In general, tribal technology lags behind that of the Empire. The tribes favor durable and mobile materials that can permit quick deployment and repair. Anything that requires extensive training and resources to maintain is considered a drag on the tribe. Still, there are startling contrasts. A tribesman may heal himself with a nanotech spray one moment and ride off on his lumbering Hve'Sphinx the next.
Jumpgates and the Hyperweb
The discovery of artificial wormholes called jumpgates triggered the Diaspora, the great exodus of humanity that ultimately formed the Tribes. The structures that afford entrance and egress to the wormholes not natural, the jumpgates' origin remains a mystery, although some religious cults whisper fearfully of the Masters and an apocalyptic reckoning.
Jumpgates allow near-instantaneous transfer across interstellar distances. Not all jumpgates are created equal, however. Some lead to only one exit point, whereas others have many possible destinations. A destination is referred to as a "thread.” Through precise quantum-field manipulation, specially equipped "spindleships" weave a coherent exit point in any jumpgate, allowing travelers to select destinations when using the more thread-gifted jumpgates. A jumpgate's location in the web and the number of threads it possesses contribute to its importance.
- Starburst jumpgates boast six or more threads. These are highly sought-after locations, the rarest and most-prized class. One in twenty jumpgates is a Starburst. One in fifty Starbursts is a Grand Starburst, with twelve or more threads.
- Cardinal jumpgates have more than two but fewer than six threads or establish a particularly distant or long-term, strategically important threads. Cardinals are uncommon; four out of twenty jumpgates belong to this class.
- Open jumpgates possess two threads, allowing "entry" and "exit" to no more than two stars. This group is the largest of the four classes. Nine out of twenty jumpgates qualify as Open.
- Terminal jumpgates have but one thread and represent dead ends in the larger Hyperweb. The worlds or settlements located at the end of these "frayed" threads are called "frays," a slang pun that also refers to the type of battles said to occur on these worlds. Approximately seven of twenty gates are Terminal.
Jumpgates stretch through the galaxy like a spider's web, some threads travelling far longer than others. This vast network was dubbed the Hyperweb, a term that originally referred to the ancient Imperial communications network.
The known threads of the Hyperweb include the following classifications:
- Grand Axis - A thread that connects two Starbursts across distances greater than 10,000 light years.
- Axis - A thread that connects two star systems across distances greater than 10,000 light years.
- Thread - The standard connection between two jumpgates.
- Fray - A thread that leads to a Terminal gate.
The types thread connection include:
- String - A linear series of threads. Another common slang term for jumpgate travel is “stringing” or "riding the string(s)." Likewise, career space travelers are called "stringriders" or "stringers."
- Trailing - A string with branching Frays.
- Unravel - A string that ends in a Fray.
The types of networks created by thread connection include:
- Lattice - A network of star systems that forms a tightly linked region in the Hyperweb. Lattices typically exist around a high concentration of Cardinals or a Starburst.
- Tuft - A Lattice that expands from the end of a single string and has no other connection to the Hyperweb aside from that one string. Also referred to as Plugzone or a Shatter.
- Snarl - Where two or more lattices intertwine with no direct jumpgate connection or intersection between them. Grav-warp travel from one lattice to another may be possible between stars that lie particularly close together. Fluxstorms occur in what appear to be damaged threads, increasing the risk of jumps through them. Fluxstorms usually happen in Snarls.
“"Yeah, rode the Hellcrest Axis to Bira Marduk, out in the McCrae Lattice. From there, we followed the Tsuni-Ko Trailing out to Meridian. Then we tucked up into Avachel's Shatter and went to ground at Ogden-Ur. Hell of a trip, I can tell you. The Shatter has a few bad snarls in it, and we hit a fluxstorm on the Abanax thread. Blew one of our spindle arrays. If we hadn't had our backup ready, we'd be spread all through the Web by now. The Great Wolf was with us."”
Tribal settlements obtain their power from two archaic sources: photovoltaic solar cells and reliable cool-fusion generators. By no means state-of-the-art compared to Imperial engineering, these provide all the power the tribes need, producing little in the way of excess heat or environmental damage. Both types of device incorporate standard superconducting material, and are portable. When a tribe leaves for a new home, it pulls up all the power generators first, along with water filtration systems and agricultural plasm.
The Tribes of Man rely on powered armor equipped with integral superconducting batteries, phased-shield generators, and nano-threaded exo-muscle weave. Typical material is a fusion of advanced alloys and polycarbons that produces enormous tensile strength, hardness, and heat resistance. Each armor generates a flickering shield aura that cycles perhaps a thousand times per second. This aura provides the primary component of an armor's protection. Excessive damage to the aura overloads parts of the shield array and reduces the shield's strength. Nano-repair of armor specifically prioritizes restoration of damaged shield arrays. When the shield drops, death usually follows immediately after, unless the warrior is very lucky. Tribal weapons are designed to penetrate shields and advanced armor, and are more than sufficient to kill an unarmored human being with one hit. Some warriors choose to enhance their shields through supplementary modules.
