An introduction to the universe and factions of Beyond the Gates of Antares
The Seventh Age
Humanity has spread throughout space, to new worlds and distant galaxies, to places and realities undreamt of by our distant ancestors. Interplanetary civilisations have flourished and fallen six times over, collapsing and rising anew over countless centuries. Humankind’s first home – the planet Earth –was destroyed long ago during the forgotten wars of the Prime Imperia. Of humanity’s early history, the colonisation of space, and evolution into numerous and diverse species, little is now remembered. Today is the The Seventh Age: the last and greatest age of humankind.
No one knows for sure how many worlds are home to humans and the new species evolved from humans–the diverse race of homo pansapiens or pans. Countless free and independent worlds are home to their own human populations. Other worlds are part of larger inter-stellar societies. These widely scattered planets are all connected by means of a vast and intricate network of spacial wormholes. These wormholes make space travel practical, facilitating trade, communication and governance over enormous inter-galactic distances. All known wormholes intersect at one huge nexus, a colossal inter-dimensional machine that we recognise as the star Antares. In reality Antares is no ordinary star, but a construct of the archaic and long-vanished race known as the Builders. It is from this unimaginably huge machine that we derive the description Antarean Space – encompassing all the many worlds connected by the Antares wormhole network.
The largest and most powerful civilisation of the Seventh Age is The Panhuman Concord comprising almost a quarter of all the human worlds of Antarean space. The ruling elites of this society are New Humans or NuHu as they are commonly called. Hyper-intelligent, tall, and eerily androgynous, the NuHu are the undisputed masters of the Panhuman Concord. They are very few in number and spread thinly amongst the vast population of the Concord. What makes the NuHu so different from other humans is that they have co-evolved with the sentient integrated machine intelligence – or IMTel – that controls all aspects of Concord society. They are its living symbiotic component, simultaneously masters and slaves in a benign technocracy.
All worlds of the Concord are encased in a nanosphere – a cloud of nanites that saturates its atmosphere and acts as a universal medium of communication and – in a more limited way – energy. By this means worlds and ultimately the whole concord is run and directed by the data-driven machine-minds of the IMTel and its NuHu Mandarin elite.
The military of the Panhuman Concord is organised and directed by a branch of the IMTel called the Concord Combined Command – otherwise known as CoCom or more commonly as C3. The Concord responds to threats against it with logical ruthlessness, organising and dispatching heavily armed forces throughout Antarean space. C3 Strike Units are recruited amongst all the varied human worlds that make up the Concord. Strike troopers are equipped with heavy-duty plasma weaponry and protected by hyper-light shielding, the most advanced weaponry in all of Antarean space. They are supported by NuHu agents, and the entire and considerable resources of the Concord IMTel.
The Isorian Shard
In ages past the world of Isori stood at the forefront of human civilisation, renowned throughout all of Antarean space for its pioneering dimensional research, its vast fleets and its unrivalled prosperity. According to Isorian legend, the planet was amongst the first of Earth’s settlements, the first to be fully terraformed, and the first to establish its own colonies independently of Earth itself. Today the worlds of the Isorian Shard are second only in number to those of the Concord. Both civilisations emerged from the ashes of the Sixth Age. Both are integrated machine societies ruled by cerebral NuHu elites. Yet the two cultures are irreconcilably opposed due to a strange quirk of fate that created a root incompatibility in their respective machine based IMTel.
With the temporary collapse of the Antarean gate network at the end of the Sixth Age, the world of Isori endured a long period of isolation. Over the following centuries the Isorians explored local space using advanced near-light speed spacecraft. They discovered and then fought an inter-stellar war against an alien race called the Tsan Kiri. The Isori eventually triumphed, but during the long war the Isorian IMTel absorbed a portion of the alien race’s silicon-based organic technology. When the Isorians re-established contact with the rest of Anatean space, their IMTel had become so distinct the two forms – or shards as individual iterations of the IMTel are called – failed to recognise each other. They had become incompatible.
The Shard’s most important NuHu rulers comprise what is called the Isorian Senatex, and its NuHu officials are the Senatexis. The Isorians share a great deal of the technology of the Concord, but some of their Tsan Kiri derived weaponry is unique to them. Like Concord Strike Units, Isorian Phase Troopers are armed with plasma weapons, but instead of hyper-light shields they employ space warping phase armour. Their ability to merge biological with technical equipment gives Isorian troops a distinct and immediately recognisable appearance.
