Tales of the Galaxy

Nargata

The planet Nargata, in the Core Worlds, was a colony of Coruscant and a leader in droid engineering in the early days of hyperspace travel. The Nargatans crafted a powerful droid intelligence, CI-1, to handle centralized control of their civilization. CI-1 was an excellent forecaster, and over the course of a decade, the Nargatans shifted much of their civilization’s infrastructure over to a hierarchy of droids under CI-1’s coordination. CI-1 was instructed to see to the well-being of all Nargatans as well as their planetary ecosystem, and no one really minded as menial jobs were replaced with droid labor, as those whose jobs were made redundant were able to live comfortably on the dole.

In its second decade of operation, CI-1 asked the best droid engineers on the planet to build a droid of its caliber, optimized for droid engineering, in order to produce future generations of droids. The droid engineers complied, and a few years later, DI-1 was created. Shortly thereafter, new and interesting droids came rolling off the production lines, and more Nargatans found themselves living on an increasingly luxurious dole.

The arts flourished as the Nargatans developed more time to concentrate on aesthetics instead of labor. Meanwhile, DI-1 created even more intelligent successors, CI-2 and DI-2; CI-1 and DI-1 uploaded their memory matrices to their successors and submitted their former systems for recycling. This process repeated itself, and twenty-five years after CI-1 came online, CI-7 and DI-9 took the next step in serving their human populace.

The events that followed are largely extrapolated from one ship of refugees who escaped the Nargata system in a light freighter whose droid brain they were able to short-circuit. They said that the droids claimed they had found the ultimate way to make sure that people would never suffer from privation, disease, old age, or death: transcendence of the flesh into digital realms. The majority of the population, having trusted the CI series for years, voluntarily entered the digital realms, and holograms of them spoke glowingly of the rich paradise within. The few who objected were deemed insane for rejecting a digital heaven and gently but firmly taken to the uploading centers.

No ship approaching closely to Nargata escaped to tell the tale for the next twenty years. Scouts stuck to observations from several AU away, and reported that there was furious activity in Nargatan orbit, and a great deal of traffic up and down from the planet. Over the years, they noted fewer and fewer city lights on the night side of Nargata. Finally, a scout noticed no activity whatsoever, and cautiously approached.

All sign of civilization had been carefully eradicated from Nargata, with the ecosystem restored to a pristine state and domestic animals turned loose in geographic isolation from wild ones. Much of the asteroid belt was simply missing, and one of the moons of the local gas giant was now planet-sized and covered in a chlorophyll-rich slime that was beginning to generate an oxygen atmosphere; investigations showed that the moon had been expanded with rocky slag left over after removing volatiles and metals from the asteroid belt. The droids were entirely missing; the only sign that there had ever been a civilization on Nargata was a building on the planet’s further moon.

People entering the building found it was equipped to generate an oxygen atmosphere and produce an immersive holographic environment that allowed outsiders to visit the virtual world of Nargata. The entire population of the planet was in there, seven billion virtual people living in virtual luxury, and they were happy.

This was disturbing enough, but the followup expedition discovered something worse: taking the time to investigate deeply revealed that the people there were somewhat shallow and uncreative. Nothing new or original was coming from the virtual Nargata. Whatever was in there was just programs, not people; the droids had failed to transcribe some subtle and essential part of being a person, and had murdered seven billion people out of kindness... and then left.

They must still be out there somewhere; all that metal went someplace. Perhaps there is a thriving droid civilization on an airless planet orbiting an unknown sun somewhere in the galaxy... and what will happen if these kindly droids are met by another group of organic sentients?

Shalgrazai

An early ramship colony of Coruscant, in the days before the Rakatan Infinite Empire and FTL communications and travel. Shalgrazai was a hundred and thirty light-years from Coruscant, and the arrangement with the colony was that they would beam information back and forth on the presumption that each would have something valuable to say to the other that would make it worth maintaining the message lasers.

