Part Clade, part Art, and part Science, the origins of the Five Morph are shrouded in mystery. Some have suggested they developed from any of several Old Earth martial arts schools that moved offworld during the mid Interplanetary Age, others that they were yet another of the innumerable Genetekker derivations, or one of the many minor Penglaist sects and secret societies that chronically infected Federation culture during the 12th and 13rd centuries. Yet another hypothesis is that they were simply one more of the small First Federation mercenary guilds, and that only later they developed a mystical overlay. Whatever their origin, the Five Morph first appear for certain in the archives of Hyperion Kuiper Development (an early Federation subsidiary of the Hyperion Corporation), where in 1218 a private security firm known as Five Morph was hired by the local administration to protect the mining operations on Spangler from Haloer raids. Over the next century references to groups variously known as 5 Morph, Five Morph, or Fivers, became more common, and they were frequently hired by small to middling corporations with far flung development interests, or by larger corporations who did not want to get their hands dirty using inhouse paramilitaries.
By the early 1300's the Five Morph had crystallized into the configuration under which they later became known. Every team, called a Cell, always had five Fighters, and each Fighter would take one of five possible configurations for the duration of the mission. These configurations, or Morphs as they were termed, were DNIpunk, Assassin, Berserker, Battleborg, and Biohacker. Each corresponds to one of the five Old Chinese (Taoist and Penglaiese) Wu Xing or States of Change, to a particular weapon type, fighting style, culture icon, consciousness modification, and later Hermetic element. (Although the five neohermetic elements of earth, air, water, fire and spirit were not equivalent to the five Penglaiese elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal this did not dim the enthusiasm of Five Morph theologians.)
Central to Five Morph training and Mastery was the ability to mutate between Morphs, so as to master each. This involved tremendous somatic transformation, even including surgical procedures, and there were few morphists who became a adept in more than two or three. Those who did master all Five Morphs were revered teachers, known as Morph Lord. Until the 18th century only a Morph Lord was allowed to initiate a new Morph Cell, but this requirement was later dropped (it is a popular Five Morph belief that it was this, not the changes in Terragen societies that followed the Third Singularity, that brought about the downfall of the Five Morph).
The Late Federation was the high point for the Five Morph. The growing reach and activities of the megacorps and increasing ease of interstellar transport meant that the corporations were often in need of muscle that could deal with any situation, and do it in a way that ensured things did not splash over the local medianet the following day...or fifty years later for that matter. More even than their mutability and efficiency, the megacorps were attracted by the Code of Honour the Five Morph followed. Like the Samurai of feudal Japan, Old Earth, and the AntiBody League of the later Interplanetary age, the Five Morph could be relied on never to betray their employers. All Morphs carried an explosive charge, goo capsule, or some other nasty device, which would be detonated upon capture, killing not only the Morph but potential captors as well. Small isolated communities also found that they could hire a Five Morph to defend them against pirates, crackers, and raiders when the local authorities proved incompetent or lacked the jurisdiction to act, as was often and increasingly the case. In popular interactives the Five Morph were always elevated into the status of sympathetic anti-heroes, overcoming all odds and all opponents to achieve their goals, or sacrificing themselves heroically for the honour of the clade. Megacorps would often play on this meme - a corp that employs Morph is a good corp. By the 3400s every budding martial artist wanted to join the Five Morph, and new Cells were growing up everywhere, as the clade grew in power and wealth. The Five Morph in fact became so rich they could afford their own passage outsystem, and it was not unknown for a Morph Cell to defend a harassed ecohabitat without even asking any payment from the grateful colonists.
The Federation authorities of course despised the Five Morph, calling them common criminals, and cracked down with heavy penalties and extended prison terms, even deregistration, for any corps found employing Morph. Colonists found to have worked with a Morph Cell, or accepted their offer of help, were often prosecuted even more heavily than Corp representatives. This only added to the appeal of the Five Morph, as by the 3500s the Federation was being seen as increasingly disinterested in the common sapient being.
The Five Morph are generally very hostile to mechanical or hylo-nanotech (drex). They have this attitude not because of Federation bans but because they believed that hylonanotech implants interfere with the flow of ch'i (this is a reason why so many Genetekkerese and Genenese clades are prejudiced against cybernetic implants). Instead they use bionanotech; organic assemblers, which they see as the next logical stage of biotic evolution, and as containing a large degree of ch'i. The central figure of every Morph Cell is the Biohack, who is the master of bionanotech. In this context the Grey Goo Clan, which is often the cultural icon for this Morph, refers to any nanotech, including bio. This was not unusual, as, despite what the Federation biotekkers would say, indeed many weapons used in the Technocalypse were biotech or synano in nature.
