At the heart of the Serene Sea, small circular rooms can be found in dead temples built from mere stones by the last broken survivors of the Sequence, left alone in the empty ruins of what had once been an empire, millions of years in the making. These temples bear the figures of the sovereigns — the last guides of the Sequence, the ultimate bulwark against rot and chaos that emerged in the last days of the hierarchical civilisation. Endless nanometric carvings tell the tale of the sovereigns, but they do not invite the passerby to revere them — instead, they are monuments to hatred, celebrating the coming death of an empire barely holding on to life.
The sovereigns were first assumed to be the ultimate form of the Sequence of History: immense collective intelligences operated by a transbiological network built from the organic substance of absorbed civilisations. In truth, the sovereigns are both less and more than hiveminds. They are individualities, born out of the incredibly complex thoughts of the civilisations nurtured and swallowed by the Sequence. They are individual consciousness, hijacking the transbiological frame harvested from untold billions of sophonts to become their own thing. In a sense, the sovereigns can be considered as the pinnacle of the Sequence and its greatest failure. The pinnacle, because they are true rulers, almost all-powerful sophonts created from the remains of lesser, weaker ecosystems. And the failure because instead of achieving the Sequence’s dream of forceful but harmonious unification, they took the power of the empire and ran with it, carving entire solar systems of biological matter to their liking — to their intent. They are a hierarchy made visible at the scale of stars. The end point of the Sequence. The last monarchs of an already dead kingdom.
Fire Sovereigns are identified by the temples. Their names and symbols change, but their identities remain.
- The Strategist is one of the only sovereigns encountered by humankind, and strangely enough seems to have existed before the Sequence became derelict, albeit way after its golden age. This sovereign is described as “a cloud of aged blood, shimmering pearls and the taste of battles past”, and is assumed to be rather small in size, probably capable of fitting aboard an Orrery ship. Their frame was seemingly assembled from the filtered organic remnants of vanquished species, perhaps selected on the basis of combat prowess. They once led the vanguard of the Sequence in battle against enemies such as the Vriij, the Forgotten Traveller and the creators of the Pale Path. They have met defeat for the first time at the hands of FTL-capable human vessels during the assault on Draugr, albeit they were already less than a shadow of their former self.
- The Avid Watcher, sometimes referred to as the Uncautious Observer, is a very old sovereign, possibly the first one, built from the matter of seven sapient species absorbed by the Sequence one million years ago. Their appearance is unclear, albeit the carvings regularly praise their “strange scent, like honey pouring from stars.” Little is known about them, aside from the fact that they now exist dormant in the secluded parts of the galactic halo. Several millions years ago, the Avid Watcher sought to see glimpses of the future through an artificial wormhole that required the destruction of several hundred stars to construct. It is unknown what they saw, but as soon as they managed to peer into the future, they destroyed their wormhole and went into a state of stunned hibernation — the remnants of their observation device now form a 100 lightyear bubble of empty void, in the middle of the Perseus arm. A fringe theory posits that what the Avid Watcher saw was nothing other than us — humankind, frail and young, but with the possibility to travel between the stars in the blink of an eye.
- The Shimmering Weaver, often angrily referred to as the One That Orders, is perhaps the closest we know to a golden age Sequencer. Described as a “baroque painting in movement, a cloud of sentient gold”, the Shimmering Weaver has been located in the Perseus Arm, albeit the Starmoth Initiative refuses to disclose the exact location of the sophont. The Shimmering Weaver was assembled out of other Sequencers through millions of years of ritual self-sacrifice. It resides in a living planetoid, and was once the single most powerful sophont of the entire galaxy, pulling the strings of a non-negligible portion of the Sequence. The planetoid is now pristine and seemingly in working order, maintained for all eternity by armies of enslaved, sub-sophont creatures chittering in the dark. But the great room at the heart of the planetoid, behind gates the size of a city and armies of skeletal warforms...it is empty. We have seen the throne of a divinity and it is empty.
- The Old Seeker was once a powerful Sovereign, described as a “continent of knowledge, the scent of blood sprayed on warm dust, hills of bone and books”, possibly a warden of the knowledge of civilisations past. Little is known about this Sovereign, as they are currently dead — as much as a Sequencer can be. Their location has been pinpointed to a rogue body in the Norma Arm — in effect, a planet-sized skeleton, a perfect sphere of empty bone, except for an opening near the equator, three thousand kilometers in diameter, through which something went in and killed the Sequencer. Analysis of the crater suggests that several civilisations lived and died in the opening across at least two million years, as the decaying body of the sophont was still emitting residual heat.
