History of the Taln biosphere protectorate

Image from Steve Bowers
When first reached by exploration ship this world appeared to have city lights all over its night hemisphere. The nearby Hyades cluster shines brightly in the skies of Taln.
Taln is a Caretaker God world located in the Octagon system of the (former) Taurus Nexus. The planet is a "biosphere reserve", despite being terraformed it is of interest to the Caretakers owing to the incorporation of indigenous alien biology. The name "Taln" is often used to refer to the sole major settlement of Taln City as well as the planet.

Taln Data Panel

StarHD 27836
Distance from Sol143 ly
Luminosity1.5 x Sol
Mass6.57e24 kg
Density3,987 kg/m3
Surface gravity0.83 gees
Escape velocity10.94 km/s
Surface area6.75e8 km2
Land surface area2.29e8 km2 (0.34 of total)
Water surface area4.46e8 km2
Day length29 hours, 36 minutes


The planet Taln was discovered in 2143A.T. by the Royal Exploration Craft Red Penny as it explored the Taurus Nexus. This sophont craft entered the system as modular sections small enough to traverse the 7 metre wide wormhole. After three weeks of reassembly it regained enough capability to examine the system. It didn't take long for its artificial emotions to flare at the data coming through of the fourth planet. Early visual analysis revealed a Gaian-type world whose continents were covered in light sources. The night-side practically shone with luminous networks spread across not only the land but also parts of the oceans. Hastily concluding that it had found a heavily populated planet in the otherwise abandoned Hyades Cluster, Red Penny loudly broadcast its discovery through the Nexus whilst setting an intercept course. The over-enthusiastic nature of the craft's personality would soon be branded as an "embarrassment of programming" as more detailed observation revealed the light sources to be biological, not technological.

Upon arriving in orbit Red Penny split itself into modular form again, this time to act as a satellite array. In a short time the glut of new data confirmed observations made during transit; the flora and fauna of the world employed widespread bioluminescence and tended to cluster in ways that gave the appearance of settlements from afar. Several other exploration craft arrived in-system to study the bizarre world. To their disappointment both visual and probe sample data ruled out the planet as being a true garden world. Many of the species were very clearly terrestrial in origin, albeit engineered (in some cases radically) for bioluminescence. The 30% of species that weren't terrestrial still had familiar biochemistry and were clearly neogenic. In addition the very composition of the planet was odd to the point of unlikely. Given its mass and size it should have been an ocean world, yet its surface was dominated by five continents and countless smaller islands. The single moon had an unusually high water-ice content and comet swarms were identified throughout the system in orbits that should have become unstable millions of years previous.

Despite the disappointment of not finding a populated or garden world several organisations were quick to set up research colonies in the system. An entire world terraformed to such sophistication was an object of fascination, not to mention valuable real estate. An orbital band was formed with several nations (including Red Penny's motherland: The Rhesus Imperium) co-operating over the long term study, albeit with some unease. The first few years of research (initially performed by teleoperated, sterile probes) revealed that there was a small alien factor in the biosphere; various common genes (including those for bioluminescence) showed hints of natural evolution but not related to terrestrial life. The Hybrid Theory was proposed stating that the world probably did have nascent life (likely simple multicellular organisms) that the mystery terraformers used as inspiration when adapting terrestrial stock for the world. This discovery spurred interest, migration and investment in the system.

Taln forest
Image from Steve Bowers
A bioluminescent forest on Taln, created by genetic engineering by an unknown faction in the pre-colonisation period.

Golden age of research and colonisation

In the 2180s tensions began to run high over the issue of colonisation. Several times in the preceding years nations had made moves to land permanent settlements on Taln, however the overall mood was one of caution. Further studies had shown that the biosphere of the world, whilst highly diverse, was less terrestrial in terms of its ecological behaviours than initially thought. The millions of neogenic species on the planet acted in such a way as to encourage symbiotic relationships in all other species. The emergent consequences of this system were unique in habitat design, the possible permutations of the environmental response to colonies were vast. Academic debate in the orbital habs became heated, spiteful even, as the intellectual turned ideological. All sides worked tirelessly to develop reliable mathematical models of the Talnian ecology, a task that so far had been hindered by false assumptions and regular discoveries of novel symbiotic interactions. At conferences and summits political opponents raged at each other, all brandishing their own modelling data to support their opinion. Four major factions emerged during this time; the Preservers advocated total isolation of the world, the Pantropists wanted colonisation under the proviso that the colonists adopt Talnian-designed clades, the Conservatives pushed for limited settlement regulated by an international body and the Taureans scorned what they saw as oppressive policies based on faulty data, calling for free colonisation and faith in the Lost Gods.

