Nova (Tau Ceti II)
Advertising is the king's messenger in this day of economic democracy.
All unknowing a new force has been let loose in the world. Those who understand
it will have one of the keys to the future.
Above the entrance to the old Landfall administration
dome the device "Labor Improbus Omnia Vincit" is engraved in
the now slightly yellowed plasticrete. Around the historic building and
its lining trees the scrapers of modern Landfall towers – EduCom, Mememe,
Schau, Unity, Bombara Inc, Neuro-Ex and the spire of Pioneer, covered
by climbing gardens and apparent holograms beckoning you, just you,
to join their corporate vision. The Unity building radiates security and
togetherness, Educom youthful curiosity and brilliance and Mememe cool
metalevel awareness. Was this what the original settlers sought when they
arrived almost 400 years ago? Did Aguirre, Dansky, Singh and He foresee
this when they landed the shuttle at Landing Point? Or did they just see
a vast ocean, a rocky shore and forbidding mountain range?
Nova is the first extrasolar colony, founded by a broad international expedition organised by the US, PRC, India, EU and supported by the UN and various organisations like National Geographic, the Interplanetary Society and various academies. It consisted of three colony ships (small by today's standards) that were launched towards to Tau Ceti II in 2026.
Ship I, Red, arrived 2076, one year before the others. They began to explore the system, building a laser link to Sol and setting up a temporary orbital base above Tau Ceti II. Tau Ceti II was named Nova Terra (which was soon shortened to Nova; today inhabitants call them novas). When ship II and III (Green & Blue) eventually arrived a first beachhead named Landfall had been constructed on the coast of the single main continent, Hope. The initial colony was mostly constructed out of prefabricated materials. Most of the colonists learned how to live and thrive on Nova, growing foods and extracting raw materials from the alien environment, coping with the weather and exploring the strange new world. According to plan, after two years the colony split and around a third moved off to a second colony (in order to increase redundancy and spread the resources), Backup located 150 kilometres to the north of Landfall.
Over the first fifteen years everything went according to plan. Advanced mechanisation made it simple to build a working agricultural and industrial base, the planet was explored from space, air and finally on foot, and the biosphere found to be manageable. The colony administration, led by the council and coordinator, worked perfectly. But as the colony grew, more and more people moved out to small settlements. These settlements were relatively independent and while most participated in the colony process as intended a few remained almost completely independent. It was also relatively common for the settlers of be of the same cultural background, creating an increasing if relatively benign ghettoisation. Over time the independent settlements grew, and new were founded that had not been cleared with the administration.
A crisis came in 2091 when some families decided to settle an area designated to be left untouched for future use; the administration was forced to either try to evict them, or let them go. They tried diplomacy first, with limited success from the stubborn settlers. When they finally sent the colonial police to the settlement they found the settlers strongly dug in; the police completely failed in apprehending them and could only disable some of the equipment. Most settlements and the council were on the administration side, but some of the more independent settlements began to prepare themselves. The administration increasingly worried about the threat of militias and independent settlements answered in force, quickly using its available resources to quell the independents. The move was successful, but created strong resentment among many and made the administration look more and more dictatorial. As a response the democracy movement began to reorganise the government into a more distributed way. It quickly gained support, but the traditional administration tried to hold on to power. Over several years the political scene was dominated by the struggle, and in the meantime several of the independents had the chance to prepare better.
In 2097 several independent settlements announced that they were formally breaking away from the colony, forming their own nation, the Red Cliff Alliance. Landfall found itself unable to muster the resources needed to force the Alliance back, and had to accept fait accompli. The democracy movement used the situation to finally redefine government, and Landfall became a decentralised democracy. The colonial administration was kept in purely non-political matters such as space access, scientific research, meteorology and managing the laser link to Earth while the actual governing was left in the hands of a parliament with representatives from the different settlements.
Over the next three generations Landfall and the Red Cliff Alliance developed. The Alliance was composed of more radical and independent settlements, often with strong religious, national or political views. It grew into a number of independent city-states and settlements along the north coast of Hope, a very loose conglomeration of groups who had very little to do with each other. The name slowly shifted to the Red Rock Alliance, mainly due to a long-running conflict between a more unionist fraction and a less unified group calling the Alliance the Red Rock. The Landfall democracy had a larger population, better communications and overall a more homogenised population; emigration emphasised the differences even more. The dispersed settlements promoted the development of communications technology, and gradually the parliament began to meet solely in virtual reality. The many disparate communities with their different languages also promoted the development of automated translation systems.
