Sword of the Stars - GURPS
Humans are an air-breathing, land-based species of sentient mammals, evolved from a primate line which can be traced to a tiny tree-dwelling shrew. They are highly adaptable and thrive in a wide variety of environments, but seem most comfortable within a limited range of temperature, gravity and atmospheric density which mimic the conditions on their home world.
Humans appear to have undergone several conflicting stages of evolution on their home world. Bipedal, they walk erect with a locking knee and a hip structure evolved to allow maximum elevation from the ground and minimum exposure of skin surface to direct radiation from their sun. This suggests a period of development in an arid, hot grassland region. However, the smooth, often hairless hide and subcutaneous fat of the human body would also suggest a “water” phase at some point during their evolution, when humans may have lived a partially aquatic existence.
The modern human is a curious beast; height in the adult human ranges from 110-220 centimeters, while mass ranges from 50-175 kilograms, and a variety of superficial differences can be observed in pigmentation. Since these differences constitute so little variation in DNA, there is no practical difference between one “race” of humans and another, but many Human societies attempt to use small variations in superficial appearance to draw political boundaries.
Humans are divided into two sexes, male and female. There are some morphological differences between the two, but most other sentient species cannot tell the two human sexes apart. (Since there are only minor differences in physical capacity and behavior between male and female humans, this seldom causes problems of more than a comedic variety.) The exception to this rule are the Hivers, who have a natural advantage in identifying male and female members of any species, perhaps due to their sensitivity to airborne estrogen. Hivers have been known to target females first in ship-to-ship boarding actions.
Humans tend to form family groupings based on a single breeding pair, one male, one female, and their offspring from current and past pairings. A human female can produce several offspring during the course of her breeding career, but gestation and birthing of human infants is often fatal without proper medical support.
Many of the projections for the future of humankind in the Sword of the Stars universe are based on “worst-case scenarios”, in which the direst of many possible futures was taken as a given. The first of these dire possibilities was environmental catastrophe: Terra, the Human home world, has witnessed a massive global climate change, leading to the complete dissolution of the polar ice caps and a hundred-meter rise in sea levels around the world.
This event occurred over the many decades from 1970-2200 CE and is popularly known as the Thaw. By the 25th century the process was long complete, and many generations of humans had already inherited a landscape barely recognizable to many of us today. Vast amounts of territory in the eastern United States, northern Europe, South America, and eastern China are now beneath several meters of salt water, and the cities, nations and peoples that once occupied those coastal regions have had to adapt or disappear.
Citizens of the USA might be interested to know that in the future, Memphis, Tennessee is a thriving sea port, which presides over the bustling fishing and aquaculture industries of the Mississippi Islands. Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Savannah, Richmond, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston are all drowned cities. In Canada, the Hudson Bay has expanded to swallow all of the major settlements of the coast and Southampton Island, including Churchill and Coal Harbor. Of the remaining population centers of the former eastern seaboard of North America, Quebec and Toronto are the most ancient and powerful that remain standing.
Further to the south, many islands of the Caribbean have disappeared, including the majority of Cuba. The eastern coast of Mesoamerica has seen a radical change in its coastline. Miles of coastal lowlands in southern Mexico are under water, most of the Yucatan is now under water, as are low-lying areas of Belize and the Mosquito Coast. The Panama Canal is no longer necessary, as an open sea lane exists in the Strait of Nicaragua.
The South American continent has been invaded by the sea. The Amazon Basin has become the Amazonas Bay, the inundation of salt water destroying 1.4 billion acres of tropical jungle which had been the oldest surviving forest on the planet, standing for 100,000 million years. 40,000 plant species, 3000 species of freshwater fish, and thousands of unique reptiles, birds and mammals have become extinct in the process, and 30 million human beings from 350 different indigenous cultures have died or been displaced. Further to the south, the former basin of the Rio de la Plata is also completely flooded, Buenos Aires is drowned and Ascuncion and Santa Cruz are now the largest ports on the Gran Chaco Sound, which divides the southern tip of the continent into two peninsulas.
