Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sphere: Cities of the Jinn

Sphere: The Jinn

"I can appreciate their scientific accomplishments. No other culture in the Sphere comes close to their mastery of the biological sciences, not even my own. What I find objectionable about them is how they use that expertise."
- Chilaili Ja-Verge, Flawless Mercenary

"Our encounters with the Jinn have been . . . problematic. We do not think they see us as a people, but, rather, as a work of art. For us, interaction with them can be dehumanizing."
- Verrina Seinaldos, Zarran scholar

"They have the potential to be so much more than they are, if only they will put aside their ridiculous sentimentality."
- Krejci Bo 2.4, Herman trader

"I dated a Jinn once. She was a lot of fun and I thought we had something special, but then I found out she was dating other people. It wouldn't have been so bad, if one of them hadn't been my sister."
- Bit Kwyndahm, Wanderer

"Other cultures treat us as if we are vapid, empty-headed children. We are not. We are simply a people who enjoy the pleasures that surround us, the pleasures we have earned. If that means changing ourselves to better embrace those pleasures, to embrace what the universe can offer, why not?"
- Temple Avisaid, Jinn bio-mancer

The Jinn are the largest, most biologically diverse culture within the Sphere. Although the bulk of the race lives on Venus, representatives of the Jinn can be found almost everywhere in the Sphere. Including some places that you would never expect to encounter them.
Friendly and gregarious, the Jinn are one of the most open cultures within the Sphere. Although famous for their mastery of the biological sciences, they are almost as well-known for their pleasure centers. Thousands of people flock to Jinn resorts to relax, revitalize themselves and indulge in their carnal appetites. A popular saying in the Sphere is, "Where there's Jinn, there's a party."
Although more conservative cultures consider them morally questionable, the majority of the Jinn adhere to a strict ethical code. They abhor violence and will not use their skills on anyone below a legal age of majority, even if the parents/guardians give permission. The Jinn believe that only the individual has the right to alter themselves.
As noted, the Jinn are masters of the biological sciences. Their medical skills are second to none, their ability to manipulate the human genome is legendary, and they routinely use these skills to alter themselves and others.  Altering ones gender is nothing to a Jinn, it's practically child's play for their bio-mancers. It is far more interesting to change one's DNA, to sport prehensile hair or skin with bio-luminescent qualities. More practical changes are also possible, with some Jinn possessing superhuman strength, enhanced senses or amazing regenerative abilities.
As evidence of their ability, the Jinn terraformed Venus, transforming it into a fecund paradise where it is possible for humans to survive without life support gear. They have created a ragtag biosphere full of wondrous, impossible creatures (both animal and vegetable). New species do not so much evolve on Venus as simply appear, released into the wild by Jinn bio-mancers.
The Jinn themselves live in beautiful domed cities. They live in large, extended families where polygamy and polyamory are common practices. A Jinn child will grow up with a dozen sibling-cousins, not to mention foster-siblings and various 'aunties' and 'uncles' who share no biological connection to them, but are members of the extended family group. Visitors to a Jinn home can expect a warm welcome, which will include being swarmed by children of various ages.
When a Jinn child reaches their age of majority, they are allowed to alter their bodies as they see fit.  Some indulge minor cosmetic whims, altering pigmentation of hair, eyes and skin, while others embrace more radical transformations, implanting gills or having their bodies adjusted for a zero-g environment.  Eventually this phase in their development will come to an end and most Jinn choose a standard form with minor superficial differences to showcase their individuality. Of course, there are fashions among the Jinn, and right now the trend is for white hair, a modified nasal cavity and brow-antennae that improve spatial awareness.
Jinn live long lives. They fully embrace longevity enhancements and it isn't odd to encounter Jinn who are into their second and third centuries. Eventually, though, even the Jinn's biological expertise reaches its limit and they succumb to death.
As noted above, the Jinn get along well with most of the Sphere's races. They admire the Flawless' desire for perfection and the free-wheeling individuality of the Wanderers. They are fascinated by the Zarrans, whom they inevitably compare to their own creations, much to Zarran exasperation. The Jinn are one of the few races to find the Hermans intriguing, viewing them as a kind of dark reflection of themselves. Interestingly enough, the Jinn have even established relationships with some of the Wardens who preserve the integrity of the Sphere itself.  More than one offworlder has been shocked to witness a Jinn and a Warden enjoying a pleasant conversation as they stroll down the avenue of a domed city.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sphere: The Ministry of Population

The Ministry of Population is one of the oldest and most revered organizations in the Sphere. Started millennia ago, the Ministry's purpose is simple: to ensure the survival of the human race.  They accomplish this goal through the continual creation of human infants.
Although the Ministry has administrative offices in most nations, the bulk of their operations occur in space, on their gigantic nursery-ships. These ships are provided with the most advanced defensive systems that money can buy, to better protect their precious cargo: human infants.  Nurseries are jam-packed with exo-wombs and gene-labs where infants are produced in large numbers. Most of these infants are transported to the various nations and cultures that use the Ministry to ensure their population numbers. However, not all the infants generated aboard Nurseries are earmarked for other nations; the Ministry always produces more children than requested. These surplus infants are placed in cryo-stasis and stored in fortified bunkers, scattered throughout the Sphere, as insurance against a Sphere-wide calamity.

