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Until recently, Earth was dominated by a vast computer network called the “Virtuality”. Over the centuries, hundreds of billions of people uploaded their minds into this “life after death”. Eventually, living people came to be a minority who were largely excluded from decision-making. Out in the living world, nation-states still existed, cooperating through a fairly strong “Earth Union” – successor to the United Nations. However, aside from a tiny elite, most living people felt entirely disenfranchised. Many chose to go to the colonies rather than live as a second-class citizen.

In the last decade, telepathic radicals from the colony world of Esperanza have infiltrated, and entirely overturned this ancient, conservative society. One by one, they seized control of Earth’s nation states, destroyed the Virtuality’s data centres, and imposed their own brand of totalitarianism. Finally, four years ago the central Earth Union fell completely under their sway, and the remaining conservative nations were conquered in a short, bloody war. Today, the “Next Step” radicals are still consolidating their hold over Earth, whilst pushing aggressively on into the Outer Planets.

Old Earth Society:

  • Uploads: There were well over 200 billion uploaded minds in the Virtuality, most of them are many centuries old. The Virtuality absolutely dominated the Earth Union, which effectively existed to construct, maintain and power millions of data centres. There were a few virtual environments – known as the “Shores” – that were deliberately designed for living “visitors”. However, the vast bulk lay beyond, its internal politics and social structures incomprehensible to outsiders.

Earth’s living society has ossified into a rigid caste-system:

  • Elite: The “0.1%”. These few stood at the apex of the caste system. The descendents of the ancient nobility and super rich. The Elite are the only members of society who could collectively stand against the wishes of the Uploads.

    The Elite can usually be identified by their entourage of retainers. They normally wear their household crest, as do their servants. All Elite are addressed as ‘sir’ or ‘maam’, and eye contact should be avoided. Failure to observe these customs may result in a beating delivered by the noble’s followers. Such beatings are not strictly legal, but they are widely accepted as normal. Few police forces will take action against the perpetrators.

  • Favoured: (1%) Earth’s rich and famous. These are wealthy industrialists, media stars, politicians and academics. A majority of these people are descended from “white” Europeans – their caste’s insularity has prevented them from participating in the intermixing that has bred out most region-specific phenotypes over the last centuries.

    The wealthiest Favoured can afford servants of their own, although none will affect the ostentatious entourages of the Elite.

  • Commoners: (60%) Below the Favoured ones are the ‘Commoners'; Earth’s well educated professional caste. Today, Commoners form the majority of Earth’s population. They have well paid jobs and live in large comfortable homes.

    Offworlders find Commoners the most approachable Earthers. They have a sophisticated urban outlook. Only their attitudes to other castes surprises visitors. Naturally they show the proper deference to their Favoured masters, but their disdain for the lower castes can be quite shocking. It is considered quite acceptable to beat a lazy or disrespectful servant.

    Commoners no longer show much of their racial heritage. Everyone looks much like C20th mixed-race Brazilians.

    Commoners typically Uploaded when they died.

  • Peons: (35%) Historically, the Peons were manual labourers who worked in factories or on the land, and who owned little or no property. Today, Peons are servants, drivers, gardeners and so on. Most policemen and the bulk of the armed forces are also from the Peon caste. About 35% of Earthers are Peons. Surprisingly, most Peons are not unhappy with their low status. They work hard and strive to improve their lot, or at least that of their children.

    Peons tend to be less racially mixed than Commoners. They move around less, and retain more of the features that are geographically associated with their birthplace. As a result, racism is still not unknown amongst them.

  • Underclass: The Underclass form the remaining 4% of Earth’s population. They are the dispossessed who have no place in society. Originally, the Underclass were mostly of East Asian descent. They performed only the most menial of jobs, if any at all.

    Today the Underclass remains a vast underprivileged population. Those who stay on Earth prosper through art and performance, or make a living as prostitutes or criminals. Many leave Earth for a life of asteroid mining or as free traders, or for life in the colonies.

    Surprisingly, the Underclass have a monopoly on computer programming. Earth’s other castes consider programming to be an unsavoury occupation, because Uploads are generally so much better at it, and so the Underclass has made it their own. The best programmers in Human Space are trained in Earth’s Virtual University Of Software Engineering.