The continent of Africa has also seen profound changes in its topography. On the western side of the continent, the rising Atlantic has swallowed the Guinea Coast, inundating southwestern Mauritania and drowning all of Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and most of Senegal. Sierra Leone has lost over half its landmass and the rising Gulf of Guinea has claimed the coastal capitols of many former African nations in the region. South of Gabon, the western coast of Africa has been less effected. The major losses to the eastern coast of Africa have been the coastal forests of Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya, lost to the Indian Ocean. The rising waters have created a natural sea lane between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, severing at last the land bridge between Africa and the Near East.
The rising Mediterranean has affected all nations which once bordered upon that sea. The Nile Delta is inundated, and in northern Egypt and Libya the sea has claimed thousands of square kilometers of the northern Sahara, leaving the Libyan Plateau a peninsula still connected to the rest of North Africa by a delicate land bridge. Tunisia has been split in two by inundation, and south of Carthage the former Great Eastern Erg is now the Gulf of Algeria. Annual rainfall to all of North Africa has increased enormously, and much of the Sahara has shifted from desert to grassland.
Radical changes have taken place in the low-lying areas of western Europe. Barcelona and the French Riviera are lost to the sea and the Italian coastline has changed dramatically, its coastal lowlands completely engulfed. The heel of the world’s most famous boot is now the island of Puglia, and the Adriatic has claimed all of the former Po Valley, which is now flooded to the foothills of the Alps. Even Rome has survived only at the costs of billions of dollars’ worth of sea walls, which have been maintained for the last three hundred years.
Northern and Western Europe have both been devastated by inundation. Western France, Ireland, England and Scotland have all been reduced to chains of scattered islands. Half of Belgium is under water, and Denmark, the Netherlands, and all of northern Germany are also lost to the sea. Most of eastern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been reduced to scattered islands in the Baltic. The Gulf of Finland has risen to drown not only Helsinki but all of northwestern Russia, leaving a complex but navigable channel between the Baltic and the White Sea to the northeast. In Southern Russia, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea have become a single body of water, and expanded to claim the lowlands of southern Romania and the Ukraine as far north as Kiev. It is possible sail all the way from Istanbul to Kazhakstan.
The Middle East has also been reshaped by the Thaw. On the western coast of Saudi Arabia, many miles of temperate coastline have been lost to the Red Sea. In the east the Persian Gulf has risen to claim even more territory. Qatar is under water, Oman has lost its lowlands, and much of fertile Ash Shariqiyah region of Saudi Arabia has given way to salt marshes. All of the lowlands of Mesopotamia, Kuwait and southern Iran are under the sea; the city of Mosul has become a sea port.
All of southern Pakistan and the Gujarat region of India have surrendered to the Arabian Sea. Karachi and the coastal cities of India, including Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, are all drowned. On the eastern side of the Indian subcontinent, all of Bangladesh and the Orissa and Bihar regions of India have been swallowed by the Bay of Bengal, leaving India with a horn very similar in shape to the Horn of Africa.
In Southeast Asia, the Andaman Sea has claimed all of southern Myanmar and the Malay Peninsula is now an island chain. Indonesia has lost all of its low-lying territory on the east coasts, and the thriving cities of Jakarta, Singapore and Surabaya are gone. All of southern Thailand, southern Vietnam and Cambodia are inundated by the South China Sea including the great cities of Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Saigon. The northern regions of Vietnam have not fared much better; the fertile coastal regions are underwater, along with the cities of Da Nang, Hue and Hanoi. Only the stony spine and foothills of the Annamite Range have survived.
China has been catastrophically altered by the Thaw, its southern provinces radically reshaped by the rising sea and the famous ports of Macao and Hong Kong long drowned. The north eastern provinces if anything have been even more devastated by inundation, with the Yellow Sea sweeping in to claim all of the lowlands south of the Mongolian Plateau, including the great city of Beijing. Eastern Japan has suffered similar losses to the Pacific Ocean, and the city of Tokyo is under many meters of water.
In the South Pacific, many of the former islands of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia are now beneath the waves, and southern New Guinea is inundated. Australia as suffered heavy losses of arable land along the entire circumference of the continent, with a total loss of all the coastal settlements of the Northern Territories and Queensland and a massive inundation of formerly arable lands in Victoria and New South Wales. The cities of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney have been saved by billions of dollars’ worth of high tech engineering and sea walls which hold the Pacific Ocean at bay.
