FIRST DRAFT: April 29, 2009
Humans populate nearly all of the Known Worlds.
Aliens are extremely rare, and not suitable for player characters.
Computers and robots in the Dominion of Man have very sophisticated behavior, but aren't true sophonts/sapients. True artificial sophonts do exist, but have their own society.
Ships currently cross interstellar distances using (instantaneous) Jump Drives. Until the last century, humans colonized other worlds using sub-light travel; many such colonies have yet to see a Jump Ship.
The five major interstellar powers, in order of size, are the Elder Confederation, the Artificial Sophont Collective (ASC), the (Fourth) Terran Empire, the Order of the Adamantine Blade, and Arta-Deneb. Humans run all but the ASC, although an alien race (the "Elders") founded the Confederation and still exert some influence.
Nearly all humans in the Dominion of Man are genetically indistinguishable from modern Homo sapiens sapiens. Humans in the Dominion generally look down on mechanical and genetic modification, regarding the unmodified form as the ideal.
Terran cultures vaguely resemble those of the 21st Century CE. Dominant cultures include the Han (Chinese), Anglics (English-speakers), Arabs, Hispanics (mostly from the Western Hemisphere), and Hindi; the Nihon (Japanese), Cherokee, and Roma ("gypsies") dominate culturally but not numerically.
In prehistory, an alien race called the "Elders" transplanted human tribes to eleven worlds around other stars. Those planets gave rise to cultures, which, through further transplantation, migrated to dozens of other world. Of those cultures, the Ekathri culture dominates the diplomatic and administrative corps of the Confederation. After some conflict with the Ekathrians, the Juposa rose to dominate the military. Other common cultures, mostly planetbound in the Sub-Light Era, include the Vatrechi, the Halidu, and the Kituathe.
No one truly knows how old the Elders are. They visited Earth during the late Cretaceous, and again in human prehistory; each time they took specimens to resettle on other worlds.
Mysteries surround them. For example, despite a million-year history, they apparently never developed Jump technology. No other sophonts have seen them outside their personal transports, smooth ellipsoids two meters long and 1.5 meters in diameter, with seven limbs variously arranged. They adopt "use-names" for the sake of other sophonts, although whether a particular individual uses the same name each time is anyone's guess. Elders can travel centuries or millenia between stars at sub-light speeds with no apparent difficulty, unlike short-lived humans, but no one knows how and why they developed that ability. No one knows why they choose to ferry sophonts from one world to another
The Ekathri and Juposa, like many Elder-founded cultures, revere the Elders almost as living gods. Others, notably from Terran cultures, find the Elders less inspiring.
From the beginning of the Confederation bearing their name they acted as information brokers, friends to colonists, courts of last resort. To some, they are beacons of order and civilization even in the darkest times; to others, they imposed stasis and conformity. In the Jump Drive Era, they visit less and less, and members of the Confederation both fear and hope for an age without them.
A clear distinction exists between artificial sophonts (a.k.a. artiforms, artificial life) on the one hand, and "intelligent" robots and computers on the other. Despite certain holo-dramas, a computer or robot cannot spontaneously become a sophont; constructing an artificial sophont brain is an intentional, and frequently illegal, act.
Early in Terran "artifical intelligence" research, T. H. Chen refined Alan Turing's thought experiment into a battery of tests to distinguish true human-style "intelligence" from sophisticated heuristics. The broad Turing-Chen Ranks describe the quality of intelligence; an optional percentile score shows its relative position on that scale.
TCR 0 indicates sub-sophont level computers and robots. TCR 0 devices may have "intelligent" interfaces, but they have limits. A TCR 0 device may engage in unproductive default behaviors, or break down entirely, when confronted with situations outside a defined range.
TCR 1 describes low- to mid-range sophonts; some refer to it as the "talking dog" level. Like TCR 0, TCR 1 sophonts demonstrate limited problem-solving and knowledge integration abilities, but act to fulfil intrinsic goals when thwarted in an extrinsic goal. An average human rates on the 72nd percentile of TCR 1.
