The Confederation of Swarms
The Confederation of Swarms is an inter-continental alliance of oizys swarm-states that emerged from the last round of habitat wars. It is the most powerful political entity on Phorcys, a global resource bloc controlling the most habitable and densely populated regions of the entire planet, from the mineral-rich magma flats of the Eastern Isthmus to the fecund carrion-swamps of the West.
Phorcys is sparsely populated, a harsh and geologically unstable world where the ruins of collapsed civilisations far outnumber the scattered settlements of the living. But by pooling their resources and technology, the Confederal swarms have been able to endure the hellish environment like no oizys nation before them. Together the fourteen underground habitat-networks that make up the Confederation are home to more than two thirds of the entire global population.
Endurance comes at a cost. For all but the elite, life in the Confederation is brutal, thankless, and short. Rationing is strict, discipline severe, and the authority of the leadership absolute - but whatever the cost to the individual, the species lives on.
The swarms may belong to many different cultures and speak many languages, but their ruling castes are united by the common understanding that the demands of survival on Phorcys are steep - and only through strength, discipline, and unity of purpose can their race ensure its continued survival. Phorcys is cruel, and the Confederation must be crueler to master it.
Phorcys orbits Pandyssia, a young red dwarf with a volatile magnetosphere, prone to immense flares that can more than double the star's luminosity. It would appear an unlikely candidate for a life-bearing system, particularly as its worlds orbit in such close proximity to their hostile star. Pandyssia's flares bathe the planets of its narrow habitable zone in deadly radiation, and tidal forces cause severe geological instability.
Nyx, the first planet of the system, lies only 0.08 AU from Pandyssia, completing an orbit in only 12 days. At some distant point in its history this tidally-locked chthonian world was a massive gas giant, but it formed too close to the system's heart. Pandyssia's flares stripped away its gaseous atmosphere millions of years ago, leaving only a dense rocky core, barren and lifeless.
Hemera, the second planet from Pandyssia, is in the process of following a similar fate. At a distance of 0.21 AU this large, high-gravity terrestrial world clings tenaciously to a thinning atmosphere of hydrogen and carbon dioxide, but eventually, and inevitably, all that will remain will be a tenuous exosphere of charged particles, kicked up by the ravage's of Pandyssia's flares. Deep oceans once covered the daylit side of this tidally-locked world, but now there are only shallow, shrinking seas scattered across the planet's twilight zone. Within a few hundred thousand years, Hemera will be an airless rock like Nyx.
Cronus, the third planet, is a massive terrestrial world with a diameter over three times that of earth. Orbiting 0.34 AU from Pandyssia it is the first world of the system that is not tidally-locked and has retained a stable atmosphere, but it lies outside the star's conventional habitable zone. There are small seas of liquid water, but temperatures on the planet are little above freezing, reaching at most a few degrees at the equator. There is no life on its barren wastes, though there is evidence that microbial biology might be found beneath the surface, where it would be shielded from the baleful radiation of Pandyssia.
Phorcys is the fourth planet from Pandyssia, orbiting at 0.37 AU. Despite its dense greenhouse atmosphere (which provides marginal protection from radiation and high surface temperatures even outside of the habitable zone), Phorcys is perhaps the most inhospitable world of the outer system, and that life emerged on this hellish planet is often said to have been a sadistic cosmic joke. Phorcys is perpetually shrouded by a thick, corrosive atmosphere of chlorine, sulphur, hydrogen chloride and carbon dioxide. The burning, toxic air boils with acid rain, surges with cyclones and sandstorms. The tectonic instability induced by proximity to Pandyssia - and proximity with vast Cronus during the brief period their orbits approach each other - causes constant earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, further blotting out what dim light makes it through the cloud-cover. Close to its star, Phorcys travels at such orbital speeds that even outside threats such as comet impacts are more devastating, igniting firestorms that ravage continents. Yet for all of this, this is the swarmworld, the home of the oizys race, and every aspect of their physiology and psychology is shaped by the sheer struggle of surviving on it. Millions of years of perilous near-extinction has forged them, like all life on Phorcys, into the ultimate survivors.