Those who wish to check on the geographical region in which they presently live and see whether it still exists in the 25th and 26th centuries should refer to the 100 meter sea rise world map, which covers most of the regions currently inhabited by Homo sapiens in the year 2011.
—“Appendix One: Terra, Sol and Homo sapiens and the 25th Century”. The Deacon’s Tale
By the 23rd century, daily life on Earth had become extremely difficult, for a number of reasons. The industrial excesses of the 20th and 21st centuries left many parts of the globe stripped of natural resources, deforested, and/or saturated with dangerous toxins. As the rising waters of the Thaw swept over these blighted landscapes, hundreds of millions of human beings were displaced, and millions of acres of arable land and potable water resources were lost. Rising seas swept over the hellishly abused lowlands of the former industrial titans of the 20th and 21st centuries, and the legacy of industry in Southeastern North America, eastern China and the former Soviet Union poisoned the seas that had engulfed the former coastlines.
All sea life which could survive in the soup of leaching poison was so saturated with heavy metals and other pollutants that it became impossible for humans to rely on marine resources. For generations it was a fatal risk to eat salt water fish, sea weeds, mollusks or invertebrates in many parts of the world, and even in allegedly “safe catch” environments, all marine comestibles were suspect. Even when a meal did not lead to immediate and painful death for the diner, the accumulated toxins of several such meals might kill the victim over time. Many human populations found themselves between the rock and the hard place of starvation or self-administered contamination. The consequences of choosing the latter could include hair loss, lesions, loss of teeth and bone degeneration, as well as horrific birth defects.
Tensions had predictably increased over the decades as this process continued, and by the early 23rd century, wars were erupting with fair regularity throughout the world. In 2216 the first limited nuclear exchanges began to accompany more conventional clashes of arms. The first use of nuclear weapons took place in Kashmir, but North America, Eastern Asia, Europe, and Australia would also suffer strikes over the course of the next 20 years. Each of the individual conflicts during this period has its own name: the Kashmir War, the Megiddo War, the 16 Minutes’ War, the Sino-Australian War, the Arctic War, etc.. In the end, however, the entire period is best remembered and is commonly taught by its collective name, The Conflagration.
Terra in the 25th century was ruled by eight geopolitical conglomerates, each laying claim to a large geographic territory and millions or billions of citizens. The Europa Consortium was the first to form, but the Arctic, Australarctic, African, Ērānshahr, Han and Américas Consortia quickly followed.
The Consortia are divided into states and provinces, which occasionally correspond to pre-existing national boundaries and administrative units. The overall system is parliamentary and ostensibly representative, although in many Consortia there is little social mobility, and access to education and influence for all social groups has not always been equal. Incomes and rations of food, energy and space for individuals, families and communal groups are set by unanimous votes by parliamentary committees which include the elected representatives of all regions, the leaders of the Consortium’s Security Forces, and a Science and Ethics Advisory Board.
In the 23rd century and for the next two hundred years, Consortia governments cracked down sharply on their citizenry, and exerted heavy controls on consumption of resources and energy, non-sustainable industry, human reproduction, travel, and freedom of information. Protests, civil disobedience and rioting were common responses to the pressure on the general population. When the first human colonies were established in the early 25th century, Sol Force received millions of applications to emigrate, despite the dangers and the risks.
As many colonists put it, “Life on the frontier is hard—but life on Earth was hell.”
There are hundreds of surviving sects and faiths still commonly practiced by humankind in the 25th and 26th centuries, but only two which are explicitly treated in the Sword of the Stars universe, and then only because they have strong political implications.
Traditional Roman Catholicism is familiar to most of us, but the Neo-Catholic Church of the 25th century is substantially different from the Faith as practiced today in many respects. As an institution, the Neo-Catholic Church spans all the Consortia of Terra and has spread into the charter colonies of Sol Force and even a few independent colonies, although it is not as well represented there as other faith groups.
The numbers of the Faithful had grown from a mere one billion souls in the 21st century to nearly eight billion human adherents Empire-wide by 2438. The first missions to proselytize a non-human population were founded upon two Tarka worlds, Ko’Seth and Ko’Grappa, and in later years both planets would come to host a considerable Neo-Catholic population of Tarka converts.