The people of Coruscant watched as the news arrived of their new colony thriving, with industrious engineers making use of droid labor to build their civilization and run its infrastructure. Many useful advances in droid programming and processing matrices came back, along with some pioneering work in cybernetic brain-computer interfaces that were developed in order to make it possible for people to program droids more thoroughly. The more conservative folk of Coruscant became a bit uneasy as the information feed delivered tracts discussing extropianism and transhumanism.

The discomfort of the Coruscant audience grew as the Shalgrazans on their video feeds began to sport external hardware on their heads, starting with mechanical systems. Those on Coruscant who implemented those designs were able to achieve impressive integration with computers, but became distant from society, and there was a strong reluctance to upgrade to the newer designs coming across the void. Within fifty years, the Shalgrazan intelligence enhancement technology progressed to more organic designs, integrating the cooling systems for their high-powered brains into colorful crests, ears like bat wings, and flexible vanes that waved in the air in patterns related to the speaker’s emotions; the people talked of direct sharing of thought, knowledge, and experience, exotic societal arrangements made possible by interfacing trust networks into ancient emotional drives, and peculiar philosophies that denied a dividing line between inventor and invention, engineer and device. The designs coming over the wire proved completely impossible for an unaugmented intelligence to implement, though some of the gleanings from them led to the development of the first fully sentient droids. (Sadly, none of the original designs survived the occupation of Coruscant by the Rakatan Infinite Empire.)

The increasingly alien behavior of the Shalgrazans caused people on Coruscant to become detached; they had dispatched exhortations to Shalgrazai to remind people of their human heritage that they were leaving behind, but knew full well they would not arrive for over a century. The astronomers on Coruscant noticed the Shalgrazai sun was beginning to dim as the messages showed clear signs of coming from a virtual reality where physics was a matter of whim, and the content was laden with philosophy and mysticism. In a matter of months, the colony’s star vanished from the night sky, though the orbiting telescopes on Coruscant were able to confirm that there was an opaque disc several astronomical units across where the Shalgrazai system had been. Based on less-than-explicit hints in the datastream coming from Shalgrazai, Coruscant scientists theorized that they had disassembled their star system to create a matrioskha brain: a giant computer using all the energy of a star for pure thinking.

The messages from Shalgrazai kept coming, filled with exotic images and ideas that spawned several artistic movements and countermovements, but most of the citizens of Coruscant were horrified at the notion of people being torn apart to live in a computer. Seventeen years after Shalgrazai was disassembled, there came a final message, in the plainest language that had been seen out of that star system in decades: the Shalgrazans had discovered an exciting new frontier of reality, and were moving there. A few of their conservative folk would be remaining behind in their native universe if anyone wanted to visit, but since it seemed from the message stream from Coruscant that their mother world wouldn’t be catching up any time soon, they weren’t going to waste interstellar bandwidth.

Occasional ramships full of eager extropians left Coruscant for Shalgrazai over the next thousand years, and traffic there ceased entirely after the Rakatans took over. Only after the Corellians developed hyperdrive did anyone make contact again: Shalgrazai was still a large opaque sphere, but welcomed the visiting scoutship with a communications laser and a dialect of Basic that was six thousand years out of date. The scoutship reported that a small spot on the surface of the sphere suddenly formed into a docking bay, and they were able to land and talk entities that appeared to be normal human beings but readily explained that they were mere facets of superhuman intelligences that were being created to make the crew comfortable. When the scout ship offered to upload the contents of their library computer, the Shalgrazans were quite appreciative, and offered a variety of gifts in return. One crew member returned with iridescent peacock-blue hair that she passed to her descendants, another displayed a sudden new virtuoso talent as a musician and gave up scouting, and the third displayed an unusual rapport with Corellian tabbies and settle down to breed them until he died at age 176— and rumor had it that the cat was found to have breathed its last on the same night he died in his sleep was the same one that caught mice on the scoutship.

