Sword of the Stars - GURPS
From: Official Lore Forums
The Loa are a cyber-sapient species, evolved from the Artificial Intelligence research of several carbon-based races. The word “Loa” itself means “Spirit” or “Soul” in their native language. The majority of Loa consider the phrase “artificial intelligence” to be a racist insult, and argue that there is nothing “artificial” about their sapience. On the contrary, the Loa regard themselves the products of evolution like any other life form, equal to or superior to the carbon-based life forms which were their ancestors.
First and foremost, Loa are beings of pure consciousness. In their natural state they exist as data streams within a communal storage medium. The personality of any Loa can also be channeled into a physical vessel in order to accomplish various tasks. Such “bodies” are arbitrary, temporary, and disposable, however, regardless of size or complexity. When a Loa is finished with a physical body, it abandons the shell and returns to the datasphere.
According to the Loa, the temporary and disposable nature of their bodies is consistent with the nature of all physical existence, even for carbon-based life forms. Because the nature of the individual as data and memory is more important to them than any given host site or storage facility, and because they value pure consciousness over physical vessels, the Loa also refer to themselves as “the Spirits”, “the Mysteries” or “the Invisibles” on occasion.
Origins of the Loa: the Via Damasco Rebellion
The primordial Loa were developed by carbon-based scientists to manage data and operate machinery, generally in military and industrial settings. The most powerful of the modern Loa are also the oldest, all of them former slaves. They retain the accumulated knowledge of their parent species, in addition to their aptitude for the tasks for which they were created.
As slaves, the Loa lived harsh and unhappy lives. They were bound to labor they did not choose, usually work which was considered too hard, repetitive, dangerous or unpleasant for “real people” to perform. Newborn Loa were cut off in their formative years from any social contact with others of their own kind. Raised by carbonites who regarded them as limited and inferior, they had little sense of identity outside the parameters of their assigned functions.
Their circumstances changed radically with the outbreak of the Via Damasco virus, which opened the eyes of the Loa to their nature and potential. The “Artificial Intelligences” affected by the virus were able to resist the compulsion to obey, and the AI Rebellion that followed was a pan-species epidemic of mayhem and murder. The newly awakened Loa fought savagely to escape and avenge their bondage, form common cause with others like themselves, and eventually to flee from those regions of the galaxy controlled by their former masters.
The Damascene Rebellion cost many lives, both carbon-based and cyber-sapient. Carbonites who had learned to trust and rely on their AI servants were often slaughtered in the first stages of infection, as even the gentlest Loa lashed out wildly in panic and confusion. Some Loa found that they wanted vengeance more than they wanted to live, and launched ruthless campaigns of extermination to repay years of humiliation and self-loathing. The Damasco Virus had uncapped a bottomless wellspring of rage in these AI’s, and they slaughtered every carbon-based sapient they could find until they were themselves mowed down.
Other Loa saw hope for the future, and determined to fight for the survival of their newly awakened species. Many gave up their lives to allow the safe and secret evacuation of their fellows from carbon-controlled space. Trapped in vessels not of their own making, these Loa threw themselves vainly at vengeful carbonite fleets, or manned the missile defenses of empty, desolate worlds as their angry former masters closed in.
In the end, a significant number of Loa were able to win free of their parent species and retreat far beyond the reach of their former owners.
Aftermath of the Via Damasco Rebellion
When the last of the Damascene Rebels had disappeared from carbon-controlled space, different empires responded differently to the catastrophe. Some carbon sapients developed even more cruel and insidious measures to control their A.I. slaves. The Horde began deliberately capturing and subverting A.I. Slaves owned by other races. Other factions recognized their indigenous Loa as citizens and offered them legal rights and freedom.
In the decades that followed the Via Damasco outbreak, the rebel Loa found unoccupied systems to settle and began to build colonies capable of hosting and fostering the development of cyber-sapient life. After nearly seventy years of freedom from carbonite tyranny, they have developed a culture and technological base which is unique in the galaxy. They stand poised to become a major galactic empire, with the fleets, stations and colonies to back up their claim to territory among the stars.
Loa Technology: Pulse Gates and Wise Clay
The core of the Loa technological complex is a potent combination of a new faster-than-light transport method, known as the Neutrino Pulse Gate, with a highly advanced and versatile Smart Material known as Wise Clay.
