by Max Barry

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The Owners of
Left-wing Utopia

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1

The Nexus

The Owners


Symbol


Population:
300 million (corporeal)
790 billion (virtual)


Capital (and largest city): Hub


The Owners

The Owners are the managers and administrators of the Nexus, and claim descent from the original builders, a civilisation so far in the past, no memory or record of their existence remains. They are a semi-biological machine intelligence with no singular form; each member adopts a form suitable to the task assigned to it. They claim absolute and total control of the inter-dimensional entity known as the Nexus, and using highly advanced technologies, are able to exert influence over multiple universes.

Etymology

The original name of the Owners is lost to history. Whilst translations vary, and some Clients refer to them using other names, 'The Owners' is the descriptor they feel best describes their role. What they call themselves in their machine code language is untranslatable, but would be best described as 'us' or 'we'.

The standard way to refer to them is simply as an "OWNER".

History

The exact origins of the Nexus and the Owners have been lost in the vast databases held on their nexus-based city, Hub, but it is clear that they have no identifiable homeworld. The earliest records of the Owners date back eighteen thousand years, and even then they lived and worked in the Hub, using Gates to open to empty worlds for minerals, air and energy. Gates that opened into regions that had inhabitants were closed as soon as they opened, the Owners preferring to avoid contact with other intelligences. They became adept at using empty worlds to make large areas of the Nexus veritable paradises and a number of Gates had opened up into the centre of stars; this vast amount of energy provided everything the Owners ever needed.
This all changed about twelve thousand years ago, when the Owners opened a gate into what they at first detected as an empty world. Widening the gate from its initial microscopic test gate, the first scouts reported a dead world, devoid of atmosphere, moisture and even any accessible minerals. This initial report was soon shown to be in error, as the Gate was attacked by a swarm of nanites; self-replicating robots who sought only to make more of themselves. Whilst the Nexus was never under any threat, the attack took the Owners by surprise and it was only their utter mastery of fields and the gravity within the Nexus that enabled them to first push the nanites back, and then to cleanse the planet by focusing the energy of a gate that opened into a star. The investigation afterwards provided the Owners with sobering facts; this world had once been home to a thriving civilisation, billions of intelligent entities spread across the entire star system. It was unsure whether the nanites were a development of this civilisation or an outside threat, but whatever it was, it had stripped the system of all life within a matter of years. The Owners realised that this was a threat that could afflict any civilisation and took the decision to open contact with as many species as it could, to enable a sharing of information and technologies, so that if such a thing happened again (an event it termed a 'hegemonising swarm') a coalition of species, linked with the Nexus, would be able to defeat it.

Whilst opening Gates was a routine matter for the Owners, Gates that opened into viable locations were rare, in the order of a tenth of a percent of all Gates. Of these Gates, not even seven percent held locations with intelligence. It took the Owners several centuries to find another intelligence capable of enacting an exchange with, but once one 'Client' (as they were termed) was found, more soon joined in. The Law of the Nexus was formed soon after the first interactions between Clients; the Owners simply didn't have the resources or the inclination to micro-manage every aspect of its Client's business. Now, aside from the input of Advocates and the various Boards that manage the Law, the Owners are content to open new Gates and watch for signs of more Hegemonising Swarms.

As of the present day, there are 15,708 active Gates, with a new opening roughly every year (although test gates are opened almost continuously). Of these gates, 1,068 have Clients and some of the more advanced Clients are allocated more than one Gate. In the history of the Nexus, there have been approximately four thousand Clients; the reason why a Client detaches from the Nexus is as varied as the Clients themselves. Most typically, clients evolve beyond the point at which they need the services of the Nexus, reaching a plateau of development and settle into senescence. Occasionally, internal disputes or strife can cause the blocking of a Gate on the Client's side, or the Owners may sanction a Client if it proves to be intractable, or breaks the Law too frequently. More rarely, natural disasters can render a Client extinct (although the Owners do their best to prevent such occurrences) or the Client can request the closing of the Gate itself.

The Nexus

The 'Nexus' is an extra-dimensional region that looks like a wide, infinitely long tube about 100 km in diameter. The Owners are descended from the original builders who disappeared several million years ago, and consist of semi-biological machine constructs. Both the start and the end of the Nexus are unknown; it is theorised that the Nexus has no start or end and might even be an infinitely long torus; go far enough in one direction and you will eventually return to where you started. The bare surface of the Nexus is a bronzed looking manifestation of space-time, impenetrable to any known methods. At regular occurrences along the Nexus, about every 2 kilometres, there is an indent in the surface where, using the appropriate technology, gates can be opened to other universes. The Owners use these gates to trade and interact with a multitude of universes, species and cultures and uses its power to manage and control the Nexus, adhering to a strict policy of interactions between its clients. Where gates have been opened and trade and interactions takes place, the Owners have clad the Nexus's surface in more adaptable materials and formed an appropriate atmosphere. Indeed, large areas of the Nexus' surface are dedicated to reserves for one ecosystem or another and entire cities cover some parts; either of a single race looking to set up a more permanent enclave in the Nexus or, in more cases, a metropolitan hive of thousands of species known as a Focus, coming together to trade and exchange information. The biggest gates are over a kilometre in width and thousands of people and vehicles pass through them hourly. At present, the Nexus has 15,708 active gates, with just over a thousand Clients.

Demographics

Physiology
There is no defined form for a corporeal Owner; entities typically are assigned a form best suited for the task given to them. For example, Advocates take on a form similar to that of the species to which they have been allocated, although not too similar; it is considered extremely bad etiquette amongst Owners to be mistaken for a non-Owner. For example, an Owner taking on human form might have the shape of a human, complete with facial features, but have silver skin or illuminated eyes. The actual form is highly dependent on the Client's own customs, beliefs and technology levels. Owner vessels are also controlled by an Owner consciousness placed into the vessel for that purpose. Most Owners do not have any physical form, however, living as semi-independent entities within the giant computer cores of Hub and contributing to both its almost infinite computing power, and to the maintenance, upkeep and management of the Nexus.

