The expansion of life over the universe is a beginning, not an
end. At the same time as life is extending its habitat quantitatively,
it will also be changing and evolving qualitatively into new dimensions
of mind and spirit that we cannot imagine. The acquisition of new territory
is important, not as an end in itself, but as a means to enable
life to experiment with intelligence in a million forms.
The Mothers evolved on a terrestrial planet approximately 1540 light-years away from Sol in the direction of the Swan constellation. The planet was slightly heavier than Earth and significantly warmer, covered with large shallow seas and lowland continents. Their ancestors were tortoise-like creatures living on beaches and tidal zones. The females were large and reasonably intelligent, the males were quick fishlike swimmers of animal intelligence. The species protected their young under their dorsal shells, and formed small colonies where the adolescent young brought with them food and nesting materials to the larger and less mobile mother in exchange for protection and some teaching.
Approximately three million years ago a spacefaring species, the Ur-Mothers,
arrived to the planet. They discovered the early Mothers and began a program
of genetic enhancement. Their motivations are unknown, but it appears
that they were interested in creating new and unusual intelligent species
for some reason. They made the mother-daughter interface, originally just
a nerve bundle providing homeostatic control, able to transmit information
directly into the daughter’s brain, and after birth it remained as a means
of communication. The result was that daughters learned directly from
their mothers, enabling a kind of family knowledge to accumulate.
The mothers look vaguely like big tortoises or beetles: their backs are covered with a large protective shell (usually a sandy grey, but often overgrown with algae gathered in complex patterns or other decorations). Around the circumference they have five extremities covered with a slick black skin, which end in soft muscle pads able to deform themselves to work as fingers, grip objects or manipulate. One of the extremities is covered by sensory organs and would correspond to an earthly head. Food is placed in "mouth-pockets" on the underside, where it is dissolved. In a similar manner they breathe into sacks of gills, which can function both on land and in water (although they are less effective in dry air, and the mothers have to return to water after a while on land).
Their sizes vary much more than among humans, young mothers have a diameter of around one meter and equally long limbs, while in modern times some old mothers can become over twenty meters in diameter. Such large mothers cannot even move themselves underwater, they have to rely on their daughters for protection and feeding and often need bionic enhancements just to keep their bodies working.
The mothers are actually the female form of the species. The male form is much smaller and lacks the shell, and instead has a smooth membrane between the limbs which he uses to swim with like a ray. They are not intelligent at all, and spend most of their time hunting small animals and seeking mothers to mate with. When they find an accepting mother, the male climbs in under the shell and attaches itself to an organ where he gradually is absorbed by the mother. Under the shell there are several spaces where the young gestate. If the mating is leads to male offspring, the result will be a sack filled with males, which eventually bursts when the mother is underwater and releases the males into the ocean.
On the other hand, if the result is female, only one embryo develops. As it grows, its fifth limb functions as an umbilical cord, but also links the developing nervous system directly to the nervous system of the mother. During gestation the young are shaped by the memories and behaviours of the mother, and often are able to recall events in their mothers previous lives. Eventually the young has developed enough and leaves the shell of the mother. However, the daughter can still reach in with her limb and connect herself to the nerves and hormones of the mother, albeit less completely.
The young remain close to the mother as long as she lives, protecting her and bringing her food. When a mother has birthed some daughters, she usually becomes more stationary and spends most of her time birthing more daughters. The grown up daughters often relink to their mothers from time to time to keep her up to date with what is happening and receiving orders and coordination. The older mothers function somewhat like earthly queen bees.
The fifth limb is specialised in many ways. Its pad is usually enlarged, and quite sensitive both to touch and taste. Its main use was to pick up food and place it in the "mouth-pockets" and to link with the mother through a slit on the underside. Along the limb there are iridescent stripes functioning as visual organs and small loosely hanging bulbs which have both auditory and olfactory functions underwater (the mothers are almost deaf in air). The Mothers lack colour vision, but are sensitive to the polarisation of light instead. The other limbs have also sensory organs, but they are less developed. The fifth limb is on the other hand much more dextrous and has a thick bundle of nerves running directly to the tube-shaped brain of the mother.
Mother biochemistry is different from terrestrial biochemistry, so different
that they are slightly poisonous to each other. The amino acids tend to
interfere with the other kind’s life processes, and oils in the mothers’
bodies are cancerogenic to humans; diplomats often take medications to
counteract the effects. The mothers also prefer higher temperatures, in
the range 30-40 degrees Celsius, than is comfortable to humans.
