The Gene Lords were a class of genetically modified, supposedly superior elites who effectively ruled the developed world throughout the twenty-second century. They remain a strong, if controversial, influence in the present day, as historical figures, through their descendants (popularly called "bluebloods"), and through their creations, from the various slave races to the Emperor himself.
OriginsThe Gene Lords first emerged in the turbulent mid-twenty-first century, a time of changing climate (with associated refugee populations), waves of disease and food shortage resulting from increased antibiotic and pesticide/herbicide resistance, and steadily ramping energy costs. Wealth contracted sharply, with more and more people being simply abandoned to the chaos; on the other hand, within the enclaves that maintained their increasingly expensive stability, there were sharp, desperate scientific advances, including custom-tailored prion treatments, the development of contragravity, and the experiments in human genetics that would eventually lead to the Gene Lords.
Early development was modest, focusing mainly on improved immune systems and genetic repair, but as interest expanded and the original company was bought up, bought out, and rechristened, the goals expanded. By the late twenty-first, the company -- now a mega-corporation called Genesis -- was routinely producing gene-modified children for wealthy families all over the world. Advertisements promised "genius-level" children with "what it takes to succeed", and the company offered a variety of profession-based packages ("The Artist," "The Scientist", and the ever-popular "Leader" models were examples) to hopeful parents. In practical terms, the researchers focused on enhancing memory and comprehension speed, as well as tracking down gene clusters associated with particular gifts -- perfect pitch, for example, or mathematical ability. Gene-modded children were also gifted with the enhanced immune systems that had been the program's original point, and superficial cosmetic modifications like hair color, regularity of features, and body type were child's play. The Genesis children were promised beauty alongside their health, wealth, and brains.
In the beginning of the twenty-second century, with the first Genesis children only just reaching maturity, the corporation unveiled a new modification: mind-machine interface. Direct mental control of machines had long been a researcher's dream, though in practice results were mixed; with rare exceptions, normal humans struggled to process the stream of computer information correctly, becoming confused, overwhelmed, or frightened by the twin sensations of a human and machine "body". The Genesis project added a small but entirely new set of nerve clusters, dubbed in press releases the "medulla mechanica", specifically designed to channel such sensations. Researchers were vague about how they had tested the medulla; it would remain an open but dirty secret throughout the Genesis company's history that they were using human subjects, vat-grown and quietly terminated once testing was over, in all of their more advanced projects. The unpleasant preliminaries aside, the "Medulla upgrade" was being implemented in most Genesis children by 2110.
By that time, however, certain problems in the Genesis children were becoming difficult to ignore. There were simple errors, like the degenerative eyesight issues in some of the Scientist models, which were easily corrected once technicians knew what gene clusters to look for. Other issues, particularly those linked directly to the gene clusters being used for intelligence, were less easily avoided: if you had one, it seemed, you had another. These mostly included personality defects, including compulsive disorders, some thought disorders, and -- most persistently and troublingly -- a tendency towards psychopathy and sociopathy, particularly in the most popular models, the Leaders. With the Medulla upgrade came a whole new set of problems. Medulla generation had all the problems of earlier generations, along with a tendency towards delusions, but more upsettingly mind-machine interface -- "the jack", as it came to be called -- proved both dangerous and addictive. The more skilled a user, particularly in the full-immersion mode required for fine control, the more likely they were to become obsessed with and crave the double-sensation of the jack; and the more likely they were to go in one day and never come out, leaving a vegetatative human body to wither and die.
It was Genesis's most blatant failure -- felt less by their clients, who were quite content using the jack to create alternate computer realities barred to all but those with the correct bloodlines, than by the various governments and militaries that had provided much of the funding for the Medulla project. In most practical ways, from society's viewpoint, the Genesis children had also been failures. They were intelligent and successful, true: but they were the indulged scions of wealth, assured at every turn of their own superiority, and disinclined to take on any work that did not suit or profit them.
From this conflict was born the supremely ugly industry that in many ways dominated the twenty-second century: the bootleg trade.
The Bootleg TradeFrom the beginning, Genesis corporation had been selling two products: the promise of brilliant, beautiful, and successful children to their customers, and the prospect of a uniformly and predictably talented workforce to their corporate and government backers. Governments and militaries, in particular, were feeling the strain of tightening resources, hostile neighbors, the unemployed, underemployed, and refugee populations -- largely disenfranchised even in nominal democracies, and increasingly restive -- and a citizenry sharply and stridently determined to maintain an "acceptable" lifestyle at whatever cost. The Genesis children's arrogant sense of privilege made them part of the problem rather than the hoped-for solution.
Exploitation of the "vengee" (a slang term derived from the police citation of "Vagrant, No Gainful Employ") population for sex workers, enlisted troops, and various dirty jobs was endemic by the late twenty-first, so it is unknown whether the black market trade in half-Genesis children evolved from the vengees themselves, or whether it was set up from quietly from the outside. Whatever the source, once it was found that Genesis traits bred reliably true, a small but steady stream of children fathered on vengee prostitutes trickled into the employ of government labs and technical institutes. They were an expensive investment -- raised and educated by their owner-employers, groomed for carefully selected positions -- but a quarter the price of commissioning a child from Genesis corporation, and, while as likely to be compulsive or psychopathic, more easily molded and controlled than their wealthy, full-blooded parents. Genesis corporation detested these "bootleg" children, pushing through legislation that outlawed their begetting, raising, or employment as patent infringement in many areas, but the laws were near-unenforceable and the trade continued.