Members of the Ministry of Population

It should be noted that the Ministry does not work for individuals. Rather, they contract with nation-states and planetary cultures. They have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the Flawless, providing them with children in exchange for various goods and services. To a lesser degree, they provide their services to some Jinn communities, where radiation damage is a concern to reproduction.  They have no business dealings with the Hermans, as they do not reproduce in a biological fashion. The Zarrans do not use the Ministry's services either, preferring to produce children the old-fashioned way.  Some Wanderer communes use the Ministry to maintain their numbers, but most prefer to follow the Zarran example.
The Ministry of Population is viewed with almost religious reverence by the Sphere. They have maintained cultures and nations that would have died out centuries ago if not for their assistance. The Ministry does not ask for payment, although donations of goods, expertise or materials are happily accepted.  They also do not pass judgement on their clients; the Ministry will provide infants to anyone, regardless of perceived moral or philosophic faults. That said, they do not provide infants to groups if they believe the infants will be killed.  That would contravene the Ministry's population goals.
The Ministry of Population is recognized as a sovereign state by most of the Sphere. Its citizens/employees are easily recognized by their distinctive garb, and can usually walk without fear through some of the most dangerous cities in the Sphere.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sphere: Crucible

Crucible is the name of the vast Flawless city beneath the surface of Mercury. It has many districts and neighborhoods, most of them bathed in the slightly orange, everpresent light generated by the city itself.
Below are some images of the city:

Sphere: The Flawless

"People have the wrong idea about us. We do not believe that we are perfect beings. We know this. We are imperfect beings who strive for perfection. We are all flawed, but we strive to become flawless. It is not what we are, but what we wish to become."
 - Chilaili Ja-Verge, Flawless mercenary

"They are arrogant, but there is some degree of justification to their arrogance."
 - Verrina Seinaldos, Zarran scholar

"They aren't much fun at parties. At least, not at mine."
- Temple Avisaid, Jinn bio-mancer

"I don't trust them."
 - Krejci Bo 2.4, Herman trader

"I heard a rumor they're trying to build a weapon, to kill the Singularity."
- Bit Kwyndahm, Wanderer

The Flawless come from the innermost planet, Mercury. There, they live in a subterranean metropolis known as Crucible.
Biologically, the Flawless bear a superficial resemblance to one another. Dark skin is common, as are black eyes. All Flawless are the same height, exactly 5'10" tall. Weight varies, although very few Flawless have extraneous body fat.  They achieve physical maturity at fifteen years and begin to show signs of age around their centennial. Without life-extension treatments, the Flawless can live to about 140 years. Life-extension is uncommon among the Flawless.
The Flawless do not reproduce in a traditional manner. Their females do not bear live young. Rather, the Flawless contribute genetic material to the Ministry of Population, which produces children using exo-genic wombs.
Flawless begin their lives in the exo-genic wombs. When they are decanted at ten months they are raised in communal creches. Flawless never know their biological parents. They begin schooling at three years and through a series of tests are advanced into the professions for which they are best suited.
At fifteen, Flawless undergo their adulthood ritual. They adopt a new name and petition to join a Company. When they are accepted, they begin to grow their hair, coloring it to reflect their alleigance to their Company. They also take great pains to display their Company symbol, either through body-art or on their apparel. This display shows their loyalty to their Company and reenforces the group identity and their place in it.
The Company becomes the foundation of Flawless society. It serves not just as employer, but as mentor and family. Flawless seldom leave their chosen Company and those that do are never viewed as completely trustworthy in the culture.
Rarely, Flawless do not join a Company. The reasons can vary from personal choice to poor performance in creche-assessments. These individuals, referred to as unincorporated, often leave Crucible. Flawless do not trust the unincorporated and a common axiom among them is, "I would trust a Herman before an unincorporated."
The Flawless strive for perfection, on a personal and social level. There is a great deal of societal pressure among them to strive to be the best they can be. Individuals who don't appear to be living up to their potential can find themselves being socially rejected until they make greater efforts to improve themselves.
Despite their cultural obsession with perfection, the Flawless do not embrace voluntary individual enhancements, either biological or technological. Cyborgs exist among the Flawless, but they are usually the victims of accidents or violence. Someone enhancing themselves voluntarily, to achieve perfection, would be viewed, at best, as lazy and, at worst, as a cheat.
Although the common perception of the Flawless is that they are a militant culture, based largely on the fact that they are best known for producing weapons and mercenaries-for-hire, this is not accurate. The Flawless produce passionate artists, brilliant craftsmen and devout scientists.
The one profession that the Flawless lack is a priesthood. Spiritually, the Flawless have not retained any of the Ancient faiths, nor have they embraced any of the current philosophies. Singularity cults find few converts among the Flawless. They could best be described as pessimistic agnostics; they don't deny the existence of a supreme being, but they have serious doubts about it.
The Flawless get along well with most of the other races in the Sphere. They admire the Jinn's mastery of the biological sciences, even if they don't approve of how they use their expertise. The Zarrans make good trading partners, but their spirituality leaves the Flawless befuddled. Similarly, the Wanderers often leave the Flawless scratching their heads in confusion. The Hermans are the one race the Flawless actively dislike; despite their technical expertise, the very nature of the Hermans offends the Flawless. They view them as untrustworthy cheats.  As far as the Wardens are concerned, the Flawless are largely neutral toward them. They have little contact with the aliens, although some Flawless scientists would like to study them more intimately.