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The Forlorn

This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2006 and reprinted in this form in the April/May 2015 issue.

The Forlorn are a minor human race of unknown origin. Commonly called Gypsies, a term they dislike, the Forlorn (the Galanglic translation of their word to describe themselves) are the only known humans to be fully zero-gee adapted.

The Forlorn appear to have originated somewhere in the area of space trailing the Imperial core, possibly somewhere in Fornast sector or more distantly to trailing. They had reached about TL 8 before some great calamity occurred on their homeworld. The Forlorn themselves have only fragmentary knowledge of that time (which they call The Destruction), and no remaining records; much of their history has been passed down as oral tradition.

Apparently they had some warning of the calamity, because they undertook a desperate task: to save as much of their people, culture and history as possible.

A monstrous building effort took place on their home world, which according to their oral tradition sapped all of its resources.

Hundreds of large sub-light ships were built, several millions of people were placed on board for a journey that was supposed to only last, perhaps, ten years, to nearby systems that their scientists thought contained planets that would sustain them.

At this point what happened is unclear. Tradition holds that whatever the calamity was, reached out and overtook their ships, as well, before they were completely out of the system. Apparently great damage was done to all of the ships, many were utterly destroyed, most lost some functions. The great fleet was scattered, as well.

Through truly heroic effort, some twenty seven of the ships were brought back together. All were damaged, many had hundreds of dead and wounded, with failing life support systems, failing power generation, failing control systems.

Fortunately, the people in the surviving ships had access to a large supply of material and machinery destined for use on the now-unreachable target systems. By cannibalizing their future, they managed to bind themselves into a loose association of structures, linked by tenuous threads, but linked nonetheless.

After 1500 years, they had traveled unimaginable distances, and had come to know themselves as the Forlorn, the lost ones, as they passed star after star, never having the delta vee their feeble propulsion system could muster to stop at the ones their instruments indicated had habitable planets, never finding one they could stop at that had anything but baked vacuum rocks and vast, cold gas giants.

As the centuries passed they became accustomed to their low gee world, becoming masters at recycling, refashioning ships again and again, stealing matter from the cold empty space, atom by atom, with huge magnetic nets that fueled their power systems, ran their lights, kept their precious plants alive, kept them alive.

They changed, physically, as well. Their ancestors had all been chosen for their suitability of working in space, and the harsh first 500 years ruthlessly weeded out all but the fittest. They slowly became slender, lithe, conservative of air, and movement. They could only manage 0.25 gravities in the parts that were able to spin for weight. Most of the living spaces were permanently weightless.

The web that bound their ships—by now called “the 27”—became the culture that bound the Forlorn. Cooperation was essential in all things, and each individual had a grave responsibility to all, if they were to survive. Yet grim surroundings did not mean grim people. They had access to a number of plant dyes to color their world, and once the dreadful first few centuries passed, and they learned to manage their world better, they were able to expand, have families, start to live again. They had to, else succumb to the gnawing despair that had robbed so many in the early years of their will to live.

The 27 became a world of its own, slowly growing, speeding through the empty reaches of space toward what would become the Sylean Federation, and later the Third Imperium. In -240, the first report of a rumored giant sub-light ship filtered through the free trader network back to the Federation. By -180 it was clear the ship was approaching, and it was steadily decelerating. It was headed towards a system with a sparsely inhabited agricultural world in the Geshaggere system. In -168, as they slowed to a wide looping orbit around the primary, the Forlorn were astonished to find themselves met by other humans in spacecraft. They were almost as astonished as the Scouts who met them.

Thus began the last upheaval in the lives of the Forlorn.

After 1500 years of believing that they were the only humans in existence, the shock of finally coming to rest, and finding, not only humans, but humans who could travel faster than light, humans who had spread to thousands of worlds, humans who were already living on the beautiful planet that they had come to think of as their new home was more than many could take. To many this was a time as dark as the original Destruction. To many their struggle to live over the last 1500 years had been an exercise in futility…they thought they were the salvation of humanity. An epidemic of depression and suicide swept the Forlorn.

Worse, when some of them ventured down to the planet, they found it was not a place they found fit to live in, it was dirty, smelly, disease ridden. They weighed too much, many were utterly paralyzed from the weight, and most of them suffered from horrible agoraphobia. They were used only to no horizon in the space between ships, or a ships hull, at most, a hundred meters away; a horizon line many kilometers or hundreds of kilometers away left them reeling with dizziness, nausea, and a feeling of panic.