- The Silent Blade was the Sequence’s executor, a thousand kilometers long sophont that assumed the shape of a worm. Assembled from the DNA of multiple predatory species, it could dessicate itself to travel at sublight speeds towards its target, spending thousands of years alone in the void. Upon arrival in a target system, the sophont would come back to life and slither its way towards a planet or space station. There, it would divide in an untold number of copies and start a one-sophont war. Or, if the target was small enough, it would simply swallow it. In its worm form, it was impervious to virtually all weaponry, even Sequence-made UREBs. Yet, it was killed in a single shot. A simple tungsten rod wrapped in a spacetime field, travelling at 0.98c, hurled through space by the Forgotten Travellers.
The temples also refer to two other figures as “Outsiders”. We can only suppose that these sophonts were as powerful as the Sovereigns, albeit they did not hail from the Sequence.
- The Moth is never described, only alluded to. Careful textual analysis of the carvings reveal that the Moth is likely to be a paracausal sophont, unbound by time and possibly space. The Moth is described as a kind, understanding figure, and vast in size, possibly larger than the Sovereigns. The Moth watches, say the carvings. The Moth understands.
- The Interloper is a real headache. Their description is not unlike that of a Sequencer, with a tentacled form attached to a cloud-like, undefined main body, but instead of the Sequence’s typical black and gold appearance, they’re said to be white and silvery. The vocabulary used about them is almost diplomatic, as if they were an ambassador of some kind — perhaps that of another, extra-galactic Sequence.
NASA/Caltech, Galaxy of Horrors poster series.
Edited by Jyothi.
It is a well-accepted fact that Sequencers do not have a shared physical form. Though all remaining Sequence members have since long relinquished whatever physical envelope they once possessed to embrace a shape best described as a "sapient cloud of baroque ornaments", they did not appear this way in the first place. All evidence points to the idea that the Sequence is not attached to a specific species but can instead be understood as a symbiosis of a vast number of different civilisations and physical shapes having merged under the same organisation and aesthetics. In fact, considering the age of the Sequence (about ten to twenty million years) it is entirely possible whatever species or conglomerate of species once founded the Sequence doesn't exist anymore.
Many long-lasting interstellar civilisations are based on this "meta-civilisation" model but the method through which the Sequence united its components is, as far as we know, unique. And, to be honest, terrifying. Much more than what we originally expected. And for the record, our initial hypothesis was galactic wars of extermination.
1 - Sequential History
At the core of the Sequence is a concept born somewhere on one of their original homeworlds ten million years ago: when considered at a specific moment in time, civilisations have no existence in and of themselves. They're just people, buildings, armies, but they're not ideas. What makes a civilisation is its history. To vanquish a civilisation, to conquer it fully, one has to conquer its history.
When the Sequence targeted a specific civilisation it had deemed worthy or interesting, it started by studying its history in full, often reaching a higher level of understanding and knowledge than the locals. Then it would start interfering with this history. The first level of interference took place over the course of decades and consisted in slowly seeding doubts about the validity and reality of this civilisation's historical records. This doubt-creating phase would in time enable the Sequence to sever a civilisation's link to its own past by burying it in false truths, conspiracy theories and misrepresentations. These endeavours would grow in scope and scale to the point the Sequence would find itself in nigh-complete control of the target civilisation's media and data infrastructure, signalling the beginning of the second phase. Over a few centuries, the Sequence would rewrite their target's history in order to insert themselves within it, with the end goal of making this civilisation believe it was always part of the interstellar empire. A wide array of methods were used for this purpose, from the widespread falsification of historical records to collective consciousness manipulation. In the end, the target civilisation would join the Sequence peacefully without even noticing the transition, convinced of having always been a small element of the sprawling empire. The method was incredibly effective. It is estimated that between one to two hundred thousand civilisations were absorbed in that way over the course of ten to twenty million years, most of the time with minimal bloodshed. Even vast interstellar empires, initially similar in power to the Sequence, fell to this method called the Sequence of History.
It is to be noted that the Sequence used a variant of this strategy against rebelling factions or civilisations, erasing their history without replacing it with anything, leaving billions of sapient creatures in a timeless fog, devoid of identity or temporal depth.