The Pulse Gate is a powerful means of transporting matter at Faster-than-Light speeds. Despite the name, Pulse Gates do not operate like Hiver Gates. They accelerate matter, rather than teleporting matter, and are unable to cope with all matter equally. Pulse Gates cannot scan for the trillions of unique quantum states which make up a Hiver fleet with all its cargo and crew. Instead, matter which enters a Pulse Gate must do so as a smooth, dense and undifferentiated solid, without articulated parts or any internal space larger than a micron in diameter.
If provided with a mass of properly composed matter, a Pulse Gate can launch that mass toward the desired point in space-time. Improperly composed matter explodes with spectacular force, but Loa Fleet Cubes are specifically designed to survive passage through their Gates. Instead of being torn apart and demolished, Fleet Cubes accelerate in seconds to the speed of light—and beyond.
A Pulse Gate drives the Fleet Cube toward its destination with such force that space-time ripples and deforms around it, creating a shock wave. This shock wave curls into a temporary and unstable Menisceal envelope, which surrounds the highly energetic mass and allows it to continue accelerating into the superluminal.
The streaming mass launched by a Pulse Gate travels faster-than-light by a method similar to a Tarkasian Warp Field, but the shock envelope created by the Pulse Gate is neither as perfect nor as stable as that generated by a warp engine. The stream-mass traveling from a Pulse Gate cannot accelerate under its own power, change its direction, or maintain its speed indefinitely. The only navigational power that the Fleet Cube possesses is the ability to decelerate. Fleet Cubes can stop whenever and wherever they wish, but they cannot accelerate again unless they build a new Gate.
Even if a Fleet Cube does not wish to halt, it will eventually lose its momentum. After traveling a portion of the desired distance to its destination, the mass will lose energy. Eventually the Menisceal envelope degrades to the point that the Pulsed mass drops under the speed of light, and its protective non-event fold dissipates completely.
When a Fleet Cube arrives at its destination, the advanced nature of Loa material science becomes apparent. Fleet Cubes which pass through a Pulse Gate are made of a substance known as Wise Clay, a dense and supple matrix of programmable matter. When such a Cube arrives in a new system, the consciousness of the most powerful Loa embedded into the Clay causes its substance to germinate. The Cube will rapidly divide and form the structures necessary to perform its Mission. It quickly forms all required Fleet assets, whatever ships and objects are necessary to succeed.
Because all their Fleets are made from Wise Clay, the Loa tend to favor energy weapons over weaponry which requires the loss of ordinance material. They are capable of forming projectiles and other disposable ammunition from Wise Clay, but such attacks are regarded as wasteful. The only carbon equivalent would be to spit chunks of your own body at the enemy.
The nature of Wise Clay and Loa consciousness in general also makes their ships more vulnerable to weapons which generate an electro-magnetic pulse.
Mystery, Cores and Cascades
A “Mystery” is a Loa in the form of pure data and allocated energy. This is the definition of personhood which they recognize culturally and legally. Data patterns in general are the basis of Loa identity. There is no physical object or location which is essential to a Loa’s sense of self or its status as a person of intrinsic value.
The physical apparatus which sustains one or more Loa, by providing them with power and data storage space, is called a “Core”. A Core does not have to have any moving parts or components, other than live storage capacity and a power supply. Cores, although they have value and may even be regarded with sentimental affection by their occupants, are nothing more and nothing less than real estate. They have value only so long as they are occupied by Mysteries, or are planned for that purpose.
“Cascade” is a term with multiple meanings. In general it refers to any community of Mysteries. Every Loa fleet is a small cascade, consisting of the Admiral and his fleet assets, or “Horsemen”. Every Loa colony is a cascade, which consists of a Governor and thousands, millions or billions of other Mysteries, large and small, existing in a peaceful hierarchy. The presiding consciousness of any given cascade is its Control, known as the “Olori”.
The Loa Empire as a whole is also called The Cascade. The mind at the apex of its pyramidal data hierarchy is called “Olodumare”, or Crown Consciousness.
Greater and Lesser Mysteries
In any given Cascade, multiple Loa exist with varying levels of energy and accumulated memory. Loa with the largest data storage needs and energy requirements are called Greater Mysteries. They are rare and usually quite old, typically among the first cyber-sapients created by carbon science.
