Alcor and Mizar
Image from Steve Bowers
The four components of Mizar as seen from an orbiting asteroid

These two star systems in the Plough are an important point of contact between the Solar Dominion and the Solipsist Panvirtuality.

A Truth-Santaya Networks colony ship arrived at Mizar in 2097 a.t. from Hesperia (later Fons Luminis). This bright star in the Plough asterism is in fact a double-double star, with two widely separated pairs of A class stars. Mizar A has two components separated by no more than 0.29 AU, while the B star has two components separated by four Aus. These two pairs are themselves separated from each other by three hundred and fifty astronomical units. Very nearby to this quadruple system is the star Alcor, less than half a light year away. Alcor is a member of the same cluster as Mizar (known as Collinder 285), and is loosely bound gravitationally to that star system. All the stars in this cluster are around 500 million years old.

The Truth-Santaya colonists had surveyed the system from Hesperia before departure, and during the flight, so they knew it contained no major planets, but instead held several quite large planetoids in orbits sandwiched between the many stars of this system. They also knew that the Alcor dust belt had apparently already been colonized as the star was emitting radar and data transmissions, although there was no record of any First Federation mission to this sector. The data transmissions were indecipherable, although apparently Terragen in origin.

Using the planetoids and asteroids for raw materials, the Mizar colonists were determined to create a habitat swarm orbiting around the A and B binaries, and cycling between the two. These bright A-class stars would provide an abundance of energy to support a large habitat-dwelling population. In some ways this system resembled the old Hesperia system, which also included two double stars; the colonists chose a 2000km planetoid orbiting Mizar Ab as their capital, naming it Leonardo (to recall Raphael, a world in a similar position back at Xi Uma Ab). But this world was much hotter than Raphael, and could only be inhabited on the dark side.

While construction of the underground cities on Leonardo and the orbiting bands elsewhere were underway, continual efforts were made to contact the unknown colony around Alcor. Activity in that system was considerable, and many artificial structures had been constructed, although telescopic observation could not detect any habitats suitable for humans. Most observers believed that this system was inhabited by a Terragen-derived aioid civilisation, perhaps an a-human or a solipsist one, in which case there might be some possibility of conflict or other existential danger.

A number of automated probes were sent to the Alcor belt, but they were attacked and destroyed in a number of strangely diverse ways. When a probe with a superbright vec pilot, AndOr85, was sent to the system, it escaped, but only after a high-speed chase through the outer reaches of the system, in which it destroyed several of the pursuing craft. AndOr85 reported that the defenders seemed more interested in playing cat-and-mouse with eir craft, and did not seem to be seriously interested in deterrence. E noted that the defenders appeared to have only limited skill with their weapons, almost as if they were as fallible as humans. Needless to say, this opinion was not very popular among the nearbaselines of Leonardo.

For four centuries Alcor was declared a Forbidden System; however several illegal attempts were made at contact, sometimes returning, sometimes not. The first all-human mission returned safely, after a hair-raising chase through the outer reaches of the Alcor dust belt; but the next one, the Alastair in 2498, was destroyed, attacked from several angles by a host of seemingly underpowered defence ships. This tragedy coincided with the opening of the first indirect wormhole link to Fons Luminis, and a remarkably rapid rise in the power and influence of Solarism in the Mizar system. Leonardo and most of the habitat bands joined the Solar Dominion in 2530, and a number of Dominion transapients of the Divine Order arrived during this period.

Once Mizar was part of the Dominion a Prefect, Tolomeo the First, was appointed. Tolomeo opted to make contact with the Alcor aioids in order to determine their intentions, and to prevent any more occurrences like the loss of the Alastair. To this end he sent a squadron of well-armed Solar Dominion warships to the edge of Alcor space, attempting to attract the attention of the hypothetical leaders of that system (if any). A swarm of various kinds of warlike craft came out to meet them, moving in a strangely uncoordinated way.

Tolomeo remarked at this point that the craft seemed almost as undisciplined as a rabble of human civilians, but since these craft were self-evidently not capable of human life-support then there must be another explanation. A single Dominion craft approached the swarm of vessels, was attacked and returned fire.

Many of the aioid swarmcraft were destroyed by the powerful weapons of the Dominion warship before it was finally disabled by their persistent fire and it returned to the squadron. Then the swarm went back to its previous, strange, milling behaviour.

Tolomeo decided not to take the squadron any farther into the Forbidden System; no doubt more swarmcraft would arrive to replace the ones destroyed, and e risked losing some or all of his battleships. But the details of this encounter were closely recorded and analysed throughout the Solar Dominion and beyond. An intriguing possibility emerged, from an unexpected discipline; certain historians of Interplanetary Age ephemera recognised the designs of some of the swarmcraft as being similar to in-game warships from virtual reality games popular in the fifth and sixth century A.T.. Other historians recalled the flight of the hyperturing megacorp AI known as BOSS, who was last seen heading in the general direction of Collinder 285 nearly two thousand years before.

The Mizar Prefect deliberated, and pronounced that this system was evidently inhabited by a unique aioid culture derived in some part from sophont gameware. Although the Alcor aioids sometimes seemed to act in an aggressive way, they were in fact behaving in the way they knew best; in short, they only wanted to play. Perhaps each individual aioid entity in the Alcor system was backed up before a battle or even created especially for that event; it seemed they did not seem to consider destruction a particularly great inconvenience. In many other ways the aioid warriors of Alcor seemed very human, or at least to have many human limitations in skill and response speed. Tolomeo was of the opinion these were the descendants of the ancient non-player characters who accompanied the BOSS hyperturing on its flight from the Great Expulsion so long ago.

The Alcor system was once again placed under quarantine; but on many occasions since that time various gamesters and adventurers from around the Solar Dominion and the Inner Sphere have broken the quarantine to test their mettle against the players of Alcor. Some have returned, but many have been killed by the diverse fighting craft deployed against them.

In 3645 a Panvirt linelayer arrived in the Alcor System, and after some apparently ritualized combat proceeded to open a wormhole from there to the Solipsist wormhole nexus. Although no official conformation has come out of Alcor concerning this event, it must be assumed that this system is now a part of, or at least affiliated with, the Solipsist Panvirtuality.

Since that time the war vessels of the Alcor Dust Belt have evolved, seemingly in response to the better armaments of the adventurer ships that have entered into their system. Over many millennia there have been many adventurers who have successfully made their way to the very heartland of the Dust Belt, and have apparently joined with the Swarmcraft pilots in the defence of Alcor. A very few of these have returned, and a somewhat larger number of the turingrade `moby' entities which make up the modosophont population of Alcor have made the journey out of that quarantined star.

From accounts given by those who have emerged or returned from the Alcor dust ring, a picture of Alcor society has been pieced together. As well as the constant space warfare, most of which occurs in simulated form so cannot be observed from outside, there are many other competitive activities which predominate in the Alcor culture. It seems that gaming and contests of many types form the basis for almost all interaction in the Dust Ring, and skill in these contests decides the status of each individual entity. By gaining various advantages during these competitions an individual can advance both toposophically and in social status. This complex and challenging culture can be distasteful for some of the mobys, and a few of these discontents make their way out of the system and into the greater Terragen sphere.

A few Alcor mobys have been incarnated into material form, and gone on to become real-life mercenaries or tacticians; others find their niche among the many virtual reality scenarios maintained on various worlds in the Sephirotic Empires. Some feel the need to return to the Alcor system, but like any other intruder must combat the defending craft to gain admission.
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Text by Steve Bowers

Initially published on 19 June 2010.