Thetis, the last world of the system, is the smallest of Pandyssia's planets, a frigid terrestrial world comparable in size to Earth. It is is even at a similar distance to Pandyssia, orbiting at 0.73 AU with a 22 hour day and a year 278 days long. Under the light of a kinder star, perhaps the deep oceans of Thetis and not the acidic seas of Phorcys would have given rise to life, and a kinder intelligence would have emerged from Pandyssia than that of the oizys. But the icy waters and frozen archipelagos of Thetis are lifeless.
'Confederation of Swarms' in Glyphic, also translated as 'future' or 'dawn'
The Confederation of Swarms is a young polity, barely fifty years old, but it is part of a long and cyclical racial history. Ever since the first nomadic kin-swarms banded together on the equatorial flats, almost thirty thousand years ago, oizys civilisations have struggled to survive on Phorcys, trapped in a fatalistic cycle of rise and apocalyptic fall. The oizys advance through the ages, reaching various levels of technological sophistication, until environmental catastrophe inevitably thrusts them back into neolithic primitivism and near-extinction, and the cycle begins again. The oizys might remain trapped in this cycle until the dying biosphere of Phorcys finally collapses. Their race might eventually die along with their world. But the Confederation of Swarms represents a technological peak that has never before been reached in their history, and its leadership castes are determined to ensure the survival of their species once and for all.
The Confederation's origins can be traced to an impromptu military pact during the Habitat Wars, roughly seventy years ago, a world-spanning conflict over Phorcys’ diminishing regions of cultivatable land. It was a period of ecological catastrophe, a succession of stellar flares and volcanic eruptions having eradicated all life across swathes of the northern hemisphere. Atmospheric chlorine levels dropped without enough plant-life and microbes to maintain them, to the point that the oizys were no longer able to breathe their own air. Entire populations were forced to abandon the ravaged surface for underground tunnel-networks where famine and disease were rampant. Across Phorcys the swarms went to war, fighting over the fecund equatorial swamplands where agriculture remained possible. The swarm-states that today make up the Confederation were a newly-formed alliance of coastal powers that looked to preserve their naval dominance in the Meridian sea, and through this combined dominance they emerged as one of the ultimate victors of the wars, seizing vast swathes of invaluable land.
As the global population plummeted and the conflict wound down, it was expected that the alliance would inevitably disintegrate into infighting, as so many had before. But none had predicted the history-defining day that an innocuous Alliance probe, meant for testing chlorine levels at different atmospheric strata, would return starkly anomalous readings. A programming error had caused it to ascend far higher than intended, its instruments recording the bizarre properties of unknown strata before it was destroyed by higher radiation levels. What shocked the scientists of Phorcys was that at these heights the atmosphere appeared to be dissipating. It had always been believed that the sky was endless - the atmosphere of Phorcys is so thick that no oizys had ever seen the planets or the stars. That there might be something else beyond Phorcys was a revelation. More probes followed, designed to endure higher levels of radiation and plumb the undiscovered heights. And so the oizys realised for the first time in their history that they were not trapped on their hellish world, that there was in fact an entire cosmos awaiting the arrival of the swarms.
The Confederal Calendar starts 65 years ago, on the date the first probe breached the upper atmosphere and reached orbit. Because it was the drive to secure a space-faring future for the swarms that truly united the disparate states of the Alliance, and compelled the formation of the Confederation. The swarms could no longer afford to fight each other over scraps of swampland when the possibility of an eternal future among the stars hung tantalisingly overhead.
Now after decades of unmanned probes, rovers and autonomous research stations, work has finally begun on prototype orbital habitats, and plans have even been proposed to the Confederal Consensus for the colonisation of Tethys and Mnemosyne, the largest moons of Cronus.
Government and Society
The fourteen habitat-networks that constitute the Confederation were once separate swarm-states, and they retain distinct systems of rule, social hierarchies, cultural practices and languages. For the purposes of understanding the geopolitics of the Confederation they can be broadly grouped into 4 politco-cultural blocs.
The agri-states of the Western Isthmus are slaver oligarchies, where the powerful, competing kin-leagues that dominate the slave trade together form de facto governments, each habitat a tumultuous confederation in its own right within the Confederation. The majority of the population are slaves exacted as tribute from neighbouring non-confederal swarms, existing within a complex tiered system of slavery where privileges and protections are earned incrementally as reward or deducted as punishment. The lowest menial tiers have their ovipositors castrated at birth and are implanted with nerve-breakers that render them near-mindless and compliant. The population is maintained instead through ectogenesis, hundreds of thousands of adult oizys grown artificially every year in vast spawning tanks. Such a high rate of growth is necessary - even with protective exo-suits, casualties are high among the agri-engineers that operate the swamp-works, exposed to the harsh conditions of the surface. The foremost privilege granted to higher slave-tiers is being able to work in the relatively safe hydroponic complexes deep within the habitats, where the only threats are seismic and volcanic activity, and breaches are usually contained without too many deaths.
