Heritage Universe

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The Heritage Universe is a fictional setting created by Charles Sheffield for a series of science fiction novels. The date of the setting is several thousand years into the future, during a time when human space colonization has filled much of the local spiral arm of the galaxy. The primary feature of this universe are a series of immense engineering artifacts constructed by an ancient race referred to as The Builders. The Builders, however, are no longer visibly present in the universe.

Books[edit]

Books in the Heritage Universe include:

One common thread between all the books in the series is the exploration of one or more Builder artifacts. Each exploration reveals new and previously unknown facts about the Builders and leads the characters to speculate about the nature of the Builders and their current whereabouts. Each book ends with a very different conclusion based upon the newly discovered evidence. It would appear from the Foreword to Convergence by Sheffield that even he couldn't decide what the Builders should be.[citation needed]

Characters[edit]

Hans Rebka[edit]

Hans Rebka holds a semi-official job of "troubleshooter" in the Phemus Circle. The position seems to entail being assigned an area or problem to solve and then doing whatever possible to solve the problem. In Summertide, Rebka is sent to the planet Opal to help Maxwell Perry, a fellow troubleshooter, get out of a long-term funk. During this time, he meets most of the other characters in the series and experiences the events on Opal and Quake that lead to the discovery of the artifacts Glister and Serenity in Divergence.

During Divergence, Transcendence, and Convergence Rebka and Lang are romantically involved, though this romance goes on hiatus and is tenuously resolved in Resurgence.

Rebka was born and raised on the planet Teufel, of the Phemus Circle, and is often known to quote the most famous saying about Teufel, "What sins must a man commit, in how many past lives, to be born on Teufel?" He also occasionally reminisces or relates situations to childhood experiences of growing up and learning to survive on Teufel. In particular, the task of retrieving water as a child while facing the Remouleur dawn wind, which would have killed him if he hadn't timed every move exactly.

Between Convergence and Resurgence Rebka attempts to overthrow the government of the Phemus Circle because it allows for the rich aristocracy to survive in extreme comfort. It forces the poor of their planets to face horrible and nearly unsurvivable circumstances rather than spending their money and effort on attempting to make the Circle a better place for all.

Darya Lang[edit]

Professor Darya Lang is a renowned researcher and Builder expert best known for her work on the Lang Universal Artifact Catalog, the definitive reference on known Builder artifacts in the Orion arm of the galaxy. She is a fellow at the Artifact Research Institute on Sentinel Gate.

During Summertide, Lang has discovered a strange coincidence in the pattern of modifications occurring in Builder artifacts all over the local spiral arm, which leads her to visit Quake at the height of the summertide. She briefly forms an alliance with the cecropian, Atvar H'sial, before Atvar betrays her to partner with Louis Nenda. Lang is eventually rescued by Rebka and his team, who witness the discovery of the artifact Glister as it lifts from under the surface of Quake and heads toward the system's gas giant, Gargantua.

In Divergence, Lang works with Rebka to explore Glister, which leads the discover of Serenity, 30,000 light years above the galactic plane. In Transcendence, after returning to the Institute, she decides to go with the rest of the team to explore the Torvil Anfract, which turns out to be a Builder artifact.

In Convergence, she's briefly shown up at the Institute by a fellow artifact expert, Quintus Bloom, who has recently discovered an allegedly new artifact, Labyrinth. She then goes to challenge his new theories by exploring Labyrinth itself shortly before it and all other artifacts in the Orion arm vanish.

In Resurgence, Lang joins the others once again to search for artifacts in the Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy.

Louis Nenda[edit]

Louis Nenda is a scoundrel and criminal from the Zardalu Communion. Throughout the books it is hinted that he's committed some terrible, possibly genocidal crime, but which is never revealed and he's not entirely comfortable with. Despite being a scoundrel, most of his behavior in the books is respectable, with a few deviations. There exists consistent sexual tension between Nenda and Darya Lang throughout the books, even while Lang is involved with Rebka. He also owns Kalik as his slave.

