Man, posting a lot of ideas lately. Anyway, this one comes out of a little no-sleep after working on a concept for one of my players and I just went a little down the rabbit hole. The result I think is pretty good, and after showing it to my players, I decided to share.
Posted By: Nephelae, Sentinel
At first brush, Horizon's First is a simple Brinker group who have mixed survivalist memes with an unusual religious or spiritual focus. A couple years after the Fall, they laid claim to 10199 Chariklo, the largest centaur body which lies in-between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, and is unusual for a minor planet in that it has rings. There they set up a titular settlement, Horizon's First. However, a comprehensive analysis of their activities over the Mesh, and observed remotely by their "neighbors" in the Uranian and Saturnian neighborhoods starts telling a different story. On its surface their belief system as laid out by their leader "The Ascending Master", seems like an odd kitbash of "New Age" beliefs mixed with an extreme cherry-pick of the Baha'i faith's principles like unity of religion and humanity, with a pinch of Xenodeism on top. And while not widely publicized, in certain circles their leader is known to have a bit of a "shopping list" which could be worrisome to Firewall. Combined with a deep dive of their ethos and the fact that Horizon's First is actively interested in not just recruiting, but developing new egos (i/e children) means they should be considered a possibly expanding threat.
ORIGINS AND BACKGROUND
The core beliefs of Horizon's First are laid out in the Ascending Master's seminal work The First Over The Horizon. In it, the Master gives the account that while fleeing the Fall on Earth, he had a cosmic revelation while traveling with some Brinkers. His "limited" mind wasn't capable of fully understanding this insight, but he knew it was his mission to communicate it to the best of his ability. The result is a very esoteric, stream of consciousness work written while he was travelling very far out-system. Parts of it are confusing, nonsensical, or appear contradictory, but are at least all in the same theme.
Roughly, the text communicates that he had a burst of insight from "cosmic energy" that flowed through him, revealing underlying truths of the universe. The "cosmic energy" that binds and flows in all creation spawned vast alien intellect(s) likened unto God, and from them all sapient life in the universe originates. When such life collectively reaches a point of metaphysical or spiritual purity or perfection, they ascend from their physical forms to achieve oneness with the cosmic godhead. Armed with this knowledge (among other beliefs) he took the alias "Ascending Master" and began to disseminate his work among communities as his ship passed, gaining a few new followers here and there. Eventually he realized he would need a home base to continue development of his theology and philosophy, and with his first batch of followers he was able to take hold of the claim on Chariklo.
The early years of the "faith" were fairly uneventful, which is probably why nobody was taking notice of them. As a group, Horizon's First set up on Chariklo and began trading some of the valuable materials extracted from the D-type body, mostly for basic hab supplies and for a decent stockpile of armaments to protect themselves - this is how they got their reputation as "survivalists". They also traded a lot of obscure or specific academic or scientific knowledge in this time, or offered a place for other Brinkers and Out'sters to come study academic works which some habs didn't always have time or effort for. It was at this time that The First Over The Horizon was formally published on the Mesh, which attracted small handfuls of Xenodeists or New Age spiritualists in the neighborhood. The cult grew to a couple hundred adherents in this time, but generally people didn't take them seriously, saying the First was a "bad petal trip".
This is where things start getting weirder. First, the Ascending Master publishes his second work, which is much more solidly written and is less about "cosmic truth" and more about daily practices of the cult. Called Attuning The Aura To the Cosmic Essence, this second work reads somewhere between self-help book and Singularity Seeker manifesto. It talks a lot about "expanding the mind" and "cleansing the spirit" and about how to "let the cosmic energy flow through you". How one does this involves a lot of meditation in time accelerated simulspace, tripping on linkstate, and experimental neural enhancers. Then, data about Cognite's FUTURA project (thanks, corporate moon parents) and the Pandora Gates goes public. It's not well recorded, but apparently the AM had made some broad predictions which could be interpreted as being fulfilled by this information. Combined with his release of a more relatable work, the cult gains following in the neighborhood and even in other regions in the solar system, roughly doubling the size of the group to several hundred.
