Meet the Incatena
For what it's worth, it's also the timeline of an earlier attempt at a novel, The Fire Shall Try.
(Why is this timeline the way it is? We’ll get to that over here.)
—Mark Rosenfelder, Jan. 2011
You — The boss — The Incatena
Long lives — Technology — Socionomics — Interstellar travel — The Vee — War — Sex
The local reaches of space — Skweeoo — Dzebyet — Other species
Planets of the Incatena
Why this future?
Interactive exploration of Areopolis
The nearest stars— a resource for sf writers
Your rank is 40 of a possible 60. This is highly respectable; out in the field—that is, on all but the most populous planets— you’ll outrank all other Incatena agents. The Incatena uses you as a special operative to deal with crisis situations.
Between missions you get up to 12 months off, and you have a swanky apartment in Areopolis. It’s really a time-share, for the obvious reason: without faster than light travel, missions take decades. So you don’t have much chance to develop a normal life on Mars. You’re not married, which facilitates reckless on-job romances.
By the calendar you’re nearly four hundred years old, but it’s customary to subtract popsicle time, so you’re really 135. The prime of life, really. You studied at Euko Teknik in the α Centauri system, then at the Incatena Academy in Areopolis.
You speak about twenty languages, have strong analytical and intercultural skills, and are skilled in weapons from the rapier to the laser to the max gun. On good days, you look in the mirror and smile like the beautiful rogue you are.
Among the twenty languages you’ve mastered:
Unreliable rumor has it that the boss was young once. Apparently he was a hotshot; it’s said that he kept the Garcheron from selling the human race to the Fniš, also that he shut down an operation that planned to reboot the local reaches of space using a massive black hole.
In candid moments, like when you’ve just barely saved the Incatena from ruin once again, the boss pours a litte whiskey in his caf and confides that the near-misses are more important than the easy successes. Keeping human prosperity going, that’s certainly a plus. But without well-publicized near-misses, funding for the Agency would dry up.
After the Douane-Novorossiya War, in 2684, the Human Incatena was founded to end interstellar war, and did.
This is not because humanity has gotten so much wiser; it’s because interstellar war is so stupid that it was only tried on a large scale once.
As it is not based on force and deliberations lag events by years or decades, it is a cooperative organization rather than a government. Its chief responsibility is to foster economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation among its members. The Library of Man on Sihor safeguards the cultural patrimony of man, and the Interfleet serves as a police arm.
In the fifth millenium, the extension of human lives has made interstellar travel less lengthy by comparison, and as a result the Incatena has been strengthened as an economic community. Some consider it a dangerous development that financiers have emerged worth trillions of C., controlling properties on a dozen planets.
The Incatena (IPA: ɪŋ 'kæt ən ə) is headquartered in the Incatena Spire in Areopolis, and has branches (with extraterritoriality) on all human planets.
The Interfleet stations one to three ships over each member planet; it’s useful to have police forces not beholden to the local authorities.
The Incatena makes socionomic knowledge available to member planets to foster development and prosperity. During a crisis situation, however, the laws of socionomics don’t apply, and that’s where its crack Diplomatic Agents take over, relying on quick judgment, canny strategy, good looks, and luck.
There’s a wide range of technology dependence. On planets like Luna or Euko, every aspect of existence is under human control, from the length of the day to gravity to the process of reproduction. But there are also planets like Novorossiya or Okura where it’s a value to live closer to nature (for local values of “nature”).
Similarly, attitudes vary on modification of the body. Many feel it appropriate to modify the human body for high-stress environments (extreme cold, vacuum, high radiation), or at least to adapt bodies to fit a particular planet. Others prefer to keep to the ancestral form— though no one thinks twice about having genetic mods to correct their eyesight or cure diseases.
Some key technologies not covered below:
The Incatena now has thousands of years of data on how advanced economies work— a wide range of natural and unnatural experiments on several different economic systems. It’s no longer necessary to guess or moralize when confronted with economic or political problems.
Got a recession? A hated minority group? A backwards nation? Abuse by authoritarians? Lawlessness and warlordism? No, you don’t, because these are technical problems with clear solutions.
