“They are the Benevolent Dictator and the First VIRS. They are the Architect and the Engineer.”
V.I.R.S., pronounced “verse”, stands for Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholar. Roaming bands of VIRSs travel in ships powered by heartsongs, about a generation and a half after the Passing of the Architect, who brought humanity through a Golden Space Age and extended the human empire across many galaxies. The Architect built many public libraries and universities in order to spread knowledge and learning throughout the empire, but when she Passed, these libraries and universities began to sequester knowledge and control information through propoganda. So the bands of VIRSs raid and pillage libraries and universities, then put on circus shows about what they’ve learned.
During the Galactic Empire, there was much prosperity thanks to the rapid technological advances brought on by the invention of the ansible (faster-than-light communication). This swelled the ranks of a well-educated and financially stable middle class, who began to indulge in body modifications, or “mods”, especially medical mods and job specialization mods. However, after the Passing, the corporations that manufacture and repair mods gained enormous economic power, which they used as social and political leverage. The prevalence of users kept up the demand for mods and mod repairs and replacements, but corporate overlords, motivated by greed and not benevolence, prioritized profit margins instead of affordability and availability. “Mod-virgin” was once a derogatory term during the Empire, but after the Passing people began to use the term “Mod-free”, or just “Free”. As time passes, more and more humans, especially in the poorer or more remote parts of the Old Empire are born “Free”. Humans begin using the question “Are you Free?” to refer to one’s independence from institutional supply chains, both philosophical and practical.
The First VIRS was the Architect’s best friend. They grew up together, and as teenagers they participated in a summer program for youth with the ISS corps, a government-run volunteer organization that provides support to the International Space Station and any shuttles traveling to and from the station. While working on the maintenance teams for the shuttles, the two friends learned a great deal about the cutting edge of space exploration technology, and saw that humanity was poised on the brink of great societal changes due to the imminent development of faster-than-light transportation and communication. The two friends realized that political power structures and the distribution of wealth would undergo incredible upheaval, and that within their lifetimes humanity would either cooperate to spread to the stars or squander our chance through greed, mismanagement, and short-sightedness.
One friend felt that if humans were to become a space-faring species, competent leaders with a unified vision needed to coordinate across global resources for developing space travel and communication. Otherwise, opportunities could be wasted in the face of political conflict or incompetence. While working for the ISS corps, she meets an urban planner who has been hired to plan renovations and expansions to the ISS. They bond over a shared passion for understanding and designing the infrastructure necessary for space exploration. After that fateful summer, this friend went on to study exo-architecture (designing and building space stations and colonies) and maintained close correspondence with her mentor as he renovated the ISS.
The other friend felt that if humans were to become a space-faring species, space travel needed to become easily accessible, and for that to happen, the knowledge, skills, and materials needed to go to space needed to be more widely available. She decided to stay with the ISS corps instead of going to university, apprenticing herself to anyone that would teach her. She eventually becomes close friends with one of the lead engineers over their shared passion for sustainability practices and the open access movement. This engineer teaches her how to build space-worthy craft and engages her in long discussions about the power of information for good and evil.
Throughout these years, the friends stay in touch, sharing their experiences and insights with each other. And they begin to see a slow but steady divergence in their values, even while converging on the shared goal of helping humanity become a space-faring civilization. The architect joins a government project to build a network of space stations that would serve as waypoints for space explorers. The engineer’s apprentice becomes an engineer herself, and begins to apply open access ideologies to the management of the ISS Corps while working with the lead ISS engineer to transform old/spare space station parts and materials into space ships.
While working for the government, the architect realizes that the corporate powers controlling ansible technology are manipulating politicians and exploiting workers, making it very difficult for space exploration to progress as fast as it could. Frustrated by the obviously profit-hungry machinations of the corporate oligarchy, the architect begins to organize political opposition to their power structure. The architect begins devoting more and more of her efforts into controlling the means of production for exo-architecture and farming infrastructures for space stations and colonies. She begins to win the passionate interest of young people coming from rural communities around the world, who are keen to apply their skills in an exciting new domain. With their support, the architect spearheads the construction of several space farms, which begin distributing food to planet-side locations in need via the World Food Programme. When a year of disastrous weather conditions decimates food supplies on Earth, these space farms become the largest producer of food for human society, and more and more people from Earth choose to enter training and application programs to work on these space farms.
While working on the ISS, the engineer begins to realize that space-travel will scatter humans in an unprecedented way, and communication between planets would become an important source of culture, identity, history, and knowledge in the human empire. If this communication is controlled by a central power, there exists an immense potential for propaganda, manipulation, and exploitation. If this communication has many avenues, many sources, many couriers all working for diverse interests, then the power of any one organization or community could be tempered and checked by its neighbor organizations and communities. The engineer becomes even more concerned with empowering people to exist as free-thinking and freely organizing individuals in a space empire once she becomes head of the ISS corps, and she becomes repeatedly frustrated with the expectations and skillsets of the highly educated and privileged youth who tended to join the ISS corps. She begins re-vamping the ISS corp application process and training program, and steadily becomes more and more involved in planet-side educational reform and activism.
Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholars (VIRS) by Danbee Kim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.danbeekim.org/projects/2018/02/28/VIRS-concept/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.danbeekim.org.