The peculiar link mother-daughter is fundamental to mother psychology. Unlike most other races they learn much while still under development, and never have any real childhood. The views, skills and ideas of the mother is at least partially transferred to the daughters, who usually are quite mentally similar to their mothers. Reconnections reinforce this link, although not as intensely as the initial total contact.
The families of mothers are extremely tightly knit, almost group intelligences, but the individual members are quite able to survive on their own. However, most feel an intense desire to link with their own mothers from time to time, and without the contact they grow restless and depressed. Linking itself is a slow and apparently fulfilling experience, which usually takes at least a few hours. The daughters partially climb under the shell of their mother, and attach their fifth limb to the patch they were originally linked to (other places are much less efficient). Gradually their nervous system link up with the mother, and their minds begin to exchange knowledge. The communication is not ordered in time, memories, thoughts and emotions gradually diffuse between the two. In fact, the mothers have no concept of a temporally ordered language; their writing and gestures are all intended to be read and understood as a whole process, not as a series of events. To simplify this, various modes of thought and remembrance has been developed, where concepts are unified into blocks which are easier to transmit.
Linking between two unrelated mothers is possible, but very hard and seldom used. Many mothers regard this as directly unhealthy or immoral, a danger to the mental and ideological stability of the participants. However, this taboo has gradually been loosened in the more progressive clans, especially since the advent of cybernetic linking, which simplifies the process. One special use is adoptions; sometimes an individual is adopted into a family, and gradually learn to communicate with the central mother. This is rare, but usually regarded as an extreme honour for the adopted mother.
The mothers see the world in terms of connections and patterns, not as objects like the humans. Things are naturally ordered into hierarchies and systems, and the mothers are very conscious about recursion.
Ideologies are serious things for the mothers. The convictions, worldview and vision of the mother is usually transferred directly to the daughter, which means that they will hold them too. A family usually share the same basic personality, and it is at least partially preserved over many generations. This has led to the creation of very strong and stable ideologies/group identities, which continue for generations (in fact, they were the force behind the old clan system). Conversion is much less common than in humans, but it can still happen and is usually quite wrenching for both the individual and her family, which she usually have to leave. Most of these ideologies are quite diffuse, more like sets of values or personal preferences, but there are also clearly defined philosophies (like unificationalism) which from time to time manage to sweep across society, causing total chaos until things become stable again.
While mothers have intense empathy for family members, they feel very little empathy for mothers outside the clan (unlike humans, whose empathy merely decreases with relational distance). This has been a central factor in the fragmenting of Mother society.
Another downside of the linking is the risks of contagious insanity. Certain mental disorders can spread from mother to mother by linking, until they affect the entire family. In some families mentally disturbed members were ostracised or even killed, but today advanced psychiatry is used instead. This fear of insanity has both encouraged the search for perfect mental health, and a feeling of unease when confronted with irrational behaviour. Anyone behaving in a erratic manner is suspicious, and at least subconsciously feared as a potential source of infection. Some mothers actually avoid contact with animals or aliens, regarding them as dangerously odd. More reasonable mothers point out that the males are quite mindless, yet they are accepted.
Mother psychology is quite diverse, but a highly respected profession
in most societies. The different psychologist families all have different
views and methods, but most are quite efficient within their specialised
area. Some train mothers various mental techniques to increase their stability
and flexibility (this is especially common among the orthodox unificationalists),
while others employ consciousness-altering drugs and therapy, discussions,
surgery, cybernetic interfacing or groups of psychiatrists who link up
to the patient together, letting her temporarily experience being a grandmother
with a group of highly competent children supporting her.
The Mothers evolved as scavengers along the coasts of the tropical oceans of their homeworld. They emerged from the sea to gather food which had been washed ashore, using their shells as protection and camouflage against predators. The crucial step in their evolution seems to have been the development of the mental link between mother and daughter. In the beginning it was just a simple neural link, but the evolutionary value of transmitting some learned behaviours was so great it quickly became more and more powerful. As the experience of the mothers were partially transmitted to the daughters and not forgotten, cultural evolution began to speed up.