When the Medulla generation reached its maturity in the 2120s, the modest trade in bootlegs exploded. While the problems with the jack were still a tightly guarded secret, anyone could have predicted the problems with finding, hiring, and keeping happy enough upper-class children for even a quarter the applications of Medulla technology. A generation of bored, indulged teenagers suddenly discovered that their bloodline gained them entry to dozens of illicit clubs and bordellos, where they were freely offered alcohol, drugs, entertainment... and, of course, women. As the trade grew the bordellos grew too, in complexity, diversity, and ugliness. Entertainments designed to draw in the increasingly jaded upper class expanded. Any taste was catered to, so long as a semen sample was the result. Into these "baby factories" was fed a stream of vengee bodies, and out of them came two -- the dead, used up by customers or the strain of pregnancy, and the children, bound for the increasingly massive slave markets.
For the Medulla bootlegs there were no handpicked foster homes, no careful grooming. They were raised en masse, educated and browbeaten into submission, and sometimes started into work as early as twelve by governments terrified of falling behind. At least half went into military applications, as pilots and operators for machinery left rusting for a decade for lack of Medulla brains, as the minds behind new computer intelligence and counter-intelligence operations, as developers for yet newer technologies, new dreams once again left fallow for lack of subjects to test them on. Genesis corporation, as well as a few highly alarmed human rights organizations, fought to cap the trade, but to little avail. By the 2140s, the trade was a fact of life, and Genesis has switched from demanding that the few bootlegs they could find be imprisoned or destroyed to impounding their "patent violations", who could then be hired from the corporation by those who liked their slaves legal. It is believed to be in this period that Genesis first began developing actual slave races, a natural evolution, perhaps, of what was becoming for them a respectable revenue stream.
A final side effect of the bootleg trade was to give the vengee population even more reason to fear, hate, and resent the "legitimate" citizenry, particularly the Genesis bloodlines, while at the same time feeding them a steady diet of money and escaped slaves. It is a matter of historical debate whether this was the primary factor that brought about the Gene Wars, as opposed to the growing dependence of the governments on veegee mercenaries or the simple fact that vengees had come to outnumber legitimate citizens 7 to 1. Either way, by the 2180s, the comfortable enclaves of the gene-engineered and privileged would be split wide open, and the era of massive human engineering would be at an end.
History of Kieselburg.)
For the descendants of the Gene Lords, fullblood and bootleg alike, this was a time of upheaval. The war had destroyed Genesis corporation. Massive numbers of bootlegs and other slaves were freed in the aftermath, though there was little done to direct or re-integrate them; for the most part, they joined the packs of half-wild gangs drifting around the landscape and occasionally carving out their own little kingdoms. In many places the backlash against Genesis made carrying the gene-modified stamp wildly dangerous for former lords and slaves alike. Even within the tightly guarded and increasingly paranoid neo-feudals that held onto blueblood rule, there was change: with few exceptions, the neo-feudals had not been forerunners in scientific knowledge, and Genesis corporation had always held tight centralized control over their labs, meaning that the birthing facilities disappeared when it died. The new Council for Peace's injunctions against "non-essential" human engineering were merely icing on the cake; there would be few new Genesis children. Within decades, there were none. The Council was far less successful at rooting out slavery; while the baby factories and the massive slave-marts would largely vanish, bluebloods still bring a premium on a black market human trade that even the Empire has failed to stamp out.
The straggling, neo-feudal remains of the Gene Lords' empire were at first utterly opposed to the Council for Peace, but by the mid-2200s the more progressive city-states had begun cautiously joining and even instituting some reforms. They were strengthened by the general chaos that ruled many of the more democratic states, by the inevitable troubles with corruption and poor handling that followed the free and vengee states' rise to power, and by time and its softening effect on memories of the Gene Lords' atrocities. By the time of First Contact in 2301, there were enough "Old Blood" states to form a small but tenacious voting bloc. This put the newly fledged Empire in an awkward position. On the one hand, the Emperor was old enough to remember the era of the Gene Lords quite well: despite his own occasional high-handed behavior, he despised the Old Blood party and its beliefs with a passion. On the other hand, the Old Bloods -- where the cult of the Natural Order was already gaining a foothold -- considered him, the last true Genesis construct, a natural leader and offered the Imperial scheme an unconditional support that it badly needed. In the end the Empire compromised, and the Old Blood faction survived and gradually grew into the powerful and old-fashioned League of the Natural Order. It is a tension between ideals and political realities that plagues the Empire's dealings with the Leagua to this day.