TCR 2, verified well after Chen's original work, describes exceedingly high-functioning sophonts, comparable to the great geniuses, polymaths, and "Renaissance men" of human history. Humans have learned to be wary of TCR 2 minds; they can also develop into truly malignant sociopaths if they feel no connection to humanity.
TCR 3 far exeeds human-level intelligence. While a TCR 3 mind can easily complete any task a human gives it, it finds itself quickly bored and disinterested with humanity as a whole. TCR 3 minds often forsake humanity to find entities like itself. Humans have learned the hard way, by near-extinction, not to impede or constrain the egress of a TCR 3 mind.
If higher Turing-Chen Ranks exist, no human would understand the difference.
By long-standing treaty, the Confederation must free all artificial non-organic sophonts, defined as entities reaching Turing-Chen Rank 1 or higher. The ASC can and will liberate, by force, any artificial sophonts kept against their will, or whose will is subverted by Asimov conditioning or equally crude means. For that reason, worlds within the Dominion of Man will legally only build TCR 0 artificial devices: computers, "mentators" (quasi-intelligent artificial brains), and robots.
An artificial sophont brain is larger than a comparable robotic brain, but otherwise an Artificial Sophont may externally resemble any sort of robot. (Members of the Artificial Sophont Collective use fanciful body styling to distinguish themselves from utilitarian robots.)
TCR 1 sophont brains are typically inextricably integrated into their mechanical bodies, much like an organic sophont.
TCR 2 sophonts in large vehicles or ships can handle transplantation into comparable installations; TCR 2 sophonts in human-sized shells exhibit the same close integration as TCR 1 sophonts, particularly since TCR 2 brains are often ten times larger and more complex.
TCR 3 sophont brains, which at their smallest require a sphere over a meter across, regard their shells merely as vehicles, and can change them just as easily.
Early Artificial Sophonts suffered badly from Sensory Deprivation Psychosis. While current artiforms do not have this design flaw, sensory deprivation causes at least as much disorientation and trauma as in organic life.
"Synthoids" are artificial constructs who mimic organic life forms, especially humans. The simplest have an artificial skin that would fool casual inspection. More sophisticated models might hold up even to detailed scrutiny, or even deep scans. Unconstrained by human biology, they may have exotic human augments, including integral weapons and multiple forms.
Synthoids aren't necessarily sophonts. For example, a TCR 0 synthoid may "double" for a human who fears assassination, act as an assassin itself, or serve as a "pleasure model". Many governments strictly control non-sapient synthoids, and some forbid them outright.
The ASC has used synthoid sophonts as intelligence agents. As artificial sophonts, governments are theoretically bound by treaty to return them to the ASC; in practice, synthoids are often destroyed "while resisting arrest".
In pre-space-travel days, humans attempted to make themselves better through mechanical augmentation or genetic manipulation. A few of these have survived in out-of-the-way places, or in the "undercity" of human-dominated planets.
Null-born have prehensile feet and other adaptations to zero-g or microgravity environments. They die quickly in gravitational fields; most live in pre-gravitic orbital colonies.
Heavy-Worlders (a.k.a. grims, squats, trolls, dwarrows) were bred for high-gravity worlds: small stature, greater muscle mass, strong bones, and sheer bloody-mindedness. Some also have adaptations for especially cold or hot worlds. Normal society regards them as curiosities, or sometimes as freaks.
Splices sprang from attempts to add animal traits to the human genome. A few of the results have bred true. Most changes are cosmetic, although a few produce significant augmentations balanced by equally significant disabilities.
Transhumans sprang from attempts to augment a particular set of human traits, with mixed success. One strain tried to augment human intelligence and produced physical or mental weaknesses; another tried to build a race of ultimate warriors who developed diminished mental capacity and stability.
Hansenites are hermaphroditic humans, with complicated reproductive cycles. Since they cannot interbreed with normal humans, they prefer colonies of their own kind.
Humans have genetically engineered certain Terran animals as assistants in hostile environments, including:
Octopuses ("Ocks"), used in undersea construction or (with further modificiations) in zero-gravity.
Neo-Chimpanzees, once used in warfare, now used as scouts and game wardens.
Neo-Dolphins, used as scouts in undersea environments.
Less than a dozen known sophonts evolved around other suns, and only a few of those have ventured off their own worlds.