At first, the mothers began to manipulate the coastal areas to simplify the gathering of food. They invented the net, various traps and piercing weapons. When they could gather more food, the older mothers could grow bigger and survive longer, and in some families there were even grandmothers or very rare great-grandmothers. This created the pyramidal system which persists today; the central mother, usually too large to move, is the coordinator and planner of all activity. Her daughters link up to her from time to time, and function as her subordinate coordinators. They lead their daughters in turn, and so on. The oldest mothers are rather passive, and spend much time linked together or doing tasks such as weaving nets or crafting tools which do not require moving around. The younger mothers help them, gather and prepare the food according to directions and protect the family. When the oldest mother died her daughters moved away from each other and formed their own families.
This system had many positive aspects, but also caused many problems. Each family was almost completely independent from every other, so new discoveries and inventions spread very slowly from family to family through imitation or bartering. Each family had to be able to hunt, build protection, gather food and build tools well enough to survive, which led to the development of elaborate mnemonic techniques so that vital knowledge could be passed down the generations.
Cooperation between different families was also very variable; often the families which resulted from a split worked together in the beginning but then gradually drifted apart. Warfare between different families was not uncommon. Hunters tried to get as close as possible to the central mothers and kill them, forcing the defeated and split family to leave its old territory.
The mothers lacked any real language to communicate with each other, but gradually methods of communicating with gestures or objects placed in patterns on the ground became common. This eventually evolved into various systems of sign language (mainly used inside the family) and writing. Some families began to work together, especially closely related families which formed clans. Inside the clans the families could specialise themselves; a family had no longer to know all vital skills, they could rely on another family that knew the needed skill. A division of labour developed, where the families of a split usually divided their old trade into specializations.
The clans also sometimes defeated outside families and forced them to become low-status members. The clan system quickly grew in complexity as some clans began to hold members which were not closely related with the leading families. Their range of skills grew, and specialisation became more and more profitable. Many different forms of society was invented and tried, some familiar from Earth, others completely alien. One common form was to try to mimic the family structure within the clan, with the central mothers linking up to largely immobile leading families.
Civilisation developed quickly in some areas, while other areas remained backward for millennia. The mothers spread along all habitable coastlines and shallow parts of the oceans, and gradually colonised inland areas around lakes and rivers. When the digging of channels was invented, they began to create artificial rivers and shores. Boats of various kinds travelled along them, and the old primitive huts were replaced with sprawling cities of domes along the coasts. When fire was tamed the mothers began to use metals and waterproof ceramics. Great civilisations developed from the most powerful clan-states.
Being naturally curious and inventive, the science and technology of the mothers developed fast in many directions. One unusual thing is that it was never the unified endeavour most other races see it like. The mothers developed it into thousands of specialised disciplines, only rarely combining them. This limited the developments, encouraging elaboration rather than fruitful synthesis, which was the domain of lone geniuses and happenstance. Eventually this resulted in a counter-movement, the unificationalists. Unificationalism was developed by a single family, and their simple but powerful writings got an immense recognition among many other mothers. They strove to unite the various branches and sciences. As the movement gained momentum, it acquired a deeper meaning and its stated goal became to not only unify all the sciences, but also to unify other aspects of life. The ideal mother was (according to the unificationalists) equally skilled in most areas, or at least less specialised than in the current system. The more specialised clans generally regarded the movement as irrational and dangerous, and for several decades fierce political, social and military struggles wracked the planet.
The conflict was never truly resolved, but gradually petered out. The unificationalists were able to sometimes make great technological leaps, but were not quite as efficient as the more conservative specialists. Gradually the ideologies divided and mutated, as specialists began to acknowledge the need for some generalism, and the unificationalists realised the complexities of handling all the skills and knowledge needed to become complete. The orthodox unificationalists gradually became more mystical, and spent much time pondering the mysteries of time, balance and knowledge. The more radical parts of the movement divided into two main groups; one which supported the development of computers and cybernetic enhancements to help this process, and another which claimed that modern civilisation was too complex to be healthy, and longed for a return to the old days when a skilled family could survive on its own, without allegiance to any clan or ideology.
The cybernetic movement soon attracted much attention as it began to show some success. They developed the specialist computers further, uniting previously unrelated disciplines with great success. When they managed to crudely imitate the neural interfaces between mother and daughter, this was proclaimed as the beginning of a new era by many radicals while the revivalists and many conservative families regarded it as a perversion of something holy. The new conflict was resolved rather peacefully, as the cyberneticists and the clans which supported them already were expanding into space. Gradually a new order dawned, where the conservatives remained on-planet while the radicals moved outwards.