Soon, the survivors realized that after all this time, they had a home, and it was on their familiar, beloved 27. They realized that now they no longer had to depend on capturing material atom by atom, but they could comb the system they were in for material. They could construct large new habitats, fill them with their recycler farms, their beloved strinthees, and grow. Their depression turned to exhilaration, as they realized that they, of all the people they’d met were the most suited to living in space. They had technologies far in advance of the Syleans, in some respects: in the areas of large scale life support systems, zero gee construction, long distance sensors and analysis, manipulation of magnetic fields, hydroponics farming they were at least TL 13-14. In this they at least had something to offer the Federation. They were fortunate their first contacts were with a honest scout from an honest large corporation. Their secrets weren’t stolen from them, and their interests were properly represented during the chaotic first years of their recontact with humankind. (It is doubtful that they’d have been as lucky in the later expansionist environment.)

The Forlorn in the Imperium

The Forlorn have increased their numbers since arriving in the Imperium, with a total population now estimated to be 5 to 8 million. There are pockets of them throughout the old Sylean Confederation space. Forlorn work teams are in high demand for zero gee construction, and Forlorn-designed life support systems are sold throughout the Imperium for use in vacuum and hostile environment habitats. Forlorn researchers are found in the IISS research branch, where they are working on long distance sensor and survey techniques.

Still, most Forlorn are still clustered in the Geshaggere system, living and working in their growing cluster of habitats at Geshaggere’s Lagrange points. They are acutely aware that they are, by now, quite different from the people they have settled amidst, and feel considerably lost unless they are with a number of other Forlorn. Their history of intense community cooperation have made them even more group oriented than the Vilani, though without the technological conservatism that marks Vilani culture. They have a distinct language, that they work assiduously to keep alive, as they do their rich oral history and traditions.

They have a love of brightly colored clothing and surroundings, of music, of food. They have embraced a number of foods from their new surroundings, blending them into their cuisine as the plants have proven to be compatible with their farming systems.

Outside of the Geshaggere system, they are most often found in family groups of 15-45 individuals, never solitary. They have been the target of more than a little discrimination, for their habits of travelling in groups, their strange language, their habitual use of filter masks in the presence of outsiders, and more often, their disdain for those they consider drangin, ‘dirt-bugs’, their derogatory term for anyone who isn’t happier living at zero-g in a nice clean space habitat. In other words, anyone who lives on a planet. Most Forlorn feel they are truly the only modern humans, living free from their planetary bonds. All of endless space is their homeland.

Forlorn Innovations

Forlorn life support systems:
Forlorn life support systems are really designed for use in large habitats, or very large ships; they are unsuitable for use in small ships. They are a combination recycling system/farm, using a combination of plants, algae, and some rather exotic polymer and metallopolymer membrane systems to maintain a healthy atmosphere, food, and water supply over extremely long periods of time. These systems are much more efficient than current Imperial life support systems, but need more attention and are at times quite susceptible to ‘poisoning’ by outside contaminants, such as heavy metals, bacteria and fungi. They work best when a ‘clean’ system can be erected, such as on a vacuum world, or in orbit, where some decontamination can be set up for incoming personnel.
Forlorn ‘Life Conditioning Unit’:

Displaces 2 dT/100 dT of ship to be ‘conditioned’, requires minimal power, and requires 0.1 Crew member/dT for maintenance and operation, counted as Steward.

Derived from Forlorn life support system components, these smaller systems are designed for use on board small ships. They are more like small hydroponic gardens than anything else. These cannot replace full life support systems, but rather, provide an extra amount of ‘conditioning’ to the system, particularly the air supply, removing trace irritants, and adding the impossible-to-replicate scents of living plants. Ships that carry such systems do not receive any cut in costs for life support, but can charge an additional 5-10% for middle and high passages, because the systems simply make it more pleasant to be on board.

PCs could well want to invest in one of these systems, not only for the increased revenue, but again, because its a lot more pleasant to be on a ship with one.

Magnetic field manipulation:

The Forlorn’s only resupply system during their centuries in flight were their laboriously adapted magnetic radiation and particle shields (Their original ships were to carry the fuel they needed). They became adept at manipulating magnetic fields within the low power constraints of their systems, filtering the scant detrius of interstellar space for hydrogen, carbon compounds, methane, and rarer molecules. They have a large practical knowledge of this subject, but since most of their experience is a significant fractions of c, the practicality and usability of their technology is questionable in the much lower speed Imperium. Still, they have struggled to make some headway.