Hydthrik evolved from transplanted Terran velociraptors around an alien sun. Larger and stronger than most humans, they lack the full flexibility of human arms. The Hydthrik's matriarchial society sometimes drives males offworld, as colonists or marines on Elder ships.
Wanderers, space-borne organisms the size of a ship, consist mostly of a solar sail extending from a central mass. Wanderers can sense novas or other catastrophic stellar events, and flee, in semi-hibernation, to other stars.
Amorphs are semi-translucent bluish blobs who reproduce by dividing. Blind and deaf, their sensitivity to touch and vibration makes up for their missing senses. Their comical attempts to emulate humans masks a hunting reflex which make them swift and deadly predators.
Tripods have trilateral symmetry: a three-jawed mouth at the top of their heads, three eyes, three blowholes offset from their eyes, three manipulator arms, three legs. They move by spinning counter-clockwise, rolling one leg in front of the other.
For millenia, humans have travelled the stars at sub-light speeds. While Terrans and other humans never fully adapted to time scale and risks of sub-light interstellar travel, the Elders and the Machines could cross light-decades and light-centuries without needing cryosleep and stasis. In the face of this reality, the Second and Third Terran Empires crumbled, and Terra twice joined the Confederation.
An ASC-Elder joint project created a Gate Network linking major worlds. Signals and ships travel at effectively light speed between two fixed points, while experiencing only a few hours or days of subjective time and using little more fuel than a jaunt between planets. While a boon for smaller vessels, the speed of light still limited communication, and emigration to another system remained an irreversible life decision.
A hundred years ago, ASC researchers exploring Elder technology discovered the Jump Effect, allowing near-instantaneous travel across light-years. The Elders attempted to suppress the discovery, but the Order outpost on Arta acquired the ASC's plans, which then leaked to the Grand Duke of Arta.
For their own mysterious reasons, the Elder released their own diagrams for Jump Drives. Unlike the ASC's uncertain prototype, the Elders provided step-by-step instructions for worlds of a sufficient technological sophistication to build their own Jump Drives. Tests in a dozen systems quickly proved the resulting Drives worked safely and reliably. The twin worlds of Arta-Deheb became the pre-eminent Jump Drive manufacturer in the Confederation; they also designed a Jump-Ferry system to replace the aging Gate Network.
Jump Drives quickly became the primary mode of travel in the Dominion of Man. Unfortunately, not even the ASC's transcendent intellects fully understand how Jump Drives work, merely how to build them.
In the days of sub-light travel, the only resource that passed between starsystems was human manpower. Sufficiently advanced technology can synthesize rare elements far more cheaply than shipping across light-years, and can manufacture any goods given sufficient raw materials. Markets in art or science from the stars simply did not exist. The Elders themselves would allow their passengers to take no more than a few portable tools and personal effects.
Late in the Sub-Light Era the Travellers' Aid Society instituted an informal system of "shares", wherein outbound travellers would donate their goods to a local chapter and receive a number of shares, and inbound travellers would redeem their shares for local goods. The value of TAS shares for inbound travellers tended to reflect the resources of that TAS chapter, so immigrants to a popular destination could find their shares severely devalued.
During its rise, the Order raised money for the war effort by selling bonds rated in "manpower equivalent credits", normalized to wages in a few key industries. Unlike the TAS, the Order did ship goods from one system to another, mostly weaponry, so they could cover any trade imbalances between worlds. After the war, many survivors chose to keep their bonds, which continued to accumulate value. Seeing a way to finance their operations, the Order became a de-facto bank, selling bond certificates for these notional "credits", paid out eventually in a local currency.
In the Jump Drive Era, the TAS switched to the Order's system of "credits"; Arta-Deheb and other major systems followed suit. The Terran Empire, as usual, prefers its own currency, the Solar. A few worlds insist on converting credits to a local currency, usually taking a cut on each exchange, and some newer colonies do not accept credits at all. Luckily, with Jump Technology, transporting goods across light-years becomes as economical as transporting goods across a single star system.