The first epoch of colonisation was filled with competition between the various groups, as they industrialised their solar system. Some fractions left their solar system using generation ships, while others isolated themselves in artificial habitats in remote corners. However, gradually a new order developed as a coalition of clans (led by the Balanced Moderators) began to tie everyone together in a network of trade, communications and philosophy. The basis for their ascension was the discovery of the Ur-Mother artefacts in space. The mothers realised the importance of them, especially when they found the remains of a mother habitat buried beneath the surface of an airless moon; all the evidence pointed towards the fact that somebody had "helped" the race. Studies of ancient myths, archaeological digs and studies of the remaining ruins in space fuelled an obsession with finding the Ur-Mothers. The stated goal of the Balanced Moderators was to re-link with them, and the other clans came to agree with their project.
When FTL technology was invented the coalition immediately began to explore space, seeking the traces of the Ur-Mothers. It also allowed many incompatible clans to get away from each other, starting a second wave of colonisation and diversification. The explorers traversed huge distances in search for the Ur-Mothers, gradually tracking them down through their ancient ruins. Approximately a thousand years ago they finally reached their goal. The experience proved disappointing, as the Ur-Mothers had apparently abandoned the real world to live in a digital Shagri-La. While several clans remained in the vicinity of the Ur-Mothers, trying to understand or link with them, the rest of the mothers suffered from a profound shock, not unlike realising that a grandmother had died. This caused the dissolution of the coalition – the Balanced Moderators no longer had the ideological or cultural strength to hold it together, and many saw the discovery as a signal to a racial diaspora in analogy with daughters moving out after their mother had died.
The great diaspora threw the clans across the galaxy, many travelled
hundreds of light-years away from the others to set up their colonies.
The concept of a single mother race vanished, to be replaced by the idea
of clans of clans. During the time after the diaspora several "empires"
and civilisations emerged in various parts, but none lasted more than
a few centuries. The Balanced Moderators and some of the other clans from
the coalition period slowly regained strength, and attempted to seek out
the scattered colonies to set up trade, communication and cooperation.
Their results were mixed, but a diffuse network of inter-clan contact
has slowly emerged.
Today the mothers are divided in numerous clans and fractions. Generally, the more traditional groups are found on the homeworld and old colonies near it, while the radicals have moved outwards into space.
The clans are still strong, but very fragmented. They are essentially families of families, held together by tradition, family ideology and sometimes the threat of violence, although many are more similar to immense family businesses. Most surviving clans are specialised in some areas, like the Wild Soarers who deal with space transports and the aerospace industry, the Concentrated Assemblers of Things who are largely artisans, and the Pleasant Uniters who deal with mental and social matters (they are closely linked to the unificationalists). Hard-Crushing-Waves originally was a very militant clan, but has gradually developed into a kind of racial police/military for hire, while Pure Circularly Polarised Light is specialised in the creation of a special kind of mystical experience as well as quantum computing. It is not uncommon for families from different clans to work together in teams, forming another level of organisation.
Some important groups are:
The Returnists are rare outside the homeworld. They want to return to the old scavenging lifestyle of the old, using only the classic tools and skills and avoiding the traps of technology and complexity. Several colonies of them exist in remote areas, where they tend their shorelines. They don’t want any contact with the other mothers, although they sometimes trade simple products like carved shells and a resinous substance produced by a rare aquatic animal for simple tools.
The orthodox unificationalists are a small but influential group in some areas. They seek to become equally proficient in all skills, using complex mystical/psychological methods. Unlike the returnists they do not deny modern civilisation, since its complexities will be mastered when they find the secret of becoming totally general. They place great importance in experiencing and doing all things, and are very interested in contacting aliens.
The Balanced Moderators and Balanced Mediators are a group of families which studies ideologies and how they work; they have specialised themselves as diplomats and middle-men. They are convinced that the mothers have to learn to rid themselves of ideologies and other preconceptions in order to become truly free. However, in practice they are quite occupied exploiting the differences between the groups. The Moderator and Mediator fractions exist in a complicated familial-administrative-economic competition based on their philosophical differences.