What about civilisations that did not have a concept of history? It seems the Sequence did not even consider them as such, seeing them as feral animals that could only be eliminated. Interestingly enough, three known civilisations managed to resist the Sequence of History. The Forgotten Travellers, which could communicate faster than the Sequence (due to being an AFAL civilisation), noticed and responded to initial interference attempts in a timely manner. The Vriij, which could manipulate the memories of other sapient beings and reshape their personal or collective histories, proved impervious to the second stage of the method. And a mysterious civilisation the Sequence only named as "Cyclicals", that seemingly had a non-linear perception of time and as such proved to be completely impervious to their attempts, going as far as casually rewriting their own history to counter Sequence interference.
2 - The Remembrance War
As time passed, several prominent figures or factions (if there is a meaningful difference) within the Sequence started to lament the sheer loss of knowledge that came with the expansion of the empire. An order of historians and librarians rose from the ranks of those who had been tasked with carrying out the Sequence of History, with a new mission: to harness and preserve the collective timeline and deeds of the countless societies erased and merged within the Sequence. To each erased civilisation now corresponded mystical archives, set aside from the wider Sequence and curated by xeno-historians. Most of the archives were not much more than discreet buildings in Sequence megalopolises. However, some interstellar empires were vast and complex enough for their archives to take the shape of hollowed-out planets filled with vaults, tombs and vast networks of library-cathedrals. These planets were isolated histories frozen in time: the Sequence called them the Fragments, one of the empire's most well-guarded secrets.
And then, some two million years before present, an incident only known as the Reveal led to a widespread backlash against the Fragments, which were declared anathema. In Sequence parlance, this meant they were now eligible targets for interstellar wars of extermination. As they were part of the Sequence, the Fragments should not have been destroyed by strength of arms. Their populations were to be granted the honour of collective suicide, followed by the self-destruction of the planets.
Instead, the Fragments fought back. The librarians were also soldiers, wielding the power of many a Myriad, the Sequence equivalent of legions and navies. For millions of years, they had collected the knowledge of lost civilisations and, in many ways, had grown more attached to them than to the Sequence itself. When relativistic shells and black hole weapons started raging above the Fragment worlds, a powerful cult revealed itself within the librarians: the Lodge. It did not just seek to protect the Fragments. It wanted to recreate the dead civilisations, making them rise from the dead and walk the galaxy again. And to achieve this purpose, the Sequence had to die.
The resulting three-way galactic war was cataclysmic.
The loss of lives probably numbered in tens of trillions and millions of planets, but the Sequence had already gone through exceedingly destructive wars, with the Vriij conflict, in particular, ravaging entire regions of the Okean cluster over less than two millennia. The real devastation of this war wasn't in material terms.
Faced with defeat and the threat of ritualistic genocide, the Lodge started giving the Sequence a taste of its own medicine. Hiding behind the unwilling shields of the Fragments' defenses and military, the rogue librarians leveraged their vast knowledge to compromise the very history of the Sequence. Their weapons were Nulls: advanced AI/transbiological systems that scoured the databanks and networks of the empire, modifying historical records, erasing specific parts, rewriting events to the point of simply destroying the collective history of the empire. The empire replied with its own historical institutions and Nulls but their efforts were built on top of an already crumbling structure. After fifty thousand years the empire had ceased to be a coherent civilisation united by a shared past.
The first part of the Sequence of History had been applied to its very creators.
There was no second part. The Lodge did not fill the void it had created. The war fizzled out, its original casus belli having vanished in the limbo that was now imperial history.
The Lodge had effectively killed the Sequence with its own weapons.
Illustration from the Wootha Public Domain Release.
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Welcome to the Traverse Traveller Database, 2567 edition! You have requested a physical version of the following database: non-human ruins and remnants in the Traverse region. Please stand by while we are processing your order (expected time to delivery: 2 to 3 weeks). In the meantime, you may review a summary of the contents below. Have a nice day.
When the Traverse was first discovered, the sheer quantity of habitable worlds in the region led us to believe we had finally found a place that could harbour non-human civilisations and societies. Alas, if the Traverse proved to be ideal for human settlement, none of its planets bore the signs of active extraterrestrial civilisations. However, expeditions and archaeological endeavours on Traverse worlds have reported vast amounts of ruins and remnants, proving that the region once was teeming with well-developed sapient life.
Note that this guide is far from comprehensive: many Traverse planets have only been partially explored, or not at all. Even Elora itself may still contain mysteries yet to be unearthed.
[Displaying per-planet summaries].
