Increased means and increased leisure are the two civilisers of
Once you have true self-replicating machinery, driven by abundant
nuclear fuels or sunlight, you can have as much as you want of whatever
In 2051 an association of Indian-derived organisations launched their own colony ship – an entire O’Neill colony, the Ramanujan. Their motivations were complex, but partially a desire to safeguard what they considered the unique Indian way of life in the face of accelerating changes in the solar system, partially a gamble for interstellar resources. The idea was to colonise the protoplanetary disk around Vega, a huge dust belt with enormous easily accessible material and energy resources but no habitable planets.
The Ramanujan took 78 years to reach Vega. During this time most of the crew was frozen, while a small society of awake individuals maintained the ecosystem and ship. All colonists took at least one waking shift of a few years, keeping a constant active population. As intended, they adapted to living completely isolated in a space habitat, and a very unique culture developed. The rotation of crew also made sure the goals were not forgotten due to cultural drift or new generations.
On arrival to Vega in several things nearly ended the expedition in disaster. Part of the ice shielding was lost due to a meteor impact during retardation, a small act of sabotage wrecked valuable supplies and the data from the Earth about the system turned out to be slightly erroneous. Still, the Ramanujan was well prepared and quickly set to work in building a number of backup habitats. The first habitats were small, hurried constructions intended to make sure the entire project was not wiped out by a disaster. Later constructions became more extravagant, as self-replicating robots made construction mainly a matter of finding a suitable asteroid and directing the systems. The habitats became known as the Viha-ga, the Realm of the Sky.
The plan was to establish a colony in the disk, awaiting further arrivals from the Earth. The founders had gambled that mankind would soon begin a true diaspora towards the stars, and Vega could become a major waystation, with shipyards and abundant volatiles to use for reaction mass. This did not happen, and the Viha-ga was left alone.
An internal struggle developed between the "Upakramah fraction" (the project fraction), which wanted to follow the original plans and at least set up the laser contact with the other colonies, and the "Gupta fraction" (the secret fraction) who wanted to turn the Vega system into their true home and keep it secret. They centred around a classicist revival that had emerged during the later part of the journey, where some influential people saw their isolation as a new chance to both rediscover ancient truths and to combine them with the future without being limited by other cultures; the goal was to create something truly unique and uncontaminated. They revived Sanskrit and began developing new forms of societies. In the end the project fraction went ahead, but their communications array was wrecked by meteors or sabotage (the truth was never discovered). They began constructing a second array, but in the end the project was abandoned as most of the colonists began to direct their energy towards colonising the Disk instead of uncertain long-term communications.
Life in the Disk is somewhat dangerous; even if most of it is near vacuum and meteors are rare, over time micrometeors and occasional lucky shots destroy installations. Repair systems can manage most problems, but habitats can be lost if they are very unlucky. Most habitats have extensive anti-meteor railguns and lasers, and the colony has adapted a philosophy of dispersal – better not put all the eggs in the same basket.
The habitats have an extremely high and comfortable standard of living, being run by non-sentient AI and robots. Most are nearly paradisical worlds, tended by ever-watchful drones and symbiotic animals connected to the computer systems. Daily life is somewhat hedonistic, a relaxed leisurely routine that is not taken very seriously. In principle everything could be automated, but most habitats have deliberately set up some tasks that have to be done by humans in order to keep them active and aware. However, the Chesterton cluster and related habitats have deliberately done away with all work – they think that it would be an imposition to force any human to work when it can be done with automation. Instead people will find their own useful things to do.
The inhabitants of one habitat usually regard each other as part of the same extended family; in small or young habitats this is literally true. Ties of marriage unite different habitats and groups within the same habitat. Some habitats are strictly hierarchical, while others are extremely informal democracies or near-anarchies. However, as a rule there exists a class of Brahmans with high prestige; they are the technocrats, experts, priests, scholars and leaders organising things. The Weg Brahmans are not necessarily descendants of the original Brahmans of India, although there exist some ties.
The inhabitants call themselves the Vyomachaarinah (Sanskrit, "the people who wander over the sky"). It is a thoroughly aesthetic society, where the beauty of anything, any act is judged against many aesthetic scales. When the implementation is fairly easy to do (which is the rule with replicating robots and powerful support systems), the aesthetics becomes the deciding factor.
The culture at Vega takes the long view of things. They intend to continue colonising the Disk at a leisurely pace, developing a truly unique culture. Many people definitely think the Vyomachaarinah will be around to watch the planets form in a few hundred million years. At the same time the ever present risks from meteors make people aware of the transience of everything. There is no true security or stability anywhere: only by constantly moving, taking backups and dispersing can survival be achieved. The concept "lilah" describes the situation: humans are the playthings of the capricious Gods, but (and here they diverge from many traditional views), humans are not passive game pieces but active co-players. By playing the cosmic game well (and being lucky), one can achieve just about anything. Overall, games have emerged as a major part of the culture, ranging from the traditional atthapada and dasapada chessgames to abstract akasa games played in virtual reality. Gamemasters tour the Disk, challenging each other for supremacy in different games or modes of playing.
