On the Shapers
The Shaper government, such as one exists, was constructed along ‘libertarian’ lines (albeit with some elements that would seem deeply foreign or even perhaps contradictory to any person harking to the same ‘libertarian’ title who is not also a devotee of the Shaper ideology), and is a generally minimalist entity, delegating many of the tasks performed by the other human governments to private interests within the Shaper populace. Confoundingly, the Shaper views on children are remarkably collectivist, and closely tied to the particular Shaper notions of what constitutes an actual human existence. Government social programs are unheard of for adults, but heavily invested for children, and while there are a number of government standards committees, they almost exclusively produce guidelines, rather than regulations. Government interference into the economy is utterly untolerated. Individual civil liberties are fiercely protected, and one of the more significantly funded programs, aside from defense spending, is the publicly funded “Authority Surveillance Guardianship” or ASGuard, the funding for which and chief administrators of being determined directly by the Shaper populace.
Shaper society is egalitarian in opportunity, but extremely competitive and indifferent, when not outright unforgiving, of failure, with notable emphasis being put into ensuring that the failings of members of one generation are not allowed to be magnified through their offspring. Notably, procreation in any form (be it cloning, or gene-mixing, or more traditional conception) is not considered a right within Shaper society. The furtherance of one’s genetic material is deemed a privilege of personal success. Attempting to raise Shaper children without appropriate resources or accepted competence in child-rearing is considered criminally abusive of the children. Non-Shaper children have a decidedly different legal status, are protected only in a sense of general ‘human’ liberties, and are under no circumstances the recipients of collective support.
It should be noted that childhood is a rather abbreviated thing in Shaper society, due to genetic engineering and common practices greatly affecting both pre-natal and post-natal growth and learning. Natural childbirth is seen as exceptionally eccentric within Shaper society and is tolerated in much the same way that artists in the 20th century who deigned to use their own bodily fluids in their artwork were tolerated, but far from welcomed. Normal Shaper children are born in child producing factories, more often than not, with the exception of vanity children, being very carefully designed from mixes of parental DNA with sequences from currently popular designs. The gestation period in such factories tends to runs toward 14 months, a length second only to Andolian full-growth gestation-immersion tanks – unlike the other cultures using the tanks to replace normal childbirth where the delay of from conception to birth is often seen as an inconvenience to the prospective parents and time-to-delivery is generally minimized, Shaper society considers the physically ineffectual infancy of normal humanity far more inconvenient (and repugnantly archaic – an evolutionary solution from before our own evolution was ours to control) than the delay. Shaper children leave the tanks already able to walk, run, and metabolize most foods – which is important, as they have a voracious metabolism that will lead them to grow to their adult mass within another 7 years. Brain development in Shaper children is also accelerated. The mind is extremely plastic for the first two years post-natal, and allows for socialization and other acclimating patterns to form via processes still analogous to those of a human child, if a somewhat precocious and extremely intelligent one. The brain then rapidly proceeds to develop fully all of its cognitive regions, at the expense of much of the childlike plasticity for reorganization, and the Shaper child begins their “adolescence”, a state lasting from age two through seven, during which they will leave the direct care of their parents, and begin to compete against one another to be able to progress through an assortment of privately run educational facilities (albeit the students themselves are still collectively supported at this point). The general educational period lasts an intense five years, ending at the same time as Shaper children achieve physical and legal adulthood and are no longer supported in any collective fashion. This academic feat is made possible by the extremely low sleep needs of the Shaper body, the lack of any need to exercise or endure sun exposure in order to maintain health and muscle tone, and the genetically-engineered capacity for extreme focus, easy memorization, and ravenous intellect that every Shaper is possessed of.