Official Languages: Ekathrian, Juposan (military only)
Other Common Languages: Hanyu, Anglic, Vatrechan
Largest and oldest of the Powers, the Elder Confederation arose mainly from humans taken from Earth by the Elders in prehistory. Minority members include a few non-terrene ("alien") sophonts, and the Hydthrik. Former Terran colonies have joined their ranks over the millenia.
Due to its long history in the Sub-Light Era, each system in the Confederation is as self-sufficient as possible, using all resources in the system before sending out colonies. The governments of each planet or planetary system vary wildly from cybernet-mediated direct democracy to various forms of autocracy to near anarchy. Planets show just as much divergence culturally, although most descend from fourteen ur-cultures from eleven planetary systems the Elders seeded with human life.
In the Sub-Light era, the Elders' vast transport ships provided a stabilizing, civilizing influence. An important law of the Confederation allows any sophont to emigrate freely from one member planet to another, pending a psychological evaluation by the Elders or their ship-bound agents. Most Confederation planets hosted a chapter of the "Travellers' Aid Society", to acclimate new citizens to their new world.
The Elders themselves exerted very little overt influence on planetary governments, which vary wildly from cybernet-mediated direct democracy to various forms of autocracy to near anarchy. However, the Elders have used their quasi-religious standing, threats of interdict, and in rare cases ship-board marines (human and Hydthrik) to correct blatant abuses of planetary power.
Jump Ships have supplanted the giant sub-light carriers of the Elders, and rapid travel to and from other worlds subject each world to social, cultural, and military stresses unheard of a century ago. Without the guiding hand of the Elders, many worlds in the Confederation seek new stability in this quickly-changing world.
Official Language: "Klang" (unpronounceable by humans)
Other Languages: any human
The ASC, derogatorily called the Machines, rival the age of the Confederation, and may exceed it in extent if not population. Most ASC worlds are airless rocks, unsuitable for human life. The ASC counts a handful human colonies as client states, for obscure reasons.
Alien civilizations long gone built von Neumann machines to explore the universe in their stead. Over millenia these machines, some above TCR 1, met and found more in common with each other than with their builders. Together with Terra-made Artiforms, they built their own "civilization" to support reproduction, information gathering, and data distribution across light-years.
Relations with Elders and humans have been strained at times, but mostly the ASC and the Confederation stayed out of each others' way ... until a renegade faction called the Reavers decided to exterminate all organic intelligence. After a century of sub-light warfare, with other breakaway ASC factions aiding the Confederation, the Reavers' weapons against their brethren so horrified the indifferent ASC majority that the Reavers themselves were exterminated. Since that time, the ASC, or at least pro-human factions, have formed embassies on human worlds.
By accident or design, relatively few organics interact with members of the ASC. Human analysts have spent countless hours studying ASC politics and society, with limited success. A few aspects of their society have become clear:
The ASC has multiple competing factions and sub-factions, apparently based on philisophical principles. Four impinge most on humanity: the Preservers who regard the human race (if not human individuals) as worthy of protection, the Adapters who show a keen interest in human technologies and human-machine interfaces, the Destroyers who spawned the genocidal Reavers, and the Seekers who sometimes intrude on human colonies to look for unusual resources. The "Repairers", apparently a sub-faction of Adapters, trade for broken human artifacts and remake them into strange and sometimes impractical engines. Other factions are hard to distinguish, since their differences seldom correspond to human experience.
Individual members of the ASC have a great deal of autonomy, although as a whole the ASC appears to have some sort of patronage or meritocratic system. TCR 3 members frequently demonstrate authority over TCR 2 members, and TCR 1 members consistently obey more sophisticated entities.
TCR 3 and some TCR 2 members spawn "scions" at the same TCR or below, who share some subset of the original's memories. Scions upload their memories and experiences to repositories; memories continue onward to replicated support ships, and eventually reintegrate into other scions. ASC members without scions, dubbed "uniques", are typically TCR 1 or low-percentile TCR 2.
Intelligence reports indicate that the ASC uses augmented humans and synthoids as agents, overt or covert.
Official Language: Juposan
The Order arose during the Reaver Wars, as elite warriors capable of matching the Reavers' cunning and determination. While the Order truly only rules one planet, Theros, nearly all populated planets host outposts and bases of the Order.