In the end the Conservatives won out and the Taln Environment and Colony Regulator (TECR) was founded. The international body would be made up of representatives of each orbital nation and would set policy for settlements. Initially it sought to satisfy all parties; offering limited settlement sites with incentives (in the form of territory rights) to those willing to experiment with Talnian clades. To appease the Taureans and the Preservers nigh total autonomy would be given to the colonies excepting environmental regulation and the majority of land would be declared No-Go zones.

The first colony missions began in 2187A.T. The Rhesus Imperium, Compliant Garmenia and the Wards of the Nightwatchman (WotN) quickly transported over ten thousand colonists to the surface along with neumans, autofabs and other industrial equipment. By the turn of the century sixteen orbital nations had extended to the surface and five independent states were formed besides. TECR directives were followed closely; all colonies maintained high density lifestyles to avoid excessive urban sprawl and over 35% of GDP was dedicated to sustainable economic practices. By 2260A.T. the population reached eight million, with one million colonists fully dedicated to ecological study.

This period has been remarked on as a golden age for the Taln nations. The economy boomed and the Taurus Nexus at large was rapidly becoming the most advanced metapolity the Terragen Sphere had ever seen (discounting the vanished wormhole creators). Taln became very prosperous as new terraforming and biological sciences were reverse engineered from the planet. Megacorps quickly established local branches in the system, offering ludicrous sums to any institutions selling knowledge that could grant a competitive edge. Terraforming throughout the Nexus was made notably more productive, particularly with regard to engineering self-organizing redundancy and management of emergent consequences in multi-species phenome modification.

By 2400A.T. the population of the world had grown to over 40 million (supported by 200 million in orbit) spread across twenty seven nations. Ultimately it would be this promise of wealth that would bring about the beginning of the end for the Taln nations.

The Edhiar Crisis

For nearly three centuries TECR continued to regulate colonisation and research on Taln, though its effectiveness became hampered by the increasing power of other factions. Two nations had been completely bought out by megacorps, becoming corporate run territories inhabited by share-vote holding citizens. TECR policies severely hampered scientific research in the name of conservation, an issue that the biotech wings of the megacorps were eager to change. In addition some rapidly breeding and large clades chafed against restrictions to their territorial expansion.

TECR itself was not without fault. Later evidence would reveal instances of corruption with some nations bribing others for votes in order to limit the size and sophistication of rival territory. These issues came to a head in 2541A.T. with the arrival of the Edhiar vecs. Emigrating from the orbital habs this new clade originated from an alife culture adopting neumann bodies designed for terraforming. Settlement rights were granted suspiciously quickly (though corruption in this case has never been discovered) and in due course a city was built in a forested region 50km from Compliant Garmenia. CG had become a megacorp state some years previous and grumbled at TECR meetings about their new neighbours. Their complaints not only focused on the loss of potential territory expansion but also at the Edhiars access to a large forested area. For decades CG had used their exclusive access to study the local rhizomes as the neogenic species were capable of reliably balancing soil biota, effectively acting as envirotech.

The situation was branded a crisis when, within months of settlement, CG shocked the world with data showing the Edhiar cutting down swathes of forest against TECR regulations. The methods were extreme, millions of the vecs (each unique but on average only 20cm long) simply chewed through everything from the bedrock up. The Edhiar representative was called to an emergency meeting to explain their actions, unfortunately the meeting was unproductive as toposophic differences prevented the vecs from clearly understanding the problem (prompting further speculation as to why they were granted settlement rights). For forty hours negotiations dragged on with the TECR reps demanding the Edhiar cease and comply with regulations whilst the Edhiar claimed they were complying.

