Relayers
Relayers
Image from Steve Bowers

Shortly after the advent of DNI (direct neural interfacing), Terragen civilization experienced a flowering of new cultures and social institutions built around the phenomenal versatility of this new technology. Some wrought incremental changes in old customs; others revolutionized the lifestyles of large populations of sophonts.

One such revolutionary lifestyle was that of the DNI commune, wherein individuals link directly to the minds of their peers and experience community with the immediacy and intimacy of a personal, individual relationship. Some DNI communes go so far as to conflate the virtual "self" of the community with the self of the individual citizen. In these highly networked societies, individuals commonly experience not only their own thoughts and emotions on a day-to-day basis, but also those of their fellow citizens. Proponents of the communes maintain that this strategy leads to a much greater communal solidarity than is possible in non-networked societies. Individual citizens develop a bond through common experience that is said to transcend the "primitive" ties of friendship or family. Even in DNI communes that maintain and respect the integrity of individual identity, most citizens exhibit a higher rate of altruism and empathic awareness than is commonly seen in citizens of non-networked societies. Such is the consequence of sharing not only culture, but mind.

This, of course, leads to a few organizational difficulties. It becomes impractical to reflect the collective emotional and intellectual consensus of an entire community in one sophont, particularly when the sophont in question is of a clade not normally adapted to massively parallel cognitive processing. Moreover, it's rarely beneficial to inundate individuals with unrelated and inconsequential perceptions in every social situation. In DNI communes larger than a dozen or so individuals, some system is required to manage which individuals are "mixed" in given situations, to what degree that "mixing" takes place, and whether certain perceptual elements are filtered out of a given mix. Early attempts to accomplish this using sub-Turingrade AIs were largely unsuccessful -- advanced heuristic algorithms and complex indexing strategies proved inadequate for a task of such staggering breadth and nuance. Commune shepherds quickly realized that these management tasks would have to be delegated to agents of near-or-greater human-level intelligence.

Thus, the Relayers were born.

The original Relayers were baseline hu uploads, selected for heightened empathy and exceptional social skills, tweaked to exhibit massively parallel cognitive capabilities, and fitted with an enormous networking infrastructure to manage connections to multitudes of DNI-equipped citizens. The original Relayers were put in positions of direct contact with individuals. At first, each Relayer managed only a handful of sophont citizenry, with multi-level hierarchies of Relayers established to network larger populations. Occasionally, specialized "floating" agents would be employed to temporarily link distantly connected segments of a networked society as needed. This strategy suffered from the disadvantage that such floaters were inevitably less intimately connected with the citizens they serviced, resulting in a lower-quality social network compared with those established by dedicated Relayer agents. As the clade developed across a number of various DNI commune cultures, it gained enhanced managerial capabilities. Modern modosophont Relayers have been known to intimately connect hundreds, sometimes thousands of modosophont citizens without difficulty. Transapient Relayers have been known to network populations well into the millions.

In the ages since their introduction, shortly after the introduction of DNI itself, the Relayer clade has branched out into other areas of society. While they are still most commonly found in DNI commune cultures, individual Relayers can rarely be found among non-DNI commune establishments as well. They are most commonly employed in areas of social networking that benefit from their innate talents. Throughout the Terragen sphere, Relayers are employed as social workers, advocates, mediators, advertisers, teachers, mentors and other such socially oriented roles.

Unfortunately, not all Relayers employ their talents in socially beneficial ways. There is a notable subset of the Relayer population that is known to service various DNI "Death Cults", filtering the perceptions of cult victims to suit the tastes of various consumer-members. Relayers have been involved in numerous cases of sophont exploitation, torture, inquisition and the like. Though comparatively rare, these instances have put a taint on Relayer reputation at large, mainly due to the ready availability of detailed information on these practices. Relayers are, by nature, ardent archivists. Many Relayer-linked Death Cults have produced extensive repositories of victim experiences, traded and sold outside the cult at large and often the first indication of cult activities intercepted by many legal authorities.