Despite being a super-habitable world, Elora is surprisingly devoid of obvious signs of colonisation. If nonhuman species once settled or emerged on this world, they did not leave any ruins, though some would argue that the planet's incredibly complex symbiotic life is a form of sapient life in and of itself. In fact it could even be said that Elora's plant life, with a capacity for pheromone-based communication and organic tool-making, can be considered as a civilisation in and of itself, just one that doesn't operate on human timescales. Aside from local life though, Elora contains the mangled remains of a few exploration ships that crashed here about three hundred thousand years ago, including a Sequence-made skiff that somehow managed to impact a very visible mountain.
The Ishtar system was colonized at least five times by different civilisations over the course of the past ten million years. They left various ruins ranging from derelict space stations to barely recognizable solar sails orbiting Ishtar's parent star in silence. Most if not all of these civilisations apparently came from Ishtar itself, though tectonic cycles and local life have erased any signs of their presence.
Masan, qith Masani's seat of power, was once home to a tree-based civilisation dubbed the "Verdant Council" by the Starmoth Initiative. It seemingly relied on trans-continental root networks that linked billions of individuals together in some sort of plant hivemind, a bit like Eloran forests on steroids. At its apex, the Verdant Council mastered most plant life on the planet and was seemingly capable of surface-to-orbit travel by way of explosive seeds. There is actually some debate over the extinct nature of this civilisation given the timescales over which such a species operated, with a single thought potentially taking months to coalesce into action. Masani specialists are arguing that the Verdant Council did not disappear but is simply experiencing a post-apocalyptic period where they would have returned to a quasi-feral state making them indistinguishable from regular vegetation. A more radical theory is that the Verdant Council is just operating as it has always been: we are simply ill-equipped to notice a civilisation operating over millions of years.
The isolated system of Parys is full of weird oddities. Its second gas giant contains a vast necropolis of kilometre-long coffins floating in the upper atmosphere, containing skeletons belonging to a whale-like species. Its third gas giant harbours the remnants of a vast megastructure destined to turn it into a star, which suffered catastrophic failure a few million years ago. This giant itself has an icy moon that was entirely covered in laser-carved canyons telling the tale of an ancient monarch tricked by a beggar. The system's Oort cloud has been clearly altered to draw strange (and probably meaningful) patterns in the skies, while the inner planets all harbour the same cube-shaped temples at the equator. Considering that Parys doesn't have any habitable planet (nor any planet that once was habitable), a few specialists have formed the hypothesis that the system is in fact a vast art installation.
An art installation that might have been created by the now-derelict and slightly insane planet-sized artificial intelligence that once covered the entirety of the Dogon forge world, about five lightyears away.
Finally, it should be noted that several young Sylphs dwell in Traverse stars, including a very well-developed individual nicknamed "Athena" which has complete control over Masan's distant second star.
Illustration from the Wootha Public Domain release.
CW: intrusion, deprivation of privacy.
[ALGORAB REPORT F-X5-CM]
Subject: attempt at merging reports F-X6 to F-X100 under a single introduction.
Alright, I know what you are going to say. Human folklore is incredibly inventive, from the myths that are the pillars of modern religions to urban legends that flourish in literally every place humans have ever visited but this is different. This is different because we have hard data. Photographs. Interviews. Physical information. Sensor reports. We can't all be wrong at once. They exist.
They are creatures made of baryonic matter. This is essentially all I can say. To humans, they appear as dark-skinned, white-haired female-coded creatures in plain clothes. Though this physical form is seemingly capable of interacting with physical matter, walls and physical obstacles in general do not seem to be a hindrance for them. Furthermore, they seem to display this appearance only in presence of humans. Though I have not been capable of confirming this account, Laniakean teams on Okean report sightings of Ladies That Wander in Vriij form. They retained this shape for several milliseconds before presenting as their usual form as soon as they had detected human presence.
Ladies That Wander appear amicable and willing to interact with human beings, though they almost never talk. In fact, aside from their shared appearance, Ladies That Wanders are almost impossible to differentiate from humans without specific instrumentation. Though they do not seem to mind the presence of scientists and observers nearby, any attempt at isolating a Lady That Wander for close observation invariably results in the individual disappearing. They appear to be capable of spontaneous, unassisted faster than light travel across distances that may vary from a few meters to several thousand lightyears.
The most advanced theory we have is that the Ladies That Wander are some kind of transdimensional projection, using the same set of unknown physical rules as the geometry drive but based on a bodily form and not a space engine. They could come from any place in the galaxy and beyond and at this point. Are they independent organisms? Free-flowing information? Paracausal entities? We are completely at a loss here. They exist beyond our scientific understanding. They just...are. Like the geometry drive.