Much scholarly debate has been dedicated to understanding what happened next, data loss from both the event itself and the Consolidation War have resulted in any direct evidence being lost. What is known is that as the 41st hour of the TECR emergency summit began the Edhiar colony launched a nuclear attack on Complaint Garmenia. In retaliation an orbiting CG hab laid down kinetic bombardment on the Edhiar territories, annihilating the very forests CG had been trying to protect. The conflict lasted less than two thousand seconds but in that time more than 70 megatonnes of energy was released in a region eight hundred kilometers square. Three CG towns totaling 700,000 citizens were destroyed, along with all Edhiar (years later an encrypted backup cache for the vecs would be found, but the lack of decryption key meant the short lived Edhiar clade remained extinct). The damage to the region's ecology was severe with the soil regulating rhizomes dying out completely. Despite relief efforts biodiversity levels in the greater area fell dramatically and did not recover until the Caretaker God's assumed control.

The crisis marked the end of the golden age. Whilst TECR would continue trust in it plummeted and factions began to take matters into their own hands.

Mass extinctions

The latter half of the third millennium saw things go from bad to worse for Taln. With TECR exposed as corrupt and the world still reeling from the Edhiar crisis many factions began to take matters into their own hands. This turbulent period of history is complex, a full accounting is not possible due to data loss (both deliberate and accidental). What is known with certainty is that the megacorps significantly increased their exploitation of the biosphere, each eager to discover biotech of such profitability that they could buy out their opponents and claim the world for themselves. All espoused sustainability and some were entirely ethical and cautious with their research. Other's however were not so reserved, given the still poorly understood emergent properties of the Taln bisophere some groups resorted to mass field experiments. Species were culled, introduced, altered and otherwise interfered with to observe how the ecosystem would attempt to self-correct. It is worth noting that thanks to some of these studies homeostatic terraforming technologies advanced significantly. Engineering attractors for selection went from theoretical to routine for certain ecosystems, this allowed many projects to build redundancy into their habitats, confident that in the event of ecosystem disruption species would naturally adapt to plug in any gaps and bring about stability.

The largest of these studies regularly went too far, pushing the self-regulating ecosystems to their limit and beyond. Mass die offs began on every continent with knock on effects rippling to every corner of the world. The content of the atmosphere and oceans were also changed as various pest organisms exploded in population leading to acidification, high methane levels and in one bizarre example radical sequestration of condensation nuclei (a huge disruption to cloud formation and rain). In the face of such continual devastation and powerless to do anything about it TECR quietly dissolved. In its place several smaller treaty organisations worked to enforce sustainability laws across the world but too many competing interests (for money, territory and ideology) ensured that unity would never be achieved.

As the fourth millennium drew near, the incidence of violence increased all over this world. It began with a political union of Taln-adapted nations (dubbed the TU) funding terrorist and guerrilla groups against megacorp research. One megacorp, F.W.S, retaliated by strip mining a mountain range on the border of the TU and using the material to breed combat bots. F.W.S threatened annexation for any group believed to be harbouring terrorists. This ultimatum backfired horrendously, such large scale mobilization had never been seen before in Taln history. By setting out to create a large army F.W.S galvanised dozens of other nations (and its rival megacorps) to similarly prepare. Before long F.W.S and its allies began a campaign of annexation, the TU responded and within a few months fighting had spread to every continent and the orbital band.

History would dub this conflict "The First and Only Great War" as to date it remains the only large scale conflict on Taln. For nine years it raged between 2926 and 2935A.T. The last three years of fighting were the most severe, with each passing month all factions reduced the weapons and tactics restrictions of their armies. Civilian targets, weapons of severe/mass destruction and hab-buster tactics were employed. The end result was a surface extensively damaged with most major settlements destroyed and the near billion-sophont population reduced to just 100 million. Many of the dead were fortunate to keep backups in secure stores across the Taurus nexus, but owing to the sheer numbers of casualties it would take many years to clear the backlog. The Taln orbital band did not survive the war, destroyed in 2933A.T. it became a perilous Kessler Cloud (guerrilla fighting still continued with vacuum units hiding and striking in the debris).

