Sailors of the Ebon Sea

Advanced vacuum-adapted clade

Sailor on the Ebon Sea
Image from Steve Bowers
A Sailor collecting light energy; this false colour image includes some of the extra wavelengths that a Sailor can detect, including the Cosmic Microwave Background

The Sailors are a relatively small clade that can be found in numerous inhabited systems. Their earliest accounts suggest that they were the creations of a transapient who was interested in exploring the extremes of biont adaptation. The Sailors are tweaks who have been adapted to long term survival in 0-g vacuum environments. As long as they have occasional access to food and water to top up biomass and near-constant sunlight to power their recycling organs they can survive indefinitely in the vacuum of space. The extensible solar collecting membranes that fan out from their back allow them to live comfortably anywhere from 0.5 to 5.5 AUs from a G2 star. When fully extended, the membranes look somewhat like great black moth wings. The Sailors are completely adapted to life in space and can eat, excrete and even mate in vacuum. The only times they must enter a pressurized environment is to give birth or to undergo certain medical procedures. In all such cases, a low- pressure inert gas provides sufficient protection.

Unlike the various other vacuum adapted bionts, the Sailors of the Ebon Sea are also equipped with a natural plasma sail. Using biologically generated electricity and small quantities of hydrogen gas, these bionts can create vast solar sails made of plasma, allowing them to reach anywhere in the habitable portions of a star system within a few months. A few lucky veteran space travelers have looked out the window of their cabin and seen the sight of a Sailor cruising by with its plasma sail gently illuminated by internal fluorescence.


Physically, the Sailors are humanoids that range between 1.8 and 2.4 meters tall. They have slender, somewhat attenuated limbs, large barrel-like chests, and a noticeable hump-like bulge on their backs. Their extra size allows them to carry a large range of sophisticated organs for high-efficiency recycling of waste products. Solar energy is used to crack and recombine waste into useful material and energy carriers. Their skin is hairless and as smooth and thick as a terrestrial dolphins'. Their eyes are quite large, and like many other vacuum-adapted humanoids are capable of interpreting a frequency range from the cosmic microwave background (useful for orientation) to the far ultraviolet, using the Extended Colour Convention. They possess baseline equivalent senses of touch, taste, hearing, and smell, although the later two can only be used when they are in an atmosphere.

In addition, they can communicate using both radio waves and UV lasers. Their radio communications are general broadcasts that they can receive at a range of up to 20 million km (less in systems with high levels of radio noise). Radio communication is equivalent to baseline speech, and can also be used to communicate with the radios used on most spacecraft. In contrast, their laser communications have a range of only 100 km, but are a high bandwidth method of communication that essentially allows the participants to send and receive thoughts, images, and detailed sensory information. Because the Sailors possess only two laser emitters (located on either side of their foreheads), they can only communicate in this fashion with no more than two others of their kind. One consequence of the neural hardwiring associated with laser communications is that sane Sailors cannot deliberately lie when using laser communication.

Their solar-collection membranes are extremely thin and can be completely retracted, allowing them to wear ordinary space suits or other clothing. The hump on their back becomes somewhat wider when these membranes are retracted. Each of these two membranes can be extended to cover up to 30 m2. If energy becomes scarce Sailors can enter hibernation, vastly reducing their metabolic demand. Often this will be done to store large amounts of energy to allow for rapid bursts of activity when needed.

Their locomotive capacity is poor in gravity environments however they are able to walk normally in environments up to 10m/sec2. Accelerations of 1-5m/sec2 are far more comfortable.


While Sailors exhibit the same social and cultural diversity found among most humanoids, Sailor societies typically have several features in common. While they are physically somewhat solitary Sailors are extremely gregarious with respect to communication. Many Sailors talk to nearby fellows on a nearly constant basis. However, this applies only to radio communication. Only friends, lovers, or family members regularly communicate using the more intimate laser mode. However, brief bouts of such communication are exchanged between Sailor who wish to ensure both honesty and clear communication.

Because of the depth of their laser communications, serious disagreements and misunderstandings between Sailors are far less frequent than among baselines. Many Sailors have difficulty trusting sapients who they cannot communicate with in this fashion. As a result, most bionts and aioids who work with Sailors on a regular basis are altered to be able to utilize this communication mode. While Sailors can be formidable warriors, in almost all cases their conflicts are outside their clade.

While there are occasional exceptions, the vast majority of Sailors not only prefer living in open space or among asteroid belts, they find the experience of being in open space to be deeply spiritual. There seems to be a biological basis for such feelings, leading many Sailors to believe that their creator designed them to find spiritual truths in this vast and empty environment.


The Sailors of the Ebon Sea generally live on asteroids or small moons. They usually prefer to reside on bodies that they can leave without external aid, restricting them to bodies less than 20 kilometers in diameter. They build hospitals and residences on such locations. While Sailors can subsist on ice and heavily modified vacuum adapted lichens, most prefer a more varied diet. As a result, their inhabited asteroids all contain pressurized locations dedicated to food production and preparation. The Sailors have developed a number of surprisingly tasty vacuum-proof concentrates made from conventional human foodstuffs. Although Sailors tend to be nomadic, most prefer to have a home base that they return to periodically.

In more backward systems where all industry is not performed by advanced nanotechnology, Sailors frequently work in 0-g and vacuum industries, asteroid surveying and mining. Others act as discrete couriers or smugglers between space habitats, or as crew members on all manner of spaceships. A few Sailors enjoy visiting habitable planets and mingling with the great masses of humanity, but most prefer stays on orbitals and space colonies, since they are not as far from the beloved emptiness of space.

In the vast majority of cases, Sailor societies operate as either free- form anarchies or direct democracies. However, in some backward systems franchise and rights are only granted to other Sailors. In some systems Sailors enslave non-space-adapted bionts to work as servants and technicians on their asteroid residences. Unable to leave without aid, these slaves have little choice but to obey their masters. In a few primitive systems, the Sailors have even enslaved entire space colonies and regularly prey upon low-tech cargo ships. While such practices are fortunately rare, the Sailors have an exceedingly negative reputation in some systems.


The most universal feature of Sailor psychology is their love of being in open space. When not occupied with other tasks, many Sailors will spend many hours meditating in vacuum. Such periods of meditation often substitute for the sleep that many other clades of tweaks and near-baselines require. Sailor often have trouble describing this experience to outsiders, but it seems to involve a feeling of oneness with the universe and a sense that the universe itself is a vast conscious entity. Some Sailors also claim that stars are sapient beings and a few believe that they have actually received messages from these stars. The more devote Sailors often channel these religious feelings into efforts that range from creating religious treatises to engaging in advanced astronomy or studying the nature of the structure of space.
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Development Notes
Text by John Snead
Initially published on 28 September 2001.