    The Wheel of Life religion originated in the Earth Underclass over 500 years ago. It still claims adherents even today. The religion emphasises good works and has little to do with the spirit world.

The Outer Planets

Space Patrol SymbolThe Outer Planets had a much more vibrant culture. Light-speed delays forced the Virtuality to be much more fragmented than on Earth, so uploads preferred to avoid the far reaches of the solar system. The Belt & Jupiter system are an economic power-house, concentrating on resource extraction, high-tech manufacturing and advanced R&D. Mars has been successfully terraformed, and has a population of 800m – Only the depths of the Mariner Valleys currently have a high enough air pressure for breathable atmosphere.

Recent history

Almost a century ago, the invention of the J1+ drive brought the Core Worlds within easy reach of the Main. The Esperanzan “New Puritan” regime seized this opportunity, and began using Earth’s industrial power to complement its own. A formal alliance between the Earth Union and Esperanzan Commonwealth lead to a series of wars that drove the Xa Imperium completely out of Corridor, and weakened its ability to regulate trade with the Long Republic.

15 years ago, the Esperanzan Puritan regime was overthrown by a telepath-supremacist group who called themselves the “Next Step”. The telepaths have brutally subjugated “normals”, both on Esperanza itself, and throughout the wider Esperanzan “Commonwealth”.

A concerted campaign has allowed the Esperanzans to undermine the member states of the Earth Union. One after another, member states fell to Esperanzan-inspired pro-telepath “Next Step” parties. Ultimately the few remaining hold outs were crushed militarily, and the Virtuality was shut down – effectively killing the hundreds of billions of uploaded individuals. Telepaths cannot interact with uploads, and therefore Next Step ideologues deny their humanity.

The final collapse of the Earth Union came shockingly quickly. In its final days, a few hundred-thousand refugees were able to escape to Procyon, together with millions of uploads. The Outer Planets, and loyalist elements of the Earth Fleet assisted the refugees. It took months for the new regime to purge loyalist elements from the Fleet and bureacracy. During that time, Esperanzan Fleet elements opened hostilities against the Outer Planets, which were able to defend themselves surprisingly effectively. Finally, the purged Earth Fleet joined the battle, and decisively defeated the belters’ ramshackle fleet.

Today, Earth is a highly regulated society, with Thought Police on every street corner. The Outer Planets occupied by the military. An underground resistance continues to fight an insurgency. The military use collective punishment and concentration camps to battle them. The Belt/OP population is too thinly spread to be controlled effectively by telepaths.

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  1. alex said,

    15 December, 2014 @ 18:26

    Facebook comments:

    Alexander Tingle My goal is definitely “space opera” rather than hard science fiction. The idea is for the PCs to be the crew of a new super fast (Jump-2) exploration and trading ship from Procyon – the last bastion of human freedom. Like a cross between the early East India Company traders (credit to Andy Miles), and Captain Kirk.

    Tony Jones Like the sound of it!

    Andy Miles Early HEIC…where on Terra did you get a silly idea like that from… …?

    Andy Miles (Will read and feedback later) Any ideas when you’re planning to go with this?

    Alexander Tingle I’m starting to feel ready to roll with it. I still need to think a bit about character generation, and I need to add my latest ideas about space drives into my ship design spreadsheet.

    I want the players to design their own ship, you see…

    Andy Miles (you didn’t REALLY need to credit me)

    Alexander Tingle You deserve it. The Esperanzan New Puritans are also your idea, from many, many years ago.

    Andy Miles Must dash (nothing personal)…

    Andy Miles Looks interesting. Are the shown systems the only ones currently known/explored?

    Alexander Tingle No, those are the “Core” worlds, which have been accessible from Earth via Jump-1 for centuries. In the coming few days I’ll publish descriptions of them, and then start describing the “Corridor” worlds, which extend off beyond Esperanza into the “Main”-proper.

    Matt Fitzgerald Nice star maps. Campaign cartographer ? Also, is there a history/timeline for this campaign setting ?

    Alexander Tingle I’m using my own cartography program. It reads standard .sec format files.

