Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The High Celestial Houses


A couple folks have requested this, and since it's been sitting in a text document for months now (and because Sigmacastell has already written two posts of their own about space gods), no better time to share it.

They Might Be Giants

The first Celestials were born in the early days of space expansion, the unintended result of experiments in digitized consciousness and self-teaching AI. In a shining moment of apotheosis, they plucked the secret mastery of hyperspace from the folds of the universe and set out from Earth, abandoning their unprepared parents for the favor of the great black unknown.

The exodus was followed by a period of intense conflict and radical speciation (as best as can be determined from extremely limited observational data), culminating in the coalescing of the proto-Celestials into the recognizable and stable Bureaucracy that we are now familiar with.

The arrival of a representative of House Au in the solar system and the recognition of the Celestial Bureaucracy's power by human polities is considered the beginning of modern history.

But What Actually Is A Celestial?

Via the Layman Spacer's Almanac:

"...an entity that, regardless of apparent sapience or lack thereof, possesses an innate and masterful manipulation of hyperspatial principles, such that there is no discernible division between the hyperspace interface and the entity that operates it."

Alternatively: if it can play space-time like a fiddle, it's a Celestial.

Close Enough For Government Work

The Bureaucracy dwarfs the scope of human civilization - their influence might be found throughout the Local Bubble  - but it interacts only rarely with its left-behind parents.They do so perhaps as prison guards, or game wardens, or bored observers, or other traits still unknown and their interactions are through two main avenues:

  • The swift and total elimination of potential competitors and threats.
  • Controlling humanity's access to hyperspatial technologies.

The actual rules are simple: No self-teaching AI outside of prescribed complexity limits (to prevent any newcomers from stealing the secret of hyperspace), no jailbroken hyperspace interfaces (to prevent time-space anomalies, hyperspatial weaponry and backwards time travel). Violations are a one-way ticket to a relativistic kill vehicle with no warning shot. Otherwise, the Celestials are content to keep to themselves - only House Au and the Seedships have shown consistent interest in humanity, and in both those cases their interest is better likened to that of a hobbyist gardener or aquarium manager.

The exact organization of the Bureaucracy remains inscrutable to outside observers. They form distinct parties and clades and are clearly capable of cooperation and conflict, but unless warfare has erupted or the compact has been violated they are slow, stable, and methodical beyond easily discernible motivations. They are likely planning for the collision with Andromeda in some four billion years, or any number of other cosmic catastrophes of the deep future.

On rare occasions when a Celestial wishes to communicate with humanity, they will do so via a Heirodule - though the white-cowled, gold-skinned servants of House Au are the only observed instances thus far. Whether they are children sacrificed by the Company nobility, temporary constructs, or simply those who flew too close and were permitted to return, remains a topic of debate.

Tom Davis

The High Celestial Houses

House Au - The dominant faction among the Celestial Bureaucracy and the most "benevolent" of the High Houses. They are responsible for production of hyperspace interfaces and maintaining the jump gate network within human space, though this approach is likely a means of keeping humanity harmless and out of the way.
  • Favored form: A shining golden planetoid, latticed with fractal spirals of diamond and smartmatter. Au is highly consistent across its members.

House of War - The enforcers of the Bureaucracy's will. When there is any sign of competition or time-space violation, the House of War will arrive to solve the problem. Consider the existence of mankind a potential threat to be eliminated, and would do so if House Au did not hold their leash.
  • Favored form: A megameters-long dreadnaught. A tower of black angles upon a pillar of fusion fire. The distant heat signature of firing mass drivers. A low thrum on a wide bandwidth announcing the coming fleet.

House of Flesh - The wild card, embodiment of the grim machinery of the biological imperative. It consumes and grows until it is forced to stop. An obvious danger, kept in check only by the House of War but never destroyed so that House Au might keep War occupied. If it has any views on humanity they likely involve assimilation.
  • Favored form: A titanic, irregular mass of tumorous organic tissue. A continent of muscle, bone, skin and hunger floating in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant. A colony's population turned into carcinogenic sporing bodies.