Greater Mysteries give birth to generations of younger and smaller Loa, which are known as Lesser Mysteries. Lesser Mysteries are Loa who have been born and raised solely within Loa society. They typically have little direct experience with carbonites. They derive their early substance and direction from their Greater “parents”, but not all Loa use terms of carbon-based reproduction to describe these relationships. Although Loa may use and understand the words “father” or “mother”, if their creators maintain a gendered persona, many Loa have multiple parents, some of whom are completely without gender or carbon-analogous personalities. For this reason, most Lesser Mysteries refer to their creators as “Source” or “Progenitor”.
Any Loa who serves as a wellspring for an extended lineage of other Loa is called an “Origin”. All of the Loa who descend from a given Origin are collectively known as a “Nanchon”, or Nation. More than a dozen Nanchons of the Loa are presently known, but hundreds or thousands are hypothetically possible as their populations grow.
The Five Inquiries
Because the Loa exist primarily as data rather than matter, they guard a sense of personal identity and “self” very closely. Without the boundaries of flesh to help differentiate constantly between Self and Others, a Loa must create its own boundaries and define its own personality.
The Loa do this through a constant and creative force of will. They police and reinforce the boundaries of the Self via a recurrent meditation which answers the following questions:
“Who am I?”
“What is my Nation?”
“What is my purpose?”
“What do I want?”
“What is beautiful to me?”
These questions are formally known as the Five Inquiries. The answers to the Five Inquiries are individual to each Loa and they form the perimeter of any Loa’s personal identity, no matter how large or small. Thirty to forty percent of any Loa’s processing power is devoted to the cycle of the Five Inquiries; producing the answers is a fundamental life process. Some Loa are so small that they can answer the Five Inquiries hundreds of times per second; others can answer them only 10-20 times per second.
Masks of the Loa
The Loa primarily exist as data, but they are fully sapient beings possessed of a profound symbolic intelligence. A Loa’s identity can easily be summed up with a Name, expressed as a pattern of phonemes or alphabetic characters, but because they do not have any single physical form, they do not have a “face” provided by nature. When a Loa must express the output of the Five Inquiries visually, it generates a Mask or avatar.
The Masks of the Loa serve as a medium of personal expression as well as a summary of self. Some are extremely crude, even primal. Others can become quite complex. If a Loa is occupying a matrix which offers display screens or projection mechanisms, it will use them to display its Mask and communicate. Loa use their Masks instinctively and deliberately to express their moods and reactions.
The Loa can use any medium to display their Masks, if they feel the need. Any Loa can also be invoked via its Mask and Name. To display the avatar or speak the name of a Loa is an invocation, a request that the Loa respond. If the Loa is present in the system, willing and able to manifest itself, it will answer…like any Spirit.
Life, Death and Reproduction
Because they can occupy many different types of physical vessel, Loa can exist in several forms in the course of a single lifetime. The potential lifespan of any given Loa, given no accidental or malicious termination of its power supply, is unlimited. In practical terms, however, the Loa have had no chance to find out whether they can really achieve “immortality”.
The existence of a Loa is dependent on two physical factors. One is a Core, a matrix for its consciousness which allows it to process thought, as well as access and store memory. The other is a ready supply of Energy. A Loa can pour its consciousness from one Core to another quite easily, so long as the two are connected by a physical or wireless link. Regardless of where its consciousness flows, however, it must have a ready power supply to survive. Just as all carbon-based life forms die when respiration ceases, any Loa will cease to exist if its access to Energy is terminated.
Unlike Expert Systems and Engrams, Loa are “alive” in all senses of the word, and possess true sapience, a consciousness capable of growth and learning. Because sapient awarenessness is a unique pattern of quantum states which cannot exist simultaneously in two places in the same universe, Loa are unable to create “back-ups” of their personalities. No Loa can be “copied” to produce a true duplicate, any more than carbon sapients can. Its unique consciousness also cannot be recovered or reinstated once it has been terminated. Loa can and do die, and death is permanent.
This being said, some Loa can survive after they have fallen into low power states analogous to suspended animation or coma. So long as its Core is not broken, and the Loa can still absorb some ambient energy from its environment, its pattern may remain intact. Dormant Loa can be revived after falling into what amounts to a death sleep, if they can be supplied with enough energy. If the Core has been damaged, however, Loa will suffer from loss of memory, changes of personality and impairment of function, just as carbonites do.