    I’ll publish the history/timeline in due course, along with these gazetteer-style posts. I have a tenuous timeline, but it’s all scribbled down in pen on paper, so it may be a while before I transcribe it. It’s crucial to publish a basic timeline, of course.

    Alexander Tingle TCS veterans may notice that I’ve recycled several of the world designs from that campaign. Joyeuse is out there…

    Matt Fitzgerald Vive L’Empreur! Vive la Joyeuse! And does ‘Sid Terrorist’ make a reappearance?

    Tony Jones Some questions and thoughts:

    Did the uploaded get backed up? If so to where? Presumably they were destroyed too (biggest act of mass murder in human history by far, too, I’d imagine), but could have a plot involving a rescue of (millions? billions?) of backed up minds.

    How big is the computer required to run a human mind? Presumably not very given the numbers you mention?

    Can uploads be embodied again, e.g. in a robot body?

    Can you have starships crewed entirely by uploads? If so they’ll have a big advantage over human-crewed ones – no need for living quarters space, no need for life support – that would give the advantage for both trade and military ships. Possible need for robot bodies for maintenance tasks though. I bet a good many of those millions of rescued uploads might be on for something like this…

    On a nastier front how does uploading work? Is it destructive (e.g. kills the uploadee) or not? If not it’ll allow people to be duplicated.

    Also, could you, for example upload someone and then data mine their minds (which are now presumably software in some common/universal format) for information you want? Or is it encrypted in some manner? Or just endlessly torture them, given that uploads can’t die and could presumably be restored from backup even if they’re driven insane. If uploading is destructive you might only do this for convicted spies or criminals, but if not you might do it for anyone you (the government etc.) were sufficiently interested in…

    Also, if uploading is non-destructive could you have ‘bootleg copies’ of people being made for all kinds of sinister ends?

    Tony Jones The Wheel of Life religion implies there may be a New Colchis out there somewhere…

    Quinton Carroll Why do I see a future involving asteroid weapons and nuclear fireballs…..

    Quinton Carroll Actually, looks good. I just need to suppress the hidden Traveller memories of times past…Hunt bug.

    Alexander Tingle Tony – Yeah, I plan to do a series of “flashback” episodes where you get to go on missions such as rescuing Uploads before the end. I’m slightly fudging the TL rules… AI isn’t supposed to be available until TL13, but I figure they’ve just thrown resources at the problem. The idea is that essentially Earth’s entire economy was devoted to maintaining and powering the data centres. Sort of like our current pension demographic problem, only a million times worse.

    I think the power & size requirement would preclude uploads in robotic bodies at that TL. I was going to have an upload living in the ship’s computer though. I hadn’t thought about how the upload process would work, but I think it should be destructive, and use primitive nanites. (There is a separate nano-technology TL track, and Earth isn’t very far along it.)

    New Colchis might be out there, but it’s not on any charts. There are plenty of lost colonies though. Earth was trapped in this J1 island for centuries, and sent out a lot of sub-light colony ships. Who knows where many of them ended up?

    Alexander Tingle @Quinton – I’ve done away with the stupid Traveller manoeuvre drives for exactly that reason. There are now semi-realistic “rockets” (for quick boosts & take-off/landing) and “thrusters” for slow, continuous acceleration. Everybody has plenty of energy, because somewhere there is a source of antimatter that gets traded up and down the Main, and used to power everything. Finding the (a?) source of antimatter will be a major plot McGuffin.

    Alexander Tingle @Jean-Paul – In this essay I mention the “Long Republic”. That’s a major human multi-world state that is based on your Amondiage culture (except they are German, not French, for some reason). The nomads had gone out into space, and now they are space nomads.

    Jean-Paul Tolley I suppose you could down the Iain Banks route as far AI’s/upload minds running entire ships with humans getting hired on for specific missions.

    Quinton Carroll A source of dodgy antimatter? That would be the Grainge Double Glazing and Energy Installations Inc.

    Jean-Paul Tolley Always a good source of fun the illegal trading of the raw minerals used to generate the antimatter. Many a shady spaceport canteena has provided an excellent place to pick slightly illegal jobs.