'New' Owners are exceedingly rare; as they do not age, and 'death' of an Owner is almost unheard of. All Owners have multiple back-ups stored in the Hub, and synchronise their memories regularly, if an increased number of Owners is needed, then multiple copies of a single Owner are used. Occasionally, a new generation of Owners is sanctioned, typically in response to the opening of a new Gate that requires additional resources, although this has not happened in almost a thousand years. New Owners are created by a contribution of parts of individual Owners' psyche into a new consciousness. It is considered a great honour to have one's psyche used in this manner.

Language
Owner language is naturally a machine code, designed to be efficient, effective and quickly transmitted, but for day-to-day purposes, they use whichever language is prevalent amongst the Clients they are working with.

Government

The Owners have no assigned 'leaders' and no official decision making body. When a decision needs to be reached by the Owners on a collective level, they simply tap into the greater collective of Owners and each Owner deemed to have sufficient expertise in the area is entitled to have a say and take part in the decision. When an agreement is made, that is enacted. Given the electronic nature of Owner society, such discussions take place almost continuously and in fractions of a second. This has lent Owners to having a slight measured feel to their decisions, given the pause before any reply. This pause consists of a species-wide discussion taking place and a collective agreement being formed. Dissent is unusual, but always scrupulously noted.

Foreign Relations and Military

The Owners have a strict policy of neutrality towards all of its Clients, save for the expectation that they obey the Law of the Nexus, and do nothing to endanger the Nexus or its inhabitants. They refuse to get involved in inter-Client politics or conflicts, aside from assigning zones within the Nexus in which conflict can take place. Most Clients can operate within the Nexus without any interaction with the Owners at all. The only instances where the Owners will get involved is the removal of a law-breaking Client from the Nexus, and the opening and closing of Gates.

Within the Nexus, the Owners exert almost omnipotent power; they have control over the very constants that affect all operations within the Nexus and are capable of altering forces such as gravity, inertia and molecular cohesion at an extremely fine scale. Numerous gates along the Nexus open into the interior of stars, or alongside black holes and quasars, and the Owners can direct and manipulate these colossal energies with relative ease.

Outside of the Nexus, Owner vessels have demonstrated instantaneous travel between distant points, on an intergalactic scale, and have access to highly advanced technologies, although aside from scouting and initial Gate exploration, Owners rarely operate within universes claimed by other civilisations, preferring to restrain their activity to universes without any identified sentient life.

Economy

The main focus of the Owners is to facilitate links between universes and the many species that reside in reality. As a true post-scarcity civilisation, they obtain all of their needs from Gates, mining resources and harvesting energy on a enormous scale. They do not, however, offer any resources, save that of the Nexus and its facilities itself, to any of their Clients. They long ago realised that trade was the most efficient way to encourage interactions between universes, and the Nexus is set up to facilitate this as easily as possible. Whilst they sometimes extract a tax from exchanges of goods, information or energy within the Nexus, this is used to expand the Nexus, open new Gates and create new Foci, and is mainly there to remind everyone that the Owners have made all this possible.

Culture

To say the Owners have no culture would be strictly inaccurate, as they have a long and detailed history, and seem to enjoy creating Preserves and managing universes for the sake of it. However, they do not create works of art, music or literature in the typical sense, neither do they have anything outside of their work in maintaining and managing the Nexus. It would not be wrong to say that the Nexus as a whole represents Owner culture; their ethos, reason for being and wish fulfilment, all rolled into one gigantic project.

Infrastructure

Whilst the Nexus is infinitely long, it is only about 100 km in diameter. The Owners currently directly control a stretch about two million kilometers in length. Outside of this claimed area, the Nexus is bare and empty; the only inhabitants are patrolling Nexus drones and the occasional scientific expedition. Using advanced field technology, the Owners can segregate the Nexus into various regions and keep atmospheres separate and distinct. The Owners allow Clients full access across most of the surface of the Nexus, up to an altitude of twenty kilometres. Above that, the Owners keep the Nexus in a vacuum all the way until Hub. Hub is a vast cylindrical construct, two hundred kilometres in length and about 30 kilometers in diameter, centred in the Owners' controlled length of the Nexus. Ships and drones continuously fly to and from Hub from the surface, carrying Owners, resources and the occasional lucky Client representatives.

Of the 100 km diameter of the Nexus, the inner 60 kilometres are strictly restricted to Owner vessels, Client ships must remain under a 20 km altitude limit. The reasons given for this are not clear, but it has been alluded that the closer one gets to the 'centre' of the Nexus, the less physical laws remain consistent and that the centre line of the Nexus is a physicists nightmare. Why this does not seem to affect Hub is unclear.

Nexus craft are typically only small, capable of carrying about twenty standard-sized humans, but once above the 20 km altitude limit, they can reach speeds approaching 5% of light within the Nexus. Nexus craft have technology capable of isolating the craft from inertia, making the transition from stopped to such speeds almost instantaneous, without discomfort to the occupants. Larger craft exist, and are often seen around the more important resource Gates, occasionally being used to shuttle large numbers of people or even whole craft within their large internal spaces.

Energy

Power is supplied from a number of Gates that open into the heart of a star. The plasma from these gates is funnelled up in brightly glowing field tubes to the Nexus' centre where it is fed into the centre of Hub for processing. It is the energy from these tubes that illuminates and heats the Nexus and is a testament to the power and technology of the Owners that these life-giving energies can be controlled and just as easily turned into weapons equalling the power of a supernova.

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