For those not at the top of the competition, they remain free to choose their path, but even the dullest Shaper is more than bright enough, and by the turn of adulthood, sufficiently scrubbed of initial ignorance, to understand with fair clarity where they are likeliest to find others willing to choose them, and the importance of their own below-the-billing role in Shaper society. The Shaper population is not very densely arrayed on their planets, and the most menial tasks are handled by Dgn, engineered lifeforms, and machines. While the Shapers utilize AIs, the bulk of these AIs, for the past several hundred years, have generally been of foreign construction, and the Shapers are somewhat wary of the allegiances of the AIs in their employ – both to other AI entities and to their constructors. A number of Shaper specialists are therefore employed to monitor the AIs, and some Shaper research has gone into developing minds better suited to such tasks. Social unrest remains extremely low among the Shaper population – Shaper society is not utopian, but it is without noticeable friction – despite the intense competition and uneven distribution of resources. This is largely due to the firmness of belief in the Shaper ideology ingrained into the population – the underlying rightness of the system of struggle is accepted, the rightness of the goals of the society unquestioned, and those involved are possessed of minds capable of understanding how they have come to occupy their place in society, their role in that society and its continued existence, and, just as importantly, how other individuals in Shaper society fit into the greater picture. They operate with self-interest, but informed, exquisitely reasoned, and long-termed self-interest that includes a notion of Shaper society that has been made difficult to cast as counter to personal interests.
For those who succeed, there is more than time for art – to practice The Art is success. In the Shaper ethos, design is king, and flesh is the favored palette. Thus, Shaper spacecraft, if not aesthetically neglected as with the Mechanists, and, to an arguably lesser extent, the Unadorned, are not anywhere near as profound as their work groundside. While there is some artistry at work in their inanimate constructions, working with metal and stone is as cold as either to the Shaper mind: pale when compared to the calling to bend the path of life to one’s will, expressed for as long as the creations may continue to survive their competitors and environs. Those tools, such as spacecraft, of which great functionality is demanded, suffer greatly in relative aesthetics to architectures that may be bent to support the aesthetic demands of myriad Shaper minds, writ in living spaces filled with living things, but only those living things chosen to be there. While this leads to jaw-dropping wonderlands of living material populating their art-oriented enclosures and an enjoyable spread of magnificent creations adorning most living areas, the exercise in control over what life lives where leaves Shaper planets as devoid of real wilderness as an industrial farming world, if far prettier for the same detriment. There is a sense that even a vast uninhabited stretch on a Shaper world, possessed of some paradise-like qualities in its safety and provision as it may be, is just a carefully tended garden laying fallow for future inhabitants to paint. There is chaos allowed to taint the waiting land. Nature is not allowed to sully any canvas destined for Shaper hands.
The outside observer rarely tends to have their eyes drawn to the Shaper underachievers, both because of the higher standards of living (relative to Purist worlds, for instance), even on the low end, that the Shaper economy has (made possible, in large part, by limiting the population density on Shaper worlds), and the astounding beauty that the high end of the Shaper culture produces. There is a Shaper saying that, “It is no accident that the path to perfection travels through beauty.” The functional and aesthetic are merged whenever tenable in Shaper society, and there is a significant place reserved for the aesthetic, even absent, though rarely in lieu of, the functional. To create more perfectly is the pervasive goal, and beauty is often aligned with the perfect for anything that must be seen. It should be noted that Shaper artists have produced works considered masterpieces in a plethora of genres, as is not unexpected given a population wherein even the dullest of healthy individuals would have been considered quite mentally gifted in millennia past – however, within Shaper society itself, only the construction of life-art is held in meaningful esteem. Other venues for expression are welcomed, but reserved for hobbyists and amateurs, not professionals. To construct epic compositions in and of the human form is the highest art in Shaper society. As full of science and practical consideration as their genepool is, it is also their most holy of pieces of art, and those who have risen to operate upon it their idols.