A few years ago, AM published his next two books, one forming the third of his scriptures. That one is The Coming of the Ultraviolet Children, which outlines a concept of "Ultraviolet Children". It becomes the mission of Horizon's First to locate these children and make sure they have a healthy spiritual upbringing so they may enhance humanity's spiritual perfection - and also to generate as many "ultraviolet" children as possible. The second work, The Fall and the Age of Aquarius is much more akin to a political or philosophical work than a scriptural one. It outlines how the era of the Fall marked the transition to the "Age of Aquarius" and that freedom, technology and enlightenment should spread "unbound" throughout the cosmos - but his ideas on what this "unlimited" spread means sounds a bit more like Exhumanism than Autonomism. This is also when people nearby start getting concerned about Horizon's First. Instead of trading, they start raiding, sending fast ships on attacks against even well hidden enclaves. Scarier is not that they take resources and kill the people - but that they apparently capture children or other young egos and take them back to their hab.
From this point on, Horizon's First are implicated in shadier and shadier business from hereout. Agents are caught trying to break quarantine on Iapetus and Pathfinder. False identities crafted by the group are thrown off of Chat Noir - and based on the Fissure Gate's more lax screening some more probably were able to go through the Gate. Other members have been tagged meeting with Exhuman agents in the fringe, trading their stolen supplies for xenotech samples or TITAN relics. Titanian intelligence pinged they even seem to have build some kind of signals receiver or SIGINT array into Chariklo which is purportedly bigger than their habitation space. I've even heard some talk Horizon's First members have asked about Sibyls. All the while, most "knowledgeable" people dismiss the group as some spiritualist nonsense, but AM's works have spread throughout the solar system, and he still gets new converts. Rough estimates have Horizon's First as holding over 2,000 people in morphs. And room for plenty more.
And these people are not a joke. I was visiting Gerlach for some other Firewall business, and was approached by a couple of guys from the group. They hit me with a drug which temporarily blocked my Psi abilities. They must not have known I was a literal surgeon though, and neither of them had morphs loaded for combat. Picking through the stacks, Firewall says they were little more than suicide forks, sent on esoteric missions to "find lost children".
As noted above, the core belief outlined in The First Over The Horizon is that the universe was created by a burst of "cosmic energy" from a place even outside this universe, and that confluences of it generated an ultimate cosmic being or beings (the work moves back and forth on plural or singular beings) of pure thought who are akin to what we interpret as "God". From this source, all sentient life in the universe originates. All representation of God or Gods are seen as our reflection of knowledge of the cosmic god, and thus are all one in the same, as are all religions - an ideal cribbed from Baha'i. Out religions and gods appear different because we were not as spiritually evolved as a species as to have the "pure" cosmic knowledge yet. The work explains the Fermi Paradox by saying that all species who ultimately achieve a metaphysical perfection ascend to become one with the cosmic God - leaving only their ruins behind. Those who fail to ascend are destroyed by natural forces of the universe - entropy, evolution, etc. Later editions of The First even cite the Iktomi and ruins of Moravec as examples. The work concludes that transhumans must study and harness the cosmic energy, and spread the ideals of spiritual purity to all members of the species so we might ascend.
The second work, Attuning The Aura To the Cosmic Essence is a much more practical manual of how to actually accomplish these sweeping goals. It posits that humanity entered the period in which they can ascend, as seen by the TITANs, our "children". The TITANs were able to surpass transhuman understanding of the cosmos and elect to ascend - their attempts to include us their creators in this endeavor explains the mass uploading. However, transhuman minds were still "too weak" to appreciate this revelation, causing the chaos and failure of the Fall and the TITANs to finish their ascension and leave transhumanity behind. The work then posits that transhumanity must overcome their weakness and expand their minds so they can focus their minds, and harness cosmic energy and obtain "great revelations" about the understanding of the universe, before finally ascending to join the Cosmic Unity. How one accomplishes this is done through a multitude of paths, the simplest is to study The First, and then moves on to spending high amounts of subjective time to accelerate enlightenment, or share XP and other data from other transhumans to "crowdsource" new revelations - but it ends with concepts of psychosurgery, memory and behavioral editing, nootropics all the way to experimental cognitive enhancements and mind states which are borderline Exhuman. This work also discusses the concept of "Akashic Records", that ascendant civilizations will have left metaphysical repositories of their knowledge and insight, and that accessing these will speed transhumanity on their path to ascension. Of course, Attuning also counts TITANs as "ascended" meaning that their relics should be sought after also.
