The J'Ta'ush are an unusual group of alifes. They are based on security software created by mysterious xenosophonts. The J'Ta'ush have the distinction of being one of the few known xenosophont virch Clades.
When terragens first arrived at what is now the frontier between terragens space and the Sagittarius Arm they found several systems that were already inhabited. Attempts at communication were met with silence for over 100 years. The first communications to come from the huge habitats consisted of warnings against exploiting the systems' resources. Sporadic communications over the next 37 years finally led to normalized diplomatic relations. Over the course of several decades terragens ambassadors learned that the J'Ta'ush — the beings with whom they had been in contact all this time — had been created for the sole purpose of representing their patron species to the rest of the galaxy. The species' name is derived from their creators' word for "gatekeeper."
Appearance and Capabilities
J'Ta'ush typically appear as faintly glowing geometric figures — the exact shapes and colors are purely matters of personal aesthetics. They extrude tendrils of light when they need to manipulate virtual objects, and move by levitating. As ambassadors they prefer a virtual size which matches that of the beings they're dealing with, but they will often program themselves to appear larger if intimidation is called for or smaller if there is a need for ingratiation. No one but the J'Ta'ush and their patrons know whether or not these simple icons are the "true" shapes of the J'Ta'ush.
As alifes J'Ta'ush have subjective mind speeds much faster than is possible for unmodified bionts. They also have phenomenal aptitude for data manipulation, especially as pertains to computerized security — some terragens theorists believe that J'Ta'ush agents have broken into a number of nodes on the Known Net. The usual environments that J'Ta'ush live in are photonic computers. Such high-speed systems allow for incredibly fast action both virtually and, on the rare occasions when a J'Ta'ush needs a hardware interface, in the material world.
The most surprising capability of the J'Ta'ush is their uncanny social aptitude. They are adept at reading body language and monitoring physiological cues such as the blink response in human baselines or nearbaselines; they do this as easily as baseline humans distinguish between colors. This ability is optimized for detecting hostility and deceptive intent but doesn't identify other emotions quite as readily. Sophontologists theorize that this ability was engineered into the J'Ta'ush as part of their function — the gatekeepers are sensitive to moods that are likely to indicate threats and tend to ignore all others. J'Ta'ush are frighteningly intelligent, and there are reliable reports of transapient individuals (SI:1 to SI:2).
The primary limitations of the J'Ta'ush are psychological. They have a strong aversion to using material bodies and will only do so at great need. They are also secretive by nature; fanatically so in matters pertaining to their patrons. These qualities are believed to have been inherited from the patrons, who possess both to an even greater degree. J'Ta'ush are also unable to "read" virtual sophonts who lack the equivalent of body language — many simulations don't code for such behavior, and even in those that do the code for it is easily suppressed. For this reason J'Ta'ush prefer to deal with material sophonts through J'Ta'ush-made interfaces (which can monitor pulse, respiration and galvanic skin response in addition to transmitting visual imagery) and other virches not at all (J'Ta'ush are uncomfortable around beings whom they cannot "read"). The major exception to this aversion is sophont simms, whose programming almost always includes kinesic responses. If J'Ta'ush must deal with someone virtually they usually insist on inviting the guest into their environments, which do code for body language and are unusually difficult to break into.
Outsiders know very little about J'Ta'ush culture. Most J'Ta'ush have no desire but to serve their patrons as envoys or majordomos, but a few are chosen to represent their creators' interests in the wider galaxy. These travelers wander the Known Net and other nets, trading for information and goods. J'Ta'ush have few scruples in their trading; they ruthlessly haggle for the most advantageous (to them) terms and don't feel the slightest guilt at selling substandard merchandise if someone is too trusting to check before buying. The only things that they won't sell are their own and their patrons' secrets.
The N'Lu'uj are the patrons of the J'Ta'ush, and that's as much as anyone knows about them for sure, though some details can be inferred about them from observing their tech and from the snippets that the J'Ta'ush have revealed. The N'Lu'uj possess highly advanced technology and are capable of megascale engineering. The ability to construct alifes like the J'Ta'ush implies the ability to create advanced computronium. Sensor scans of N'Lu'uj habitats indicate that the interiors are mostly solid computronium, which suggests that the N'Lu'uj are virch life forms (possibly descended from xenosophont uploads). Most impressive are the estimates of N'Lu'uj intelligence; if the few transapient J'Ta'ush were created in that state the N'Lu'uj themselves, or some of them, must be at least SI:3.
N'Lu'uj culture is a complete mystery except for a few obvious traits. Their willingness to create an entirely new species to act as ambassadors to the rest of the galaxy reveals that they are highly xenophobic without being complete solipsists. The N'Lu'uj may suffer from sarcophobia in addition to or instead of xenophobia. No one aside from the J'Ta'ush knows what the N'Lu'uj look like or where they came from — and even the J'Ta'ush are likely to have incomplete if not inaccurate information on these subjects in light of the N'Lu'uj's secretive nature.
How much the N'Lu'uj know about terragens culture is a matter for intense debate. The N'Lu'uj had over a century before normalized relations to study terragens, and their agents have certainly added to that knowledge since contact. What no outsider knows is what level of interest the N'Lu'uj have in other sophonts. It's quite possible, in light of the species' paranoia, that they are only interested in those aspects of other cultures that are of possible benefit or that pose potential threats.