More commonly, "nonconstructive" Relayers are involved in hedonistic cults. Some sell their abilities in a unique form of prostitution, and in many polities, employment of their influence falls under the same social conventions as the use of many psychotropic drugs. Relayer "hooking" can be a powerfully addictive experience to its clients. In some instances, Relayers have been bought and sold as commodities and forced, through various means, to service Relayer-addicted clients. Thus has arisen an unusual kind of "virtual" flesh trade that has plagued the Relayer clade to one degree or another through the bulk of its existence.

Physiology:

Relayers are virtual in nature; therefore, it's difficult to define a distinct "physiology" in any manner analogous to that of physical beings. There are a few common architectural features, though. All Relayers exhibit extensive networking capabilities and massively parallel cognitive processes. It's not uncommon for Relayer avatars/eidolons to be widely expressive in a variety of mediums. Relayers exhibit as much psychological as representative versatility. They have extensive control of their own cognitive architecture, and have been known to frequently rewire their own minds and overhaul their own personalities in order to adapt themselves to new clients.

Relayers have been known to adapt their own communication methods to suit their audience. They tend to prefer expressive forms (appearance, virtual representation, or whatever) that elicit strong emotional responses from others, and due to their virtual nature, they have a wide range of possibilities to choose from. Typical, "mainstream" Relayers tend toward pleasing, angelic forms, or forms that are more likely to generate feelings of comradery and loyalty in others. Some Relayers, though, poisoned by an exploitative world against the ideals of their clade's founding, have gravitated toward expressive forms designed to foster more destructive emotional responses, hinging on lustful, disturbing or ideologically charged imagery.

Relayers particularly enjoy dabbling in synesthesia, appearing to their clients as "visible odors," "loud clouds" or similarly paradoxical conflations of sensory experience. Some enjoy blending vastly different sensory modes across a particular social network to appear to their clients in ways those individuals could not naturally perceive without an active connection to the social network. For many sophonts, the experience of interacting with a Relayer is an almost religious affair. Many find it difficult, if not impossible, to describe the encounter to others who have not had similar experiences. This has no doubt contributed to the mythos surrounding Relayers in many areas of the civilized galaxy.

Psychology:

Relayers tend to be extraordinary empathic creatures, immensely sensitive to and concerned with the minute nuances of social interaction. They are known for an uncanny ability to identify with and comprehend beings of vastly different mind. They are adept at psychological modeling, able to interpret and predict the behavior of client sophonts in extraordinarily detailed and insightful ways.

They are commonly considered unselfish, altruistic creatures, though this may be due more to a misunderstanding of their motives, rather than anything intrinsic to the Relayer clade itself. The Relayer psyche is extraordinarily malleable, enabling them to adapt their own interests to align with those of their clients. Many times, this can produce the illusion of altruism, even when a Relayer is acting strictly in its own best interests. Moreover, Relayers are exceptionally adept at persuasion, owing to their psychological modeling abilities.

For all their social ability, one might think that Relayers would make exceptional leaders and strong activists. In truth, however, few Relayers have ever displayed an affinity for such high-pressure social posturing. Many speculate that they are too empathic to make good leaders, too attuned to the conflicting notions of right and wrong in a strongly polarized society to avoid becoming paralyzed by indecisiveness. This follows from their original purpose as uniters of heavily networked societies that, by their very nature, tend not to require figures of strong leadership. Relayers are considerably more comfortable in situations of quiet consensus, and will go to great lengths to avoid and diffuse confrontation. This is one reason why they have become such ready, and often willing, victims to exploitation. They crave social harmony, and will go to incredible lengths to foster it from within, even if such efforts are ultimately self-destructive. They become overwhelmed by the intense personalities they encounter in strongly individualistic or self-actualizing cultures, particularly when unable to offset them with the weight of an entire communal network.

Relayers see themselves as the glue that binds individuals together in harmonious societies, and are rarely comfortable straying from their traditional roles as mediators, moderators and interpreters.
 
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Development Notes
Text by David Jackson

Initially published on 17 November 2006.