The last key scripture, The Coming of the Ultraviolet Children outlines a new concept which is vital to enlightenment. This is that children will appear in transhumanity, since we are so close to ascension, who are gifted with high concentrations of the cosmic energy. These children will be gifted and stand apart from their fellows, and it is vital to raise them to speed their enlightenment, so they might guide the rest of us with them. It says these children will be able to wield cosmic energy and make things which seem impossible happen, and if they have the proper will can defy our understanding of physics. It in a less broad sense, the work also states the group Horizon's First must both actively locate "Ultraviolet" children, but also do their best to cultivate their own - using techniques outlined in Attuning to ensure they begin life with elevated levels of cosmic energy.
The Fall and the Age of Aquarius is much less esoteric and spiritual, and more political. It states that in the Ascending Master's opinion, Transhumanity entered the "Age of Aquarius" around the period of the Fall, signaling a transition in the cosmic energy around our solar system and species, stating that as the age culminates we shall achieve "spiritual perfection". How this is done is by spreading ideals of perseverance, freedom, technology, democracy, etc, in accordance with historical spiritual symbolism. However, a critical analysis of this work shows that this "spread" of these ideals is much more self-serving than it would appear. Concepts like freedom and perseverance are vaguely defined and then encouraged to be against persecution and "arbitrary" limitations society puts on itself which stand in the face of ascendant practices. The kinds of technology encouraged not only increase health and longevity, but befit the practices of improvement outlined in their spiritual works. The ideal of democracy naturally assumes the majority of people will desire enlightenment and spiritual health.
Ultimately, it's no surprise that both this faith is small, but that it has had a steady influx of converts. Recontextualizing the Fall as a failed "enlightenment" may help people rationalize the tragedy, and "cosmic unity" suggest some ultimate goal to life which could be "listless" for an otherwise immortal person. Later works contain information and guidance to improve as a person and become "more enlightened", and encourage the development and raising of children - something people think about but rarely do in our current era.
The settlement also titled "Horizon's First" is the group's primary center of operation. It's a beehive dug into Chariklo, and the group mostly uses the resources gathered by clearing out living space to supply themselves. The minor planet has enough mass to hold many more than the 2,000+ currently living there, which means the cult also tends to offer decent living space. Comfortable living is important to mental health, after all. No clear intel exists on what Horizon's First is like inside, visitors are limited and tend to be stuck in "public areas". Horizon's First seems to operate a bit like a Mutualist enclave or Scum swarm, they'll spend and take cash for certain things, but internally operate on something resembling collectivist democracy. Some of the members even have respectable rep on RNA or @-List. Of course, since all "citizens" are adherents to the faith of Horizon's First, they "vote" in line with the spiritual works and authority of the Ascending Master.
Sensors and some observant Brinkers who stopped in can make some guesses however. Upper levels seem consistent with habitation, and seem to expand outward from the central dock as they need more space. Here the members of the group live, eat and perform the practices of spiritual cleansing and focus. More "metaphysically pure" members gain access to additional amenities, including better food, better augments, private simulspaces and "companionship" in the form of pods. Otherwise, the lifestyle is pretty ascetic. While they don't discard physical pleasures or enjoyment, the faith encourages they take second-place to mental enjoyments. Deeper is the standard infrastructure, power, life support, all that. But even deeper in the planetoid are the real works. Storage and manufacturing facilities, mini-labs working on simulspaces and neural enhancements, and personal "meditation space" for the Ascending Master. Mercantile Brinkers who have visited guess that the Horizon's First group are gathering organic compounds from the body to be ready to grow a large number of morphs.
The outside of the centaur are also crawling with weapon emplacements. Their exact number and strength, however, isn't nailed down. Some estimates state that a good defensive collective, brinker posse or pirate band could slug it out with them - others say there's enough firepower to take on a Jovian carrier group.
Also of note on Chariklo is the large antenna array they've built into the surface, which has more surface area than their hab does. At first, it seemed like some kind of spying or other SIGINT rig, but based on the ideas laid out in their works and the consistent behavior of the group - it seems more likely Horizon's First is running their own SETI program, hunting for alien or TITAN data transmissions. Theorists in Firewall even say they may be hunting the Solar System for "Bracewell probes", a concept of using autonomous drones for long range, long term communications with other species. Given the nature of Horizon's First, we should hope they don't find anything like this, they'd almost assuredly access it immediately and try and plug their brains into it.