The Western Isthmus habitats are the breadbasket of Phorcys, controlling the most fecund agricultural land on the planet, and without their food imports the Confederation would starve in months. Yet despite this, and indeed because of this, they are distrusted by the rest of the Confederation, who resent the diplomatic stranglehold their control of the food supply gives them. Because of that stranglehold it is dangerous to openly challenge or dispute with the Western states, and as a result there grows an unresolved ideological rift between West and East - a rift that may one day be the flashpoint for a civil war that destroys the Confederation. In the eyes of most habitats east of the Isthmus, the Westerners' reliance on cybernetics and artificial birthing goes against the geno-supremacist ideology that is the very foundation not only of the Confederation but of the species itself. Castrating and lobotomising the masses may result in greater productivity and stability, but it also prevents the violent natural selection that has shaped the oizys over millions of years into the pinnacle of evolution, a race of ultimate survivors. Many Confederal leaders fear that an over-dependence on Western technology will lead the Confederation down a dysgenic path to decadence and weakness. Were the cycle to be reset again, they say, the Westerners could never recover in a thousand years.
Recently Confederal spies have discovered that the Western kin-leagues, though they claim to breed naturally, mate with drugged or physically restrained slaves, putting themselves at no risk whatsoever, doing nothing to test the evolutionary fitness of their leadership. News of this scandal is rippling through the Confederation like a shockwave, and it may be the last straw, what finally inflames this internal dispute into open conflict.
The swarms of the Meridian habitats are very unalike those of the East. They are highly centralised hierarchies, each ruled by a singular leadership caste with a strictly defined chain of command based on genetic testing and state examinations. These swarm-states inhabit the tidal flats where the oizys species first evolved, and they regard themselves as the evolutionary peak of their race, a state they strive to maintain through rigorous trials and harsh regimens, imposed on every oizys from early spawnhood. Every subject is assigned a genetic strata at birth, defining the upper and lower bounds of rank they will be allowed to reach within the regime, but where they end up is determined by their performance in constant examinations and tests of evolutionary fitness. The system is designed to weed out the mentally and physically weak, ensuring only the deserved successors of the race may prosper and breed. Indeed any oizys may mate with any other in the Meridian, regardless of status or position - all that matters is the pure test of strength and speed that is the mating struggle. The corpse nurseries of the Meridian habitats are always full to over-flowing as a result, and though this means the population of the region is lower than others, it is made up for by the quality of the individuals the system produces.
Their way of life has given the Meridian swarms a powerful and leading role in the Confederation, which they would not otherwise have. The tidal flats they inhabit are relatively resource poor, and their agricultural land is rapidly being eroded by the sea. They are reliant on the West for their food and the East for their industry. But the Meridian habitats retain their pre-eminent position in the Confederation because their oizys make up the bulk of the Confederal administration and military. Generations of eugenics have made them on average smarter, quicker, larger and stronger, with thicker exoskeletons and keener senses. The Confederation needs their elite shock troops as much as they need Western farms, and all fear retaliation should they fail to give the Meridian swarms the pre-eminence they demand. By common accord Carrion Harvest, the largest and most powerful habitat-vault of the Meridian, is seat of the Confederal Consensus, where the 14 delegations of the Confederation meet.
In recent years the Meridian swarms have had a particularly unhappy relationship with the West, for more than any oizys, they believe reliance on technology to be dangerous and weak, their habitats making strong use of manual labour and hardy low-tech solutions that can endure exposure to the environment of Phorcys. In their eyes, the West is on the path to ruin, and should internal conflict finally break out, the Meridian states will lead the assault.