The cyberneticists are one of the dominant ideologies/clans among the mothers, although it has numerous internal schisms and differences. Their goal is to use bionics and information technology to give every mother the ability to become as free as possible from the constraints of overspecialisation and the problems of being a generalist. They have developed bionic links to computers, which can be used to transfer and store "bottled memories". They also encourage the use of remote linking through radio or telecommunications. This has produced families spread across huge distances, since linking is far from a real-time procedure anyway. Other cyberneticists have developed interfaces allowing them to communicate with other races, or cybernetic enhancements of various kinds.
The Unified Linkers are among the most radical of all cyberneticists. They seek to use interfacing to remain linked all the time with their families. This is extremely comfortable, giving them an intense sense of unity, but also increases the risk of mental disturbances severely. Some of the most extreme linkers are even connecting linked families into super-families using their computers. There have been some spectacular successes and failures, but so far their dream of a totally unified race has been unsuccessful.
On the opposite side there are the Independent Loners, who want to remove themselves entirely from the family system, regarding it as a trap. Originally they were a mixed group of malcontents and loners, but they have gradually grown into a political force of note in some colonies.
The Shining Engineers Vector have studied the remaining megastructures of the Ur-Mothers, and try to recreate them. Their philosophy is that the universe is raw material to be shaped into ordered forms by life and intelligence. In some sense it is up for grabs – whoever transforms it first will get their will through. The Vector is involved in several terraforming projects, as well as more explorative studies. Their ultimate goal is to spread across the universe, re-engineering it to maximise life and complexity, ultimately modifying the universe into an omega point.
Some "remote" clans are hard to get in touch with. Some remote clans
that are relatively widely known are: The Flash Burn Coelenterates, who
reputedly seed gas giants with black holes to temporarily terraform their
moons. The Floater 132 Group and Tygarite Guides are reported to have
replaced themselves with machines (whether this means they are uploaded
or have been superseded by AI is unknown). The Collectors have a thriving
and very diverse civilisation running somewhere in the vicinity of the
Coalsack Nebula. The Convectionalists hunt supernovae for unknown reasons;
currently they are near the remnants of Eta Carina.
The Mothers seem to enjoy fractals of all kinds; there are very few straight lines or smooth surfaces in their environment if they can help it. Instead everything is rough and baroque, not unlike their shells (which they often cover with decorative colourings and plants), and usually self-similar in some way. Mother buildings usually consist of a large central dome, surrounded by smaller domes which in turn have small extensions (the grandmother lives in the central dome, her daughters in the neighbouring domes and so on). The inner walls are often covered with branching structures to hold possessions or plants.
The underlying rules of the fractal objects sometimes has hidden meanings, and it is very common for mother artisans to play games or make riddles out of the recursion. Real connoisseurs can spend long time deciphering an object, trying to find new hidden levels of meaning. Alien plants are popular, especially those with "interesting" shapes.
There have never been a real oral tradition among the mothers, but certain ancestral memories have survived, usually in a highly symbolic and formalised form. Every clan and family have its own "unity-memory", a kind of symbolic memory or identity which by tradition is divided into four important parts and one unimportant part (a very common storytelling trick among the mothers, just like human like to repeat something three times).
The mothers have a very rich poetic tradition, dating back to the pre-space
days. Many of the most widespread ideologies are encoded in canons, sets
of poetic works that describe the vision of the ideology, its origins,
tenets and history.
Mother technology varies between the clans, but is in general advanced compared to human technology.
Higgs field technology turned out to be an early development; to the mothers it was almost directly clear how the wrecked spaceships of the Ur-Mothers they found in their solar system had worked. The first higgsrams were rather crude, but over the great search they became better and better. They also discovered how to create forcefields and manipulate momentum. After the diaspora the different clans developed the technology in different ways. Gravity and momentum control are widely used, and especially the Shining Engineer Vector like "active architecture" where much is based on fields holding everything together (beautiful when it works, potentially disastrous if something can fail).
A few of the clans have pursued nanotechnology, mostly some of the cybernetic schisms. Others have bought the technology from them, but they still remain masters. They have nanodevices able to act in the natural world, remodelling it as hyper-effective lifeforms. A few of the remote clans have instead opted for large-scale biotechnology, living in or as symbionts of huge artificial lifeforms.