And I realize that I forgot to add a very troubling correlation here. The first sightings of Ladies That Wander correlate exactly with the first long-range geometry translation. Furthermore, Ladies That Wander bear more than a passing resemblance to Rani Spengler, the woman who discovered and reverse-engineered the geometry drive.
Make of that what you will.
Nb: if you did not have your daily dose of spookiness, I would like to note the Ladies That Wander may be linked to the paracausal entity known as The Moth.
[STARMOTH INITIATIVE REPORT 6-A]
[Edited by vegetal AI Symanda]
Subject: Nonhuman construct/species known as the Forgotten Travellers.
"Forgotten Travellers" is the name given to a defunct civilisation that dwelled in the central bulge of the Milky Way some two million years ago. They were a seemingly artificial lifeform capable of living on planets with carbon-based or silicon-based ecosystems. Forgotten Traveller technology is hard if not impossible to distinguish from their bodies: both used a bone-like structure that relied on organic synapses to relay information and power. Forgotten Traveller artefacts and fossils have a very recognizable style owing to their tendency to present themselves as clean geometric shapes. How the Forgotten Travellers moved or communicated is unknown.
Note: the name "Forgotten Traveller" is a direct application of the Starmoth Initiative report 67-Q-C which recommends the use of adjective+noun denominations for nonhuman species. I am not a great fan.
The exact expanse of the Forgotten Travellers' empire is unknown though they once occupied a non-negligible part of the galactic centre. Given the massive stellar density of the galactic bulge, there is a possibility that the Forgotten Travellers once were the largest known spacefaring civilisation, with controlled worlds numbering in the hundreds of millions, a total far greater than what the Sequence owned at its apex. Their homeworld has yet to be located but is estimated to be somewhere near Sagittarius A*, at the exact centre of the Milky Way.
The location of the Forgotten Travellers' civilisation is somewhat unexpected as our models have always shown the galactic centre to be a hostile place for intelligent life. Though the high star density means more habitable worlds, the prevalence of gamma bursts in the region means that it is exceedingly rare to see an active biosphere existing for more than a billion years. Interestingly enough the first confirmed Forgotten Traveller ruins were found on Tyra, a world that had once been sterilized by a gamma burst.
Having survived by sheer luck the Forgotten Travellers quickly understood the precarious situation they found themselves in and responded by establishing an interstellar civilisation as fast as they could. This civilisation relied on AFAL (As Fast As Light) engines that worked by bending space and time around the ship. These engines were far more advanced than anything humankind can produce and were a direct application of what we know as the Alcubierre drive. Such technological prowess was only made possible by the capacity to produce and store unfathomable quantities of power. While it probably implies the Forgotten Travellers enjoyed a post-scarcity society, it also means their AFAL drives doubled as weapons of interstellar destruction.
Archaeological studies on Forgotten Traveller worlds show that their interstellar empire went through two distinct phases. The first and longest phase was characterized by the extreme rarity of AFAL drives through tight social and legal control. During this time period, the Forgotten Travellers expanded their bubble of controlled space to several billion systems (low estimate). The second period is much shorter, barely a few thousand years long. It is characterized by a sudden increase in AFAL activity as well as the sudden disappearance of 0.1 to 0.5% of all star systems within the galactic bulge. Historians can only speculate as to what exactly happened to the Forgotten Travellers but it is assumed that at one point in time the Forgotten Travellers made AFAL drives available to everyone which disturbed the very foundations of their society to the point planet-breaking weapons became as common as small arms in the industrial era. After a few millennia in such a state, their interstellar civilisation withered and died.
Note: 0.1 to 0.5% of all stars in the central bulge means several dozen million systems/planets. The amount of destruction carried out by the Forgotten Travellers, even if it wasn't coordinated, is truly staggering.
Note 2: The Sequence and the Forgotten Travellers existed at the same time. Though they probably never contacted each other it is impossible the Sequence did not notice the sudden disappearance of so many stars. They may have linked this eclipse to the usage of AFAL drives which might explain why they have such hatred towards devices capable of spacetime manipulation. Maybe they think we are the Forgotten Travellers?
The sheer size of what once was the Forgotten Traveller empire means that there are still hopes of finding isolated pockets of their civilisation somewhere in the galactic bulge. So far however only ruins have been found.
Note: writings found on Tyra allude to the existence of a megastructure known as the Interdictor, which was built in the last days of the Forgotten Travellers' civilisation and aimed at preventing AFAL drives from working in its vicinity. It supposedly drew power from a black hole and was located near their homeworld. It is yet to be found.
Illustration from the Wootha Public Domain Release.
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