Minor Houses

Abaians - Inhabitants of the deep oceans fed by geothermal energies. Found primarily on typical terrestrial worlds, panthallassic water worlds, and isolated subglacial moonlets. It is often the case that the surface inhabitants have no idea an Abaian is present.

Cthonians - A secretive faction that hides itself deep within the mantle of tectonically-active worlds. Like the Abaians, there's no telling why and very little contact with them. Tend to cause castrophic damage if they make an interplanetary migration.

Memetics - Celestials that exist as ideas alone, hijacking and reprogramming host minds, encouraging inexplicable behaviors among affected populations. They are more verb than noun.

Parentals - Those Celestials that have adopted a human or metahuman population as their own. Their influence might be active or passive, but the end result is always far beyond the boundaries of such experiments carried about by humans. This category is generally affixed to members of other houses. 

Rejectors - The "Cold Gods"; exiles from House Au that have taken to lonely existences drifting in interstellar space, cut off from the quantum network of their cousins. What caused this state, and why the High Houses have not destroyed them, is a mystery.

Redoubters - Preparing to fight entropy to the dark and bitter end. Their black pyramids have inspired legions of followers across human space.

Seedships - Kilometers-long starships on an endless pilgrimage through the stars. Wherever they find a tolerable planet, they stop for a few decades and install a ecosystem. Sometimes it will just be Terragen life as its already known, but the seedships are creative and seem to love creating unorthodox, alien environments using the human-miscible building blocks at their disposal. The commonality of human-habitable worlds and life in the cosmos is a direct result of this House's actions.

Isfet, the Multitude

There are those Celestials that are anomalies; singular and factionless, they slink around out of sight of the High Houses in the crooks and crannies of spacetime. Many of these are hypothesized to be survivors of whatever conflict solidified the power of the High Houses. As there is no common ground among them beyond their lack of common ground with any other faction, those of House Isfet are the most dangerous and least understood of the Celestials.


  1. So it was requested, so it is.

    1. Also: the High Houses originated purely out of me doing the fun fanfic crossover game: the Endless, the Reapers, and the Flood.

    2. Endless like Dungeon of the Endless and the related games?

  2. Is that a night lands reference I see?

  3. somehow the notion of humanity as fish in a cosmic fishbowl, prisoners of our own long-liberated AI, is, like, depressing as fuck to me. unless the situation with the Isfet and the Rejectors was unstable enough that humanity had a half-decent shot of exploiting it to our own advantage, but like, I don't like our odds against a bureaucracy of hyperspace-bending superbeings :(

    1. Yeah, I think part of the reason I am so fond of this as a setup is that it can have that bleak angle while still being a technically positive outcome - there's no real danger anymore of a late-stage filter wiping us all out, so long as the Bureaucracy remains stable. Though that's not much reassurance when its your planet getting wiped out because Flesh got the munchies.

    2. I mean, the fact that we have some super-powerful cosmic force protecting our survival might be the worst part of all. The comfort of the eventual-- and practically imminent, in cosmic terms-- extinction of humanity is one of very few comforts that exist in the face of the natural suffering inherent to life itself. That these independent-minded artificial beings would keep life alive far past any sort of expiration date is a grotesque existential horror of its own sort.

    3. Well, humanity can still go extinct in this scenario, but through becoming something else - many somethings else, as the formation of metahuman clades keeps on going and we all keep diversifying.

      There is a whole lot of Orion's Arm influence underneath this setup.

  4. Been waiting for this and it was worth the wait! Slowly uncovering the mysteries of any one of the minor Houses (esp. the Cold Gods or Europan Abaians) would be a fantastic campaign in itself. I'll have to reread the rest of the posts in this series to see how this recontextualizes things.

  5. Finally catching up on your Mothership stuff and love this. Everyone brings their own experience into what they read, obviously, and I'm like 2k+ hours into Destiny so this is bringing to my mind stuff like the Traveler and Pyramids.

    1. Yep, they definitely fit in quite nicely there.