Economy and Culture
The cataclysmic outcome of the Fossil Fuel Era is what is now called The Burn. Pollution-driven climate change has transformed the surface of the Earth to such an extent that it is now barely habitable. Those unwilling or unable to flee the surface now live out short, brutish lives of destitution amidst the ruins of the Fossil Fuel Era. Meanwhile, anyone of any means now lives in either stratospheric cloud cities powered by wind and solar energy or extra-planetary colonies powered by fusion.
Cyborgs and Ludds
What was once called “Transhumanism” is now a basic reality. Every newborn is implanted with a Universal Interface Port (UIP) at the nape of the neck. This port enables instant vaccine-program updates administered via nano-medicines, rendering many diseases a thing of the past. The UIP also allows for all manner of personal customization of body and mind, from retinal displays to neon tattoos.
Those few who dissent from this techno-lifestyle are called Ludds. These “extremists” are seen by many as threatening to society. Critics argue that their refusal of the UIP vaccination program makes them “literal breeding grounds” for viruses and diseases of all kinds, placing greater society at risk.
Humanity has colonized the inner planets, lightly settled the outer planets, and planted stations as far out as the Kuiper Belt.
Extra-solar exploration is under way but crafts are not due to arrive at Alpha Centauri for another 50 years or so.
What are national boundaries in an era where you can sleave to Pluto and back in a day, or spend your life in a virtual dimension with no physical body? The nation state has become increasingly meaningless.
Correspondingly, laws carry little weight these days. All the heavy lifting is done by what is known as “The Contract.” This complex body of terms and agreements is negotiated and enforced by multinational corporations.
Modern scholars style the new political system “economic feudalism.” Larger corporations exact “tribute” from smaller ones in the form of product licensing, while the individual is “taxed” via goods and services. Meanwhile, each corporation enforces the peace with its own hired militias. Critics of the system point to rampant abuses of human rights, while proponents stress the relative rarity of inter-corporate warfare, which is generally bad for business.
Just as The Contract has replaced laws, so has The Council replaced governments. This convention is attended by multinational corporate leaders in order to settle disputes in a manner conducive to business – a peaceful process, usually.
The United Nations still exists and enjoys a minor seat on the Council, but is otherwise largely a figurehead institution. As the Queen was to the British Parliament in the 20th century, so the United Nations is to the Council today.
The most common means of interplanetary transportation for individuals is called “sleaving.” This technology translates one’s consciousness into a digital signal which is transmitted to a host body at the destination point. You wake up in the host body – which may be a near-perfect human replica or a crude robot depending on what you can afford. Meanwhile, your natural body remains in suspension at the departure point until you return.
Skins and Ghosts
Despite its ubiquity, sleaving is frought with controversy – mainly to do with what are called “Skins” and “Ghosts.”
“Skins” are people who hire out their own natural-born bodies for others to sleave into. Not only does blatantly violate the terms of the Contract, but also most people find this repulsive, like prostitution but far worse.
“Ghosts” are people whose sleave transmissions are hijacked. They typically end up in a sorry fate.
There are two kinds of Ghosts. The first is someone whose transmission is intercepted en route and hijacked into an unexpected body. These Ghosts typically find themselves forced to work as a slave for their hijacker.
The second type of Ghost is someone who makes it to their destination and back without remark, only to discover years later that their transmission was hacked and used to create a duplicate consciousness of themselves. Their twin may have lived a life of slavery as a Ghost without the original person ever knowing.
The Stone, far out in the Kuiper Belt, is especially notorious for Skins and Ghosts.
The successor to the early 21st-century Internet is a network of virtual reality sites collectively called the Etherworld. This digital dimension contains nearly everything imaginable. Among its stranger features are so-called “ghost parks”, where one may experience a reality without any kind of physical body, real or simulated.
The Etherworld is supported by server farms located beneath the surface of the Earth. Naturally, these farms are heavily defended against incursions by wild natives of the Surface.
The Inviolable Self
In response to sleaving technology, Ghost slavery, and the loss of national identities, values have changed. The paramount value of modern society is the inviolability of the self. Clause One of the Contract reads “We hold the right to one’s own singular and unitary identity to be self-evident and absolute. It is hereby declared a basic human right recognized by all participating corporations.”
Of course, there are always counter-cultures. Shared-self, poly-self, trans-self, and no-self ideologies lurk around every corner. The Surface and the Stone are both notorious as havens for such deviant views.