On advanced planets, there’s no longer what used to be called politics. For the most part governments are run by experts and AIs. Old political positions like “socialism” or “libertarianism” or “liberal” or “conservative” are as outmoded as bleedings and medical arsenic. Citizens are consulted, of course, but there’s more effective ways of doing this than the 18C idea of voting the head honcho in or out.
The autocratic model is as outmoded for corporations as it is for governments. Companies too are run by experts and AIs, for the benefit of their stakeholders and in consultation with them.
In either sphere, new ideas must be tried in massive simulations first, and if they don’t work in the Vee they won’t be applied in reality. (Are the simulations effective? Bear in mind that much of the economy is the Vee.)
With high energy and stable population, a minimal standard of living is guaranteed. You can do nothing at all and still get shelter, food, medical care, and a Vee account. The idea that you have to work to eat sounds as barbaric as the idea that humans could be property or could be killed at will by kings. Few people would be satisfied with the minimal lifestyle, though— after millennia of high technology, there are a lot of things to aspire to.
Are all economies the same? No; several equilibrium points have been found, e.g.:
Money is expressed in credits— which are a useful fiction. Items don’t have prices, they have pricing algorithms with subsmart discounting strategies, and your credit balance is just as complicated. And behind both are currencies that operate at the city or habitat level. But it all reduces to a particular number at the time of purchase, which you can accept or turn down.
New colonies may forget some of their socionomics too. It’s not the Wild West, but some of the luxuries and freedoms of the central worlds may not be available. Till those million-km2 solar arrays are built, for instance, energy may be expensive, with the possibilities for inequitable distribution that implies.
If you’re a control freak, you probably gravitate to the colonies. It’s easier to tell people what to do when resources are limited.
They’re capable of speeds up to .95c, a speed at which relativistic effects become noticeable. For instance, a trip that appears to take 10 years to an outside observer takes only 1.6 years for the passenger, disregarding acceleration.
This is long enough, and as sensory deprivation is the kind term for the level of excitement on a long space journey, people usually ride in suspended animation (and to save mass, 60% of their body weight is removed, and regrown as they approach their destination). Even the crew sleeps most of the way, leaving the not very onerous tasks of mid-trip navigation to mecs.
Neither humans nor anyone else can travel or communicate faster than light, which means that star systems are fairly isolated. Only the lengthening of human lifetimes into the thousand-year span has allowed interstellar travel to be anything more than a curiosity.
Among the actual goods transported are DNA, seeds, AI cores, and luxury materials such as wood veneer or leather. Other goods, like uranium, are valuable enough to trade but cannot be legally shipped, so as not to deplete the ecosphere.
The vast bulk of trade is information. This includes mail, news, books, databases, Vee scenes, games, music, holos, stocks, loans and other forms of money, insurance, fashion diagrams, nanodupe blueprints, and software. Patents and franchises are heavily traded: it’s a lot easier to send an idea for a new invention or retail chain to Sirius than to ship the physical goods.
The other major category of items shipped is in fact rather bulky: people. There is a sufficient number of colonists, emigrants, transferred officials or executives, Incatena Agents, traders, pilgrims, students, exiles, and other travellers that almost all interstellar ships take passengers.
Most people have neurimplants to interface with photonic devices, including the Vee; this means you don’t need keyboards or controllers to access appliances, access pads, vendors, and datanodes. Things can be controlled with mental or physical gestures or both. Most also have neurimplants that provide calendars, calcuation help, memory aids, and other basic computing.
You still need a datanode to generate holographic displays and have some local processing power. SimGalaxy runs really crappily on your typical neurimplant.
To fully experience the Vee you need to enter the virtual world, though an inducer that overrides your visual and auditory cortex. You don’t have a “web page” any more; you have an interactive 3-D “scene”, or perhaps an interactive 3-D “under construction banner”.
Music nodes are appliances specialized for music, integrated into a building’s architecture— standards are high, and your ears would wince if you had to listen to music generated by your datanode’s speakers. The tempo and style of music is as easily adjusted as its volume. Songs can be downloaded from the Vee, but often they’re transmitted through music dots, transportable single-song storage devices.
What about DRM and other nightmares of the 21C? This is an old solved problem. It’s accepted that data costs money— just not very much money. Packets come with metadata including payment instructions.
A planet can never be completely controlled from outsystem. Even if the logistics could be overcome, the diversion of resources from the would-be conqueror’s system would be insane.