Aftermath and First Consolidation War

Despite the ceasefire treaty achieving an end to hostilities few commentators of the time thought that the hard times were over. The planetary economy was devastated, beyond the loss of life and infrastructure info-plagues had ruined the local net. Data archives and software were, at best, simply deleted but in many cases they were corrupted in ways that rendered them misleading, ineffectual and dangerous. The overall technology level of the remnant Taln nations fell, only a handful managed to maintain economies above mid-tech and most fell to more primitive ways of life. There was little prospect for rebuilding as the system was quarantined by the wider Taurus Nexus, local branches of megacorps were recalled or abandoned.

In stark contrast to the previous golden age driven by bioscience research Taln became a backwater. Poor, ostracised and lacking in any resource to help their situation the nations sought only to survive. Conservation efforts were key but these did little to slow the mass extinction caused by over exploitation and war. In the next few centuries 60% of aquatic and 85% of terrestrial species went extinct. The seas became chocked by algae blooms (themselves dying off in time) and millions of square kilometres of land turned to rotting marshes. The population slowly dwindled to less than 50 million spread across a few nations, city states and tribal confederations. Some attempt was made to return to space but any rocket program was hampered by faulty data and the dangerous debris cloud in orbit.

Within the Taurus Nexus there were groups pushing to reopen Taln to aid and development. The Cooperative of Soverign Sophonts (CoSoSo), a NoCoZo organisation, campaigned tirelessly for an end to the multilateral quarantine. In the latter half of the 33rd century they finally achieved a modicum of success and were allowed to fire dumb landing pods containing hard-copy encyclopaedias through the wormhole at the planet. With these the Taln nations could begin to correct their archives and abandon their unreliable infrastructure in favour of fresh builds. Whether they would have succeeded before the dying environment resulted in their extinction is unknown (though the Arcturus Institute for Alternative History suggests it would have been unlikely). In 3301A.T. any chance was taken away from them.

The Caretaker Takeover

The first any modosophont knew of a change in the quarantine was when a swarm of grapeships were observed approaching the wormhole at high speed. Blockade stations stood down, announcing simply that control had been handed over. The several hundred approaching ships announced that the system was now under Caretaker God control and that access was prohibited indefinitely. No further communications were issued, various media groups investigated the event but discovered little more than was obvious. An agreement was made among the powers of the region to recognise total control of Taln by the Caretakers, who promptly declared the system a protectorate. The CoSoSo intensified their lobbying, concerned over the fate of the Talnians. Their efforts were quickly forgotten as the First Consolidation War consumed the attention (and in many cases; lives) of the Nexus.

Taln was largely ignored for the duration of the war. No fighting came to the system and the Caretaker Gods played little part in the overall conflict other than a few displays of force around the wormhole. It wasn't until the conclusion of the war that the issue was raised again, this time by the Sovereign Sophont Conclave (SoSoCo), a splinter group of the CoSoSo. The group had formed after being denounced as "splitters" by the CoSoSo for a financial project aimed to ascend one of their members. The CoSoSo saw the project as self-imposed inequality, the SoSoCo aimed to gain a home-grown transapient patron to better advance their goals. This new S1 entity sent a request to the Caretaker Gods inquiring over the status of the Talnians.

For months no answer was forthcoming until, without fanfare, a single grapeship emerged from the Taln wormhole and set a course for NoCoZo territory. Attempts to hail the ship by various parties along the way (many godchasers and media hounds) were unsuccessful. Beyond complying with traffic control the craft remained silent. The craft slowly travelled the Nexus, rarely exceeding 0.4G. Its journey would take eighteen months and with each wormhole crossing it became clearer where it was heading. Many correctly guessed that the destination was the home system of the SoSoCo. In 3457A.T. the craft arrived in orbit of a NoCoZo gas giant. It transmitted a message into the orbital band to the heart of the SoSoCo enclave stating: "The Talnians were/are well, they are simply no longer of Taln". The message ended with a transfer of ownership token allowing the SoSoCo to access the ship. Within 39 of the 40 cargo spheres they found millions of cultural artefacts, personal possessions and (most rare of all) specimens of Talnian flora and fauna in stasis. In the last spheres an explanation for the Caretaker's Delphic message was discovered; a crashcache containing the mind/bodystate uploads of all the surviving colonists.