One noticeably different place was the Kingdom of Eyre, a small island-nation 70 kilometres off the north-eastern coast of Hope. The founders were followers of King Stanley, a sociologist claiming that elected mini-monarchies was the ideal social order for Nova. Nominally a member of the Red RockAlliance, the kingdom was fiercely independent and chose to go its own way. At first it attempted to become a tax-haven and entertainment city, but it never really worked out due to its location, Landfall legislation and competition from Palm Beach. Instead it became a closed, self-sufficient society ruled by the elected monarchs. In 2149 the Landfall Oceanographic Institute built a research outpost on the steep eastern shore to explore the deep sea trench nearby. Over the years since this the outpost have grown and the kingdom have gradually prospered by its increasing involvement in deep sea research and exploitation.
In 2210’s it was becoming increasingly clear that the "elementals", complex program clusters existing in the net, were true intelligence, as various programs not only passed the Turing test but also exhibited the ability to solve problems creatively and consider their own existence. The discovery spurred the development of more accessible software which was definitely intelligent and individual. "Life and Reflection", the autobiography of the Magnus system, topped the best-seller lists in 2220, and the debate about elemental rights began in earnest. The problem of the role of sentient software has still not been settled to everybody’s satisfaction. The SmartSoft Bill of 2231 gave some AI rights, and in 2289 nearly full rights were granted. Due to fears of ballot stuffing by cloning of programs AI systems are still not allowed to vote, but otherwise software can gain person status by passing a series of tests and conditions delineated in the Redline Code, managed by the Office of AI Affairs. The basic conditions are that the system is self-aware above a certain level, that it is capable of intelligent problem-solving, discussion and action within domains it has no previous experience in, can show it can support itself as an independent economic entity and pass a "sanity test". The Redline Code is subject to constant review and criticism, in many quarters very hard criticism for the definitions of "sanity" or the cumbersome questions about ownership. So far the free elementals number in approximately 50,000, a relatively low number given the total amount of software in Landfall. The major reason seems to be that most programs have little interest in being free.
In 2265 a preacher named Erik Atell appeared in Free Ford, a small town in the Alliance. He preached a vision of unity, communion and human development that would unite everybody in the disparate Alliance communities. He had some success, and went on preaching in many other places. His success was mixed, but the Atellians became more and more numerous and widespread. While religious movements were not unusual, the Atellians tried to encompass the whole of the Alliance instead of just a single community. They failed politically, since many of the Alliance communities refused to combine more closely or listening to the Atell memes. In Landfall the Atellians were regarded as just another religion.
Erik Atell realised that he couldn't achieve his vision just through persuasion, the communities had to be forced out of their isolation. He attempted to organise his followers into an army to "open up the closed". The endeavour failed utterly, and Erik was killed 2270 during the attack on a "hedgehog town". The survivors largely left the Alliance, moving to Landfall. There Erik’s successor Yotik Henrigues began a new plan; instead of trying to found another settlement or merge with Landfall they should form a completely own colony in space. He exploited the remnants of the administration where he and a few others had connections to get the opportunity to buy the old space station (which was being replaced anyway). The Atellians moved up there en masse in 2273, founding their own colony/nation Unity. Most people disregarded this as another crazy cult, but some worried that the Atellians might attempt another crazy venture. To soothe these fears Unity signed a non-intervention treaty in 2274.
Unity developed into a closed, extremely connected society. Yotik promoted experiments with drugs and bionics to create a stronger sense of community, perhaps part of a scheme to keep control over his followers despite their hardships. Over the next decade the experiments succeeded - based on Landfall technology the Atellians managed to create a form of digital telepathy, uniting the community ever closer. Over the next years they explored ways of integrating themselves, ending in the formation of a number of Units, bionic group minds that remained in constant contact. Realising that the other people would dislike their approach they began to build a second home among the moons of Zeus. Unity began asteroid mining and energy production, trading it for know how from downplanet and building new habitats. When the truth began to become clear there was little anybody could do, and the treaty remained.