The Gene Lord's LegacyThere have been many attempts to keep the legacy of the Gene Lords alive, from setting up new gene labs (frowned on, and usually quickly surpressed), to the Old Blood families who refuse to marry anyone but other bluebloods, to the heavy taboo against interbreeding with "normals" in many of the slave race societies. Even without those efforts, it seems likely that genetically engineered traits would have stuck around, given the regularity with which they pop up in the general populace. The bootleg trade did an excellent job of spreading the genome around. Even so, there are many attitudes positive and negative about crossbreeding; with all but medically necessary genetic engineering outlawed in most Domains, those who hope their child will or won't have Gene Lord traits alike must mostly cross their fingers and hope.
BluebloodsThe various brand name bloodlines that Genesis once marketed may have died out, but it remains far from easy to generalize about bluebloods. Nevertheless there are a few things which have stayed distinct. Anyone identified as a blueblood will show some or all of these traits:
Appearance. The Gene Lords were famously beautiful, but also predictably so. The standards of beauty at the time ran to tall, thin, and fine-boned, with high cheekbones, slightly slanted eyes, and long, elegant faces -- birthmarks, blemishes, or irregular features were obviously out of the question. Pure hair and eye colors were also highly favored, and odd coloration (purple eyes, red hair) showed up with genetically unlikely frequency. The formula was followed to such an extreme that most bluebloods can be identified simply by looks.
Health. Bluebloods retain highly efficient immune systems, rendering them resistant or immune to most disease and infection. A great many will also have inherited improved organ function -- particularly heart and lung -- and bluebloods in general will live to a greater age, and with fewer health issues, than standard humans. A side effect is that they are sometimes less fertile, due to the immune system causing maternal tissue rejection or implantation issues.
Medulla mechanica. To some the ultimate test of blue blood. Mind-machine capability is by no means limited to bluebloods any more -- various purely mechanical jacks exist, and some Exotica are as good or better at jacking than those born to it -- but there remains an aura of superiority around the medulla mechanica in the popular imagination that is unlikely to be supplanted. Despite this, few bluebloods actually use the jack for anything more sophisticated than interactive games and party tricks.
Social issues. The Gene Lord's infamous personality problems did not die with their empire. While it is certaintly not across the board, and far less blatant now that bluebloods are no longer children of privilege in every possible way, many bluebloods continue to exhibit the high-strung nature and arrogant attitude that plagued their infamous ancestors. The trend towards compulsive and psychopathic disorders also remains far stronger in bluebloods than in the general population.
Special abilities. Genesis marketed a variety of genetic packages and strains: most promised exceptional performance in certain fields, like athletics or mathematics, but a few tried to follow the example of the medulla generation and actually expand human capabilities. Almost none of the brand strains survive in any predictable way, and even the most famous and successful of the "Human-Plus" brands, the Jakobites (aka "Polygraphs") are down to a few hundred members and seem unlikely to survive more than a few generations longer. Nevertheless anything from an exceptional music talent to something truly arcane can and will pop up from time to time in blueblood lines.
Slave RacesThough there is evidence that the Gene Lords either created or intended to create far more specialized races, human and otherwise (the Emperor described one set of discovered plans to create sentient tiger-guards as "fascinating. If you happen to be insane"), only a handful still exist in sufficient populations. The most significant slave races, past and present, are listed here.
Atlanteans. Created for work on seawalls, rigs, and floating cities, this semi-aquatic race has significant populations across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. See Atlanteans.
Kalietes. An extinct race, though still active in the popular imagination. The Kalietes were intended as hunter-killers, heartless and unstoppable. Designed largely by the brilliant but eccentric Ian Rothe, the Kalietes were what Rothe called "kinesthetic idiot-savants" (or, as Jakob van Resmond supposedly said, "brain like a targeting computer, and no room for anything else"), capable of processing and acting on physical input with incredible speed and accuracy. According to Rothe, he also created them to be incapable of feeling pain; in fact, they exhibited little human emotion of any sort. They were killing machines who could not be controlled or even understood by their intended masters. The Gene Lords found them even more terrifying than the general populace, attributing all kinds of malicious intent and a variety of horrible crimes to them -- unfairly, as even the rare Kaliete who went rogue never showed overt signs of anything so human as ambition, lust, or sadism. The Kalietes did not hate. They just killed.
The Kalietes were popularly known as "perros del infierno" -- hounds of hell -- and are remembered in a variety of santos religions, old stories, and the threat given noisy children: "Quiet, or the perros will come from the dead for you."
Sunlanders. Developed to withstand high-heat temperatures and exposure to solar radiation, the green-skinned Sunlanders have significant settlements across the Middle Americas, northern Africa, Australia, and Mars. See Sunlanders.
Titanica. Developed as a bodyguard race, the bulky, looming Titanica were also an experiment in mental modifications, designed for blind obedience as well as intimidation. It is unclear whether they were developed in parallel with or after the Kalietes. Unsurprisingly, the strategy backfired: the Titanica were entirely too controllable, as well as malleable, easily manipulated, and frequently confused. They were also, despite their size, inclined to be pacifistic sorts, not the trait the Gene Lords were looking for in bodyguards. They have survived in large enough numbers to make a breeding population, but were by nature so easily exploitable that the Empire eventually created the state of Titan in the north of Old Europe for them. It is the only Imperial protectorate.