But war has not disappeared from human experience. It is now seen as a stage in most colonies’ evolution. Most planets do reach an equilibrium state in which wars are few; even after this, nations may retain an army. It is not wise to forget how to fight; madmen and unattractive aliens do exist, and small, rich nations which have disarmed might offer too much of a temptation to their neighbors.
Most planets follow the Sihor Convention, which restricts the kinds of technology allowed in war to those that do not permanently threaten the ecosphere. Some of the banned weapons are extremely compact, which is probably what gives the Convention teeth. Even if a general could be sure that the enemy nation was completely destroyed, a few survivors, or even a mec, could still effect an almost equally effective counter-devastation.
Of course you’ll need to have the evil modern world make you one, but a large enough group can certainly afford the price (a few tens of thousands working for a century can generate a lot of credits). Hidden mecs will do most of the maintenance, and solar arrays allow it to be entirely self-contained.
Quite a few religious groups have their own habitats, frozen at different levels of tech, and with varying attitudes toward the outside universe. (Some allow free travel; some send only a few trusted acolytes outside to work; some are entirely cut off.)
There are secular retrohabitats too, either because some people just like a particular tech level, or want to live in a game world full time, or because they reject some aspect of socionomics and hope to live in defiance of it.
Often it all ends in tears, or more likely in life support collapse. You can live without mecs or sex changes or the Vee or atheism or whatever other bit of modernity you despise, but that doesn’t mean your alternative vision will actually keep a hundred or a hundred thousand people happy indefinitely.
Long lives give people patience and a long term view— but very few people can stay with one partner for more than a century. On Mars, for instance, among those who incline to long-term relationships, these last for forty to a hundred years. Then the partners separate and make radical genofixes, often changing sex.
Others choose to change virtually at will. The process takes about a month to complete— though it can be hurried up if you’re willing to graft on vat-grown organs.
It’s sometimes said that humanity has been feminized. Certainly the alpha primate traits that were once highly prized by society— physical size and strength, aggression, high competitiveness, a sense of superiority, a refusal to ask for directions— are now nearly useless, or negative. (Where physical strength is needed, you don’t need a male; better to use a mec ten times stronger than a man. And of course you can genofix a woman to be taller and stronger.) Another way of putting it is that civilization has become way more nerdy.
Body mods don’t stop at sex changes, of course. You can design your own new sex if you like: mixed sex characteristics, extra penises or vaginas, tentacles, fur, tails, lengthened orgasms, built-in vibrators or restraints, neurimplants that allow sex in the Vee. Use your imagination, then assume the reality is ten times dirtier.
What about childbirth? Many women— using the term for anyone who currently has a womb, whatever their other body parts— do it the old-fashioned way, but it’s more common to carry the fetus for about three months, then have a mechawomb take over.
On mature planets like Mars, the birth rate is stable, meaning you’re likely to have two children max over your thousand-year life. The rate can be higher in the colonies.
As an Agent— like others who must deal with multiple cultures— you must internalize a tricky variety of doublethink. You belong to some particular culture, and at the same time have to approach crises in far-flung planets with some sort of universal values— the limited consensus taught at the Incatena Academy.
Paradoxically, perhaps, this double consciousness has given people more confidence in their local beliefs, for who is to say they’re wrong? Many believe that the universe was created by some supreme god, whether for purposes of worship (as with many humans, or the Dzebyet) or to have someone to blame the whole thing on (as with the Quelg).
No species can attain mastery of its own planet without developing a sustainable economy (interstellar colonization is never feasible as an outlet for population problems), a healthy respect for ecology, and a skeptical mastery of technology.
Although some planets seem to work quite well, there is no Utopia— tyranny and democracy, love and hate, war and peace, riches and poverty, wisdom and foolishness, are all to be found in the worlds of the Incatena.
In many cases, misery has been redefined upward. A poor person is never homeless or starving; but may pathetically lack a datanode (and thus access to the majority of economic and cultural life), to say nothing of volants, genofixes, nanodupes, neurimplants, and much more.