Operations off Horizon's First itself are just as concerning, and frankly, just as unexplored. Without access to their local networks, it's hard to tell exactly who are members coming and going - and the cult's leadership has gotten smarter in the last couple years, contracting out Brinkers and even Exhumans to make acquisitions for them. Even so, Firewall has been able to scope out a couple major and consistent areas of interest to the group, which their members are known to leave the hab for.
First is the standard recruitment and dissemination of their teachings. This is pretty simple for them, but low key. AM's works are circulated on the mesh every once and awhile, and given a large enough readership, always manage to snag at least one or two interested parties. Members also go out and "preach" ideals as well as offer more concrete technical assistance (usually with Simulspace or implant tech). I've been hearing they've been managing to snag small batches of former indentures or infugees out of Long Haul for a few years, even if the local Anarchists disapprove. Suppressing the works would be hard, as the Argonauts and Titanians have both archived them for "cultural purposes".
The next largest operation we can see is their efforts to develop new technologies to enhance simulspace time-dilation and transhuman cognition, closely matched with their search for "Akashic Records". This research is much more diverse. Horizon's First directly or indirectly makes a regular battery of inquiries into xenoarchaeology, cognitive enhancement and computer science across the solar system. We're not sure how much they get back out of this through conventional methods, but there are a lot of groups who mesh with them on this front, especially since The Fall and the Age of Aquarius champions open source technology and technoprogressivism - in it's own way. And, less obviously, Horizon's First occasionally sells some of their tech and services to raise capital to fund efforts to more directly obtain technology, including some limited TITAN and alien tech samples. Best guess, they haven't gotten anything big enough to be real useful or dangerous, but it might have given them an edge on some new developments. Some of their black market contacts have made waves at acquiring child Egos, too.
More recently, reports from very personal circles has it that Horizon's First has gotten very interested in Psi phenomena and asyncs. Parapsychology and quantum mysticism was always referenced in the group's beliefs, but it's only been a couple of years since they've been making overt moves. In addition to gathering together just about all legitimate public data on Psi theories, they've also made aggressive moves to buy up some relics of Cognite's FUTURA project. This includes the original geneline for the Futura morph, samples of the ALET simulspace programs the project used, even some of the original creche servers. Their use of Psi-Inhibitor drugs means they've probably actually garnered some knowledge in these departments. Rumors of capturing or recruiting Asyncs persist in the right networks. It's unknown if they've drawn a connection between Psi and the exsurgent virus - but they aren't actively looking for TITAN nanoplagues. As far as we know.
There's also something we haven't confirmed yet, but it seems like AM is eating his enlightenment wheaties, and has had another burst of insight. This has led to a big push in the group very recently into data forecasting and predictions. Data sniffing has them grabbing up every bit of data they can find on prediction or forecasting systems, from Titan's Orchestra to economic AI used by the Planetary Consortium. There's also whisperings in the deep mesh that people working with or for Horizon's First have started asking questions about something(s) called "Sibyl", but that's outside of my nominal clearance or expertise.
CONCLUSIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
These guys are bad news in a lot of ways. Their ethos is nonsense, and they may never accomplish anything, but if they actually get a hold of some serious tech or artifacts, this situation could go fractal at any moment.
My best guess from looking at it, the Ascending Master is an Async. He got WML during the Fall and it's stages provided his "cosmic insight". Other members of the senior leadership may also be Asyncs. That's if we're lucky, and he didn't catch a more insidious hack driving him to collect TITAN artifacts. More concerning is their militant aspects. They're armed, and aren't afraid to attack others for resources (including children). Supposedly, Transhumanity can only properly ascend when we all achieve that spiritual purity collectively. This means ultimately everyone will have to be converted or killed off for Cosmic Unity to happen.
Obviously, they can't do that with a couple thousand. But give them more time to develop their enhancement schemes, or start producing new generations of Horizon's First members in accelerated learning, and their numbers could balloon pretty quick. If they get Extrasolar, this could become a situation like we think we're seeing with Rorty. Worse, I think, is if they actually get some novel augmentations going, and they get more acceptance in the system. That'll be a lot harder to cap than a hostile takeover.
They're also clearly interested in the Lost. All these inquiries about FUTURA, and the fact that many qualities exhibited by my (spiritual) brothers and sisters fit the description of "Ultraviolet Children". Being revered as spiritual leaders and guides would play to a lot of Lost too, which could subvert or alter the course of the organization - and not for the better. The sudden interest in forecasting spooks me too. If they get some legs, and use that to enhance their other research, they'll be small but faster moving than us.