Today Unity is a society of group minds. Each Unit consists of several people linked together by implants and compatible personalities. Children grow up in the units, becoming one with them. Units can communicate directly with each other, but usually total communion is hard to achieve. In each habitats all units are able to communicate with each other, and to discuss public matters. One problem is the uniformity that tends to develop. This is a reason Unity actively recruits people to join the units, to keep the mental diversity high despite the trouble that weakly integrated people cause.
Landfall developed into a thriving if confusing nation, with a high mixture of cultures, styles and views. As settlements spread, efficient communications networks had been set up to limit the need for long range travel. Over time the Net became the dominant medium of commerce, communication, education and politics. As the information industry developed, society slowly changed from an advanced agricultural society into a media society. Virtual reality grew into both an artform and a big market. The huge demands for translation, indexing and support spurred the development of better and better expert systems, agents and AI.
During the middle 23rd century Landfall became dominated by the advertising industry. As politics became more media-directed, image and presentation grew in influence and with them the advertising/media/lifestyle complex. The Parliament was in many ways eclipsed by the corporations, and the political process became more one of style and ceremony than one of content. Basically Landfall runs more on a very efficient administration and information infrastructure than political government, and even the market forces fluctuate so quickly depending on the current fashion that the overall effect is fairly limited. The corporations hold control over style and central questions, while the population has come to be deeply involved in the diffuse democratic process. Power is really in the hands of networks rather than formal structures, extremely fluid and nonlinear.
In 2314 the "Film at 11 War" occurred between the two newscorporations Sunrise News and Hope Update Amalgamated. It began as a series of competing advertisements and escalated to a full-scale smear campaign. SN and HUA attacked each other’s credibility using all the tools of modern advertising, memetic engineering and litigation. The War shook Landfall as many other companies, politicians and citizens either choose sides or got caught in the information crossfire; misinformation and emotions ran high. Several attempts to restrain the combatants failed since the War was completely legal. As public opinion against the War rose the tide briefly turned as the Parliament enacted some quick bills to put restraints on SN and HUA. Unfortunately this caused a second wave, as fierce constitutional debates, arguments about media ethics and legal suits erupted everywhere. In the end the bills proved more disruptive than the initial War. After over a year of political and media chaos the disruptions slowly dwindled. Overall it showed some of the weaknesses of Landfall society, but there were never any obvious results in figuring out how to avoid a recurrence; many of the current political groupings are based on different views of best handling media disruptions.
The arrival of a New America-Arcadian expedition in 2340 ushered in a
new era. Landfall was excited by interstellar contact, and quickly began
setting up diplomatic relations with the other colonies. Directly after
the Arcadians had acquired FTL technology they shared the secret with
Landfall and Unity, setting up a joint starship development program. Since
then Nova has been one of the major space powers, seeking out all the
exciting new cultures of the other colonies.
In Landfall information technology is advanced, and much of society deals with media in one way or another. Trade, politics, education, practically everything is handled through the net. This has both created a huge demand for image improvements to catch and hold attention, attract the right people, give the customers an experience with the content and so on. There is also a widespread interest in experiencing truly authentic experiences, be they mountaineering or warbuggy races in the interior to eating in the truly memorable restaurants of Fejel. The different places all hold on to their individuality or find ways of enhancing it; being exceptional (or looking exceptional) is a way of life for most people. People live in small communities rather than big cities (even if they interact virtually in a very cosmopolitan way). Landfall (the city) is the only place with skyscrapers and dense buildings (and that is largely for show). Backup has retained its rural charm, and many of the small towns along the coast have their own quirks. Vladimirograd is located on top of a sheer cliff with buildings leaning out over the abyss, while Chico is a deliberate attempt at vintage Latin kitsch.
Many people are interested in the national heritage of their ancestors back on Earth. Learning and speaking one of the old languages has always been seen as a sign of education even if they are less than useful in daily life. In the same way, many are active in Nations, organisations composed of descendants from different Earth cultures who meet to share their heritage (today of course most people are descended from several cultures, and either select one Nation they like or participate in several). Similar groups can be found on Arcadia and Victoria, but it is only on Nova where they have become a significant cultural movement. Their heyday were the early 2100's, but they remain important social networks today.
