% A History of Torei % Gospodin % 28 June 2012
There's a lot of talk about Torei, lately. You hear folks chatting about it in hushed tones, wondering if what other folks say is true. People want to know how to get there, how safe you are once you get there, and would you get in trouble when you come back. You see people scowling angrily about Torei's human rights problems, but those same people are the ones who have copies of Torean Love Slave hidden away someplace private.
But most of all, people want to know how such a place could have existed all this time. How could human life have developed on this isolated planet in the middle of nowhere while we were busy inventing intergalactic travel and coating every inhabitable surface of the Milky Way with our culture? We've become so used to human life being the only sapient intelligence on Earth-like worlds. So why, then, is Torean culture so... alien to us?
Well if you listen to me closely, I will tell you what I know. I'm a historian, of sorts, and history is an alchemical sort of discipline. We find symbols in old sources, and then we have to analyze our sources themselves. We put all these symbols in the context of other symbols, and sometimes--if we shake real hard--out comes a compelling narrative.
I think you folks appreciate a cracking good yarn; so if you'll permit, I'll embroider the facts as much as I'm comfortable. Some of what I'll say isn't known to be true, but we don't yet know that it can't be true. I'll leave the hair-splitting to the Journal of Toreology and just tell you all my tale.
The Milky Way
Long long ago, back when humanity had only begun to spread out of its spiral arm of its home galaxy, an empire had ambitions. This empire, known only to history as "The Laminate Culture" or "The Lamination People" because of the clothing they produced, saw the end of expansion within the Milky Way before most of the rest of us had. Due to coincidences in the angular momentum of outer-spiral stars, they were hedged in by strong nations in a tense yet stable peace. They needed somewhere to grow, but didn't dare move in on any of the stars in their neighborhood.
And so they hatched an ingenious yet barmy plan to send colonists to the Andromeda galaxy. They intended to settle those stars with Laminate Culture colonies early, and spread outward through that galaxy before anyone else had managed to start an expedition. To their credit, they thought big and they thought long-term: the journey would take a thousand years, and they'd have no way of ferrying wealth from these new stars to the motherworld. This was a very very long game, and it took a special kind of desperation to even want to play it.
You can't send a live crew on a thousand-year journey that never comes close to any stars. A generation-ship would need more fuel for life support on such a journey than it would for deceleration. The fleet they designed was effectively a big dumb intergalactic comet: machinery and gene banks and artificial intelligences wrapped in a giant geode of protective minerals and ice. Everything would just sit inactive and safe and inert until it came near the energy of a star again.
Of course, as you can all guess now, this little spore never made it to Andromeda. Stories differ on what happened to it. Some say that the geode craft had some sort of purely analog course-correcting device that locked onto a stray stellar cluster in intergalactic space. Others say that something went wrong, and emergency systems woke to active mode and changed the ship's course. The more fanciful tales tell of signals sent from the Milky Way to sabotage the project by changing the objectives.
Whatever the reason, the ship took a rendez-vous course that brought it to a stable orbit around the most suitable of a handful of lonely stars stuck like an island out in the nowhere between the galaxies. The light of this star melted the geode and woke up the machines, who began building factories and supply lines to construct a suitable habitat for the colony.
As I've mentioned before, the amount of planning that went into this project is breathtaking. The original implementors hadn't considered their payload would get mired in this backwater, but they'd designed the construction phase to bootstrap itself even in harsh conditions. Simple machines built factories that spat out more complicated machines that built more factories to make even better machines. This process continued until at least three of the AIs in the fleet had been augmented enough to begin the next phase.
Once the brains were awake, it was time to build a home for organic life. None of the planets in the cluster were likely globes, so the machines took a rocky ball on the edge of the Goldilocks zone and launched all the chunks of ice and carbonaceous chondrite they could find. If you think the timescale for the original mission was long, well the AIs had near-infinite patience. Piece by piece over tens of thousands of years, they built up a planet from dry stone into something that could support life.
Machines around the various stars in the cluster lensed starlight to knock matter out of stable orbits and off toward the new planet. I've been on expedition, and seen the lens devices with my own eyes. They're impressive machines, like vast engines of war from our distant and more violent past. I'm told they still work, if the AIs ever choose to use them again.
The planet's new crust slowly cooled around the freshly molten core, and this is where the Torei we know today began. The machines set down at the two poles and dug intricate tunnels through to the hot mantle beneath, boring in impossibly complicated fractal corkscrew patterns. Through coriolis forces, heat, pressure and other simple physics the magma was separated out into component elements useful for generating an atmosphere.
The machines built tetrahedral "caps" of sorts atop the vents from these tunnels, and did all of the final distillation and synthesis in them. These pyramids are apparently still there inside the current-day ziggurats. The real machinery for atmospheric generation descends down into the network of tunnels, but there is a hollow space inside the zigs where the caps can be seen.
Ah, I suppose you all have the famous image of the Dahom ziggurat in the snow. Well imagine that landscape with no snow yet, because the air was still too dry. Now imagine that the vast stepped pyramid is only one-twentieth the size, and smooth-sided. That's how they got started. Those little pyramids worked tirelessly for centuries to generate an atmosphere suitable for garden crops and large mammals.
The ziggurats of Mazos and Dahom were built later, and we have hints that they were an act of desperation. We think that the AIs realized that they weren't making enough progress on a self-sustaining biosphere. They created the zigs as habitat domes with the hopes that human workers could help speed up the project.
If that was the plan, then it worked. The first humans probably awoke inside the bottom level of one of the zigs, before they built the upper layers. They'd have had hydroponic gardens already running to give them fresh food and filtered water. There would have been some livestock, but likely no birds: the air wouldn't have been clean enough yet for fragile avian lungs.
Life for these first few generations was probably pretty miserable, even by what we see at the Torean poles today. The AIs were still completing their program of habitat creation, and to them the humans were little more than lab rats and plough-mares. The ziggurat was a castle of horrors full of biological experimentation and vat-grown chimeras. We have reason to believe that this work resulted in tissue cultures that are still alive as membranes inside the atmosphere generators today.
The era when Torean humans lived only inside the ziggurats is somewhat hard to pin down, historically. Most of what we have is myth from the humans and propaganda from the AIs, so who knows what to believe. All we can really say is that this period marked the development of the current social system at the poles.
The goal of the AIs was to make Torei habitable for normal humans, but the death rate among the early populations was too high. The bio-engineering research program produced humans who were more durable, and could withstand more of the half-made world. Specialized organisms were seeded at the equator, to try and build up biomass where the conditions were most favorable. Life on Torei began slowly to step outside, but it was all strange new breeds custom-built for that world.
Since this was a breeding program, the human genotype was altered to produce nine females for every male. The reproductive systems and sexual drives of these humans were cranked up to unusual levels for maximal fertility. Each man would impregnate one woman per month, like clockwork. The population grew and new levels were built to make the ziggurats we know today.
Controlling such a population was not the same task as it had been before. During each pole's summer, when the sun did not set, humans were let out onto the planet's surface in laminate environment suits. These were an early form of today's isolation laminates worn by Emissaries, and they did far less. The wearer was protected from the unfinished atmosphere outside, and infosystems in the helmet kept the AI in control of what the occupant saw and heard.
.... There is more of this story ...