Inner Sphere world with a hybrid ril/virtual culture

Image from Steve Bowers
After terraforming, this dry, Mars-like world is covered in shallow seas

Nathan (HD 55575 I)

StarGJ 1095/HD 55575
Distance from Sol55.1 ly (epoch 2000)
Luminosity1.49 x Sol
Planet INathan
Type AreanXeric (dry, Mars-like) partially terraformed to more Earth-like conditions
Diameter 9090 km
Surface gravity 0.7 g
Obliquity 0.41
Moons: none
Semimajor axis 1.16 AU
Year 1.17 standard years
Planet IIZadok
Type Eujovian
Mass: 0.5 x Jupiter
Diameter 115,000 km
Moons 25 larger than 10km; major colonies on Zadok III, IV and V
Semimajor axis 5.45 AU
Year 11.9 standard years
Planet IIIBenaiah
Type Cryojovian, with spectacular spoked ring system.
Mass: 0.01 x Jupiter
Diameter 61,000 km
Moons 15 larger than 10km; major colonies on Benaiah II and VII
Semimajor axis 14.5 AU
Year 52 standard years

Colonised in 1490 by First Federation venturers the Kontore League. The first explorers discovered that this system had been visited by at least one transapient entity from Solsys more than a century before, which had left behind a number of technological relics on various moons and asteroids but then had departed for an unknown destination.

Mining colonies were set up on the moons of the two gas giants, and power for these colonies was easily obtainable from the strong magnetic fields surrounding both planets. Particularly wealthy were the colonies on Zadok V and Benaiah II. Because of the relatively low escape velocity of Benaiah that world became host to a thriving industry collecting and exporting deuterium and helium3 for fusion plants throughout the system. Despite its remote location Benaiah II was famous as a luxurious holiday destination, the destination of several spaceliner routes from the other worlds.

Zadok V became wealthy because of its geologically differentiated nature, as it held rich deposits of many metals which were more difficult to find elsewhere. A small elite of miners became powerful on this moon, and some became augmented to superbright status, using life-extension techniques to hang on to power for many centuries and exerting a great deal of control over the clan-based political system there.

The planet Nathan was too dry to support a large population, so a long-term project to terraform it was set into operation. Expert help came from several ex-Martian dustlanders, arriving from Solsys on the infrequent sleeper ships. Icy objects from the outer system were diverted using fusion motors and sent towards this Mars-like planet to increase its water content. Some of these icy objects were utilised as temporary spacecraft, transferring population from the outer worlds towards new opportunities on and around Nathan. Sometimes quite extensive accommodation was excavated into these ice bodies by the passengers en-route, but of course all this was destroyed when the ice-ship eventually impacted the destination world (after the passengers had disembarked, of course).

Populations of several other clades also came from the inner Federation worlds to the HD 55575 system; space-adapted asteroid miners, with hands instead of feet (and sometimes with extra limbs for added dexterity); a very diverse population of vecs, often assembled from recipes sent by data-ship or interstellar comm.-laser from nearby systems, and the A-Caxa, cold-adapted tweaks that colonised the extensive Trojan asteroid fields of both Zadok and Benaiah. These cold-adapted tweaks, known as Outdwellers by other clades, were often discriminated against because of their apparent isolationism; often devout Mortalists, the A-Caxa found it uncomfortable to live among other bionts, mostly because they preferred cooler conditions.

Image from Steve Bowers
Zadok, the largest planet in this system; visible is Zadok III, seat of the local FedRep

A FedRep AI ambassador set up shop on Zadok III, bringing some sense of inclusion into the loose interstellar empire that was the Federation of Sophonts. The FedRep was particularly interested in the relics left behind by the mysterious transapient pioneer probe, many of which were sentient devices with curious behavioural characteristics.

The Proxavs

A particularly powerful class of relic took the form of a proxy avatar (proxav) with near-human-level intelligence, which was capable of destructively uploading both bionts and aioids into a virtual form, and also wielded powerful memetic techniques to persuade them to volunteer for this conversion process. The FedRep deemed that this particular type of persuasive avatar could cause considerable social and political upheaval if unleashed into the general population, so the few known examples (found among the outer moons of Zadok) were deactivated and suppressed. However the First Federation was rapidly losing power and becoming irrelevant; in 2145 AT the FedRep withdrew from this system, and several of these evangelical proxavs were reactivated and started to persuade the modosophonts of the system to upload themselves into virtual form.