A charity was established to fund a virch for the refugees. Within a year they had all been reactivated, shocked at what had occurred but otherwise unharmed. None would ever return to Taln, a fact that did not seem to bother the majority. Indeed as a group they prospered, becoming shareholders in the Museum of Lost Worlds wherein they housed much of their cargo. It would be millennia before anyone ever heard from the Caretaker Gods in Taln again.


For thousands of years Taln was kept isolated. When asked Caretaker God representatives would say that the situation was improving but declined to comment further. In 7006A.T. The wormhole linking the system began to grow, at first no explanation was offered but after several weeks transapients from multiple empires announced that the system was being opened for limited collaboration. One transapient in particular, Second-Adjunct Minister for the Untranslatable (A.K.A "Samu"), from the Terragen Federation was very forthcoming, explaining via its Bureaucrats that a pan-empire discussion had resulted in the system being selected for joint development by various powers. The system itself, previously nameless, became known as the Octagon system after the eight stakeholding empires.

Little detail was forthcoming for the next two years. Samu explained that discussions in transapient society over the fine details were taking place that would take some time to resolve. Interest began to wane until finally the Net was hit with a flood of information. The isolation of the Octagon system was lifted, limited immigration and visits would now be allowed subject to the rules laid down by "the Legate", a gestalt S2 transapient that was an Avatar of all the systems ruling entities.

Excitement for the new system was high, rivalled only by the revelation of what the Caretaker Gods had done with Taln. Once a connection to the Octagon Net was established with the Nexus at large billions of sophonts accessed any visual streams they could find. The images that came back of Taln showed a world almost identical to those broadcast by Red Penny five thousand years before. Little evidence of the First and Only Great War remained and biodiversity had grown to substantial levels. The Legate explained that the world had only recently returned to this level of life. Rather than re-terraforming immediately the Caretaker Gods had instead restored the Talnian biosphere to a bare minimum and let nature take its course. Once the self-correcting mechanisms of the unique ecosystem were no longer overwhelmed life was able to flourish once more.

In addition to the restoration of the biosphere the Caretakers had geoscuplted a 50km wide island along the equator. Roughly circular in shape the island was a flat sheet of smart matter over bedrock. Parks and rivers, interspaced with pathways, spanned the island from the coasts to a central lake, on the shore of which a space elevator stretched into orbit.

Within days millions of sophonts applied for visitor and settlement rights, both on Taln and in the wider Octagon system. The Legate processed all requests, sometimes offering specific criteria but more often accepting and denying requests in an unpredictable fashion. Those wishing to live on Taln itself were informed that travel beyond the island city would be heavily restricted and that little local autonomy would be granted in terms of city design. Despite this the Legate received more than enough applications and in 7009A.T. the first 100,000 immigrants arrived.

Taln City

Population growth in Taln city was high for the first few decades of its existence, by 7050A.T. it reached 20 million. Yet just fifty years later, at the turn of the century it had retracted by a third. The world of Taln was a highly popular destination but the geographical restrictions were severe. The city angelnet prevented anyone from travelling more than two kilometres from the shore, including airspace. Those wishing to visit the various continents of the world could only do so if they acquired Reserve Tokens, rare digital currency that could be used to purchase time away from the city. Tokens were awarded sporadically in events known as "giftings". Every few months some number would be distributed equally to the citizens who could then cash them in and visit the reserve or trade them with other citizens (it was, and still is, impossible to transfer tokens off world).

Compared to the other new polities being developed in the Octagon system Taln became less attractive, a single city tantalizingly close to millions of square kilometres of empty land that could rarely be reached. In the early centuries this had the effect on the city culture, shaping it towards patient but passionate enthusiasm. Citizens would wait years to accumulate enough tokens to spend a few weeks alone in the wilderness. Then, as now, leaving Taln (or its elevator) meant legal forfeit of any reserve tokens.