Unlike humans, mothers have never been interested in AI. There are a few remote clans pursuing this (the Tygarite Guides might even have replaced their entire population with robots, if the Balanced Mediators are to be believed), but most mother computers are merely tools taking orders. The cybernetic clans have of course developed this to a high level, including neural virtual reality, knowledge sharing and quantum computing.
Mother spaceships tend to be huge, entire cities moving between the stars. Each carries an entire fleet of smaller shuttles, transports and other utility craft. Their shape is usually bizarre by human standards, complex fractal rocks covered with recursive patterns and weird colouring (which is really a side effect of the polarisation painting). The different clans use ships of noticeably different styles, and the shapes seem to be just as much identification and functionality. The ships make huge wormholes, but seldom make long jumps.
One the personal level, Mothers are noticeably less interested in gathering
knickknacks and possessions. Instead they accumulate family goods, stuff
that belong to the lineage rather than the individuals. However, many
families are acquisitive and gather all kinds of stuff, ranging from art
to technology. On the other hand, Mothers often take great pains in creating
pleasant and practical environments around them. Landscape design, gardening,
architecture, furniture-making and environment setup are important and
popular activities – every Mother seems to want to create a personal space
that is both totally personal and fits with the surroundings according
to some scheme.
The humans are interesting to the Mothers. They are unusual, and often quite amusing: the gestures made by human hands have a certain "bony irony" the mothers find humorous. More importantly, humans have the potential for mutually beneficial cooperation. They are one of the most approachable species they have found.
The three clans in contact with humans are the Shining Engineers Vector, the Balanced Mediators and the Radical Unificationalists. The Engineers are the most approachable, having their closest outpost at Adobe. They act as "artist managers" for humans versus the Mediators, reaping some profits from it. They want more contact with humanity, seeing humans as potential partners.
The Balanced Mediators are interested in trade and information, but mostly among mothers. Human goods and culture are tradable, but they have so far not yet adapted their mostly mother-specific diplomacy and services to human needs.
Radical Unificationalists (an offshoot of the Unified Linkers) exist on
the outside of human space, having sent a few ships to visit. They are
mostly interested in developing their own unified minds, but has contacted
some similar-minded human groups such as Unity, psychosocial experts of
Dionysos and Traha and interested people elsewhere; the informal cooperation
is called the Linker Project.
|The Mothers have different systems in different
clans. The Shining Engineers trade in terraforming futures, the Balanced
Moderators have a number of "polarized currencies" for different
purposes and the Unificationalists avoid money - everything belongs to the
The Mothers have several forms of communication. The most intimate is the mother-daughter link, a form of preverbal sharing of knowledge. The second form is sign language, which is used between Mothers. The third form is the electronic/text language used for long-range communications; it is based on the sign language but has developed on its own. Then there are the traditional form of text too.
Mother sign language consists in movements and shape changes of the pads of the front limb, sometimes aided by other limds too. It is quick, flexible and works well over long distances. Since movements have meaning, many objects or events suggest poetic names (for example, the fall of a pile of rocks would contain several signs with completely unrelated meaning, but taken together they form a very poetic description of the fall). The structure is often a simple basic theme, overlaid with elaborations and modifiers (the basic theme may be "The orbits will intersect within a finite amount of time", with overlays of "The exact time is 54 minutes", "The objects in questions are the planet and the asteroid" and "This will be useful"). Making the higher themes requires plenty of dexterity, and most Mothers have trouble with more than two levels. It is regarded as a sign of great intelligence and eloquence to formulate elegant movements with many levels of themes, even if the viewer may not understand all the details of the higher levels.
Mother writing has always been ideographic, since it is easy to learn from their parent. The oldest forms were literal pictures (or gathered objects) used to communicate with other families, which were gradually refined into the current writing systems. However, Mothers often introduce if they can the real thing discussed (as a picture or actual example) into the text instead of the word. Today the clans have very different forms of writing, most based on the old pre-Diaspora systems. The Balanced Mediators use an artificial system of shapes (to a human, they look like fractal blobs), while the Shining Engineers use a pictorial ideographic system written in branching sentences.