Hinduism remains the major religion, although the forms vary. While the original colonists were rather secular, religiosity developed both due to the influence of the Gupta fraction and the grandeur of Weg. The view that the divine should be revered in every manifestation is common and influences culture to a high degree. Small shrines are common in the habitats and spacecraft. Practically every habitat and person has an istadevata, "favourite god" to which they are dedicated. Many regard Vega itself as a divinity, sometimes identifying it with the trimurti (the trinity Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva). Small shrines to Rudra are especially common: Rudra was originally a minor Vedic deity known as the divine archer, who shoots arrows of death and disease and who has to be implored not to slay or injure in his wrath, but has become identified as the god of meteor strikes; the shrines are to avert dangerous strikes.
The society is not exactly static, but changes rather slowly. Over time groups of people move out from their parent habitats and set up their own, repeating the process that occurred in the solar system but much more slowly and less drastically. It is somewhere between runaway diversification and stagnation, never quite moving into one of the areas. Most likely it will change greatly over the next few centuries but the direction is hard to tell.
Since anybody disagreeing with the society in a habitat can leave, and it is relatively cheap to build new habitats, disagreements tend to be few. Instead there is a gradual spawning of new and diverse habitats, ranging from orthodox religious to iconoclastic theoretical physics. Inter habitat communications are however important, and even if habitats cannot force each other to do anything they can influence each other. The Net is the mutual meeting place, a system-wide net of radio transmissions and laser links that routes information to all linked habitats.
Some habitats have specialised themselves, like the high inclination and eccentricity Taaraka group that acts as communications relays above and below the Disk, Vikram Sarabhai which produce designs for defensive robots or the Sona Ath habitats that extract Helium 3 from the solar wind or clouds around Kruura-graha. Others like Ganga and Lanka mainly export culture.
While there few true disagreements, that does not mean Vega is an utopia. Social interactions can become elaborate games of one-upmanship, and there are several habitats that spend much time politicking with and against each other. The same problems also occur inside habitats, sometimes producing serious quarrels between the inhabitants. Betting prestige on various gaming tournaments is a common way of resolving the conflicts.
A small problem is the "pirates", rouge habitats stealing equipment or even new species from other habitats. They don’t really need to do it, since replicating robotics makes material needs fairly easily met, and most habitats gladly trade with each other. The real motivation seems to be the excitement the attacks give, and overcoming the defences that naturally are built. The pirates have been an outlet for discontented people who disagree with the safe leisure life of the habitats and crave real excitement. Many pirate group fight more among themselves than the real habitats.
A more serious problem is the Crafters and other terrorist groups. The Crafters emerged in 2206 as a new religious movement claiming only the chosen by Vega were allowed to live in the Disk. At first they seceded from the Net, and in 2219 they began attacking other habitats using robotic saboteurs. The initial attack destroyed 23 habitats, killing over 79,000 people. Defensive robots were set up, and the Crafters vanished into obscurity again. Since then other attacks have occurred, each more sophisticated than the last.
The central problem is that using the available technology, even a single madman can do tremendous damage. One possibility is to drop off the Net: habitats not in the Net are practically impossible to find – the Disk is too large and dusty. This gives them an advantage against the visible habitats, which are detectable using their transmissions. However, most of the people do not wish to do so, and instead try to build up their defences and relay their transmissions through dedicated communications stations. Still, the problem is not solved in any satisfactory way, and as robotic weapons and defences develop things will become even more poised. Gradually the Net has become more and more a way for habitats to pool their information and help each other track down the elusive Crafters.
Technologically the Vega system is quite advanced in robotics and automation, even if it has deliberately avoided creating volitional AI. The habitat construction techniques, anti-meteor systems and interhabitat crafts are far beyond anything found among the colonies.
Genetic modifications of plants and sometimes animals in order to create new species and ecosystems are in use and well developed. Human genetic modifications have not been used in general (yet), and life extension is still somewhat limited.
Much work has been directed towards developing advanced knowledge networks and intelligence amplification techniques. Not in order to increase productivity (which is already far beyond what is needed) but to increase understanding. The reasons range from pure pleasure to the ideological goal of truly understanding the processes of history.
