Denathi Adepts
denathi adepts
Image from Steve Bowers

The Denathi are a Superior Clade of some renown. They are the descendants of Old Earth mystics who believed that they could, through rigorous discipline, unlock the legendary powers of the mind. The Denathi have in fact achieved this goal — but not in the manner which their ancestors intended.

History

The race began as an early Hider culture. During the early years of interstellar expansion the Adepts' predecessors established a colony on Denath, which had the characteristics they sought: it was an undesirable world in a resource-poor system, bypassed by the first wave of Terragen colonists. There, they were able to study the mysteries of the mind in peace while the Nanodisaster raged in Solsys and other systems dealt with waves of refugees. The early Denathi studies focused on philosophy, but there were fringe groups who sought to prove the ancient claims of parapsychology. After more than a century of fruitless research these self-proclaimed Adepts concluded that baseline humans lacked the capacity for psionic powers. They then tried simulating such abilities with technology. Some early successes with nanotechnology led to intensive studies of utility fog. Combining that technology with implants and genemods led eventually to their current system. Shortly after their "mental" powers first became well developed the Denathi were discovered by the rest of the galaxy. News of the end of the nanodisaster and the end of the following dark ages (combined, no doubt, with the death of the paranoid old guard) was enough to persuade the Adepts to join the Civilized Galaxy as part of the First Federation. Later, in 5,200 AT., Denath became part of the Communion of Worlds. The Denathi have since colonized several other worlds (independently or in partnership with other species) and established communities on other Sephirotic worlds and space habitats.

Appearance and Capabilities

Denathi have the standard human body plan. The height range is from 1.6-1.85 meters with a mass range of 45-80 kilograms (females tend to be slightly shorter than males). All Denathi have a slim muscular build; the heaviest are invariably also the tallest. Their eyes are violet or dark blue, though both shades can be so dark as to appear black. Hair color is black or dark blue. Denathi hair is never more than shoulder length, and males lack facial hair — this was originally a cultural feature but genemods have since made it innate. Denathi have dark blue skin, shading to medium blue on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, with light blue skin lining the mucus membranes inside the mouth, nose, etc. Even the tongue is dark blue. Females outnumber males about 2:1.

Several genemods are standard among the Denathi. They are all of superbright intelligence and have neural enhancements that enhance both the speed and depth of thought processes (increased nerve conduction velocity, improved memory and heightened intuition). The corpus callosum — the nerve bundle that connects the right and left hemispheres of the humanoid brain — is larger in Denathi than it is in baselines. This facilitates greater communication between the rational and emotional centers of the brain and allows the simultaneous processing of factual and emotional data (this ability is natural for baseline females). Denathi can, with practice, control the signal flow through the corpus callosum. This gives them conscious control over the degree to which they experience their emotions while processing other experiences (an ability which is present in a more primitive form in baseline males). This ability allows the Denathi to be coldly logical or superbly intuitive as needed. This has the additional bonus of affording a degree of resistance to some forms of memetic attack. The Denathi lifespan is about 500 years without medical intervention.

The most unique feature of Denathi biology is the shambhan, an organic factory that is the key to the "psionic" powers of the Adepts. The shambhan produces bionano that remains under the producer's conscious control. In effect, one of the Denathi is able to secrete a utility fog of bionano containing both foglets and nanites. An Adept can direct her utility fog to perform a variety of tasks. Denathi can duplicate empathic ability by using sampler units to analyze a subject's vital signs and bodily secretions (this works quite well with bionts but is of limited use with vecs or nonterragen bionts and none whatsoever with virtual or AI entities). Those same samplers can react to the presence of magnetic fields of the frequencies and intensities that indicate the presence of a living nervous system, thereby simulating a telepath's ability to sense minds. A group of sensor-equipped foglets can form a long-baseline interferometric array in order to gather sensory data at a distance from the controller — this is essentially clairvoyance and/or clairaudience or even a ranged tactile sense, though the range is limited to a few dozen meters and the nanites can't penetrate an airtight barrier. Two or more Denathi who are within range (about 100 meters) can transmit messages or sensory data to each other by passing low-power UV laser signals along molecule-thin lines of foglets. The Denathi have developed a number of coding schemes for these signals; each family has one or more propriety codes, and it's common for corporations, religious groups and even circles of friends to develop their own. Because the signals are relayed from nanite to nanite the participants can communicate "telepathically" even around corners. The most spectacular ability of the Denathi is that of channeling their utility fog into doing physical work. "Telekinetically" striking or shoving someone is possible but very energy intensive. Lifting small objects is easier. Easier still is using the nano to cause simple chemical changes — causing an attacker's weapon to fall apart is fairly easy, but manipulating nearby molecules to cause rapid oxidation (including ignition) takes a great deal of skill. Individual Denathi may develop other techniques than those mentioned here. The only subconscious function of the utility fog is a blue goo defence against hostile nanotech agents — this ability emerges during puberty. All other applications require training.