Over time the city grew, its ample parks increasingly replaced by urban centres which were in turn replaced with arcologies. As the 76th century began the population reached 100 million. This period of history is termed "the discord" as the city culture became increasingly factitious and aggressive. The communities descended from original settlers (many of which retained elder members from those times) resented how the burgeoning numbers of immigrants were resulting in less reserve tokens per person at each gifting. Immigrants, who in some factions eyes included anyone whose decedents weren't from the early days, resented this treatment. To compound these problems the controversial practice of "proxying" had grown to significance. Off world sophonts were sending representatives (often in the form of auto-slaved dividuals) to live in Taln for long periods to accumulate tokens. They would then either visit and instantly be gifted their proxy's tokens or unofficially trade them to wealthy patrons elsewhere in the terragen sphere.

By all accounts the Caretaker Gods did not appear to care about the social issues of the city. Beyond maintaining an angelnet and autotopic economy they rarely interacted outside of giftings. However, given the reforms that followed many archailectologists speculate that the Caretakers were cultivating certain cultural values over the centuries that would ensure harmonious living for millennia to come. An unusually large gifting (equivalent to granting one week of reserve time for each resident) in 7522A.T. was followed by an announcement that executive powers over the economy, infrastructure, immigration and a host of other minutia were being devolved to the citizens. Specifically to one citizen: miss Kylar Dream who would henceforth be known as First Magistrate.

Within seconds the new First Magistrate was inundated with messages from a confused populous, media hounds and foreign dignitaries. By all accounts this was the first Kylar had heard of the changes also, now she faced the daunting task of being an autocrat for her city. For a while panic took the city (though contrary to popular myth no civil disorder or exodus occurred, merely widespread confusion) but later that day the First Magistrate addressed the citizenry. She explained that her powers were granted to her with one simple instruction: "Keep everything running smoothly until you leave, or we replace you". Her initial act would be to hold a multitude of forums to allow all to have their say. She also invited a representative from the Terragen Federation colonies to visit as an adviser. Things calmed and in the following years Kylar built a hierarchy of administrators. She delegated certain topics and areas to Second Magistrates who in turn were free to appoint Thirds and so on. Gift tech provided to the First Magistrate by the Care Taker gods allowed for radically increased capabilities, including transavant augmentation if desired. With these tools identifying an appropriate member of the populous through the angelnet is simple, as is replacing lesser officials before they become troublesome.

Despite abdicating to her chosen successor after just nine years Kylar managed to smooth relations between all members of society and pave the way for a cultural and administrative system that lasts to this day. Bad magistrates have been rare and of the 53 First Magistrates in Taln history only two were directly replaced by the Caretaker Gods.

In the current era Taln City is home to over 400 million sophonts whose daily lives are administered by some 60,000 magistrates. At any one time 4-16% of the population visit a reserve. Tokens are now distributed in a similar fashion to the Citizen Stipend; regular equal payments at set times. The number of Tokens in circulation at one time are carefully controlled, as is the market cost of visiting different reserve locations.

Future events

The issue of overpopulation has remained a hot topic on Taln for much of its recent history. Even though available residential space is restricted the real issue is ensuring a low enough population that reserve tokens are valuable, without simply increasing the number in circulation (which would violate Caretaker God rules on environmental impact). So far the most effective solution has been to offer incentives (monetarily or otherwise) for emigration. Talnian culture has been exported to habs in the system and beyond as large numbers have left en mass. In 9316A.T. the Caretaker Gods spoke through the current First Magistrate to declare that a second city would be built in orbit so that Talnians could expand without requiring further land space.

Space-based citizens would not be able to accumulate reserve tokens but would still be close enough for cultural solidarity. The nature of the plan was a surprise and delight to many; rather than a simple hab the Caretakers delegated the Magistrates with the task of altering the orbit of the moon so that it might act as the geostationary platform for the space elevator (Taln's moon is of small enough size that tidal effects on the planet would be negligible). Once in position the Caretakers themselves will oversee the installation of a black hole before feeding it material from the moon itself. By the end of this process the moon will have a surface gravity identical to Taln, at the cost of an 82% reduction in diameter. The project has been underway since this time with a solar-orbit array working to alter the lunar orbit. It is projected to finish in 11670A.T.
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Text by Ryan B
Initially published on 03 October 2016.