% 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.
What originally started as an environment suit for humans being let outside soon became a population control mechanism. A misbehaving colonist could be locked into one of these suits and made to act as an internal police force. The suits could simulate almost any sensation to the wearer's flesh, which made it an efficient system for re-training.
The colonists' ramped-up sex drive and lack of almost any other means of entertainment meant that the AIs had a convenient reward system. Pain is always an effective punishment, but the AIs learned how to prey on a person's fears and desires. What we've seen in the present day suggests that even a limited time in the isolation suits completely changes a person. And this was important, because if the AIs were going to start actual farms on the equator, they'd need to be able to trust the farmers.
I'm not a geologist, but even I am stunned by the dramatic difference between the equatorial band and the rest of Torei. You can drive around in the badlands for days without seeing anything but igneous and metamorphic rock formations. You joyride through dusty craters, follow fissures down tectonic thrusts, and then suddenly out of nowhere everything is covered in lichen.
If you turn in the direction of the blooms, you start to see little green shoots in the dusty cracks, here and there. Plants with long taproots extend fernlike fronds up to the daylight. And as you continue, within only a short time you find yourself on a dirt-like surface driving through low scrub. You can tell your latitude to a novel degree of accuracy simply by looking at vegetation around you. There's a reason the planet's flag has that thin green belt around the globe.
It can also be educational to dig down through equatorial soil. The topsoil itself is very thin, but well-managed as a sort of sacred trust. Once you lift that off, you find caustic stuff that could make for devastating dust storms if allowed to become airborne. Early farms were planted just to control this layer of atmospheric fallout and keep it buried where it wouldn't be a problem. Ask a Pembric plantation master about "leechcorn" some time, and you'll get an amazing education in bioremediation techniques!
The farms were a success, in small part thanks to the controlled watering the equator gets. The AIs control underground aquifers via long tunnels that are off limits to most humans. When it's time for crop watering, they engineer rain showers that bathe a portion of the equatorial region. It's run like clockwork, and typically during the evening. You sometimes see the rain schedule next to the train timetables, for example.
At this point, the habitat creation project sadly stalled. The AIs needed the farms to supply its biotech machines with ingredients, and the humans needed the AIs to keep the rain falling and the air flowing. As one of the old poems put it (and apologies for my somewhat unskilled translation): "And the Dæmons kept dominion of the sky, and Men claimed dominion of the land."
Of course, the "Dæmons" kept dominion over the humans, as well. The end of expansion on Torei meant that there weren't enough isolation suits for all of the troublemakers, but the ones that were bound in them made effective police for the rest. Well, at least for a while, anyway.
The problem with releasing an incredibly randy and fertile population to the furthest corner of a planet from your control is that your carefully controlled breeding program will go wildly off course. It didn't take many generations for the natural-born humans at the equator to see the isolates as foreign oppressors and set plans to overthrow them. This begins what is possibly the bloodiest time in Torei's history, which Toreologists have come to call the Sharecropping Wars.
At first, the AIs saw this population as expendable, and simply eradicated whole towns when it encountered trouble. There were usually enough eager human rats at the poles who were willing to colonize an evacuated farmstead and live out under the Torean sun. But eventually the costs of this became clear to both sides.
The exterminations and re-population efforts brought more and more humans over to the revolutionary side. Furthermore, the rebel humans had taken to destroying the crops that were destined for the ziggurats. A human colony could survive on tubers and ruminant milk for a year if they had to, but a critical missed shipment of seed oils or other organic chemical ingredients could mean trouble for the whole planet. Time and again, the humans showed the AIs that they were willing to ignore the threat of ecological disaster in pursuit of independence.
This is something that seems predictable to you or I, but the AIs genuinely seemed to have trouble accepting it. They kept up their program of recolonization for over a century before finally recognizing the equatorial ring as independent. Now the "Dæmons" became "Emissaries", and they negotiated air and water rights in exchange for necessary crops. They traded technology for the food needed to keep the population in the ziggurats alive.
From this point on, aside from the occasional nation that tested the AIs' wrath or surrendered sovereignty to one of the Emissaries, the political role of the AIs remained in this stalemate nearly into the present day. For a thousand years, humanity was able to build its own society on the equator, and the "ringdoms" as we now call them were formed.