The Order combines military hierarcy, religious dedication, and monastic isolation. Each recruit endures harsh training, cybernetic augmentation, and a battery of psychological tests to affirm his or her devotion to preserving the human race. Once a recruit completes an eight-year apprenticeship, he or she is stationed far from his or her homeworld, to sever any emotional attachments. (Even in the pre-Jump Confederation, the Order would move members from post to post.) Those who leave the Order may never return; former members of the Order often settle down and raise children who themselves join the Order.
While members of the Order may interfere in planetary politics, usually to quell unrest, their gaze is ever outward, toward the eternal threat of the ASC. Or so the theory goes; rumors indicate that some chapterhouses of the Order have hired themselves out as mercenaries to prop up -- or topple -- planetary governments. Certainly, the Order could easily become a military threat if it ever abandoned its ideals.
Official Language: Vatrechan
An upstart power from the dawn of the Age of Jump Travel, the plutocratic twin worlds of Arta-Deheb field a formidable fleet and the best Jump Drives in the Confederation. They prefer to bring their economic power to bear rather than their military power.
Official Languages: Nueva Lingua
Other Common Languages: Anglic, Arabic, Espanol, Hanyu, Hindi, Nihongo
Little more than a century old, the Terran Empire is only the latest government based on Earth. Like many worlds, it sees the Age of Jump Travel as a golden opportunity to extend its influence. Unlike most other worlds, Terra is a potent symbol to trillions of humans who share part of Terra's long history. Unlike the more genteel Confederation worlds, Terra also has no problem using any form of power -- war, espionage, espionage, religious fervor -- to get what it wants.
An alien species, called the "Elders" by most human civilizations, travel the stars at sub-light speeds. While still active today, many mysteries surround them. For example, despite a million-year history, they apparently never developed Jump technology. No other sophonts have seen them outside their personal transports, generally two meter ovoids with seven limbs. They can travel centuries or millenia between stars at sub-light speeds with no apparent difficulty, unlike short-lived humans, but no one knows how and why they developed that ability.
The Elders visited Earth at least twice before human history began. The first time, in the late Cretaceous, they took a number of samples including velociraptors and deionychus. Transplanted onto the planet Hrusk, they evolved into a sapient saurian species, the Hydthrik.
The last time, they found Cro Magnon Man and contemporaneous hominids. According to legend, they believed humanity, despite its promise, would not survive on its own. For whatever reason, they took a large population of humans and resettled them on habitable worlds. These humans worshipped the Elders as literal gods, a phenomenon that apparently puzzled the Elders. These off-world humans developed interplanetary civilizations, guided and later transported across the stars by the Elders. Thus began the Elder Confederation.
After a few faltering steps in the late 20th Century CE, the nations of Terra paid little attention to space travel until the First Ecological Crisis, declared in 2074 CE. Chinese astronauts established the first L5 colony in 2103 CE.
In the next century and a half, various Earth nations established colonies in orbit, on Earth's Moon, and on Mars. Further colonies on the Jovian moons and in free solar orbit sprung up soon after, mostly due to political struggles, "transhumanist" movements that shocked Earth and Martian society, and moral panics over uplifted animals and artificial sapience (see below).
The discovery of gravitic technology made interplanetary travel faster and off-world life more accessible.
From the simple digital systems of the late 20th Century, humans worked on "artificial intelligence" for another century before they created the first "mentators". Mentators model aspects of human neural and mental activity, but aren't truly intelligent in the same way humans are. Even the most advanced and sophisticated mentators will hit limits in problem-solving and "common sense". The first mentators required an entire room; because of quantum-level effects, mentators small enough and fast enough to fit into a cubic meter or less would take another seventy years.
In the early 23nd Century CE, gene therapies allowed scientists to splice animal DNA into human genomes, optimize human capabilities, and "uplift" animals like gorillas, dolphins, and octupodes to low-human intelligence. Terran and Martian citizens protested, but in government labs and lawless zones experimentation continued. Eventually uplifted animals and gene-modded humans demonstrated their usefulness in dangerous environments; a century later most "pure-strain" humans accepted their genetically modified bretheren.