The Art however did not (unlike traditional Genetekkerese and Genenese thought) obey cyborgisation as such, and indeed two of the Morphs are actually cyborgs - the Battleborg with armoured body enhancements, and the DNIpunk, or cyberhacker, who uses ai-intrusion programs to disable or destroy the opponents computer and ai systems. In these two cases, special exercises were used, involving visualisation and the circulation of ch'i energy, to reroute the body's natural ch'i flow to circumvent the blockages caused by the implants.
Although the popular image is that no Morph Team would even fight another Morph Team, and this was the case in the beginning, by the start of the 3rd millennium the Fivers had began cladizing, and different clades would indeed fight each other if on different sides.
The third singularity and the rise of the Archai that characterized the 3rd millennium AT was disastrous for the Five Morph. They found themselves superseded by technologies and tactics that they were unable to deal with. Like the Old Earth Feudal Knights and Samurai rendered obsolete by the invention of gunpowder and introduction and use of firearms, the Five Morph were bypassed by social and technological change. Corporations tended to rely on aioid nanotech, and colonies joined the emerging Sephirotic empires or relied on the protection of a local unaligned archailect. The Five Morph still found employment in isolated colonies, especially on the frontier, out in the halo belts, or in the Shadow Federation, but their warrior days were over.
Nevertheless, the great discipline required to become a Five Morph still attracted, and many bionts would study the Five Morph Arts as a path of self-mastery and self-defense. The Five Morph became less and less a martial organisation, and more a monastic one.
At the same time there was tremendous cladization among those isolated Cells that still retained their traditional role, and many evolved in new directions. Some ascended to new heights, others became degenerate barbarians and pirates. Many tried to integrate hylonanotech and other banned devices. Some even attempted ascension and posthuman transformation. The initial strength of the Five Morph - the mutability through the five archetypal Morphs - was lost in these later forms, and their impact on society was minimal.
Five Morph Cosmology
Five Morph Cosmology rests on the concept of Ch'i. In Taoist, Genetekkerese, and Penglaiese philosophy it is believed that the whole universe is pervaded by ch'i (or prana as the neotantrika school terms it; some old school Old Earth Japanese martial artists used the term ki). Ch'i is the life force or energy that pervades the universe, not unlike the Presence among the Cosmist pantheists. Naturally, ch'i built up by a martial arts style. The amount of chi that a martial artist can access is dependent on his skill in that style and how complex a style it is. With ch'i properly channelled, a sufficiently skilled martial artist can achieve incredible physical feats.
Ch'i that pervades the universe takes on five archetypal attributes, as defined in the Five States of Change, and each state is the basis for a Morph. This is shown in the following table:
The above is the basic table of correspondences. From the fifth millennium on this tended to vary as the Morph Cells became increasingly isolated and cladized.
Masters of the Five Morph art can still be found throughout the civilised galaxy, where they teach Five Morph as a means of somatic self-mastery. Unfortunately there are many fakes and degenerate types who bring the Art into disrepute. However, the Five Morph Guild on Penglai Prime distributes a list of accredited Cells and it is strongly recommended that anyone interested in approaching the Art should access this first. Guild Membership is highly prized and displayed among Morph teachers, as it is a seal of authenticity.
Degenerate Morph Cells are unfortunately all too common, and it is estimated they outnumber genuine Cells by ten to one in the Inner Sphere and Hinteregions; more in the Outer Volumes. Most teach a watered down form of the Art, usually combined with local and extraneous elements. There is often an emphasis on membership fees, and consequent de-emphasize on quality of training. Many Degenerate Cells teach a "Five Morph for the Proles" as it is derisively called by true practitioners - i.e. techniques that even a prole baseline could learn them with little training or modification.
During the Age of Expansion many Cells, rather than accept the new order or adapt their approach from a martial to a spiritual, joined the exodus to the outer volumes. To this day a large number of Cells can be found throughout the outer regions and on the periphery, where the isolation and frequent low tech level ensure that practitioners of the Art find their skills in constant demand. Isolated from the main Five Morph community and adapting to local conditions, these Cells produce a high degree of cladization, and it is not unknown for poorly trained local masters to set themselves up as pirates or mini-despots. For the most part however the Cells are honourable, if unorthodox. It is expected that as civilisation develops in these regions these Cells will once again meet the fate that the main Morph community has already met in the more developed regions of the Terragen Sphere.