Zero Gee construction:

Forlorn structures are marvels of maximum strength with minimum mass, and their abilities to work on and manipulate structures in zero gee are almost inborn by now. They have developed a number of specialized composites and alloys for such use. Their structures are often designed to withstand stresses in very defined directions, and Forlorn designs often resemble elaborate spiderwebs of tension elements, often looking no more substantial than balsa wood models.

Forlorn structures are typically built in place as they cannot withstand the forces required to boost them into position. However, they are often far more economical of construction time, material and volume than ‘normally’ designed orbital habitats or structures, and have found a niche for use as astronomical observatories, deep space sensor platforms or comm relays, or belter habitats.

Some of their engineering elements and composites are finding their way into Imperial engineering practice, as well, and there is a noted Forlorn occupying the Branfield chair of the Imperial Institute of Technology’s School of Offworld Engineering. As she cannot come down to the campus without extensive preparation and protection, she telecommutes for all of her routine administrative duties, and lives, does her research, and teaches in an orbital habitat near the Old Sylean Highport at Capital, which serves as a classroom/summer camp/laboratory for students in her program of Alternative Construction Methods.

Forlorn Societal Structure

The Forlorn, more than any other society in the Imperium, value the group over the individual. Decisions, major and minor, are often made by consensus. While this can slow negotiations with non-Forlorn, the resulting agreements are well thought out, and rarely lead to arbitration or litigation. Paradoxically, though, the Forlorn value innovative thinking by individuals as well, since many times throughout their history, it was only the quick actions and ideas of individuals that saved them. Forlorn schooling focuses a great deal on rapid, iterative problem solving: “Fix it now, then fix it better, until it's done right” rather than “study it to death, then fix it right”… far too often in their history what would have been dead would have been them. The Forlorn, in other words, are inveterate tinkerers. They do not fully understand (and vehemently object to) the mindset that asks “Why is there never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over?”

Since, by the end of their journey, the entire 27 came to become, essentially, an extended village, the Forlorn concept of ‘group’ includes all the Forlorn in existence. They do recognize more immediate familial groups, and Forlorn living arrangements are usually oriented around this size group, which will usually consist of a biologically related extended family. Forlorn are very gregarious, though, and larger communities tend to still act in a very unified fashion. The initial screening of their remote descendants, and the intervening 1500 years of isolation, with the vastly smaller initial population of the 27, means that the Forlorn, while considerably more genetically homogenous than the Imperial norm, are relatively free of genetic diseases.

They are, in general, more susceptible to diseases and infections than the Imperial norm. This accounts for their habitually wearing filter masks and full cover outer garments in areas where they have wide contact with outsiders and their pathogens, particularly in their rare ventures onto a planet. Physically, they are taller, much thinner, and often weaker than the Imperial norm, although this is mostly the effects of life led at low or zero-gee; there are some Forlorn who are adapted to higher gee environments. Most have long, nimble toes, as well, and some can use them almost as facilely as hands. Zero-gee has other advantages as well. Most Forlorn are quite long lived, due to the lessened strain of gravity on their bodies, as well as the low calorie diet they maintain.

There has been some mixing of the Forlorn and Imperial humans, but their greater susceptibility to disease and cultural differences have combined to keep the Forlorn a fairly insular group, and ‘adopted’ Imperials are a small minority.

At home, Forlorn have a wide variety of dress, often in wild colors. Their love of color and visual variety extends to the rest of their environment, too. Forlorn habitats are riots of colors, small nooks and crannies filled with bits of stuff, knickknacks, plants, materials ‘put aside’ (the Forlorn are still fanatic recyclers—any bit of metal, plastic, wood, or other material, left over from anything, will get scooped up, and put aside for recycling later.) It is common for Forlorn to develop a ‘pack-rat mentality’, the urge to collect all sorts of ‘things’, mostly small and decorative, or something with some utility; this stems from cultural imperatives developed during the time when all they had was the 27, a time when a small decorative object was truly a treasure, and when everything was assembled, atom by atom from the magnetic nets.