Electronic communications have developed far from the Morse-like first
attempts. It is currently a stylised form of pictorial representation
of the front pad and its movements, easily viewed on a screen or on a
touch-pad. Since they are largely based on the sign languages they are
hard interpret for outsiders, but some standard pidgins exist. The cybernetic
clans use much higher bandwidth mind-mind signals, mimicking mother-daughter
Small spider-like scavenging animals that held the same ecological niche as beach-combing crabs on Earth. They have ten legs, and a head (little more than a sensor cluster) on top of a long flexible stalk. They have been used by Mothers since antiquity to help scavenging, guarding homes or entertainment. In space they mostly are used for aesthetics, being trained to exhibit pleasing motion-patterns and keep the habitats clean. Flocks of Dancers move around in elaborate patterns, whirling about and gesticulating in ways that appear elegant to their owners.
A silvery plant that grows underwater in Mother habitats. It both keeps the water clean and has been engineered to react to the presence of certain illness-toxins with changing colours.
A relative to the Dancers, that has been bred to catch droplets. In low-gravity
environments water can drift around where it shouldn't, and the catchers
are the solution. They look like spiders with feathered legs, jumping
at droplets in the air and bringing them back to larger bodies of water.
In exchange they receive nutrients based on their performance; many cybernetic
clans have neurally integrated them with the life support system.
Mothers in Alternity
| Str 4-20 (15)
Con 4-20 (16)
Int 8-16 (14)
Wil 8-18 (15)
(the upper range is usually only achieved by grandmothers. The exception is Dex, where grandmothers are much less dextrous than their daughters. Maximum for daughters is within parenthesises)
Free broad skills: all the different clans have different sets of broad skills. Among the Shining Engineers Vector the skills are Survival, Vehicle Operation, Knowledge, Interaction, Technical Science and Physical Science while the Balanced Mediators have Vehicle Operation, Knowledge, Awareness, Culture, Interaction and Leadership.
Mothers inherit 30 extra points of skills from their mothers.
Mothers are amphibious and automatically have Swim to rank 3.
Mothers tend to be Slow (especially older mothers, who become immobile).
The species that uplifted the Mothers still exists in some form, although very changed from the original. It was originally a biological species, likely evolved on some terrestrial world somewhere. It began to expand into space three million years ago, leaving behind colonies, installations and artefacts over a vast volume in the direction of the Orion arm. At several places they began uplifting projects. During the early expansion phase it was a very diverse and progressive civilisation or group of civilisations. At some point it shifted from a biological form to a technological form, and many of the old colonies were gradually abandoned. One of the mysteries is why the archaeological record shows a total lack of evidence for their existence in certain intervals of time, only to be followed by other periods of obvious activity. It might be that entire civilisations hibernated or changed focus for tens of millennia at a time.
Around 2.6 million years ago the Ur-Mothers stopped expanding and instead began a slow retreat to their core worlds. The reason is unclear, there is no evidence for any decline, war or other obvious reasons. In the end they were concentrated to a hundred widely dispersed systems, to this day showing signs of enormous megastructures and astrophysical engineering. For over a million year these civilisations persisted, before the Ur-Mothers began to move again. They retreated to a cluster of red dwarf stars 3000 light-years away, where they built a number of gigantic orbital structures.
Today very little remains of the colonies and artefacts of the Ur-Mothers. Most planetary colonies have been reduced to rubble, and their heavy use of active nanotechnology in space has made their space installations decay beyond recognition. The megastructures from the late epoch remains, but are apparently guarded by defensive nanoweapons. The orbitals they inhabit today consist of low density spheres hundreds of thousands of kilometres in diameter, supplied with energy by orbiting swarms of solar collectors. It is believed by the Mothers that the interior is highly unusual; exotic states of matter such as confused matter, neutrino crystals, quark spaghetti or even textured space-time have been conjectured. The outside is a mixture of efficient quantum receivers and fractal "spacescrapers" of unknown purpose.
The Mothers have sought out the Ur-Mothers, following the archaeological
gradient. They found that most of the uplift experiments had failed, and
apparently nobody were at home in the megastructures. In the cluster they
achieved contact with what they believed were the Ur-Mothers, or some
interpreting system handling the outside world. Apparently the Ur-Mothers
had achieved a state they regarded as highly desirable, explaining that
the previous projects were merely "examples". They were politely
interested in the developments of the Mothers, offering large amounts
of nearly incomprehensible "state data" (lists of consistent
and semiconsistent mathematical systems) and somewhat dated starmaps.
The overall result was a widespread disappointment among the Mothers.
It appears that the Ur-Mothers have retreated to some kind of ultra-advanced
virtual world with no connection to reality, tended by AI systems.