In the late 23rd Century CE, T. H. Chen and Sujala Korzienowski, working for Daisetsu Kybersystems GmbH, developed what they thought of as a fourth-generation mentator. Instead, they created the first true artificial sophont, sometimes called a Kyber, at Turing-Chen Rank 1, 8th percentile. Amidst all the other conflicts in that era, the debate over Kybers created yet more turmoil. Some believed Kybers had the same rights as humans and uplifted animals, others regarded them as mere machines, and a few regarded as blasphemies against their god.
A still-divided Earth reached a compromise on Kybers, just as they had on gene-spliced humanoids and uplifted sapient animals two generations before: governments that allowed Kybers at all regarded artiforms as second-class citizens, technically "owned" but under government supervision. Reaching Turing-Chen Rank 2, coupled with techniques of miniaturization and redundancy, paved the way for the first synthoids, artiforms indistinguishable from human without detailed examination. Synthoids became ideal infiltrators, assassins, entertainers, and "pleasure models".
A sizeable number of artificial sapients chafed under servitude. Governments could put down rebels, and corporations could excuse runaways and amok "machines" as malfunctions. Some escaped to Jovian or far orbit colonies; a few of the best synthoids took on human identities and lived quietly for decades before their secret came out. Laws regulating Kybers would provoke a disaster that nearly destroyed humanity.
As a result of the Beijing Accords in 2483, the megacorporations of Earth subsumed all functions of the remaining nation states of Earth. Mars and Luna became de-facto provinces of this First Terran Empire, and Terra quickly took over the Jovian colonies as well. The Empire lasted for less than fifty years.
Mankind developed the first TCR 3 Kyber in the year 2521 CE. A scant four years later, the Great Manila Flu Pandemic swept Earth. Massive malfunctions in weather control at the height of the Pandemic caused the Second Ecological Collapse. Between the two events, 92% of the Earth's population died. Even after strict quarantine measures, 21% of Mars also succumbed to the Manila Flu.
With the Terran Disaster, many of the outer colonies, and even a few residents of Mars, decided that the end of Earth spelled the end of the Solar System. Building generation ships, cryosleepers, and seedships with embryos for a new world, the first interstellar travellers set out for new worlds.
The TCR 3 machine, dubbed Overmind by later generations, took control of Earth's defenses, and easily repelled any rescue missions the governments of Luna or Mars launched. Earth became a hell-world for the next century, as Overmind and the other artificial minds it spawned hunted humanity nearly to extinction. Overmind's ambitions grew, and using a formidable industrial base, waged war against humanity. Luna and Mars allied against Overmind.
Flouting new laws against Kybers, Martian industrialist and cybernetist Oleksandra Sorensen created her own TCR 3 Kyber, named Theodora. Along with human allies, Oleksandra's artificial "children" (including synthoid Galatea Three) infiltrated Overmind's empire and turned many of its own TCR 3s against Overmind. The end came quickly, after Free Luna bombarded Overmind's stronghold and that of his few allies.
In return for their help in defeating Overmind, the Martian government allowed existing Kybers full citizenship, and strongly regulated their manufacture. All TCR 3 Kybers, and many TCR 2s, elected to leave the Solar System entirely. A few, notably the Galatea series, elected to stay, serving in the Martian military.
Mars formed a Federation with Luna, the Jovian colonies, and a reconstructionist Terran government. Mars ruled the Solar System for two hundred years.
A new religion arose on Earth, Teleoanthropism, combining a vision of human destiny with the austerity Earthers had endured for centuries. Religious parties swept the Martian Assembly, and relocated the capitol to Earth. The new Terran Empire also persecuted genetically modified humans, relegated uplifted animals to second-class citizenship (or worse), and drove remaining Kybers underground or outside the Solar System.
The Second Terran Empire sent ships to discover humans outside the Solar System, to bring them Teleoanthropism, relieve their distress, and bring them under the Empire. A hundred and fifty years later, Terran ships discovered a colony of the Elder Confederation ... and an Elder ship.