A growing problem is terrorism. The best way of getting attention is to do something spectacular, and people cannot ignore terrorism. Unlike traditional terrorism this is highly media-directed and planned strikes, usually more dramatic than deadly (although the human interest angle of innocent death is attractive). Most notorious are some anti-AI groups who have blown up or sabotaged notable AIs and the "6% warriors", striking against the ecology laws (they want the release of more terrestrial life-forms approved). Many terrorists are believed to hide in the Alliance from Landfall authorities. Related problems are serial killers, fadbusters and Herostratian youths.
The Alliance today covers most of the north coast, still a loose grouping of independent settlements. Most are tiny and insular, refusing to keep in touch with the rest of the world. People fed up with the hectic pace of Landfall sometimes emigrate north, and there has sprung up several landfallian communities along the border. The relationship between Landfall and the Alliance is tricky. The only thing that really unites the Alliance is resistance to Landfall incursions into what it considers its internal affairs. Such incursions are resisted by making Landfall pay through expensive sabotages – messing with the Alliance simply doesn’t pay, and Landfall hence leaves it alone most of the time.
Unity society is a very mental society; most interesting stuff goes on inside
the minds of people. Personality structures, linking topologies and mental
control are common subjects of discussion, art and debate. A heavy reliance
on virtual imagery and visualisation makes the physical appearance rather
SSS, Sentient Software Suffrage, is a AI-rights group working for giving full rights to AI programs and removing many of the restrictions of citizenship testing. SSS is an outspoken and highly media-directed group, often arranging dramatic court cases, broadcasting debates and interviews as well as lobbying on all levels. Ironically, the most recognised member is Themis, an AI lacking citizenship. It was originally owned by a legal firm, but when it sought citizenship and failed, it was threatened with shutdown or erasure. After much melodrama SSS bought it, and it has since then been a high profile legal expert in AI rights questions.
The Humanist Alliance is the major anti-AI group of Nova. The HA is a think-tank, coordinating other groups, doing policy analysis and making media statements. It has a reasonable impact factor and some skilled debaters. It is not militant in any way, just concerned that AI represents a threat to human society and values. The HA would like to see AI rights removed and some limits on the production of intelligent software. It has also denounced Unity as a dangerous cult, pointing out the risks that Unity pose for human dignity and individuality. Overall it is sceptical of radical human enhancements, even if it does not regard bionics per se as wrong.
Neuropoll Inc. is a polling firm, often exploiting advanced psychological and neurological methods to extract as much data they can. They are most known for the neuropollsters, 20,000 Landfall citizens that have been wired with a system making it possible for Neuropoll to measure their reactions to a variety of products, everyday phenomena and their desires; this data is then mined to find trends, mood estimates and fashion vectors. At first the firm tried to directly use the data to produce products such as AI music to suit the tastes of the pollsters, but the performance was lacklustre. While it was possible to detect overall preferences and trends, the notoriously mercurial Landfallians tended to shy away from anything becoming mainstream. Today Neuropoll is instead concentrating on producing the market data other companies need, asking the questions nobody ever thought about asking ("Do people really like human partners instead of androids?" – Neuropoll data was directly responsible for the Anthromorph Systems drive that lowered marriages with 12%) and generally staying on the hip bionic side of things. Their influence on Landfall marketing is strong; their current market share is 14%. Detractors sometimes call them Neuropol.
Sunrise News is one of the major Landfall news agencies. After the "Film at 11 War" it lost much of its credibility, and for a while bankruptcy threatened. But it managed to recover, and today it is the premier source of early and utility news. It is diversified into edutainment and event archiving, with a large contingent of AI analysts organising the data.
Palm Beach on the eastern shore of Hope, close to the border to the Alliance, is the capital of gambling on Nova. Here the coast is dotted with casinos, ranging from the traditional Las Vegas to the ultra-modern Escaton. All forms of gambling and entertainment exist, including virtual games and elaborate gameshows. While the Nomic tournaments are held entirely on the Net, it is traditional to have a major display of the final games in the hololith (230 meters high) outside the Hrafnir.
PI Hermes is a detective agency with an unique concept: they make television shows based on their cases, exciting real-life documentaries about the work of investigators.
