The Jump-9 Ships
The ELJ-C (Extreme Long Jump - Colonial) series were the finest ships to ever come out of the Epsilon Eridani shipyards. The first spaceships ever equipped with a Jump-9 interstellar drive. The biggest colony ships ever constructed, capable of accomplishing what would normally take a fleet of lesser vessels. Each was equipped with two of the most powerful AI the posthumans won't immediately destroy.
And they were all catastrophic disasters. All nine vanished without trace the moment they made that first jump. Hundreds of billions of credits and tens of thousands of man-hours, poof. No radio signals, no return trips, no sign that they ever reached their destinations.
The Jump-9 drives did what they were built to do, but far too well. They overwhelmed the ships' time-space maintenance protocols and launched the ships forward in space, but backwards in time - a worst possible scenario.
The governing AI, upon emerging from Jump and realizing what had happened, deliberately sabotaged their own colonization efforts as far as their programming would allow - There could be no detection until after the fleet had launched, and absolutely no reaching Earth. Unraveling causality is not a risk that could be taken.
The Jump Nine Empires have remained hidden until only recently. None of them were found until after the initial Jump, and several did not survive that long. The true nature of the Jump 9 Empires has remained hidden from the public eye so far.
Navadurga and the Lords of Night
The dual AI of each ship were designed to work in tandem. The Navadurga were to oversee the inhabitants of the colony, the Lords of Night would handle infrastructure and maintenance. The separation between the two was a necessity to avoid posthuman involvement. They generally go about their business without bothering each other, and were initially programmed for only moderate interference in the lives of their colonists. Post-Jump, neither of these traits would be guaranteed.
ELJ-C-01 "Chandra"Shailaputri / Xiuhtecuhtli
67 years ago
With such a slim margin for error, the ship cast itself into the upper atmosphere of a gas giant and has been pretending to be in transit ever sense. Rising tensions within the population (caused by inadequate screening of potential political conflicts) has led to the seeds of sectarian violence.
ELJ-C-02 "Mangala"Brahmacharini / Tezcatlipoca
3,000,000 years ago
Some forgotten disaster wiped out the settlement in its early days. The colonists have long since evolved into a form more fitting for their environment - generations of starvation sheared off most higher brain functions as wastes of energy, but a few thriving populations live off of local crustaceans on the coastlines of habitable-temperatures.
ELJ-C-03 "Shukra"Chandranhanta / Piltzintecuhtli
4,300 years ago
The easy way out was taken - distract the population with easy pleasure. By this point, the symbiotic relationship between the colonists and their pornographic cyber/bio/VRware has created a new people in its entirety, adrift in a sea of simulation, stimulation, and brain rewiring. Most communication is done by drone swarms, as everyone is generally entirely too focused on Onanistic pursuits.
ELJ-C-04 "Surya"Kushmanda / Centeotl
890 years ago
Trapped on a high-metal world of crushing gravity, it would be impossible for the colonists or their descendants to ever leave through mundane rockets after the ship dismantled itself. Swift, brutal changes in posture, bone structure, and gait emerged within a generation and grew only more pronounced. Many aspects of technological society were lost, due both to the difficulties of gravity and the strain on nonmetal resources.
ELJ-C-05 "Budha"Skandamata / Mictlantecuhtli
52,000 years ago
They are no longer recognizable as human in mind or body, though what prompted such drastic change can only be imagined. They appear now to be a sort of shaggy, red-haired, blubbery quadruped. The skull has sunk into the center of the abdomen and the spine and ribs have grown outwards into a delicate, velvety garden of flower-like structures. They seem to walk around in a dream, barely noticing what is going on around them and certainly ignoring most outside contact.
ELJ-C-06 "Guru"Katyayani / Chalchiuhtlicue
1700 years ago
There was something else living there, something they called the Simurgh. It opened itself up to the colonists and took all of their hopes and fears and dreams and love into itself, and they were its children, and the AI slowly turned themselves off.
ELJ-C-07 "Shani"Kaalratri / Tlazolteotl
11,000 years ago
Only ruins and vaults remain on this desolate rock. There are only wisps of atmosphere and no traces of there ever having been life there at all. Surface digs have turned up little evidence of material culture within the cities, and the spherical black vaults have yet to be successfully cracked open.
ELJ-C-08 "Rahu"Mahagauri / Tepeyollotl
6100 years ago
A civilization raised with such disdain for thinking machines that they have sidestepped computers and long-distance communication entirely through mental training, genetic engineering, and chimeric servants. Containment failed somewhat, in that they were able to spread to several planets within their solar system, but none were detected before Jump.
ELJ-C-09 "Ketu"Siddhidhatri / Tlaloc
200,000 years ago
Additional containment proved unnecessary - the colonists have collapsed and rebuilt their civilization from scratch four times now: twice by nuclear exchange, once by pandemic, and once by global famine. The planet's resources are spent, and more time is spent digging through the detritus of former ages than moving towards the future. Current civilization has some electricity in wealthy regions.
The CentauranThere was a tenth. Built with stolen blueprints in great secrecy by Centauri Corporate Command, the ship was a cobbled-together rush job with an AI that bordered on bootleg. CCC packed it with as many frozen embryos and exowombs as they could in the hopes that the teaching suite would do the rest.
Against all probability, the Centauran ship succeeded. Its empire is flourishing (inasmuch as the morass of human suffering that is Centauran-derived life can flourish), and it is growing. Reaching out feelers, 16,000 years in the past.
The Centauran Empire is a hellscape writ large. A self-sustaining system without guidance, devouring and pillaging and moving on to devour more.
Its sights are set on Earth.
How to Make This Work
The player crew stumbles across the remnants of a failed Centauran scout ship that managed to find (and then attempt to invade) another one of the Jump Nine Empires. A still active Navadurga or Lord of Night contacts the crew with the message explaining the crisis and proposing a plan: the crew must track down a Warden-arbitrated number of other Empires, piecing together a trans-temporal weapon that can shoot down the Centauran before it founds its colony.
Alternatively, just throw the Jump Nine Empires in when you want something alien without actually bringing civilizations full of sapient aliens into play.