Someone is always worrying that today’s citizens are unaggressive, spoiled, prone to toys and strange perversions and stranger religions, suckers for retro fantasies on the Vee or in meatspace. Well, in the central worlds, you’d better not critize those things; they’re a huge part of the economy. But if you need more backbone or aggression, you just apply the right neurimplant; and if society as a whole seems to be veering onto a dangerous course, some applied socionomics usually does the trick.
But something went wrong. Economic doldrums began in the early 21C, and though there were brief recoveries, the advanced nations were hit hard by a double catastrophe— the end of easily exploitable oil, and global warming caused largely by carbon pollution.
There were ideas to address these crises, but, bafflingly, the politics in advanced nations were dominated by reactionary movements which denied that the problems even existed. When they began to lead to war, economic crashes, and ecological devastation, the same movements found new scapegoats and became increasingly heavy-handed. At the end of the century the leading nations, the US and China, were under reactionary right-wing dictatorships.
Civilization didn’t end, but there was a deep depression for decades, punctuated by wars fought over the last of the oil. In the southern nations, the “Third World”, there were devastating famines and wars as the support system for too-high populations crashed.
These nations were not strong enough to dominate the world, but they gave it a much less Western feeling, and boosted languages like Spanish, Portuguese, and Swahili. In ideology they were influenced by the Armonista movement in Brazil, the first major swing of the pendulum from extreme individualism back to a workable form of communitarianism.
In the 22C the dictatorships in the US and China ended, and the pace of recovery picked up. There was something of an economic boom feeding on the Collapse itself: there was so much to clean up that new inventions and new ideas were needed: solar and fusion power for energy, pollution mining, the beginnings of terraforming in order to reverse the effects of global warming.
Some permanent lessons were learned from the Collapse. Reactionary ideologies were, for a time, as discredited as fascism and communism. People were eager for practical benefits, for renewable energy, for denser settlements and a greater sense of community.
Religions sought to distance themselves from the reactionary movements they had supported. Amid the ferment of ideas, a sect of Evangelical Christians and some moderate Muslims explored common ground and created a unified theology. They were known as Tunisians, after the city where they held their first council. At first they were a minority, but they were aggressive proselytizers and grew into a powerful religion over the next thousand years— less so on Earth than in the rest of the Incatena.
The Douane was formed in this era as a customs union in Africa. The original customs zone emerged as a nation in its own right, Afrika ya Mashariki, even as the Douane per se continued to add members.
In the 24C the Douane included the Americas and Southeast Asia and was beginning to accumulate other functions; by the middle of the next century it included almost all nations on Earth, plus the space colonies (bar Luna).
At this stage, climbing in and out of gravity wells was expensive. Much was done from orbit instead, and this led to expertise in space habitats. By the 25C the first planet-sized solar arrays were in place, bringing back the era of cheap energy.
This led to more breakthroughs: human-level AIs, mecs, genofixing, neurimplants, photonics, gas giant and asteroid mining, and suspended animation.
In 2614 Novorossiya declared itself independent from the Douane. This might have been received better if it didn’t also seize the Douane’s insystem assets. The Douane sent a fleet of ten .4c slowships, which reached α Centauri in 2629.
Of course Novorossiya had had fifteen years to prepare. To make the most of its logistic advantage, it concentrated on numbers— it had more than two hundred ships, though the Douane had the edge in firepower. As a result the Douane bombarded the planet and caused enormous damage, but lost half its fleet in the first day of fighting.
The Douane’s commanders immediately realized that they couldn’t win the war. Reinforcements were due in two years, but nothing after that— the two fleets were all or more than the solar system could afford.
Euko was neutral at this time, so the best strategy was simply to hide till the reinforcements arrived. This was done successfully by withdrawing to the outer planets.
Hostilities recommenced in 2631, and this time the Douane fleet was allied with Euko. Interplanetary war is only slightly less stupid than interstellar. Space is empty, so ships are easy to spot and intercept; but you can keep building them. Some might get through.
After a few years it was evident that the superior strategy was to sit tight and let the other party waste its resources. From 2637 to 2646 the war continued without a single battle. Just two Douane ships were still flying. In 2647 there was a brief flurry of attacks followed by a cease-fire.
War parties were discredited among all three combattants, but a final peace treaty wasn’t signed till 2681, in the Melbourne Habitat orbiting Titan. The negotiators then kept going to hammer out the Incatena Treaty which placed a fig leaf of unity over the expanding human sphere.
