Image from Steve Bowers
The dwarf planet Å (pronounced oh)

Star: JD 9901112
Type: M-class red dwarf
Distance from Sol: 269 ly
Constellation: Norma
Current Allegiance: Negentropy Alliance

Colonised in 2205 A.T. by Space-Adapted Humans (SAH), this metal-poor system has no major planets. The largest dwarf planet is Å, a Cerean type planetoid less than 1000km in diameter. However the system contains a large number of smaller bodies, often in eccentric or highly inclined orbits. The majority of these bodies have been mined and converted into habitats of various types over the last eight millenia.

During the Second Federation period Å was the hub of an unusual human/aioid hybrid culture, which emerged as a result of interdependence between the Space-Adapted human population and their sophisticated spacesuits. Since there were no terraformable worlds in this system the locals were accustomed to spending long periods of time in freefall or on airless worlds with very low surface gravity. Rather than modifying themselves to be tolerant of vacuum conditions, the Åoians developed sophisticated, comfortable, and smart spacesuits. An inbuilt exoskeleton and geckotech extremities allow the user to walk on a wide variety of surfaces in many different conditions, even on the outside of an accelerating spacecraft or rapidly rotating habitat or asteroid.

The suits developed in the Second Federation era were not individually sophont, but could link together to form an emergent organisational system. Over time this decentralised, self-organising mentality gradually took over the functions of Åoian government, controlling most aspects of society on these small, far-flung worlds.

Since the distance between any pair of asteroids was constantly changing the dynamic of the self-organising mentality would change over time as well. Any given asteroid would be host to a certain number of subsophont suit-minds, forming a local subswarm which would exchange data with other asteroids as they passed by. Interactions between subswarms would increase in speed and bandwidth as the asteroids moved close together, then decrease as they moved father apart, but all subswarms were in contact with each other to some extent. The light-speed lag between the most distant subswarms could be several light hours, but mostly the lag was measured in minutes.

Some historians are sceptical that such a widely spread emergent mind could have arisen spontaneously, and indeed there are indications that it may have been deliberately designed by the Åoians to maintain command over the far-flung asteroid colonies in this system. But certainly by the period of the Version War the swarm mind (known collectively as the Å Authority) was independent of any human control, and instead was in effective control of most of the population of this system.

Whenever an Åoian wore an Authority suit, e would be constantly monitored, advised and supervised in every act. The Authority would set out a number of goals for each human citizen, and assist em to attain those goals; if the citizen did not perform eir allotted tasks in a satisfactory fashion, the suit would encourage the user to improve eir efforts. As well as guaranteed environmental protection, the suit could supply nutrition and in-suit entertainment, the quality of which was dependent on the obedience of, and standard of work carried out by, the wearer. Using various kinds of positive reinforcement the Authority managed to keep most of the citizens of the Å system content and busy. Although the Authority also controlled a relatively small number of robotic servants, the SAH citizens and their powered suits carried out much of the industrial activity in the Åoian asteroid belt. In certain situations the suit could operate independently of the user, performing tasks or acting to protect the safety of the occupant, but when operating independently the suit's processing ability was considerably less capable than that of a human citizen.

The Å Authority is sometimes compared to other polities where an external group mind has emerged and become dominant over a population of humans or other bionts. One such example is Mollweide, home of the Exomind. However the Å Authority was a widely spread hive mind which was very slow and variable in character because of the light-speed lag between the many subswarms, and never ascended to transapient status. All interaction between the Authority and the citizens of the Å system occurred via visual and auditory media; on the other hand the transapient Exomind of Mollweide interacted with the people of that world via direct neural link and became intimately integrated with the consciousness of each citizen.

During the Version War the NoCoZo attempted to gain a controlling interest in the Å Authority, in order to use the resources of this system to build warcraft. But the Negentropy Alliance was more successful in appealing to the Authority's keen sense of order and hierarchy, and Å became aligned with that empire instead, contributing both spacecraft and crews to a number of actions in this region.

Since joining the Negentropy Alliance, the Authority has relinquished direct control over the human citizens of Å and has become little more than an arm of the Negentropic justice system. In accordance with the precepts of Negentropism the diversity of political and economic life in the asteroid belt of JD 9901112 has increased, although this diversity is carefully monitored and regulated.

In the current era citizens are given as much freedom of action as any other citizen of the Alliance, and since the ComEmp period openness and freedom of action have become paramount considerations. As a result many other political and religious organisations have become established on various habitats in the Å Belt, including many with Cyberian and NoCoZo sympathies, and new clades have arrived such as the Sailors on the Ebon Sea and Faber vecs.

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Text by Steve Bowers

Initially published on 14 August 2011.