There are three common Shaper forms. In decreasing order of population, these are females, males, neuters. A fourth form, the ‘hulk’, is only debatably a “Shaper form” and even more divergent from the human strain than the Shapers themselves – however as they are non-reproducing, few in number, have limited interaction with the rest of Shaper society, and are distinct in construction based upon their version and intended purpose, it is easier to consider them apart from the Shaper populace and group them with other designer human life forms, despite being of Shaper origin and mentality. The first females, males, and neuters are of the same height, and all beautiful by most standards, providing the lack of hair is not a deterrent to such a judgment being rendered, nor the lack of nipples on Shaper males and neuters found disturbing. Shapers are not muscle-bound, but neither are they in any way waifish, with toned and sleek muscles making their presence subtly known underneath taut skin – their physique sometimes evokes images of acrobats, swimmers, and dancers, depending upon which portions thereof were being used for the metaphor. All Shapers are in prime physical condition both for strength and endurance, although there exist plenty of custom bio-mods who are stronger or have higher endurance. Shapers remain in prime condition without need for exercise. Neuters carry both male and female genetic code, but do not express either set of reproductive organs or secondary sexual characteristics, earning them nicknames associated with old plastic dolls. Instead of physical features to distinguish Shapers from one another, with their near-singular skin and eye color and lack of hair to style, Shapers tend to use clothing and other symbiotic adornments when wishing to express their individuality. Even then, a non-Shaper would find it extremely difficult to identify which Shaper is which. Although much diverted genetically from most humans, they are still capable of producing fertile offspring with other human subspecies. Though a misnomer, as many of the genes require either a Shaper female’s womb or a Shaper-compatible gestation tank to activate, “half-Shapers” arising from Shaper males fertilizing non-Shaper females are not uncommon among most human factions, as restrictions on Shaper procreation privileges do not extend to the production of non-Shaper children (“half-Shapers” are not eligible to become Shaper citizens and are subject to the same stringent residency requirements as any other non-Shaper wishing to settle on a Shaper planet). Far more rare are “incomplete-Shapers” – those born to a Shaper mother by a non-Shaper father, or otherwise gestated in a Shaper compatible tank. As the Shaper genes, when activated, tend to be dominant, “incomplete-Shapers” tend to much more strongly express their Shaper heritage, although they are still not legally considered Shapers. Those with Shaper ancestors are commonly recognizable for their generally gray to blue-black skin, often violet irises set in gray eyes, and sparse body hair, although it is difficult, if not sometimes nearly impossible, to distinguish between those with Shaper ancestors and those who are the product or progeny of the custom bio-modified.
Shaper clothing tends to fall into one of two very distinct categories. Shapers have exceptionally minimal body modesty, and any wearing of clothing whose primary purpose is to keep portions of the body hidden from sight is done so on account of the modesty of non-Shapers with whom they must interact – after all, the Shaper body is a work of art and science they are proud to display. Shaper work/functional clothes, therefore, act primarily to protect more sensitive surfaces, to keep softer tissues in place during motion/exertion, and to provide convenient places to store objects being used. Such clothes are considered artful to the degree that they do not interfere with the natural Shaper form and movement thereof. On the other hand, as Shaper mastery both of their own body and their environment is very advanced, with clothing for them somewhat superfluous save for statement anyway in most climes and many conditions, Shaper art-wear is something else entirely. High-end Shaper art-wear often takes the form a living, generally translucent expanse of vegetation designed at the protein and genome level by the wearer – anything from a thin film, to a sheet-like wrap, to a crawling expanse of vines, flowering if watered. Those less talented, but financially equipped, will pay top credits to be similarly designed for and decorated. Those in neither situation may opt to obtain a license to perform minor customizations on existing designs, or, for the even lower social rungs, to simply wear something mass marketed – the Shaper equivalent of a cheap suit. Less common, but far from rare, are non-vegetable incarnations of the above. Also common in Shaper fashion are full-body markings and bioluminescent symbiotes worn in lieu of jewelery. Full-body markings are normally applied by developing pore patterns in body-sized engineered leaves that will leave temporary colorations when wrapped around the body. Shaper art-wear, though itself only exported as a luxury item, has become very influential to Highborn fashion. Luxury items such as art-wear and living rugs account for a noteworthy portion of Shaper exports, in keeping with the unmatched tangible beauty of Shaper art. This tangible and enduring nature, and it’s profitable export, stands in stark contrast to the only other major society with a comparable number of artists, the Andolians, whose art the link-blind cannot even sense, and whose works come and vanish on whim.