The Herders are another species uplifted to intelligence by the Ur-Mothers. The Ur-Mothers were rather eclectic (they seem to have uplifted species that interested or appealed to their aesthetics rather than the most likely candidates to succeed) when doing their uplifting, and few of the species they "helped" survive. The Herders is one of the survivors, and have the dubious honour of being uplifted twice.
The Herders have a spindle-shaped body between one and two meters long, ending at both ends in two branched limbs. The limbs split into two sub-arms, which in turn split into further "fingers". All their senses are located in the tips; while sight, hearing and touch aren't that advanced individually, together the branches can produce a high quality input to the central brain. Gesture or touch are used for communication in a way similar to how the Mothers communicate. The mouth/anus is a long slit along the body with sharp teeth, where food is pressed in and dissolved. The skin is a rubbery brown-grey except for reddish sensitive specks at the tips of their branches. Overall, they are resilient and able to regenerate the loss of limbs quite well; the don't react to dismemberment very strongly.
Herders are hermaphroditic, each having a sharp incisor that can be unfolded from the mouth. Mating consists of attempting to inject sperm into the other's mouth-slit; in many cases this turns into a fight as both try to inseminate the other and avoid becoming pregnant themselves. The loser(s) develop 2-5 young inside their central body cavity, releasing them through their mouth-slits. The young are usually cared for by the whole tribe.
Herder thinking relies much more on instincts and pre-programmed reactions than most other intelligent species. Much of their behaviour is actually run by nerve ganglia in their branches rather than the main brain. When learning, they often perform strange "dances" or contortions as they train their branch-minds various useful behaviours. Overall they have worse impulse control than humans, and sometimes a branch may do something the main brain doesn't wish - self-discipline is an important skill, something the Herders call "controlling the inner herd".
The Herders are predators, living of a variety of other animals on their homeworld. When the Ur-Mothers uplifted them they simply gave them higher intelligence and waited to see what would happen. The primitive Herders promptly eradicated competing predators and hunted their preys to extinction, resulting in a massive ecological disaster on their home continent. The Ur-Mothers watched with interest. Not all Herders died, and the survivors spread to other continents or found ways of surviving. Gradually the Herders learned how to keep "cattle" and farm certain plants to attract some kinds of prey. They developed cultures based on controlling herds, seeing themselves as the herders of other species. This view also became their social paradigm: each tribe was a herd, controlled by a number of dominant individuals who had total control over the herded ones. The details of how reproduction, violence and becoming a herder rather than herded varied a lot between different tribes and cultures. In some tribes ritual combat was used, in others a promotion system and in some cases by deliberate matings keeping them in line.
When the Mothers discovered them while searching for the Ur-Mothers, the Herders were still locked into small tribal communities, not showing any sign of technological or cultural development. While most Mother tribes were just curious about alien psychology and how the Ur-Mothers had uplifted them, some clans were interested in uplifting the Herders further. While the Herders on the home planet were left in peace (they only retain legends of huge flying rocks inhabited by moving smaller rocks) some Herders were removed to orbital habitats where a coalition of clans, the Herder Ascendancy Stream, began the uplifting process.
As the Ur-Mothers were discovered and the diaspora began, the Herder Ascendancy Stream remained cohesive for a long time. But splits about the best way of achieving uplift led to different clans separating their uplift programs, essentially creating several divergent forms of half-uplifted Herders. Today there exists at least four uplifted herder forms, although with one exception they exist far from human space.
Of special relevance to humans is the Unificationalist Herders. The cybernetic
unificationalists were involved in the Herder Ascendancy Stream, and eventually
succeeded in implanting Herders with neural interfaces enabling them to
interface with the family minds. This project has continued among some
of the unificationalist sub-clans, and have been successful in some respects.
The Unificationalist Herders have practically lost their old culture (replacing
it with unificationalist culture), but have instead become a kind of family
mind "robots", contributing manual dexterity and alternative thought patterns.
Their special ability to handle many subproblems at once fits in perfectly
with cohering a group mind, as well as their speed. Symbiotic family-minds
exhibit a division of mental labour, with the Herder parts performing
quick tasks and deductions, while the slower but more flexible Mother
parts explore many different options and come up with creative or unified
strategies. Most of the family minds consider the project successful,
and are interested in repeating it with other species.