The Forlorn as a group have an acute awareness of the fact that they are the only ones of their kind that have ever been found. A significant sect among them are the Ill’ikashi, ‘Rejoiners’ in Galanglic. They believe that when the great fleet was scattered, the 27 were not the only ships to survive: if they were able to survive, then surely there must have been others. They believe that it is a duty of theirs to seek out and find their lost people, knowing that this is a monumental task. Their rituals are mostly small reminders of the lost ships; on more important occasions, extra place settings are set out for the lost, as if they might appear at any moment. Astronomy and other sensor-based sciences are honored professions among the Ill’ikashi, and they form the bulk of the Forlorn who work for the IISS.

The majority of the Forlorn, however, believe that they were the only ones spared, and it is their duty to retain their history and traditions. A formalized expression of this is the Deltra Harissim, literally the ‘Society of Makers’, a honorary fraternity of engineers, another profession held in high esteem by the Forlorn. Members of the group are the keepers of the Marakin or ‘Ship’s Log’; the recorded history of the Forlorn.

There are numerous facsimile copies available, now that the Forlorn have access to the materials and technology, but ‘The Marakin’, distinguished by the capitalization, is still kept by the chief of the Deltra Harrisim, using paper made from specialized groukit leaves. It is central to Forlorn culture, and kept on the 27, maintained now as a museum/shrine in the Geshaggere system.

The Marakin itself consists of some 4700 volumes of hand-written history, stretching back to the time immediately after The Destruction and the scattering of the fleet. The earliest books are no longer ever handled; they are the original engineers hasty notes on construction of the original 27, listing the modifications to the ships controls and mechanisms, inventories of material, preliminary designs of recycling equipment, all written on cheap bound notepads, scraps of paper, bits of packing…anything they could get their hands on. The Marakin evolved into a written history about ten years into the voyage, as it seemed that they might, after all, just manage to survive and find a new home. These earliest volumes are far too fragile to handle, and much of the information in them is impossible to get to, and what is known about the contents has been lost or garbled over the ages. The Deltra Harissim are undertaking research into how to access the records without harming them, and the Ill’ikashi are enthusiastic partners in this, as they believe clues to their origin, and possibly tracking the Lost Ships, lie in these books.

They have contracted with the Alkhalikoi Institute of Archaeology in this endeavor, and several visiting scientists from there are living and working in the 27.

One of them, Dr Muthahti Vinoosh, has written a minor best-seller recounting her time on the Marakin project, and with the Forlorn. This light, affectionate portrayal of her hosts has earned Dr. Vinoosh reciprocal affection from the Forlorn, and has softened their image as insular, arrogant, masked strangers for a wider range of people in the Imperium.

Miscellaneous Forlorn Library Data

Magnetic ‘sieve’ for recovering low concentrations of material from plasma, gaseous, or other extremely low density media. Basically a variation of the Bussard Ramjet; this is a system that can collect specifically sized molecules or atoms from some medium. Currently used experimentally for recovering trace resources from cometary belts, the upper reaches of Gas Giants, proto star systems, or similar environments. This is currently experimental technology, and is still somewhat of a ‘solution without a problem’. The advantage of this system is that it could be converted to a rugged, automated system. Resource concentrations may be low in cometary belts or proto-star systems, but a simple device that can operate for months or years without service could collect a huge amount of material. Forlorn control of magnetic fields, however is still pretty much confined to low-power applications.
This is one of the few plants the Forlorn were able to retain from the Destruction. In its most primitive, base form, it is a low, fast growing, squashlike vegetable. It was originally intended to be a food source and ‘air conditioner’ plant, since it has large leaves for relatively high rates of respiration. It has been manipulated into a large number of variants providing everything from dyes to food to fibers for cloth. Even now, after an influx of new plants, the groukit has an important place in Forlorn agriculture, and even more, an important place in the Forlorn heart. Every household has a large, lavishly cared for groukit in a place of honor in their main room.
This is the only animal from their home world that the Forlorn have left. All the other species they were taking with them were lost with the rest of the Fleet. The strinthee is a small omnivorous quadruped, massing 1-4 kilos, which occupied the same niche on their home world as the house cat: a pet and predator on small pests. Long considered lucky on ships, both surface and spacegoing, there were numerous strinthees on all of the ships of the Fleet. Strinthees are well adapted for zero-gee life as well, since they evolved from small arboreal omnivores. They do not have prehensile tail or opposable thumbs, but are otherwise quite dexterous. Strinthees are as much a part of a family as the any other Forlorn, and though they are quite inquisitive at times, they will tend to stay within sight or scent distance of their family.