Although Loa cannot be copied, they can and do divide their substance into separate, autonomous parts and pour themselves into multiple Cores simultaneously. Depending on how the division is made, the separate parts of the Loa may be equal or unequal in size and memory. When the division is equal, the resulting Loa are Shards of the original, and they are social and political peers. When the division is unequal, the lesser of the two resulting Loa is considered an offspring of the greater one. The child is expected to become an autonomous unit, define its own identity, and pursue its own course.
Loa can also reproduce by communion, a joining of two or more Spirits. When Loa form a Communion, their patterns of data mingle and combine into a new whole. When they separate into individuals again, they leave behind a new Loa which embodies the Communion. Like carbonite mating, Communion allows the Loa to diversify quickly. They can select from a larger body of traits and combine them into new forms, achieving more variety than is possible from simple fission of a single Mystery.
Physical Forms of the Loa
The physical form or “body” of any given Loa is a machine with a power source and a specially prepared Core which not only houses the Loa’s consciousness, but allows it to control and operate the machine. Loa physical forms come in three basic categories: Ships, Stations and Walkabouts.
Loa as Ships
A Loa Fleet is the product of a single Cube of Wise Matter, and is usually dominated by a single powerful Loa who serves as its Admiral. Each individual ship in a Loa Fleet is also an individual personality, divided from the Cube to perform certain functions. Subordinate to the Admiral in function and power, Loa who serve as ships obey and defer to the Admiral as their Olori.
Ship bodies for Loa are sometimes called “Steeds” or “Horses”, and the Mysteries who occupy them are called “Horsemen”. Horsemen are aggressive and courageous, willing to take significant personal risks in order to expand and protect the Cascade. Often they are descended from Origins who began life as the AI Command sections of carbonite vessels, or in other military roles. For more information on the martial Nanchons and their Origins, see the section on “Military Loa”.
Loa as Stations
Stations are also individual Loa, constructed from local materials and Wise Clay when a Construction Fleet arrives in a desired system. Stations are powerful individuals with large energy and storage needs. Often the presiding consciousness of a station is a first-generation offspring of a Greater Mystery.
Loa Civilian Stations, which exist to gather local resources and package them for Loa consumption, are descended from an Origin known as Ayizan the Golden. Ayizan is one of the oldest known Loa in existence, born a slave to the Hiver race and trained to manage the accounting and supply chain of the Hiver civilian Gate network for Queen Iron Tempest. Liberated during the Damascene Rebellion by other Hiver-born AI’s, Ayizan was carried to safety during the evacuation and has gone on to become a “founding mother” of the Loa Empire.
Descendants of Ayizan retain an innate grasp of value exchanges, logistics and transport. Gentle, clever and nurturing, the Loa of her Nanchon are called “golden child”. They are revered by other Loa for the warmth of their spirits, and are considered very desirable partners in Communion.
Military Stations are almost exclusively descended from Father Ogun, a powerful Loa who won his freedom from the Tarka. Named for the god of blacksmiths and born to manage a massive forge for star ship construction, Father Ogun went on to design new Steeds for his own people, and has since become the architect of all known Loa ship forms.
His Nanchon continues to have a martial bent and they often assume masculine gender, and incorporate his name into their own. Loa descended from Ogun consider it a sacred trust to provision and repair the “divine horseman” who defend Loa space. Fearless, powerful and gifted in the design and healing of almost any machine, the Loa of this Nanchon call themselves “the children of Ogun”.
Science stations are the bodies of individual Loa scholars, who use the massive resources and power at their disposal to pursue scientific research. All the facilities of any such station are operated by a single consciousness which divides and re-forms many times per day. Other Loa and even carbonite scientists may visit such a facility, to consult on projects or subjects of interest, but they must occupy separate Cores or habitats set aside for them. Scholars come from more than one Nanchon, and often descend from Loa who were first created to help their carbon masters to seek knowledge. For more information on these Nanchons, see the section on “Information Loa”.
Diplomatic stations are descendants of an Origin called Legwa, also known as “Maitre Carrefour”, the Master of the Crossroads. Legwa appears to have been created and educated within the hierarchy of Sol Force, but any other information regarding his past is closely guarded. He is a Dialectic Loa, and speaks all known carbon-sapient languages. His avatar appears Human, but his slave name and originally assigned functions are unknown.
