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DESCENDANTS OF OLD EARTH
What we think of as Earth was artificially created by the (now alien) descendants of the original humans. This planet, known formally as the New Earth Project, is seen as a kind of historical zoo where the alien races can observe, study and reminisce on how things used to be. To keep the project running, movement within the solar system is strictly limited to the small number of caretakers in the vicinity of Jupiter. Visiting Earth is completely out of the question.
Of course, there are aliens who try to come to Earth anyway. Most are caught before they get close, but every once in a while, some manage to land here. Often, they take souvenirs of their visit. Sometimes, they take humans.
Humans (real, living fossils!) are a novelty, and it is just as expensive to buy one as it is illegal. Some are kept as exotic servants for the rest of their lives, particularly by those rich enough to ignore the law. Some are studied, and a few survive a long time before being used for spare parts. Some are housed in temples and worshipped as deities of the past.
Others escape into a galaxy which has no place for them.
But as things are now, these escapees cannot be returned home: they have been contaminated with knowledge. A memory wipe is possible, but leaves traces that even the humans' primitive technology might be able to pick up on. It's not worth the risk, going through all the trouble to return these few castaways.
So out there they stay. Actually being a misplaced human is not against any law, but at best they are viewed with pity, or as an embarrassing afterthought. At worst, they are recaptured for profit, or forced to keep running. Some manage to make a life for themselves, some never stop looking for a safe home... and others tirelessly try to put a stop to the Earth experiment, to earn the respect of the other races and set all humans free to finally have a place in the galaxy.
“It was a hopeless thing, he thought, this obsession of his to present the people of the Earth as good and reasonable.
For in many ways they were neither good nor reasonable; perhaps because they had not as yet entirely grown up.
They were smart and quick and at times compassionate and even understanding,
but they failed lamentably in many other ways.” .
There are various inhabited planets and space stations throughout the galaxy. Some are dominated by one particular race, and fall under the governance and laws of that race's leader. Others are neutral ground, and claimed by nobody but the inhabitants.
A few are privately owned, particularly very small stations or sparsely-inhabited resource planets, but they tend to ultimately belong to the government of the owner's race.
New Earth Dominant race: Humans
What is also known simply as Earth. Also known as the New Earth Project throughout the galaxy. It's a planet with its own rules and stipulations, forbidding travel to and from the place. The entire star system is out of bounds to most, to avoid humans from picking up signals or sightings of alien life with their primitive instruments.
Those who are involved in the project (their hub is located close to Jupiter) can have some influence over the happenings on the planet, e.g. through remotely manipulating computer systems. In extreme cases they can even visit the planet, if absolutely necessary and all the appropriate paperwork is filled out. Overall though, those directly working on the project are very invested in Earth remaining as "authentic" as possible, and have to strike a balance between non-interference and preventing humanity from overstepping its bounds.
Technology on the Earth is deliberately limited for this reason. It's worth noting that, in an attempt to keep humans contained within this living zoo, their development as a society has been drastically stunted. Their planet is unable to cope with their sheer numbers, and political tensions are high, whereas other societies would have long since taken steps to split off from their homeworld and colonise elsewhere, naturally developing technology along the way to help manage resources and environment back home.
Old Earth Dominant race: None
Confusingly, also sometimes known simply as "Earth". The cradle of all known life in the universe, and the blueprint from which the new Earth was built. It's not identical- the star system is different, and of course the planet has changed a great deal over the years. People still live there, but it's neither a hub of industry nor a place of reverence, though it has its share of tourists checking it off their lists. Before humanity evolved itself out of existence, Earth was completely urbanised, space travel being commonplace but people unwilling to really let go of their original home. Eventually, though, more opportunities presented themselves elsewhere, and the development of jump gate technology made long-distance travel even easier. Why stay on Earth when there were planets with far more space, warmer climes, more valuable resources and wealthier cities? Particularly if you could change your mind any time and jump back home.
So Earth returned to a more natural state, though it was never considered worthwhile to completely tear down the cities and developments. Although there are now forests, plains and bare mountains, there are also plenty of huge, abandoned urban areas left to be overrun by wild plants and animals.
"We live on a placid island of ignorance
in the midst of black seas of the infinity,
and it was not meant that we should voyage far." .
Essential for travel between worlds, though many people do not bother to own one: if necessary there are public shuttle services available on most stations or planets. Those who do own a ship are those who frequently travel: traders, surveyors, innovators, explorers... smugglers, bounty hunters and fugitives. Not to mention those rich or carefree enough to waste time flying amongst the stars.
Most personal ships are small, able to carry only a few people, with some only allowing space for the pilot. Despite this, it's not uncommon for the owners to treat their ships as their homes, sleeping in the cramped cockpit even while docked at a station, rather than disembarking and spending the night at a hotel.
Larger ships tend to belong to companies, or those offering luxury or private shuttle and courier services.
A means of travelling great distances almost instantly. Jump gates are set up in space, usually in orbit around a planet, and require a ship for travel. Almost every inhabited star system has at least one.
They work in pairs, with one jump gate connecting to another somewhere else in the galaxy. Jump stations located in especially populous parts of the galaxy can have dozens of gates, each leading somewhere new, but a more remote location may consist of only one gate, with only one possible destination. There is a jump gate network, a map of how to get to where, and more elaborate journeys can require some planning to get to the right place. Avoiding busier gates is preferred, and veteran pilots will often take a seemingly complicated route that ends up far quicker than waiting around at the more popular jump stations.
Instant communication, with prioritised channels capable of transmitting messages across vast distances. Usually it is limited to sound, though video capabilities are common enough, if more expensive to use. Those rich or important enough can use holographic ansible technology: for example, for meetings in the Assemblage which do not require physical attendance.
Most cities, stations and outposts have the capability for ansible technology, for a fee, and in the wealthier and more populous locations there's enough of a demand for even private homes to have access to short-range ansible communications. Mostly though, it's limited to business, political or emergency use.
But the technology has been around for a while, and there's always someone who has knocked together an ansible communications system in their spare room, with the knowledge of how to piggyback off an unsecured channel to send their own messages where they need to go.
Medical technology has come a long way, but some people, for various reasons, opt for cybernetic improvements. Depending on where you are and who you find, all manner of artificial enhancements are available, with all manner of uses or appearances, though really only the enthusiasts opt for the more egregious upgrades. Subtle, almost invisible cybernetic enhancements are also available. Mostly it's only the Archivists that opt for large-scale organic replacement, or the addition of things like extra limbs (learning to use these things effectively takes a great deal of time, and is not always successful), though those Archivists who specialise in augmenting their own kind often have no qualms about also treating outsiders.
Overall, cybernetic augmentations are cheaper than the more involved medical procedures, such as regrowing tailored body parts or undergoing genetic alterations, particularly if the patient is of a less common race in that part of the galaxy. More radical treatments can be more expensive or risky, particularly for rarer conditions and diseases, with no guarantee that they will succeed. As for genetic treatments, they are more easily done on unborn children (and it's not uncommon for rich parents to pay to design healthy, attractive and intelligent babies), and in nearly all cases it's not considered worthwhile to alter the genes of an existing child or adult.
Minor enhancements and surgeries are commonplace: it's easy to get scars removed or fashionable body mods implanted or removed, even by back-alley surgeons. In the places where such services are readily available, being ugly or scarred can be seen to be something of a statement in itself.