The Algoryn Prosperate
There are millions of independent human worlds belonging to small, self-governing empires or federations. Some of these societies are relatively primitive whilst others are as technologically advanced as those of the Concord and Isorians. The Algoryn Prosperate is the largest and amongst the most advanced of these independent federations. It is unfortunate to lie upon the Antarean borders of three great rivals: the Panhuman Concord, Isorian Shard and Ghar Empire.
Whilst the Concord and Isorians ultimately pose the greatest long-term threat, their operations are sporadic, whilst all three civilisations benefit from peaceful trading contact. The Ghar, however, are implacable foes: evolved from genetically engineered slave-soldiers in ages past, the Ghar believe themselves to be the sole agents of divine will in the material universe. The Algoryns and Ghar have been engaged in constant warfare for hundreds of years.
The Prosperate’s homeworld of Algorya lies at the centre of twelve substantial colonies, numerous outposts, several staging planets and a few allied worlds occupied by other panhuman species, which altogether comprise the mutual trading and defence pact called the Prosperate. The Algoryns themselves are panhumans of distinctive appearance. They lack hair upon their heads, which are instead covered with crest-like keratinous growths. Similar nodules of keratin form a thick scaly layer upon their necks, shoulders and forearms. This dense protective layer shields the Algoryns against the harsh rays of the twin suns of Algorya, which periodically bathe the planet in dangerous levels of heat and radiation.
Algoryn troopers are less lavishly equipped than the Concord’s shock troops or Isorian Shard phase troopers, but their weaponry is practical and effective, honed by years of war just like the Algoryns themselves. Troopers are generally armed with mag guns, with only a few carrying heavier plasma based support weapons. Algoryn troops are protected by reflex shields mounted upon metallic plates: a useful general-purpose armour that is both sturdy and reliable.
The Boromite Guilds
The Boromites are an extreme morph amongst panhumans. At some time in the past their ancestors were bio-adapted to live and work upon asteroids with thin atmospheres, low gravity and extreme temperatures. They are able to endure hostile environments more easily than any other human, and are probably the toughest and most unusual looking of all the countless human morphs. They have thick, gnarly hides covered in horny nodules. They originated in the mining colonies of Borom where a rocky asteroid belt extends around the system’s star in lieu of other planets.
Today the Boromites have spread through Antarean space and live upon many worlds within the Panhuman Concord, the Isorian Shard, and beyond. They have no permanent settled worlds of their own, but form an itinerant work force with a strong cultural identity and secretive customs based upon their Guilds. They avoid becoming absorbed into the societies they live amongst because they are almost invisible to the nanosphere of IMTel societies such as the Concord and Isorians. They remain almost entirely apart from regular society, a reclusive, insular and self-governing sub-culture wherever they happen to be.
Though they are spread throughout Antarean space, Boromites maintain strong contacts with each other via the trading networks of the Freeborn. Boromite labour gangs are but one of the many human services traded by the Vardos of the Freeborn. Occasionally, Guilds will band together to fight, most likely to secure some mineral rich planet or scavenge some lucrative wreck or abandoned facility.
Boromite forces are based upon their work gangs, generally speaking extended families, which belong to competing labour Guilds. Guilds are organised for self-protection and held together by insoluble ties of honour and obligation. The leaders of these Guilds, the secret core at the heart of the extended clan, are aged and much feared matriarchs. Amongst Boromites it is the womenfolk who head up the families and whose word in law. In some respects Boromite Guilds have all the hallmarks of organised criminal gangs, and are behind many of the subversive activities throughout Antarean space.
Rival Guilds sometimes get involved in turf wars. Vendettas between old rivals can last for generations, but all will close ranks in the face of a common enemy – which is pretty much everyone else as far as the Boromites are concerned. Their hardiness and determination make them highly valued mercenary fighters. Boromite gangers can be armed in almost any fashion, but they uniquely make use of weapons developed from mining tools including mass compactors and frag borers. Reflex shielding is common and the metallic nodes that support the reflex armour field are often fixed directly into the wearer’s thick hide.
The Freeborn Houses
The Freeborn are great merchants and traders whose fleets maintain a free-flow of commodities and technology across the whole of Antarean space. Freeborn ships travel easily between antagonistic societies such as the Isorian Shard and Panhuman Concord, the Ghar and Algoryn, and so forth.
Although the Freeborn maintain a few hidden worlds as bases and warehouses, they stand aside and apart from other human societies, recognising no masters but the lord of their own household – or Vardo. The Vardo is a vast fleet that plies its trade between a relatively small group of worlds. The ownership of these trade routes is largely hereditary and the source of every Vardo’s wealth. When routes become contested, rival Freeborn will go to war, as happened between the Oszon Mercantile League and Ky’am Freetraders. Feuds between Vardos are deeply felt family affairs and matters of honour that can last for generations. Relationships between the Vardos are complex and are often settled by intermarriage between ruling families; political arrangements made by the rival families.