The East Isthmus
Situated at the boundaries of several tectonic plates, the Eastern Isthmus is the most geologically unstable area of Phorcys. Constant volcanic eruptions have rendered it into a near-lifeless badland of rock and ash. In the mountains that cover much of the territory, the air pressure too low for an oizys to survive more than a few minutes outside of an exosuit. Yet everything that makes the Eastern Isthmus inhospitable to life also makes it invaluable to modern oizys civilisation. The constant geological activity tears immense fissures into the rock like opening wounds, exposing an unparalleled wealth of minerals and rare elements from the deep crust. The superconductive materials necessary for the Confederation's advanced electronics, weapons and radiation shielding can only be mined in sufficient quantities here, and control of the region vitally underpins Confederal dominance on Phorcys.
Originally colonised by competing mining guilds from the Meridian and the East Continent, the isolated and dangerous East Isthmus tunnel-outposts quickly began co-operating rather than fighting, trade and mutual assistance simply necessary to survive for any period of time. Those guilds that stayed loyal to their overlords and attempted to carve out territory on the Isthmus for themselves did not last long - and as a result today it is the most politically and culturally united bloc within the Confederation of Swarms. The habitats of the East Isthmus are each governed by a Master-Engineer, the ranking member of an elite technocratic hierarchy - but a collective body of representatives known as the Consortium co-ordinates the resources and manpower of the entire region. No other habitats in the Confederation of Swarms cede their sovereignty in such a way to anything but the Confederal Consensus itself.
Yet despite their broad political union, on a lower level, the East Ithmus swarms are highly decentralised. Society and survival are after all very different in this land of constant cataclysm than in other regions of Phorcys. The sprawling underground habitat-vaults seen in the Meridian, the West and the East Continent, are simply not possible here. They would be torn apart by seismic and volcanic activity in days. The habitats of the East Isthmus, though highly populous, are distributed networks of modular mining platforms affixed to the walls of vast sub-surface fissures. Lower-ranking oizys officials have far more indiviudal autonomy, power and responsibility in the East Isthmus therefore, as in a given module-platform they may be the only representative of higher authority present. Oizys here live far more co-operative and communal lives than those in other regions, by necessity, but rather than harmony the result is that the East Isthmus is infamous as a place of corruption and bribery, minor officials exploiting those under them bereft of watchful superiors. Relations between oizys are far more personal, irrational and vindictive in these small and enclosed environments, and feuds between neighbouring kin-groups in this wild east are the stuff of Confederal legend.
In terms of their internal relations with other blocs of the Confederation, the Consortium of the Eastern Isthmus are the closest allies of the Meridian Hierarchies. The Meridian leadership are dependent on their resources to maintain their military might, and the Meridian leadership in turn admire their survival in such a harsh environment, and the harsh natural selective principles inherent in their society, believing the East Isthmus oizys second only to themselves in genetic supremacy. In the event of conflict between the Meridian and the West, the Consortium will be backing the latter.
The East Continent
This region of the East Continent is a stormswept land of eroded crags and raging tides, a bleak environment all but devoid of mineral wealth or agricultural value. But deep underground are the buried remnants of what was in a previous civilisational cycle one of the greatest empires ever to stride the face of Phorcys. Though geological catastrophe ruined their homeland and doomed their race over ten thousand years ago, fragments of their data archives have survived deep underground, and it is these that hold the jealously guarded secrets of the Technarchies. Quasi-religious orders of archaeological fanatics, these swarms dedicate themselves to unearthing ancient ruins like the East Isthmus oizys dedicate themselves to mining - it is their industry and a way of life, and the status and power of East Continent kin-groups depends on the continual discovery and excavation of new dig sites. The Autarchivists that rule these Eastern Swarms are the master-hoarders, that have one way or another out-competed and out-acquired the competition, and monopolised great swathes of the fragment archives.
The Technarchies have a unique position in the Confederation of Swarms, in that they were not in fact among the founding members of the pre-Confederal swarm-alliance. In the great habitat wars they fought against them, holding out against overwhelming numbers through their superior technology, until both sides reached stalemate. Realising that they would starve without Confederal agriculture, and the Confederal Swarms realising they could not defeat the Far Easterners, a grudging pact was formed, establishing food shipments to the Technarchies in exchange for their expertise in the rebuilding effort.
Since the wars, the East Continental habitats have gradually become more integrated as member-swarms of the Confederation - but much to the anger and distrust of the other Confederal swarms, they continue to restrict access to the ruins beneath their territory. In almost every other respect they are weaker than their opportunistic allies, and they know it, and for this reason they cannot afford to lose that one advantage - it is all that justifies their inclusion in the Confederation as equals and not as slaves.