximity with the Methanoid humans, the soft-bodied Epp had discovered a new realm of experiences, and used their natural memetic transfer system to rapidly absorb the intriguing new culture. By this method many Epp became fanatical Trillinarians themselves, and prepared the hybrid colonies for war using their own alien technology, adapted from that of the Muuh over millions of long years. So when the Responders and Vatsceh's Seraphim arrived at the first of the rebel systems there were extraordinary defence systems already in place.

The orange dwarf known as Pehhpepep was surrounded by reflective foam for hundreds of millions of kilometres in each direction. This foam had been created from the very material of the sun itself, quadrillions of gas filled spheres rising up and away on the stellar wind; some, or many, must have contained spacecraft and/or weapons, but it was difficult to tell which. Also buried in the foam were the hybrid worlds with millions of bewildered innocent civilians of both species.

epp bubble swarm 2
Image from Steve Bowers
The swarm of bubbles surrounding Pehhpepep

The Muuh Response System scanned the foam with neutrinos but the Epp /Methanoid foam system incorporated powerful neutrino-emitter decoy devices to confuse the detectors. When approached, several of the spheres proved to contain antimatter or magmatter disassemblers (an innovation introduced by the Methanoid terrorists, who had been collecting powerful weapons for millennia themselves).

Effective as these defence/offence systems were, they were no match for the tens of millions of years of slow experience possessed by the Muuh System, and for the hypertechnology of the Archailect Vatsceh. One by one the bubbles containing weaponry and warships, and the trillions of decoys, were destroyed. This process was repeated in system after system in the Pluton Volume.

On the whole it was simple to bring the pliable Soft Ones back to the fold, as new memes could be introduced via their shared biochemical memory system, but in 9949 a hard core of Methanoids and Epp sympathisers gathered in their silver bubbles at the edge of the Pluton Volume and fled into Muuh space at relativistic speed, where they can still be seen accelerating by an unknown million year-old technology towards the Cygnus arm.

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Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 08 April 2003.