Friday, September 11, 2020

Terra and the Humans

Earth suffered the most of any world in the Fall, as its density of both technology and population made the disaster much worse. For all that it was, and still is, the most habitable world with the largest carrying capacity and oldest, most complex biosphere, it is much reduced from its glory days. It has been long enough after the Fall that many ecosystems and biomes have recovered, and in the absence of cities and godtech megastructures, even returned to pre-Industrial levels.

However, many will tell you that Earth, now called Terra, is the most dangerous world.

The Fall, whatever it was, made tech go haywire. Godtech and its lesser nanoware cousins went rogue, destroying and mutating their surroundings before self-destructing. As a result, there are biomes and species on Terra that are decidedly not natural, though they have their own logic. Moreover, the occasional artefact still twitches to life, causing trouble for anything nearby. And then there are those that never shut down, who keep distorting flesh and stone around them to this day.

Some of the most feared places are the Softlands. Travelling through Softlands quickly is relatively safe, if unsettling. Flora, fauna, and even geography in Softlands is spongy to the touch, with longer exposure causing greater effect. Water becomes gellid, trees droop, and bones flop. The core of a Softland is a monotonous gel, all matter reduced to the consistency of a pudding. 

Softlands are the result of runaway disassembler tech, which break down matter into an intermediary gel for nanoware assemblers to easily restructure. Malfunctioning, the dissemblers start by removing structural molecules, degrading substance into weaker and weaker versions. For all this, animals and plants are common in Softlands, the essentially pre-digested soil and prey resulting in cycles of booms and die-offs. Disease is unheard of, with viruses and bacteria far more affected by the nanoware than larger organisms. For the unlucky people and animals that are affected enough by the Softlands to have major problems such as organ degradation, bendy bones, or their skin falling off, staying in the Softlands is the only option to avoid death. 

Some people tell stories of softghouls, those too lost to do anything more than groan and shuffle, reaching out with skinless, melted hands and faces with flaccid teeth. As physically threatening as an inside-out child and twice as unsettling, softghouls resort to guerilla tactics, sabotaging and delaying travellers enough that they too soon have no choice but to stay. Forever.

Staying away from the Softlands, and the other disotred biomes like them, is essential.

For humans, the safest locations are near fragments of godtech that aren’t completely destroyed or corrupted. Valiantly striving to repair or protect, running arcane security protocols or creating protective fields, these relics have safe zones around them, usually big enough for a decent-sized town. And over time, that’s exactly what arises.

Modern humanity lives mostly in what are colloquially called “shard-holts”: villages and towns with a fragment of godtech at their centre. These vary in appearance, and the village usually takes its name from them. Blackpool might have a strange pool of black oil at its centre that moves away from attempts to touch it. Lady’s Favour might have a broken hologram of a beautiful woman looping. By far the most common however are crystalline shards of various colours a dozen meters tall or more, sunk in the ground as though fallen from a great height. These are where the name “shard-holt” comes from, and might have names like Shardton, Splinter, Greenglass, or others. 

The culture, architecture, and cuisine of a shard-holt is rarely similar to its neighbours. Indeed, neighbours is a fraught term, as a shard-holt may be able to see another town that they cannot reach due to impassably dangerous terrain, but have strong trading connections with a village on another continent or planet. Terra seems to have been the nexus for the Gate system in the old days, and so shard-holts may have strong elven, dwarven, halfing , or drakuu influences. The engels and devils are more rarely seen, as their homes are smaller sub-systems linked to less frequently by Terran Gates.

The humanity within the shard-holts is much more varied than outsiders might think. In truth, “human” simply refers to a rather large group of variant beings whose common factor is that they can produce children together. Dwarves, elves, drakuu, engels, devils, and halflings are far too different to breed with humans, but long years of genetic engineering before the Fall, mutating nanoware, and genetic drift have resulted in an astounding array of features. Some humans have horns or tails, blue skin or green. Some are massively tall, others diminutively short. Some might have extra limbs, or digitigrade legs. “Pure” humans, those close to the base stock of antiquity, are vanishingly rare, and those who might loftily claim such purity will often have a surprise in their family tree somewhere.

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