    Tony Jones I’m willing to bet you could have an entire upload crew for less space and energy needs than a biological crew, with remote-control robots (gets around the computer requirements in the robot body)…

    Tony Jones Also, the thought occurs, can an upload duplicate themselves? If so I can imagine the narcissistic super-rich having entire nations of copies of themselves. At least until it’s all blown up…

    Alexander Tingle Possibly true. I don’t think they would be interested though. Basically, the Uploads are so far up their own arses, that they struggle to relate to the real world.

    Tony Jones That might change for at least some of them after the real world has intruded and killed off most of the uploads though. And as there are so many of them it wouldn’t take much of a percentage to give a respectable number…

    Quinton Carroll Sounds like the Uploads could be regarded as a pseudo-religion!

    Alexander Tingle Yeah, well the game is not going to be “Upload Quest”. It’s space opera, not meta-philosophy quest.

    Matt Fitzgerald That cartography program sounds interesting. And isn’t ‘Upload Quest’ one of the games we have to play when Facebook periodically randomly change all of their default settings ?

    Alexander Tingle @Matt – I’ll happily give you a copy. It’s a bit Linuxy though. I don’t have a windows compiler (or OS, for that matter!).

    I started out using this online tool. Why not give it a try?

    Matt Fitzgerald Excellent, thank you. Any aliens in this milieu? Or pan humans (beside the Uploads and New Men)? A single source of everybody’s antimatter is a situation just ripe for exploitation by the ambitious and unscrupulous, and I don’t just mean Player Characters

    Matt Fitzgerald Why was Earth trapped ? Can’t you just jump to deep space, refuel from internal tanks, then jump onwards ?

    Matt Fitzgerald Ignore last comment – now read the jump drive article.

    Alexander Tingle Exactly. No jumping to deep space.

    Alexander Tingle Nobody knows where the antimatter comes from. It might be a single source, or multiple sources. Esperanza has had access to the Main for centuries, but they’ve been very good at keeping information on the “outside world” from getting back to the Core worlds.

    Alexander Tingle There are several alien races. The aliens with whom humanity is most familiar, are the “Xa”. Their Imperium used to control the entire Main for a dozen parsecs in either direction, along with some significant branches, including that which has come to be known as the human “Corridor”. The Esperanzans (and others) have pushed them back to less than half of their former extent.

    The Xa look like “greys”, from UFO conspiracy theories.

    Matt Fitzgerald Presumably, if the technology exists to Upload living minds exists then truly ‘artificial’ intelligences have also been created ?

    And perhaps jump sickness affects Uploads & AIs much worse than it does organics ? Hence the need for inefficient bags of protoplasm to crew starships.

    “I’m sorry Citizen Virtual, sensors indicate a particularly unstable jump chord. We’re going to have to back you up to punched cards for this transit…”

    Tony Jones How did First Contact happen? Did we find them or vice versa?

    What are relations with the aliens like?

    How have the Xa reacted to being ‘pushed back’?

    Alexander Tingle I will mention first contact in Saturday’s essay on Esperanza.

    Andy Miles It occurs to me that if the Upload process is not destructive then “meatbags” could be temporarily uploaded for specific purposes…

    Matt Fitzgerald The destructiveness or otherwise of the uploading process need not make a difference if our Virtual Overlords were sufficiently uncaring.

    Andy Miles Yes, but it could put a bit of a limitation on the game if all further scenarios must then be within The Virtuality.

    Andy Miles …and having the power to restore characters to a material body would grant quite an influence over their behavior.

    Matt Fitzgerald Or depower a psionic by uploading them and then downloading them again.

    Tony Jones Depends how easy it is to download a mind into a body again. Reading out of someone’s brain would be very different to writing back into one…

    Alexander Tingle To make technology a little less monotonous, I’ve divided TL into nine different streams. Downloading a mind into a body would require high Organic or Nano tech. Neither of which are available to humans.

    Alexander Tingle Humans (well, in the Core worlds) don’t have Grav tech either. So no reactionless thrusters or artificial gravity.

    Andy Miles So aliens Uploading player characters to perform a specific task then…

    Alexander Tingle …could happen.

    Andy Miles (as soon as I typed that I thought “hope that wasn’t a plot point somewhere”)

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