By 2300 AT the HD 55575 system had a very large virtual population, and some of the embodied citizens were concerned about this trend. A number of religious and political movements arose, often inspired by influences from the relatively nearby Dionysos system, which favoured existence in physical reality; these became known as the Cults of the Ril. Ril-lifers favoured strong experiences in the real universe, such as adrenaline sports, sexual love in a wide variety of forms, and physical combat; they used various augmentic technologies to increase the potency of such experiences, although some rejected these augmentations as non-authentic.

Nathan was gradually becoming wetter and more hospitable, and entered the Brown stage of the terraforming process at about this time. Extensive plantations of dark-hued genetically tailored autotrophs changed the colour of the planet from ochre to dark brown, and dark-hued lakes and seas started to appear. The surface pressure of this world was around 200 millibars at this point. Many of the embodied population were modified somatically and in their gene-line in order to tolerate these surface conditions, while the dome-cities were still pressurised to accommodate outworlders of various kinds. Periodically a new ice-object would impact the surface of this world, carefully directed to land in one of two designated impact sites well away from centres of population; with each impact the planet would experience a period of climatic turmoil which was relished by the Ril-lifers as a true experience.

Each city on Nathan also had its own extensive virtual substrate, where the virch inhabitants could live in their increasingly complex imaginary worlds. Over time the real-life inhabitants of Nathan became more closely integrated with the virtual world of their compatriots, interfacing with them using direct neural links and utility fog environments. By the Integration the ril-lifers and virch inhabitants of this planet were, for the most part, so closely interwoven it was difficult for an outsider to tell the difference between a real-life, embodied citizen interacting with an artificial environment through utility-fog and haptic simulation, and a virtual citizen interacting with a real environment using remotely controlled bodies of various forms. The augmented reality environment experienced by an embodied citizen could be almost as varied and controllable as that experienced by a virtual sophont inside a cybercosm.

The Version War and Later Conflicts

During the Version War Nathan was occupied by the Solar Dominion, but the rest of the system was divided between factions which accepted the standard Concord Ontology and those who did not. In particular the vec population was deeply divided between those sympathetic to Metasoft and those who were not. Conflicts arose between the vec colonies of Zadok IV and Benaiah VII, with kinetic missile impacts causing substantial damage to infrastructure. Refugees fled these worlds and found refuge among the A-Caxa outdwellers, many eventually becoming Hiders.

The vec populations of Zadok IV and Benaiah VII remained divided after the Version war, using separate ontologies, and variously loyal to Metasoft or the Solar Dominion. However the post-War settlement allowed these two factions to co-exist until they became united by the ComEmp Ontology in the 49th century AT. Some resentments remained , however, and during the Second Vec War the Magnetovecs of Benaiah VII came out on the side of the Non-Interventionists and fought a local campaign of covert and occasionally overt warfare against the vecs of Zadok IV . The two factions were eventually reunited in the struggle against the Hypercorruption Expanse, a conflict which served to unite many former opponents within the Version Tree after this damaging internal warfare.

The Current Era

Like Mars, Nathan has never been completely terraformed. Green Nathan has an atmospheric pressure of 700 millibars, and resident bionts are engineered to thrive in these conditions. But the planet is also home to a very large number of infomorphs, who often use aioid bodies or are engenerated into biological ones on a temporary or permanent basis. Cities on this world give an outsider the impression a kaleidoscope of augmented reality created through the use of visual projections, utility fog and neural linkage; environments change constantly to reflect the preferences of the inhabitants and visitors. The society of Nathan has developed towards a seamless integration between virtual modosophonts and those with bodies, so much so that in the modern era the distinction between the incarnate and the infomorph has become almost entirely arbitrary.

Not all of this world's citizens live this hybrid lifestyle, however; the self-determining Palatinate of Ezra in the southern hemisphere has a thriving population of nearbaseline humans who reject augmented reality and live lives almost completely free of environment-changing technology. There is a steady exchange of population between peaceful, rural Ezra and the hectic city-states with their ever-changing augmented reality environments.

Zadok IVBenaiah
Images from Steve Bowers
Left, the vec colony of Zadok IV; right, the naturally spoked rings of Benaiah, caused by the effects of this planet's strong magnetic field (click for larger images)

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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 26 November 2011.

Fiction set in the Nathan System

Heart of the Ice