The politics get boring for a while here, but wars are now waged between the ringdoms more often. Alliances form, nations conquer other nations, and realms are partitioned up for heirs who then fight one another. Throughout all of this, the threat of interference by the AIs looms.
It's not really useful as a scholarly classification, but I find it's easiest to describe this period to people as feudal. The culture was based heavily on male inheritance of arable land, and conduct of war was often regulated by the AIs. Commonly, when a dispute between ringdoms broke out, war would be a last resort after bringing the case to an Emissary.
The art from this period often depicts the AIs as turbulent gods, bringing bounty and destruction on ineffable whims. The laws of men could be appealed to an Emissary, but the result would sometimes leave everyone suffering. Humanity wrestled with its relationship to the AIs, hating and fearing and ultimately relying on them even in independence.
For a time, a class of priestesses emerged, promising to interpret the "Dæmons" for their masters. The story goes that an Isolate raped the women of a powerful landlord, to threaten the legitimacy of any heirs. The daughters of these unions were believed to have insight into the AIs, and allegedly they were seen talking to their biological father (a difficult claim to prove, as all male Isolates effectively look the same). These women were ejected from the estate their mothers belonged to, and began prophesying in the streets on market days. Their prescience became legendary, and soon it became common for stray women to claim insight into the plans of the AIs.
This trend improved the lot of unowned women immensely over the years. Originally the term "freewomb" meant a woman whose children were not by her owner, but the word soon came to mean the children themselves. Cast out of an estate, these girls had to make their way alone in societies that did not consciously value the roles they could play. A lack of loyalties made them neutral mediators, taking over some of the duties that the Emissaries had performed before independence. But the association with Dæmon-scrying proved devastating
The Princess Thrall
There are Toreologists who spend their whole careers studying just one period for one house of one nation during the warring states era. Land and loyalties switched around like plains rivers during a storm, but a stalemate between five remaining ringdoms held off unification for three generations. The details of this struggle make up much of the high art on Torei, and people sometimes identify culturally by which of the five empires they descend from rather than which of the current ringdoms they currently live.
There was a courtesan named Theca or Nebla (depending on the language of the tale), and the emperor of Falon made a grand present of her to the emperor of Prellatia. This gift was part of a court gesture of great magnitude, but war demanded the Falonian emperor's attention at the home front. So he locked her into Falon's symbols of state (scepter, crown, and boots) and sent her along with an escort formed of his most trusted palace guards. He would be present in a ceremonial sense, and would arrive in person later to wear the diadem once more.
By the time Theca reached Prellatia, the war in Falon had claimed the lives of the four emperors. The Prellatian emperor gloated, and tried to take the crown from Theca's head. Her guards dispatched this ruler expertly, and in a legendary battle managed to hold the Prellatian palace.
There were further battles, but within a year all of the noble houses on Torei were swayed by Theca's calls for peace. She was but a slave, yet she wore the Falonian and Prellation crowns. She seduced hundreds of powerful men who came to her court, and each man felt he owned a piece of her. The planet was tired of war, and Theca offered a new model for human self-rule.
In a coronation ceremony that is the subject of all the great murals and hangings on Torei, she bound herself with circlets made from the crowns of the five empires: one on each ankle, one on each wrist, and Falon's about her throat. The remaining symbols of state were made into a multi-colored chain that kept her locked to the throne for the rest of her life. Torei now knew life without war for the first time since it had settled the equator.
With the ringdoms no longer fractured, the need for Emissary intervention or alliances with the poles almost vanished overnight. People worried what the Dæmons would do at first, but soon forgot their fears: the rains kept coming on schedule and no waves of slick black bodies descended on their habitations.
The polar AIs, for their part, seemed to enjoy this era of peace. Without war to sap resources, the cost of equatorial goods went down. They exported fewer engines of war and more agricultural and lifestyle goods. The peace dividend seemed to pay out to everyone.
Unfortunately, the freewombs on the streets suffered terribly. With a culture no longer nervous about the mood of the polar Dæmons, they soon found themselves scapegoats for all kinds of problems. During the Princess Thrall's rule, the ruling houses enacted hundreds of strict laws governing their lives. Many sought enslavement in poor houses to escape persecution, but most soldiered on in the oppressive regime.