The primary limitation of the shambhan is that a Denathi must learn, through long practice and intense mental training, to control it. Just learning to activate nanite production requires months of practice. The most advanced functions only become possible after decades of study. Consequently, only the most dedicated Adepts are capable of feats that duplicate psychokinesis. The shambhan is also a very energy-intensive structure; even with their highly efficient metabolisms Denathi must consume a great deal of carbohydrate- and nutrient-rich food to maintain their abilities. The foglets and nanites of the utility fog themselves feed by metabolizing secretions on the producer's skin or on airborne microbes and organic hydrocarbons. An Adept can conveniently control a utility fog with mass equal to her own (or slightly greater, depending on skill).

The Denathi are very jealous of their powers — they are, to date, the only Terragen bionts to have developed "psi-nano" to the degree that they have. For this reason they have engineered themselves with a self-destruct function to prevent samples of the shambhan from falling into hostile hands. Any Denathi can cause the organ to disintegrate at will, and they will do so with little provocation if they anticipate capture (their medical science can easily replace a lost shambhan). If an individual dies her shambhan will initiate spontaneous combustion within five minutes of the cessation of life functions. The fact that Denathi self-cremate when they die makes resuscitation problematical at best. Without backup or very prompt medical attention death is permanent.

Culture

Perhaps because of their small numbers and the intensive training required for their unique abilities, the Denathi have one of the most enduring and unified cultures of any clade, one that has survived for thousands of years with very little variation over time or by region. The Denathi dialect is a synthetic language of their ancestors' design that derives from no single Old Earth language. The Adepts live in family groups consisting of a husband, two wives and their children. Triads prefer to live in close proximity to their extended family members. Family relationships, especially with siblings, are very important.

Denathi have a distinctive style of dress. They prefer loose clothing in dark colors. Robes and hooded cloaks are common. Both sexes display very little skin; usually only the face and hands are exposed. This seeming prudishness is merely a visible manifestation of the Adepts' regard for privacy. When among those whom they're close to, Denathi go nude or nearly so. Denathi garments feature wide sleeves with pockets in them; small items are carried there or worn on a belt. Wedding bands (silver bracelets worn by both sexes on the left wrist) are the only jewelery worn against the skin. Denathi never wear elaborate hairstyles, but they are fond of ornate headgear (complex embroidery trimming a hood or hat, for example). They never wear weapons openly unless they are traveling in a region where it's the custom to do so. Many Denathi adorn themselves with body paint in complex abstract designs. White, silver and electric blue are the preferred paint colors but some individuals favour yellow, purple or pink. Body art is a very personal expression reserved for family and close friends and so is rarely worn on the face. For this reason Denathi refer to knowing someone well as "knowing eir colors" and sexual relationships as "sharing paint."

The Denathi regard their "psionic" powers as a sacred trust. Mental, emotional and, to a lesser degree, physical discipline are the cornerstones of their society. Denathi can only develop their powers through years of rigorous training, and the species only gained those abilities after centuries of seeking. Because of this they believe that less disciplined species would abuse the power. Most Denathi extend this belief to the idea that any power will be abused unless it is earned through hard work and dedication. Adepts who show signs of dishonesty — and it's hard to hide such a trait from judges who can read one's emotions — are punished harshly. Those who don't respond to re-education may have their shambhan removed. Denathi are prized as administrators because of their honesty, and those who transcend to higher toposophic levels rarely have difficulty earning or retaining the trust of less evolved sophonts.

 
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Development Notes
Text by Michael Walton

Initially published on 10 October 2005.