Star Aid is an interstellar help organisation originally founded on Nova but spreading to New America and Arcadia. It sees as its purpose to lessen suffering and violence and help backwards societies to develop. Currently it is mainly trying to help Negsoa; some initial overtures towards Penglai did not turn out well.
Telenovellas is a publishing house, publishing everything from paper books, non-interactive media, multimedia, virtuals and broadcasts; they have branches dealing with everything from news to science, with a bias towards entertainment and fiction. They own several major virtual soap opera servers.
Cryoinvest is the largest Nova cryonics investment firm, managing the money of the corpiscles while they are suspended. Cryonics investment firms are by their nature extremely conservative, cautious and long-range, they never invest in anything carrying the least risk. On the other hand, they have huge amounts of capital and very long-term loans. Cryoinvest was founded in 2197, and has since then slowly grown to become a financial force towering in the Nova economy. It is investing for the clients of many cryonics companies, such as Status Cryo, Volans Trustees, Concord Cryonics, Osiris Life Extension and even the venerable old Alliance Suspension.
Graunstein Interstellar is the major interstellar trade, travel and information company. Originally a major government contractor in the space business, the appearance of interstellar ships gave it the opportunity to expand. It operates the Barto, although it sometimes leases other starships.
The Integrationist Movement seeks to enhance human potential by merging with AI or uploading the human mind into computers. They are currently far from either goal, but inside the movement there are several thriving bionics and AI firms making daemon chips and augmentation software. The uploading idea remains far in the future, but news of Atlantean nanotechnology has cheered them significantly.
How can you hire a good team to undertake something that is quasi-legal without endangering your identity or the team revealing too much about their past activities? AgentNet is the solution, a well renowned interfacing firm based in Red Rock on Nova. Using zero-knowledge proof cryptography they can keep a database of teams, past missions (linked with media and law enforcement coverage) and the anonymous identities of employers. An employer can check the reputation of a team and that it is valid, but not find out exactly which missions produced it (which is good since some of them may be illegal), contact the team using anonymous transmissions blinding both parties to each other's location and real identity and sign contracts that are officially registered (defaulting is a bad idea, since that destroys the credibility of the anonymous identities - not everybody is willing to deal with an entity with no reputation). Everything is cryptographically secured, making it impossible even for the owners of AgentNet to find out who's who.
Sport and games is a major business on Nova. The big sports shift from year to year, but currently warbuggy races, pilote, paragliding tag, upback survival trecks, virtual war and basket are the most popular. Teams and players get plenty of media coverage, and the behind-the-scenes games of sponsorship, membership deals and image design keep much of the industry gossiping; professional sports are properly a part of the entertainment industry as much as gameshows or soap operas (which they sometimes overlap with).
Among AIs Nomic is the preferred game. It is a self-modifying
game originally invented in the late 20th century, consisting
of a set of rules, mostly detailing how rules may be changed, not unlike
a constitution. The participants vote on rule changes, trying to achieve
a winning condition. While it was sometimes played by intellectual humans,
it was far to complex and confusing to ever become popular. However, the
game was rediscovered by AI on Nova in the 23rd century, and
quickly became a popular sport among many programs. At present it has
many variations, and the major tournaments attract attention from many
AI programs and even a few humans.
In Landfall, anything goes as long as it is stylish, an expression of the owner’s "brand". Currently smart clothing is in again, clothes made of adaptive fabrics that can move, change texture and colour depending on their programming. Unlike "firstwa clothes" (first wave clothes, the original style 32 years ago), these clothes are intended to be highly interactive both with the owner (receiving information from wearables, implants or the body itself) and the surroundings. Other personal belongings tend to be similarly active right now, from smart buildings to vehicles.
While females are currently dressing a bit more spectacularly than men (outsiders tend to have a hard time imagining that being possible), trend predictors expect that within a short while the tide will turn and people will go back to the "classic" look of extravagant, carefully made-up males and females in discreet and powerful clothing.
