Not our conquest of space. Not our level of civilization. Not art or philosophy. Not even our scientific progress as such… when the first contact fleet of the Interstellar Committee of Advancement & Integration (ICAI) darkened the skies above the UN headquarters in New York 2137, the motivation for their intervention was clear cut: we were deemed a beast with tools and habits too dangerous to be left alone.
And to a subset of civilizations in the galaxy that meant: READY FOR THE GAME.
Warfare out there had become a regulated affair long ago. A ritual. A kind of sport. A source of entertainment backed by a vast and complex industry. Disputes over resources and territory, even the appropriation of some technology were no longer the subject of messy and uncontrollably destructive conflict. Such commodities would often become the formal prizes of tournaments, fought on a variety of natural and artificial stages all over the galaxy by teams representing companies, nations, a planet, an entire species… or just themselves.
The influence of the organization controlling this ultimate game, setting the rules, introducing the awards and evaluating the applications, easily compares to that of the ICAI itself. Since its multi-language acronym would desperately need, well, another acronym, various monikers have been attached to this institution over the course of millennia. The one that stuck translates to the Bunker, due to the fact that its headquarters are located in an extra-dimensional pocket not accessible by any means other than those the Bunker decides to provide itself.
How the organization keeps the galaxy’s civilizations in line is a matter of much debate. The rumors that some curiously and utterly empty areas in the Milky Way are all that is left of systems that did not play by the rules certainly help.
In the millennium that followed “first contact”, mankind has colonized and industrialized many worlds, from whole Earth-class planets to asteroids, many undisputed (first come, first served), but a considerable number were gained in the Game. It turned out that our species had a knack for DRONE warfare. While galactic integration involved an enormous influx of new technology – in stages the ICAI considered manageable for a civilization, applying this knowledge and our own ingenuity to the framework of the tournaments proved to be right down our alley. And since the nature of the treaties with the galactic community largely imposed an era of peace on earth (and eventually in human space), the expansive Terran weapon-industry was chomping at the bit, eagerly looking for new applications of its productivity.
Alien Races (Excerpt)
The enigmatic driving force behind the ICAI and arguably its most advanced civilization – the Ayur, consider the galaxy literally as their garden, and emerging species and cultures as seeds they are meant to care for. An attitude that is bound to offend prouder races, yet somehow the approach the Ayur take in their interventionist projects is usually careful, patient and subtle enough to keep aggressive responses to a minimum. Their impressive power and technology also make open resistance look like a bad idea to begin with. Common belief has it that they were the first galactic species to develop FTL travel, but that topic is one of many Ayur never comment on…
Students of Ayur culture find themselves baffled by the diversity of the species: no less than 8 distinct subspecies with wildly differing appearances have been encountered by humanity, and only two of those are remotely humanoid. The Ayur themselves refer to them as genders. At least some are, without a doubt, genetically engineered for their tasks and environments. Since Ayur-Garra make up the majority of their space-faring members – they can even survive in a hard vacuum without a suit for considerable time -, their appearance is what most humans relate to when they think of Ayur. Visually they are reminiscent of an arctic skate with slender, retractable, tentacle-like limbs at the tip of their wings, and share the one common trait of all Ayur subspecies: slightly translucent, milky skin and flesh.
Frequently called “bone-men” by humans on account of their macabre looking exoskeletons. Our closest neighbors in the galaxy, the Xenme, have proven to be easy to deal with simply because of how similar they are to us in many regards. Much less aloof and introspective than the Ayur, they are driven by desires and motives humankind can directly relate to. This also means they are our main competitors in many areas, and so one time out of two human DRONE teams find themselves confronted with Xenme in the border regions.
Exploration, conquest and appropriation of resources propel their industrious and ambitious culture. But since they are no less or more warlike than humanity, they are as likely to trade as to fight. Some of the galaxy’s biggest companies are, in fact, human-Xenme joint ventures and the two races share administration of many major space stations and ports.
Due to the high gravity of their home world, the outward appearance of Xenme is bulky and a tad shorter than the human average. Despite the armor like exoskeleton, they present a familiar, bipedal build, and unlike many other species out there it is easy to tell for humans what and where their face is…
No one knows which race originally built the vast network of robotic A.I.s that refers to itself as Integrity Omega, which controls and exploits about 20% of the galaxy’s solar systems. A prevalent theory among human scientists is that I.O. began millennia ago with automated exploration and construction drones that were meant to evaluate and prepare planets and systems for future colonization. However, the species that sent them out, went extinct before they could actually set out for the stars.
While the agenda of I.O. does not appear aggressive – its robotic ships and drones seem to stay away from inhabited planets. The fact it does not seem particularly interested in any sort of extended communication or exchange with the cultures of the galaxy turned it into something of a boogeyman. Both humans and Xenme tend to attribute every unexplained accident or disappearance of ships and infrastructure to the I.O. Be that as it may, at least there are plausible hints that I.O. is responsible for the recent series of highly destructive and advanced computer viruses in the galactic networks.