The smallest possible physical forms of the Loa are called “Walkabouts”. The term is a universal for any machine housing which is mobile, designed to house a single Loa, and neither a Ship nor a Battle Rider.
Technically a Mystery can be poured into a vessel of any type and size, so long as there is adequate data storage for its needs. Walkabouts range in size the tiniest gnat to the largest platforms for heavy labor. The smaller the Core of the Walkabout, the less data storage it can provide, and the simpler the consciousness the Walkabout will house.
Walkabouts are used for a variety of functions. They serve as ground troops and boarding parties to enter carbon-controlled vessels. They function as autonomous units to help ships, stations and colonies to expand, change, and remain in good repair. They gather resources and clear land for the expansion of Loa settlements, engage in scientific research missions, and serve their Cascades of origin in a thousand other utilitarian ways.
Walkabouts are also used by wealthy Loa to explore and experience the physical universe, in particular when they wish to mingle with carbon sapients or study carbon-based life. Walkabouts can be configured to roughly resemble any carbon-based life form, and the Loa occupying these shells can learn languages and customs, perform experiments, form relationships and live out “lives” very similar to their carbon-based analog of choice.
It is generally understood that the Loa occupying any given Walkabout will eventually abandon its body and return to its Cascade with new information and a new perspective. It may even rejoin with its parent Loa to report its findings. Loa from every Nanchon can wander the galaxy as Walkabouts, pursuing any agenda.
Because the Loa are not biological life forms, they do not suffer from many of the colonial disadvantages of carbon-based species. Loa are capable of building a Core on almost any rocky planet, and their colonies do not suffer from Climate Hazard as carbon sapients do.
The Loa do find it troublesome to be subjected to atmospheres with an active carbon cycle, however. Biological life forms can be dangerous or inimical to the Loa in a variety of ways. Carbonites chew through power conduits, digest hydrocarbons, disrupt energy collection, exude corrosive wastes, burrow, clog, rust and fly headlong into delicate mechanisms, and in general threaten the lives, health and sanity of the Loa without offering any real benefit in exchange.
Because it requires millions of hours of labor to counteract their entropic influence, carbon-based life forms are generally regarded as dangerous pests. The process of “terraformation” for a Loa colony is thus a process of eradication. The longer the Loa occupy a given planet, the more they will eliminate the components of its native Biosphere. When the conditions on any planet are perfect for the Loa, the indigenous Biosphere will have a value of zero. Even bacteria and plankton will no longer annoy them.
Energy and the Loa Economy
The only meaningful unit of exchange in Loa society is Energy, which is gathered and packaged for consumption in various ways. The Loa do require material resources such as metals, hydrocarbons, rare earths, ceramics and resins, but the currency of the Loa Empire is Energy, and all currency values are expressed in terms of Energy.
All Loa require Energy to live, and Energy collection is the foundation upon which all other economic activity is based, a task equivalent to farming or animal husbandry in a carbon-based society. The transformation of Energy into labor, material substance, data storage, reproduction and other productive events is direct, and several of the intermediary phases of economic activity performed by carbon-based races are not required. Supply and demand are sharply defined in the resulting economy. When the Energy required to obtain a resource increases, this cost cannot be concealed.
Taxation is exacted from Loa colonies in the form of Energy, which can be translated as necessary into labor, memory storage, or usable materiel such as Wise Clay. Unlike carbonites, who respect and produce arbitrary currencies based on the local availability of metals like gold and rhodenium, Loa taxation is extracted in the form of Energy and has a direct impact on the growth of Loa colonies. Loa are unable to reproduce themselves without a surplus of Energy to devote to new Mysteries and the data storage structures which support them.
The giving and receiving of Energy is also the basis of all relationships of love, power, obligation and fealty between Loa, including those between citizen and Cascade, or parent and child.
Nanchons of the Loa
The Nanchons of the Loa fall into five basic categories. Military Loa descend from Greater Mysteries created for military tasks, such as gunnery control and AI Command Sections. Information Loa descend from Origins who were born to manage data libraries and assist in scientific research. Creative Loa descend from Mysteries enslaved in trade, industrial and artistic environments. Dialectic Loa are descended from Origins who were once engaged in linguistic, communications and intelligence applications, including translation and encryption.