The Shapers are quietly contemptuous of most other meme-groups. They find the Purists shameful, the Unadorned defective, the Highborn arrogant and outmoded, the Merchants merely an unfortunate necessity, and the Mechanists downright repulsive. Though they disagree vehemently with the Andolians on a number of fundamental premises and future directions, they respect them for their accomplishments. The Shapers find the Rlaan interesting, the Uln pitiful, and the Aera worthy, if unsympathetic, adversaries, if hopeless materialist aesthetes incapable of appreciating life in any way valuable to the Shapers.
The Shapers, with their superhuman aims, were a pre-Diaspora offshoot of what later became the larger, supra-human aiming Lightbearer meme-group. The two groups had wildly diverging goals and methodology, despite both seeking a sort of embodied human perfection. Expedience, however, makes strange bedfellows. Through location and shared technological expertise, each group had something to offer the other, even if each found the other ideologically perverse. Thus, what began as a minor Shaper investment into a Lightbearer mission that would bear closer to Shaper than Lightbearer space blossomed into a wary partnership when the discovery of the ancestral Dgn made the Shaper experience with non-human genetics immediately more valuable. However, the partnership with the Lightbearers was not particularly long-lived, as ideological differences made it exceptionally difficult for either side to continue to operate in good faith absent obvious mutual advantage, and by the time the aptly named Beckett’s Murky Venture had been exploited, there was little obvious advantage to continued pretense of cooperation. Initial Shaper political, financial, and resource support for the Lightbearers during the Fraternal War was linked not to political or ideological support of the Lightbearers, but a firm opposition to what they felt to be Andolian Imperialism and the desecration of the natural sovereignty of the Lightbearers – clearly, it didn’t help that the Shapers thought the Andolians to be even more ideologically disturbed than the Lightbearers; while the Shapers thought the Lightbearers perversely misguided in their vision of embodied human perfection, it was at least a goal that resonated with their society, whereas the Andolian lust for abstract and vaporous group progress that would somehow lead to a “bettering” of mankind and thereby the individuals thereof struck the individualist Shapers as a demented non-sequitur that was downright unintelligible. The interjection of an expanding, and, if human, foreign in an almost alien sense entity into a neighboring polity was clearly cause for alarm, never mind the Klk’k – they, after all, weren’t human. That the Shapers cut off all support for the Lightbearers after the revelation of the existence of the Spaceborn indicates, importantly, that, at the time, they either thought us, or themselves (depending upon one’s perspective) to still be human, and thus deserving of the fundamental human rights that run through the core of their belief system. While some Lightbearers did flee to some degree of protection within Shaper systems toward the end of the war, it was that same sort of protection offered Nazi scientists captured by the Russians after World War two – protection of ones life, but not an opportunity to live, only an opportunity to be worked until whatever useful knowledge you had could be extracted and you yourself forgotten. Much has been rumored, but little ever confirmed about what exactly occurred when the Simons later conducted raids into labs believed to be housing unaccounted for Lightbearers in Shaper space. It is well known that the Shapers were absolutely livid over the Lightbearers’ use of human slaves, and it is suspected that a far darker hell awaited those who fled to Shaper space than they expected.
Notably, the Shapers never gave any indication that they were incensed by the detailed descriptions of what the Lightbearers had subjected the Shmrn to, and it is generally conjectured that they were privy to that information long prior to its distribution by the Andolians. Apparently, giving the Shmrn a strongly defined sense of self, dignity, modesty, and a mind muddied by the introduction of human derived genetic codes for brain development, all in the name of allowing the Shmrn to truly appreciate and understand the physical and emotional torture and suffering being inflicted upon them by the Lightbearers in a way that the Lightbearers themselves could understand, was not cause for outrage in the Shaper population because the Shmrn weren’t human. This lack of response, though attributed by some as merely arising from their part in creating the Shmrn, led many to believe that, if and when the Shapers considered themselves or the rest of humanity to no longer be human, similar indifference could be expected to follow were anything to come to affect the rest of humanity differently than the Shapers. The topic of rights for associated non-human species has continued to be a topic of contention between Confederation factions, with the Andolians and the Shapers tending to lead very different camps in such discussions. Likewise, even on the topic of human rights, the different principles held by the Andolians and Shapers has led to rather different stances being taken on a number of policy decisions. On the topic of human slavery, however, the two groups stand united, a unity that was formative in the early Confederation.