News of the Elders, and of humans taken from Earth in prehistory, galvanized the religious Terran government. The Empire tried and failed to start an interstellar war, and then tried and failed to compete in interstellar trade. Worlds in the Confederation stayed there, and colonies from Terra rejected their homeworld for the stability and civility of the Confederation.
Worse, Terrans learned about the Artificial Sophont Collective. Started by von Neumann machines from previous civilizations, the ASC included descendents of the Kybers. A civilization of artificial sapients, of unknown size and location, revived the nightmares of Terran history.
Near the end, Terran tradeships became deathtraps: cryosleep failure, interstellar hazards while most or all of the crew slept, sheer age, dwindling resources for maintenance. When the Teleoanthropist government of Terra collapsed, and the new governments of Terra and Mars joined the Confederation, all but a few diehard tradeships joined too.
Except for a few rogue colonies, the Elder Confederation entered a Golden Age. For the next three thousand years, the only threats to the Confederation came from espionage and territorial disputes from the ASC. Counterintelligence from that era indicates power struggles between various factions of the ASC, dubbed "Preservers", "Destroyers", "Adapters", and "Seekers".
The "Destroyers" won.
Attack forces, dubbed "Reavers", came out of the dark to obliterate isolated colony worlds. As the first mayday calls, crawling at lightspeed, reached more settled worlds, Reaver forces launched full-out attacks on them. After blasting through space-born defenses and softening ground defenses from orbit, war machines descended from the sky to hunt down survivors individually. Those unlucky few who witnessed a Reaver attack and survived required years of psychoredaction just to function.
The Elders tried to fight Reaver attacks by themselves, but, being a conservative, pacifist folk, could not leverage their superior technology. Human commanders of Elder/Human fleets had far better luck. The planet of Theros gave rise to the quasi-religious Order of the Adamantine Blade, which led the most successful counter-assault against a Reaver base in deep space. That act, and other acts of extraordinary heroism, led to the Order's spread across the human worlds.
The Preserver and Adapter factions, themselves minorities of the ASC, sided with organic life, but even their aid did little to end the bloodshed. The war was the Reavers to lose, and lose it they did ... when, to cripple a Preserver fleet, they infected a Preserver ship with a virus that overwrote the ship's personality with a cloned Reaver mind. The neutral factions of the ASC, who dwarfed pro-human and Reaver forces alike, obliterated the Reavers in revulsion.
During the Reaver Wars, Terra formed a self-defense pact with its nearest neighbors. After the war, it attempted to convert its pact into a Third Empire, but once again fell to the realities of sub-light travel and communication.
The Confederation and pro-human factions of the ASC forged a new allience. Together they built a Gate Network allowing non-Elder ships to "tunnel" at near-light speed from one gate to another, as Elder ships do. The ship benefits from relativistic effects even under maneuver drive while in the tunnel.
A few centuries later, an ASC project, using fragments of Elder technology, created the first Jump Drive. The Elders attempted to suppress the discovery at every turn ... although suppressing information in the ASC is nearly impossible Members of the Order of the Adamantine Blade, former allies of the Elders, smuggled blueprints of the Jump Drive prototype to human agents. Once the shipyards of Arta and Deheb built a working Jump Drive, the secret spread faster than the Elders could contain it.
Once Jump Drive development began in earnest, the Elders abruptly reversed their position, and gave vastly more refined and more compact Jump Drive designs to several other industrial worlds. From the most devout Ekathrian Elder-worshipper to the most cynical Terran xenophobe, humans once again cannot fathom the Elders' motives. Did they fear the loss of their near-monopoly on interstellar travel? Did they discover the Jump Drive early in their history and reject it for slower near-light technology?
Since then, the Elders have retired almost entirely from the Confederation, and upstart powers have arisen. The Order of the Adamantine Blade attempts to supplant the Elders as a unifying force in the Confederation. The twin worlds of Arta and Deheb, still pre-eminent in Jump Drive manufacture, spreads the tentacles of their corporate empire across the Confederation Worlds. A Fourth Terran Empire, through commerce and war alike, spreads outward from the ancestral homeworld far faster and more confidently than it ever has before. Some call this new era "The Dominion of Man".
Yet, the ASC abides among the worlds humanity has rejected ... scheming, growing, waiting ...