The armor itself does add protection, chiefly in deflecting damage that penetrates the shield aura. The heavier the armor, the larger the shield array it can support. Otherwise, armor's role is to provide strength and mobility. The nano-thread flexors grant enhanced strength, whereas an antigravity mesh and thrusters give the Tribal warrior unparalleled personal maneuverability. The T-grav components in armor and in many weapons themselves allow a warrior to maneuver an ungainly weapon easily with one hand, keeping the other hand free for other tasks.
Armor is a very important part of Tribal culture, both for its military value and its symbolic worth. Minor raids have escalated into ferocious battles as warriors battle to keep the armor of a fallen comrade. The victor will strip the armor later and either add it to her Tribe's plunder or return it to the dead warrior's family.
Tribal weapons are extremely powerful for their size. Most are advanced models of designs created centuries earlier by the Empire. Not much progress occurs in Tribal weaponsmithing. Gunsmiths receive honor for crafting reliable or esthetically pleasing weapons. Weapons containing some improvement of balance, sighting, or accuracy are prized, but overall, the Tribes of Man hand their weapons down through the generations, carefully maintained and honored with names and histories. A few tribes, such as the Forge of Hephaestus, specialize in smithing and weaponcraft, and engage more in commerce than in battle. Famous Gunsmith families include the Telamon of the Photonic Horsemen and the Sabot-Styx of the Blood Eagle.
The Tribes of Man use a variety of transports, ranging from sleek grav attack speeders and APCs to tracked gun platforms to riding beasts. Even given the incredible mobility of the armored warriors, vehicles offer greater speed or altitude, more protection, or heavier weapons. Most transportation is mechanical, but animal use is common in some holdings. For example, the agile bipedal beasts called Chakrunners offer the advantage of a trained steed able to react quickly and independently in the midst of tribal skirmishes. They are rarely used in tribal raids, however, due to the difficulty of transporting them across light-years to a target planet.
“"One of the Scar Captains wanted to bring a squad's worth of Chaks along, and you can bet the pilots threw a starkissin' fit. 'No way we're gonna turn our dropship holds into stables,' they said. Turned out the raiders seized cattle from the Sworders on Oberon's Veldt, so the Dee-ships had to be hosed out when they got back, anyway."”
Tribal field medicine is nanotech-based, using "knitterbeams" to project dedicated "nanodocs" onto injuries together with an analgesic mist. The nanodocs use dead skin, plaque, hair, and other material to close wounds and regenerate tissue. Though the Four have access to nanodoc production, many other tribes do not. Medical resources are a principal target of raids, and destruction of an opponent's nanodocs carries nearly as high a priority as destruction of nano-repair devices.
Drugs and other medical materials are in sporadic supply. Most tribal medicine involves dealing with battlefield injuries. It is highly advanced in terms of tissue regeneration and shock treatment. Otherwise, tribal medicine is not far removed from late twentieth century levels. Only the larger tribes have facilities to train new doctors. Some Imperial-trained doctors have settled among the Tribes of Man, but these are rare.
The same technology that makes the powered armor possible makes cybernetic limbs and other implants possible. However, the Tribes maintain few advanced medical facilities compared to the Empire, and neurosurgery facilities on most worlds are generally quite primitive. Thus, only cruder implants are commonly performed, such as limb replacement, limited subdermal armor, HUD links, and the like. Deep conversions and neural remappings are not within the province of most tribal technology.
The strong live, the weak die. The Tribes of Man do not manipulate the Original Plasm, except to bolster immune systems or assist healing. Instead, they concentrate on breeding strong children and training them well.
Radio communications represent the predominant transmissions among the Tribes of Man. The larger tribes possess a number of transcomms that use quantum reed technology for faster-than-light communication, but these are somewhat uncommon since Q-reed manufacture is an art lost to the tribes. Existing transcomms are obtained through trade with the Empire or through taking them from Imperial outposts. The Children of Phoenix are said to have seized a large number of transcomms from the Imperials in the Kepler systems.
Interstellar Travel and Dropships
Spindleships travel the Hyperweb between stars. Starships use the gravity warping Xavier-Ryu drive to move between star systems off the Hyperweb. Warp travel functions by orders of magnitude more slowly, travelling at a maximum speed of a parsec (3.25 ly) per week. Once in a star system, strikeships, troopships and landers (collectively "dropships") transfer personnel to a planet's surface.
Computers are typically tiny in the tribal era, most of their size remaining for ergonomic purposes only. Interfaces utilize advanced neural conduction with holographic icons and displays. Storage occurs on the molecular level in wilderzone units, and is said to have reached the subatomic level in current Imperial technology. Portable storage occurs in "shards," which are picocrystal matrices embedded in a synthex cover, typically comparable in size to an inch-long toothpick, though the actual matrix cluster matches the size of a pinhead.
Anti-gravity technology is commonplace, and can be made small enough to float something as small as a porcelain vase, though most tribals see such use as ostentatious and frivolous. Tribal armors incorporate T-grav components and stabilizers.