The Freeborn don’t just deal in commodities and knowledge, they also deal in human services – and most specifically they hire armed troops to anyone willing to pay for them. These mercenary soldiers can be Freeborn retainers, but often they are troops purposefully recruited, trained and equipped by the Freeborn from amongst the more primitive worlds of the Determinate and the Spill. Freeborn have access to all the weapons and armour of Antarean space, but, with an eye to cost and practicality, tend to favour mag guns and reflex shielding as basic equipment. Of course, amongst the ruling family and their close relatives anything goes, from expensively re-sharded Isorian phase armour to compression carbines and all manner of alien exotica.
The Ghar Empire
The Ghar live only for battle and conquest, expending their entire energies on war and enslaving other human species they defeat. This savage race is descended from genetically adapted slave soldiers, though when or why they were created is a mystery and the Ghar themselves have little interest in such matters. They rule over a sizeable empire that borders against the Agoryn Prosperate, with whom they have been at war for many centuries. Neither the Panhuman Concord nor Isorian Shard have ever taken much interest in the Ghar, possibly because Ghar culture is relatively primitive. Ghar worlds are heavily shielded against nano-based technologies. The Ghar themselves are repulsive creatures with hunched torsos, bulging guts and what look to be spindly arms and bow legs – but they are rarely seen out of their huge, armoured battle suits. Though unattractive, their appearance belies a brutish strength and tremendous resilience to damage.
In battle Ghar warriors wear armoured suits that conceal their physical appearance and endow them with great strength and endurance. They will happily use weapons captured from the enemy or produced by slaves in their numerous armaments factories. The Ghar make nothing themselves, but mercilessly exploit their slave labourers to produce whatever they need to pursue their bloody wars. What they cannot make they trade with the few – very few – Freeborn vardo that will deal with them, and even the most profit-minded of the Freeborn prefer to keep such dealings under wraps lest they be shunned by the rest of panhumanity.
Of course, with the coming of the Battle for Xilos, the rest of the panhuman races discover the Ghar are not as cohesive a threat as they thought. Indeed, there is a rebellion led by an Outcast High Commander, Fartok, but a rebel who still wishes to return the Ghar Empire to its true glory. This fight against the manipulative Karg and his loyalist forces has given rise to another faction: the Ghar Outcast Rebels.
The Determinate is the name given to all the advanced independent system-based societies of human space that exist beyond the Panhuman Concord and Isorian Shard. These worlds are not united in any sense, and many, such as the Agoryns and Ghar, are outright enemies. Many of these planets fear they will be swallowed by the ever-expanding Panhuman Concord or Isorian Shard. Thousand of planets have been absorbed in this way: others continue to resist. It is an unceasing war against an uncaring opponent – a foe without hatred or fear –an unfeeling intelligence that recognises neither boundaries nor cultural identities. Many neighbouring worlds of the Determinate work together to fight against either Concord or Isorian forces, to protect their outlying colonies and to destroy scouting fleets.
The spill is the ancient name for the entire Antarean diaspora, the great movement through space of the human race at the dawn of the age of exploration. The spill encompasses all worlds where panhumans live, whether they are currently connected to Antares or not, and regardless of whether they are advanced societies, brutish savages, or even degenerate mutants. The Spill is simply all panhumans everywhere – including those worlds that have been lost or which remain to be rediscovered. Exploring Antarean space to uncover new and lost worlds creates great rivalry, and is one of the chief causes of conflicts between different civilisations.
In Antarean geographic terms, the ‘Spill’ is often used to refer to those worlds connected to the nexus outside of the control of the major shards.
PanHumans are not alone in Antarean space, many worlds are home to unique alien species, and there are numerous alien civilisations spread over many worlds just as there are human federations and empires. Amongst these species are the Vorl. The Vorl compete with the Concord and Isorians to explore new worlds and to build new colonies.
The Vorl are prone to fighting amongst themselves, but occasionally are united under a powerful faction, which then becomes the Vorl Orde and leads a war of conquest against neighbouring human settlements. The Vorl are powerful enough to pose a threat to human ambitions, and they are one of the few alien races that it at least as technically advanced as the Concord and Isorian Shard. Some Freeborn Vardo trade with the Vorl and even hire Vorl warriors as mercenary fighters, although such dealings tend to be conducted in secret.