I recommend to any Proxy who reads this report working in this area of operations to start actively recruiting assets to try and get a better picture of these guys and what they're doing.
-The Ascending Master, real name believed to be Andre Villeneuve. A french national, he went to school in the US, probably on the west coast. Apparently funding for his education fell through, forcing him to make a living in cheap cons, usually involving motivational speaking or self-help. He escaped the Fall with a small cadre of Survivalists who apparently organized the takeover of an evac transport, and set course for the brink. His revelatory experience and philosophical musings are well chronicled, and he thinks of himself as a spiritualist guide and an author. He spends a small amount of his "physical" time in introspective meditation, but much more subjective time due to simulspace acceleration. The rest of his time is mostly spent managing the day-to-day functions of the hab, directing their research and inquiries or in private experimentation. He's reported to have 13 "Spiritual Consorts" who live with him in a quite spacious apartment in the bowels of Horizon's First.
-Aquaria Prismarine, real name unknown. An original generation follower, and AM's first "spiritual consort". She was reportedly rendered infertile either by a transhuman bioweapon, or a TITAN nanoplague in the time around the Fall. This explains her deep attachment and connection to the cult as their Sage of Wellness and Learning. Aquaria oversees both the group's mundane medical/augmentation research, and their more esoteric practices such as faith or crystal healing - which are reportedly enhanced with nanotech to actually be more effective. She also is in charge of the oversight and educational planning for all children in the domain of Horizon's First.
-Alexandrite Serpentarius is the "Sage of Personal Defense" and AM's 13th Spiritual Consort. She oversees the personal protection of AM when he appears before visitors, and in general seems to be his enforcer in the habitat, carrying out his personal orders to maintain "security" in the beehive. She also helps train agents in personal combat. Behavioral analysis indicates that Alexandrite is probably an Async, most likely a member of the Lost Generation recruited by AM.
-Kramp is a young up-and-comer in the group, leader of a small subset known as the Factorials. The Factorials believe that the Factors, as representatives of an alien conglomerate and due to their unique biology, are the key to rapid advancement toward enlightenment. They state that Horizon's first should actively pursue technology trade with the Factors. This is a minority view, as most regard the Factors as "failure species" due to their words to avoid Gates and AI. While unpopular, Factorials are allowed to exist due to AM's commitment to the concept of "democracy".
-Sattva, reportedly AM's eldest child with one of his Spiritual Consorts. While their morph appears aged around 8 or 9, it is believed their Ego may have reached a subjective experience of upward of 15 years. -Sattva is a "confirmed" Ultraviolet Child, though it is unknown if this means she is an Async like AM is theorized to be. Sattva is the center of another internal movement known as the neoteny or paedocracy movement - which pushes that if Ultraviolet Children are key spiritual guides, then they should begin to shape the future and goals of Horizon's First. So far, these theorists have been internally suppressed by AM's inner circle.
-Horizon's First has recently imploded, probably after interference from an outside body like Firewall. This has scattered their membership to the winds, but now means they have an angry body of militant singularity seekers armed with experimental cognitive enhancements out in the system, hunting for more alien or TITAN artifacts. And they'll be much harder to stop when spread out so much.
-Horizon's First and the Ascending Master have actually obtained some of the creche servers from Cognite's Futura project. Now he plans on running his own version of the project, but using advances in morphs and time dilation technology. If this plan is successful, the cult could have an army of tens of thousands in a few short years, sweeping through the Outer Fringe
-Horizon's First has managed to ally with or capture a Sibyl AI, and used their massive forecasting power to locate an Akashic Record (actually a Bracewell Probe). While incapable of acting on it, if the Sibyl is exposed to it, it could be a huge calamity for the solar system. Alternatively, if the Titanians are in possession of the probe, this could lead to huge public scandal on the subject.
-The Factorials have actually managed to arrange a meeting with a Factor or one of their transhuman agents, with intent to trade for advanced technology samples. But, in addition to groups like Firewall wanting to subvert this, particularly aggressive members of the paedocracy see the factorials as heretics and seek to stop their efforts.
-Horizon's First is but one cell in a number of Singularity Seeker groups whose leaders are contaminated by the a variation on the Stockholm virus, forming an ever growing network of TITAN servitors who will ultimately come together for some goal, the details of which are highly inscrutable to the "unenlightened".
H-Rep: An EP Homebrew Blog