Trades of Terra Norma
“WE ARE NOT ALONE,” reported the vanguard scout, before the last seed-ships of humanity’s remnant fleet had even emerged from the slipstream. Tribunal officers had considered the possibility of encountering alien life, but with the Armada closing in, the discussion was understandably brief. It made no difference. Nothing could have prepared humankind for this kind of “not alone.”
Since the tattered remnants of Terra found refuge in the Norma Arm just 700 solar years ago, they’ve managed to carve out a sizable foothold in what they call the Terra Renatum Sector. What they lack in physical strength or advanced technology, they make up in determination, inventive military tactics, and a knack for political maneuvering.
During two hundred years of underground isolation (see also: Hawker Belt Secession, Century Siege, Ambyloid Reconstruction), rebel human mining settlements turned to desperate, high-risk technological improvisations (gamma tempest venting, reactor chaining, radiation drug moonshining) to stay alive. They succeeded, but not without permanent consequences. When they reemerged from the deep places, it was with the porcelain skin and milky eyes of something… not quite human. In Ambyloids, the transformation had unlocked strange, subtle new powers of the mind. Many forged another path to power, augmenting their frail bodies with rough-hewn cybernetics.
Murdi: the thrifty rat-men. Love them or hate them, they’re a ubiquitous part of life in the Norma Arm. Don’t be fooled by their small stature, nervous twitching, or squeaky voices. The Murdi are widely acknowledged as the second-to-none masters of two trades: making starships fly damned fast, and making filthy heaps of profit. Simply put: their ledgers and wrenches make interstellar commerce work. These days, it’s rare to find a freighter without a Murdi or two aboard. In fact, most modern ships (Murdi and non-Murdi alike) are constructed with integral ratholes – cramped mazes of passageways that give rat-engineers quick and easy access to all of a ship’s vital components.
Standing two-and-a-half meters tall (~4m total length), with an armory of natural weapons, these tribal centipede warriors are one of the Norma Arm’s most physically imposing sentient races. With an inability to vocalize beyond the clicks and chitters of their native language, J’skkt race relations have always proven difficult. Early Terran Commonwealth colonists sparked one of the bloodiest race wars in memory when they, thinking them feral beasts, exterminated dozens of J’skkt hives in the sands of Hawwa IV. Relations have improved in modern times. The “crazed ’pede warmonger” stereotype still exists, but J’skkt are more widely understood as a complex, strongly caste-based society. Every aspect of their society—from the recitation of poetry, to the cultivation and extraction of pheromonal medicine, to the flowing battle dance of their ornate chitin starships—is awash in complicated notions of tradition and honor. Slowly, J’skkt and non-J’skkt traders have learned to understand each other’s words and phrases, and a free exchange of culture and technology is slowly picking up steam.
The fish-men. A peaceful and long-lived race, they are one of the Norma Arm’s oldest inhabitants. A shadow of the flourishing civilization they once were, the Bala have been pushed further and further out into the void, as other races turn covetous eyes toward their resource rich worlds. While amphibious for a brief period (3-5 years) as adolescents, Bala traditionally take a pilgrimage out into the galaxy, to gather knowledge and wisdom before returning to their aquatic biospheres for good.
Following the ancient purge of the Murdi homeworlds, the surface races’ tattered remnants fled to the stars. Spacefaring has never come naturally to these motley bands of greens and dog-men, but they’re nothing if not tough. They persevered; they replenished. Now, over a millennium later, they cruise the tradelanes in terrible black gunboats, once more preying upon the weak; ambushing civilian ships for slaves or meat (depending on when their last meal was).
Advanced Stellar Species (sentience unclear/varied)
In the unpopulated asteroid belts and debris fields of the Norma Arm, a unique brand of highly-evolved, silicon-based life has found a home. Wyrms, krillion, the arachni… the creatures vary wildly in size, shape, diet, and disposition. Some researchers claim to have found evidence of higher sentience in certain varieties of this silicon life. It’s an intriguing question; one that could take scientists decades—or even centuries—to answer.
The Old Ones (existence speculative)
The galactic boogeymen. Many races have preserved eerily similar tales of ancient and unreachable beings from the oldest extra-galactic stars. Most dismiss these stories as myth, but occasionally a vocal fringe theorist blames these creatures for sending the ever-present danger of gamma tempests (normally considered to be a natural phenomenon) through the slipstream. By contrast, a few remote cultures have constructed entire religions around the Old Ones, worshiping them as “architects” – benevolent worms who carved navigable skeins (literal wormholes) through the slipstream.