The habitats are usually just a kilometre or two across, spherical constructions housing a self-contained biosphere lit up by artificial lightening. Some are built inside asteroids; while the asteroids are too loose and fragile to bear any loads they provide excellent protection against meteors. Many habitats are covered with a thick layer of gravel, held in place by netting. They extend long cables holding instruments, antennas or specialised industries that take advantage of high gravity. Inside lush vegetation, rivers and fanciful landscapes dominate the view; most habitats are huge gardens that express the local aesthetic. People live in small villages in the valleys, connected by virtual communications and commuter trains.
Some habitats have very unusual ecologies. Some, like the Pancatantra,
are inhabited by an approximation of the animals and plants of old fables
(it was created as a deliberate exercise in genetic and mythical design).
Other habitats like Polaris and Lanka are attempts to recreate terrestrial
conditions; Polaris is an arctic world while Lanka is a tropical sea.
The system is just 350 million years old. Most of the disk is just extremely
sparse dust grains, with a few larger asteroids and planetoids. Kruura-graha
(Sanskrit for "malefic planet") is an emerging gas giant orbiting
70 AU outside Vega, surrounded by a huge maelstrom of dust. It was detected
even in the 20th century, and the blob of high velocity dust
surrounding it is a significant hazard to habitats getting too close.
|A diagram showing 27 dots in a circle (the Viha-ga),
each connected to each other by lines (the Net/the Disk) and a central circle
| Most of the Vyomachaarinah dress in robes, whose
cut and style vary tremendously from habitat to habitat. In some places
they are simple pure white, others have baroque flaps and pockets. People
from different habitats have often adapted to different gravities and climates.
|4,805,384 people. Life expectancy at birth: 129
| The Crafters are a radical, aggressive offshoot
of the Gupta dogmatics, the Purusa Association and the philosophies that
emerged on the Taj Mahal habitat. In the early 2200’s they developed their
faith from the teachings of the Founding Triad, three mystics who claimed
to have realised a great truth collectively. The core idea is that Vega
is a seed, a grand gambit in the cosmic game that will come to fruition
in the far future. Some chosen people are able to foresee the long-range
plan, and these visionaries will direct the human presence at Vega. To fulfil
the destiny the Founding Triad foresaw, the entire disk will have to be
changed – and all non-believers either converted, driven away or killed.
Unlike most other groups the Crafters are strictly orthodox rather than
orthoprax; they consider doctrine more important than practice, and have
no ecumenical ambitions.
The Flare Project is an inter-habitat project that began as work to study, understand and control the activity of Vega, but has branched out into a diverse interdisciplinary project working on megascale engineering. It is closely allied to the Chandrasekar Program, a major effort to understand Planck-scale physics. The Chandrasekar program has so far produced some profound discoveries, but they have not been applied.
The Panavas habitats are five major co-orbital habitats acting as major industrial producers of basic robotic equipment, computers and software. They are run by a group of closely connected families, doing their best to become the trade masters of the Disk. While they are influential, they are still far from their goal.
The Purusa Association is a quasi-religious organisation basing its views on the Purusasukta, "The Hymn of the Cosmic Man", a Vedic creation story. According to the hymn the entire universe was created out of the parts of the body of a single cosmic man when his body was immolated and dismembered at the primordial sacrifice. The Purusa Association combines this with astrophysical speculations about the creation of heavy atoms in supernovae, big bang and the formation of planets in the Disk. They have been suggesting that self-replicating robots should be let loose to reorganise the matter in the Disk to form a perfect planetary system. These ideas were later radicalised by the Crafters.
Debendranath's Raiders is a small pirate gang living in a tiny but growing
habitat in the outskirts of the disk. They make raids on other habitats
to get supplies and new information; they are hardly self-sufficient at
present. The Raiders were formed by a gang from the Lanka habitat who
sought adventure, danger and a meaning beyond the nearly paradisical life
at home. They stole a ship and some worker robots, and began setting up
their base. So far they have done around ten raids, and have gradually
become proficient enough to handle many conventional defences. However,
they have run afoul of another pirate gang, the Tat, and the inter-gang
fight is becoming dangerous for both sides.
Reactions on contact
Weg will likely be discovered by colonial explorers sooner or later. The discovery of a major unknown colony will send shockwaves through the interstellar community and the contact with the outsiders will shock the inhabitants of Vega as well.
Most of the habitats on the Net will be interested in outside contact; while the Gupta dogmatics are a strong fraction most habitats feel confident enough in themselves and their culture to deal with outsiders. The colonies are interesting places and may contribute much, even if most of the Vyomachaarinah think their own culture is in some sense superior (or at least "theirs"). The Crafters on the other hand will attack fiercely – another enemy desecrating the system. This can lead to a tricky situation where outworlders have to be protected by the Net, while establishing sensitive diplomatic connections under direct attack by the Crafters.