First contact occured in the 29C in the π3 Orionis system: a probe found evidence of civilization. A set of three quickships was sent, making contact with the Skweeoo.
The Dzebyet were discovered in the 34C, under the somewhat embarrassing circumstances of landing a colony ship on Okura. Probes had not noticed Dzebyet settlement on the next planet in, Orindzai— it turns out, because the Dzebyet had not wanted them to. Fortunately they didn’t object to the human colony.
Technological developments include the invention of the Tajima energy screen, superhuman AIs, nanodupicators, synthetic oil, and advanced terraforming. Lifetimes now reached 250 years, with a corresponding revolution in human society.
More alarmingly, on consulting other aliens, it was found that galactic opinion, such as it was, favored the Garcheron. It turns out that young intelligent species are expected to expand for a bit, then settle down.
There was a good deal of fuss over this, but in fact it reinforced a growing feeling within the Incatena. Colonization was not really a profitable endeavor; it was more of a grand gesture. Sol’s interest in colonizing stars 30 light years out was nearly nil; the second wave of colonization (e.g. Okura, Maraille, and Matchlight) was engineered by earlier colonies closer to them. The Incatena settled down at fifty-odd planets.
Technological progress continued: gravity control, volants, socionomics, antimatter generation, biological nanoduplication, brains in vats.
By the 50C lives in the most prosperous worlds had reached 1000 years.
The speed of quickships imposes practical limits on colonization and trade; human settlement falls within a sphere of 50 light years radius centered on Sol. This sphere contains well over a thousand stars, most of which are uninteresting red dwarfs. Sol is within the top tenth in terms of luminosity.
The sphere also contains more than a hundred planets at least as habitable as Mars. Of course, some have already been taken. It includes systems belonging to the highly advanced Dzebyet, the rational, curious Skweeoo, the Garcheron trading races, the slow-living Perzicchi, and primitive species, the Hunters and the Daqēi. There’s also species like the Quelg and the Ogorodé who for very different reasons don’t own any planets.
Most of their sounds are supersonic; what we can hear has been described as “like scraping rubber against dry glass.” Their language, and their culture, is highly rational; they are a nation of scientists, much smarter than man.
Skweeoo bodies are, technically, colonies of microorganisms, and can last for thousands of years; their memories extend long but hazily into the past. Their component organisms include a mixture of plants and animals; they are able to sustain themselves by sunlight alone, but are lethargic in this state. Some of their component organisms retain independent motility and are used as probes and sensors.
They have three sexes, and always live in triads. However, their reproduction is at the cell level. Each partner has a fraction of their cells divide off; the material is then combined, genes are exchanged, and the lump organizes as a new individual. The sexes are determined by what type of cells they contribute: plant, sessile, or motile.
The Skweeoo were the first alien species humans encountered— in the 29C a probe discovered a scientific outpost of theirs in the π3 Orionis system, 26 light years from Earth. This was not only a dramatic event for humanity but a religious crisis, as the Skweeoo are all atheists. Many religions which had weathered the Collapse were troubled by the idea that God has simply ignored a huge population of intelligent beings, especially as it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm.
They have settled twenty systems, including four within 50 light years of Sol: ζ1 Reticuli, ζ2 Reticuli, Gliese 1279, and β Hydri. It was in the 34C, while colonizing Okura in this latter system, that the Dzebyet were encountered... our second alien species.
The Dzebyet are small and wiry, looking something like “blue little monkeys,” as an early explorer so tactfully put it. Like ourselves, they are warm-blooded, social, omnivorous, usually monogamous, and prefer G stars. They have two sets of vocal cords; as a consequence humans cannot speak Dzebyet languages, in which one must produce two sounds at once, without special augmentation.
The Dzebyet have just one religion; they explain that after 100,000 years you find out what’s right. They worship something called “the Four”, and explain that there is no faith involved— it’s all science. All this unsettled humans as much as Skweeoo atheism had.
The many admirable features of their society are sometimes claimed to derive from the fact the Dzebyet females bear eggs, and the males hatch them; the sexes thus depend on each other at different times in the life cycle.
They get along well with humans, so long as we behave deferentially, and avoid physical contact. They strike humans as a bit chaotic and hyperactive, and they’re not above pulling pranks on us.