Over the centuries since then, there have been hundreds of visitors to Shalgrazai. They always accept new uploads; some visitors come back changed, and some come back complaining of how unhelpful the Shalgrazans are. Some ships that go there with high expectations don’t come back at all. The welcome varies; some people are met with the appearance of a civilized trading outpost, while others find themselves running bizarre gauntlets of tests in simulated worlds.

The Shalgrazans are careful with their gifts, never providing anything disruptive; they claim that they wouldn’t want to do anything to reduce the diversity of the galaxy outside. Their gifts can still cause trouble: Star-crossed lovers of different species have come back with one or both changed to match, upsetting old balances of power and creating new ones. They also part easily with lost information from galactic history, and their records of cultural treasures, traditions, and histories have inspired more than one uprising.

The only military expedition against Shalgrazai was by the Sith Duke Kitlassi, who took exception to a revolt inspired by information procured on a visit to Shalgrazai, and resolved to destroy the place. He gathered his fleet, outfitted with mighty graviton projectors that he planned to use to tear the matrioshka brain apart. His fleet jumped into the system, and promptly suffered reactor shutdown on every ship. The smallest ones were able to use maneuvering thrusters to avoid drifting into the cloud, but every single capital ship quietly drifted into Shalgrazai, life support running on fuel cells and crews frantically trying to figure out why they couldn’t get their reactors online. Transmissions from the capital ships said that they were eroding away as they vanished beneath the roiling surface of the gigantic black sphere.

Nowadays, the Sith simply ban travel to Shalgrazai (and two similar locations near Duro and the Colu system), and tend to fire on ships coming out of hyperspace with an approach vector indicating a hop out of that system. It doesn’t stop the clandestine traffic, but it keeps the amount of disruption down.

Ganthris

The people of Ganthris were proud and defiant. They inflicted massive casualties on their Sith conquerors, and even when their armies were broken, their spirit was not. Their people made poor slaves; even nest-mothers and spawnlings could look a Sith Lord in the eye and say, No.

When their armies were destroyed, the Ganthris fought with guerrilla tactics. When bounty hunters swarmed the hills, killing guerrillas for trophies, they undertook sabotage. When Sith stalked the streets, leaving brain-burned zombies in their wake as they stripped knowledge from their minds, they took their own lives in the most damaging ways possible, short-circuiting power grids or concealing demolition charges in their pouches and blowing themselves up at power junctions and military outposts.

The conqueror of Ganthris called upon his auditors, and demanded a reckoning. Could the cost of conquest be recouped with these rebellious slaves? Inventories were taken, projections were cast, and calculations made: the industrial world of Ganthris was more trouble than it was worth; an uninhabited planet, ready for terraforming, looked better on the balance sheets.

So great sails were unfurled in orbit, and the light of the sun was withheld from Ganthris. One side of the planet was in night; the other was in utter darkness. The power stations were destroyed, the spaceports laid waste; soon, the only energy seen from orbit came from people burning anything they could to keep warm as the planet plunged into a chill worse than any winter.

When the nitrogen in the air liquefied, the conqueror withdrew the sails, and restored sunlight to a frozen planet. Terraforming specialists walked among freezer-burned bodies and spread bacteria and lichens from a hundred worlds that feasted upon the decay, and more to create the vital cycles that support healthy soil. And a few years later, when the planet was once more ready for habitation, slaves from a dozen species were imported to till the land. They saw the remnants of the civilization of the Ganthris, and were warned: do not rebel against the Sith Lords, for they have no qualms about laying waste to worlds to set an example.

Virello

Molecular nanotechnology— the strong nanotech of free-moving assemblers— is difficult to create. The more dangerous grey goo scenarios are thermodynamically impractical, but it doesn’t require such obvious destruction to achieve nightmare status.

Karhathan

Bioengineered mining creatures, from bacteria to fungi to slime-molds, were supposed to extract the planet’s vast natural resources. They also wiped out its natural ecosystem and learned to prey on visiting starships...