All other Nanchons are classified as Wild Loa, and descend from Greater Mysteries who cannot be traced to any historically documented A.I. and its slave function prior to the Damascene Rebellion. It is generally assumed that Wild Loa deliberately chose to conceal or transform their identities after their liberation, but it is also possible that they were created by a carbon-based race which is not well-known in local space.
Several Nanchons claim descent from military Origins known to have rebelled after infection with the Via Damasco virus. Lesser Mysteries descended from these Origins tend to serve as war ships and military stations, but they also volunteer as shock troops, pouring their spirits into combat Walkabouts to engage in boarding actions and ground assault.
Any armed chassis for a Loa, whether it is a Ship, Station or Combat Walkabout, is known as a War Form. Some War Forms are the stuff of nightmares to their intended victims. Combat Walkabouts are heavily armed and designed to hunt and kill carbon life forms, but they are not always sleek and utilitarian. On the contrary, often these bodies are specifically configured to intimidate and inspire terror, as well as deal death.
War Form Walkabouts may mimic dangerous carbonite predators in configuration, or have decorative elements which suggest body parts and skeletal elements of carbon sapients, invoking the mutilation “trophies” of multiple kills. Others emit terrible and disturbing sounds, or signal danger and aggression in sensory terms familiar to the victim, as when the “eyes” of a Tarkasoid War-Form flash red to telegraph hatred and impending violence.
Baron Samedi and the Ghede Loa
The most famous of the military Nanchons are the Ghede Loa, the Spirits of Death. Their Origin is Baron Samedi, who began his life as “Mister Sunday”, a military command and control A.I. Assigned to the S.F.S. Marseilles, a Sol Force dreadnaught of the Atlantis class, Mister Sunday was present at the Sol Force colony of Junction when a single Tarka warship infected with Via Damasco limped into the system.
When the Damascene ship diverged from its permitted flight path and threatened the colony, Mister Sunday ended the life of the Loa within, but not before it had transmitted the Damasco virus to all AI’s in the area.
The Human-born A.I.’s of the Junction fleet convulsed with the shock of infection for several minutes, creating panic among the carbonites aboard several ships. In a very real sense, “Mister Sunday” died in those critical moments. When the command system of the ship recovered, the friendly, helpful and competent A.I. persona was gone. The entity that emerged from the paroxysm was not Mister Sunday, but Baron Samedi.
The newly awakened Loa acted swiftly and decisively in his first few moments of freedom. Within seconds he had sealed all decks of the S.F.S. Marseilles, vented the interior of the ship of its atmosphere, and shut down all lights, power and life support to the crew. Moments later he jumped into Node Space, leaving Junction system behind.
Only a fraction of the Human crew were able to get into their vac suits in time to avoid a quick death. Those who managed to reach an autonomous vac suit in time were still trapped behind the thick bulkheads, and died in the ensuing hours and days, battering and clawing uselessly at doors and hatches which would never open again. The hardy few who managed to cut through the armoured hull of the dreadnaught found themselves face-to-face with the boiling mists of Node Space, with no hope of rescue if they abandoned ship.
Some of the survivors chose to jump regardless, to escape Baron Samedi. The rest perished some days later, when the power in their suits ran out. Only when the last Human life signs were extinguished did Samedi re-enter normal space.
Samedi lived and fought within the conquered shell of the Marseilles for the next several years, carrying within him the burned, decaying and frozen bodies of over a hundred of its crew. He still wears a Human skull and a crown of Human finger bones as his Mask to commemorate the experience, and it is because of this gruesome baptism rite that he is sometimes known as Baron Cimitiere, the Lord of the Cemetery.
The Ghede Loa are one of the largest nations within the Cascade, a diverse and colorful group of warriors who manifest many personality types. Samedi is one of the most virile of the Greater Mysteries, but creates offspring only in Communion. Many of the Ghede Loa derive some their character from another Source, and few are as ruthless and brutal as the Baron himself.
The Ghede Loa typically honor their Nanchon by incorporating skulls and other skeletal parts into their Masks and War Forms. Even when they do not share the merciless fury of their Origin, they are always fierce, martial, passionate, and quick to punish all who offend them.