Human slavery, as a viable economic pillar, died with the industrial revolution. Human slavery, for personal pride, amusement, or perversion, was reborn with mastery over the genome. No longer was it necessary to steal away random human flotsam and unprotected child assets, instilling fear and bringing hatred upon the slave trader – instead, human flesh could be molded into whatever form the customer desired, and raised from birth into servitude, birthed from a machine without commentary on the subject. It became difficult in some places to distinguish between slavery and child abuse. Such undertakings remained quiet sorts of enterprises until after humanity had finally ridden nano-technology and genetics to a post-sufficiency economy. In the introverted, contented meme-group world of that past, the only objection to someone outside one’s meme-group raising slaves was one of purely moral basis – it was simply unlikely to affect those outside the participating meme-group. As SuSims, human-derived PAIs, and other genetically engineered servant species became more increasingly prevalent, it was increasingly difficult to gain a motivating consensus on the issue when, despite many believing that human slavery was over some line, agreement on where in the gray murk such a line existed was not forthcoming.
It was not until the formation of the Confederation that such things truly changed. All were free to not do business with polities allowing behavior deemed “objectionable”, but with the Confederation, a sufficiently forceful hand could be put upon the hilt of a very sharp dagger that could be aimed, if in unwieldy and cacophonous fashion, at those sufficiently outside the mainstream of the relevant political bodies. Human slavery was outlawed. Certain forms of indentured servitude, especially as concerned AIs, were not outlawed, given certain contract conditions, much to the dismay of the Andolians and the relief of other parties unwilling to emancipate their few AIs that survived the nano-plague. Vagaries in defining both “consenting” and “adult” as they were framed in the stipulations concerning indentured servitude – the Shapers being appeased by such, as they believed it the right of any adult to enter into any contract that did not permanently disenfranchise them, if the contract was entered into in an informed and free fashion – have continued to allow fringe operators to continue practices against the spirit if not the letter of the laws. However, those who are foolish enough to flagrantly flaunt their slim loophole existence generally find themselves ruthlessly and utterly squashed by Andolian and Shaper forces comprising the military wing of the Confederation taskforce on human slavery – which often delights in opportunities to expand the operations slightly to associated enterprises, which often are subsidiaries of otherwise difficult to legally attack organized criminal undertakings (especially those with good standing with CMT). Even those guileful and careful enough to stay within the loophole lines are sometimes paid visits by the Simons. Strangely, there aren’t as many complaints as one might expect – some things just become a cost of doing business. Indeed, in polities where the Simons can move freely, human merchandise tends not to move much at all – but then again, in places where the Simons can move freely, human merchandise tends to not be much desired.
A note on the Dgn within Shaper society
The Dgn were never really emancipated, because the Shapers don’t consider them to have ever been slaves as such – you have to be human first to be a slave in the Shaper mind. Dgn are just useful art that talks, and have been constructed to play particular roles in Shaper society – the Shapers view them in a way not dissimilar to how AIs are viewed by many LIHW, Forsaken, and some Purists: thinking machines, that do work on our behalf when properly treated and guided. The Shapers have no particular respect for the status of uplifts – somewhat more for those naturally arriving at sapience, and far less for AIs – but their quest for superhuman perfection has left them interested in themselves and what other species can offer them in terms of genes and understanding thereof, but not in other species, or even so much in other humans except as if furthers their goals or offends their tenets. The Dgn are treated with indifference to what others may believe their “rights” rather than cruelty in oppression.