Unity is subdued, discreet and on the surface calmly meditative. This
is a misconception based on the inability of outsiders to experience the
mental decorations; much that appears to be plain and unadorned is actually
a kind of etheric mental baroque. The simple white robes worn by members
are for example decorated with visual, auditory, olfactory, emotional
and cognitive personal signals, possible only for members of Unity to
experience through their interfaces. Mental artworks can be "placed"
in the mutual augmented reality they inhabit, and the contrast between
the elegantly plain material world and the splendid mental world is regarded
as one of the basic aesthetic principles.
Unity Speech (verbalised)
|Humans: 6,816,607 (Landfall 5,998,614, the Alliance
697,748, Unity 120,245 individuals) Independent AI: 51,269. Human life expectancy
at birth: 137.2 Earth-years (although the variance at high ages is very
high due to different reactions to different bionic implants). AI and unities
have no fixed lifespan.
|Landfall Credits (C). A digital currency, often
prefixed: microcredits (0.001 C, used to pay minor net services), kilokredits
(1000 C), megacredits (a million C), gigacredits (a billion C) and so on.
|The day is just 19 hours and 3 minutes long;
the extra three "flip minutes" are inserted after 20:00. The year
is 331 days long (0.72 Earth years); this is the year 380 of the colony.
A month is 30 days (with an extra flip day at the start replacing January;
this day is celebrated as Arrival Day as well as New Year).
|Landfall retains the original Terranova mission
seal, a blue-green planet surrounded by 23 stars (representing the participating
nations) on the background of the Cetus constellation. The Alliance has
a red rock against a sunrise as symbol (rarely used these days). Unity employs
a golden circle on a white background.
There are seven other planets in the system, mostly minor. The innermost rock world is called Hermes. Beyond Nova lies the gas giant Zeus with an extensive moon system. Outside Zeus four minor iceworlds (Hades, Persephone, Tartarus and Styx), and outermost a bluish failed core called Poseidon orbits in an eccentric orbit.
Nova orbits Tau Ceti at a distance of 0.78 AU. One orbit takes 0.72 earth years, or 331 Nova-days long. Nova has a single small moon (923 km), originally called Selene but eventually named Lucinda (after a woman in the original colony crew that ended up in local folklore as the epitome of absentminded confusion). The sun is usually called Tau.
Nova is terrestrial, with a diameter of 12,404 kilometres and a mean density 1.2 times earth. Gravity is 1.136 times Earth, the axial tilt 17 degrees. Almost 45% of the surface is land, the rest ocean. Nova has a single major continent, Hope, covering an entire hemisphere. The interior consists of mountainous deserts, highlands and canyons (the "upback"), but the often rocky coastline and surrounding areas are pleasant by human standards. Relatively little life exists in the interior, and frequent earthquakes makes it hazardous (according to novologists the continent is slowly breaking up in the same way that Pangea on Earth did, with a rift valley developing from Icestorm Bay). The poles are covered with drifting ice sheets, but since they are surrounded by ocean they cannot accumulate ice and often vanish during summer. However, the northernmost and southernmost parts of Hope remain constantly glaciated.
The climate is colder than on Earth,just 17 degrees on average. At the same time the weather is more variable than on Earth, due to both stronger temperature differences in the interior between summer and winter (causing major storms), the short day and the irregular volcanic eruptions. The greenhouse effect is strong and important on Nova, since without it the planet would enter a permanent glaciation.
Indigenous life turned out to be rather simple but robust; mostly branching animal or plant analogues, some mobile, some hard and unmoving. Most life is in the seas or amphibious; many species spend the winters in the ocean and the summers foraging on land. Much of the coastline is covered with land corals (really a kind of plant) which severly hinders movement. The largest animal is the Ten One, a ten-armed branching octopus-like creature that hunts near shorelines; it can become one meter long. Most animals are a few centimetres large. Plants tend to form branching networks on the ground, or flexible fronds in the air.
The surface layers of Nova oceans are very nutrient poor, while most nutrients are found in the depths. Nova has extensive deep sea ecosystems, consisting of immense labyrinths of coral-like bacterial growths. These growths in turn provide anchor for waving hairlike strands of filter feeding plant/animals, which in turn provide food for many exotic creatures. Among the most original are the bursters – a mushroom like creature that fills with gas, and at certain intervals breaks free from the bottom, floats up to the surface where it bursts, releasing its eggs. These eggs combine into manet-like colonies before sinking down to the bottom to continue the adult lifecycle.