The largest faith group among humans from the 24th century onward is the Utilitarian Church, which formed in the 22nd century in the aftermath of the Thaw and the rise of the Consortia. The tenets of the modern Utilitarian Church are derived from ancient and contemporary Utilitarian philosophy, which once upheld the principle of the Greatest Good as an abstract ethical goal. This religion is now practiced by billions of human beings, and modern Utilitarians speak of the Greatest Good and the Divine, or “God”, interchangeably.
The Utilitarian faith became increasingly popular once it incorporated the teachings and biography of the famous 23rd century Utilitarian saint and evangelist known as the Comedian, whose history and thoughts are chronicled in a gospel called the “Quotations”. Typically printed or re-printed on recycled waste paper, the Comedian’s gospel is popularly known as “The Little Brown Book”.
Utilitarians are dedicated pacifists and do not believe that any war can serve a Greater Good, and thus be sanctioned as a morally correct course. Accordingly, modern Utilitarians have forbidden all members of the Church from joining Sol Force in any capacity since the beginning of the Hiver War, and relations between military servicemen and Utilitarian authorities are always somewhat strained.
The symbol known as the Tertium, or “Three Arrows”, is familiar to many in the modern world. It is stamped on the collection bins that we use for recyclable materials. The most widespread religious symbol of the Utilitarian Church, the symbol of the Tertium represents the cycle of change and renewal for all existence: matter, energy, and spirit. The arrangement of arrows into a triangle serves as a reminder that the Universe is a closed system, and that all we do returns to us, good and bad.
Over 2000 surviving languages still existed among Humans in the 25th century. Each Consortium on Terra was made up of multiple language groups, and chose to unify them by selecting a group of official spoken languages as well as a single written language for administrative purposes. English was the most commonly spoken language on Earth at the beginning of the Node Age, and became the official language of Sol Force. Among the other most commonly used languages on the planet, New Latin as a spoken language and the Hanzi written language of the Han Consortium were also taken to the stars. Aliens who choose to be “human-fluent” would attempt to learn all three, although English was most commonly mastered through contact with Sol Force spacers.
English is the official language of Sol Force and its charter colonies. It has been the Lingua Franca of communication among Humans since the 20th century, and remains one of the official administrative languages in the Arctic, Australartic, and Americas Consortia on Terra. All line officers of Sol Force in all branches of service must be fluent in English, and fluency exams are also required to hold positions of authority in the charter colonies and in the engineering corps. Many human spacers speak several other languages, however, including those which are non-Human.
New Latin is the official language of the Europa Consortium, and has been since 2245. Although many regions and principalities within the Consortium speak other languages in common parlance, this revised modern Latin is used for all official documents and is the primary language taught in schools. After over 300 years of use by Church, Consortium and common people, it has evolved into a vibrant spoken and written language, and it is often used by Sol Force and its personnel.
The popularity of Hanzi written characters as a unifying language of administration is based in part on the formation of a political entity called the Han Consortium in the 23rd century.
As one of the new collective states of the pre-Node era, the Han Consortium was by far the most heavily populated polity of the planet. It was multi-lingual and multi-cultural to an enormous degree, comprising most of eastern Asia and the still-viable portions of the Indian subcontinent, as well as a huge population of people whose homes and livelihoods were literally built on the water in the Indian Ocean, China Sea, and over the Drowned Lands of eastern and southeast Asia.
Hanzi as a written language was a useful administrative tool and was imposed by the politically and militarily powerful core in the Asian highlands. It allowed the officials of many population groups to communicate clearly and effectively via electronic channels. It was also taught in schools, promoted as an official literary and cultural heritage language for the state, and adopted by the general population for their own use in trade and entertainment. Audiences in the floating cities of Japan would enjoy watching films shot in Hindi or Bengali or Tibetan with Hanzi subtitles, and vice versa.
The Han Consortium was one of the hardest hit during the First Contact bombardment of Earth. Major population centers were destroyed and millions were killed. Millions more were rendered homeless and without resources. The remaining Consortia governments had to pull together for an enormous rescue and relief effort, and in the process millions of people were relocated to the Europa, Australarctic and Americas Consortia.
Since Hanzi had already been taught as a second language for many decades in the majority of primary and secondary schools of these other Consortia, the displaced population were able to use their Hanzi skills to get along in ways that their native languages would not have served them. They could read and fill out forms, apply for services and receive aid using Hanzi, even in areas very far from their former homes.