Perhaps the most unusual trait of Louis Nenda is the bionic implants he's received to allow him to communicate pheromonally with species able to communicate that way, mainly Cecropians. Because of this, Nenda is able to forge a long term business relationship with Atvar H'sial that lasts for the duration of all books in the series.

In Summertide, Nenda comes to the Opal/Quake planetary system because his slave, Kalik, has performed calculations similar to Lang's and discovered the same anomaly that points to the planet Quake. Nenda partners with Atvar H'sial after Atvar abandons Lang on the surface of Quake so that they can work together to reap the benefits of witnessing a major Builder event together. In the end, they are "kidnapped" by the new artifact Glister as it moved away from Quake to orbit the gas giant Mandel.

In Divergence, Nenda is instrumental in defeating the Zardalu on the artifact Serenity. In Transcendence, he is responsible for finding the pilot that takes them into the Torvil Anfract and becomes stranded with Atvar H'sial on the planet Genizee. In Convergence, Nenda and Atvar escape from Genizee with a Zardalu, which they take back to the Fourth Alliance to collect a reward for finding a live Zardalu specimen, since recent events showed the Zardalu to be alive even though thought to be extinct. In a search for Lang, Nenda leads a team to explore the Torvil Anfract before it collapses and takes them to Labyrinth. In Resurgence, Nenda joins the whole team once again to explore artifacts recently discovered in the Sagittarius arm of the galaxy.

Atvar H'sial[edit]

A mature, female Cecropian. She is the owner of J'merlia and the business partner of Louis Nenda.

E. Crimson Tally[edit]

Tally is a computer embodied in a human body. He lacks the circuits required for him to feel excitement and has a low regard for the continued functioning of his organic shell.

Julian Graves[edit]

A mature, male human. Julian is an Ethical Councilor of the Fourth Alliance. Many years ago he had his brain cloned and implanted within his own augmented skull. Over time the clone became self-aware and internal conflicts developed. Currently, Julius and the clone, known as Steven, appear to be cohabiting peacefully and are called Julian.

Kallik[edit]

A mature, female Hymenopt. Partner and pilot of Louis Nenda.

J'merlia[edit]

A mature, male Lo'tfian. Slave of, and interpreter for, Atvar H'sial.

Archimedes[edit]

An immature, male Zardalu. Slave of Louis Nenda with an intense fear of disemboweling.

Ben Blesh[edit]

A mature, male Human. First appeared in Resurgence.

Sinara Bellstock[edit]

A mature, female Human. First appeared in Resurgence.

Lara Quistner[edit]

A mature, female Human. First appeared in Resurgence.

Teri Dahl[edit]

A mature, female Human. First appeared in Resurgence.

Torran Veck[edit]

A mature, male Human. First appeared in Resurgence.

Races[edit]

Builders[edit]

Are responsible for constructing a number of artifacts in our galactic arm. They are believed to have originated in a gas giant.

Cecropians[edit]

An invertebrate, they cannot see, lack eyes and are rather large in comparison to other species in the spiral arm. They communicate via pheromones and Lo'tfian.

Chism Polyphemes[edit]

Humans[edit]

The most common species in the spiral arm, we have several different empire/governments and communicate with most other species.

Hymenopts[edit]

Lo'tfians[edit]

Little is known about this species, just that they are able to communicate in most languages and with pheromones. Their females have never been seen and are presumed smarter and larger than the males.

Marglotta[edit]

Zardalu[edit]

A large squid-like species, believed to be extinct in the first book, are shown to have 14 survivors saved by a builder artifact. They are omnivores and are very aggressive. They are also very strong and once dominated the spiral arm where humans now live.

Interstellar Vessels[edit]

the Have it All[edit]

Lewis Nenda's star ship. After years of making modifications Lewis had made the Have it All into a luxurious yet combat-worthy vessel. He had added wood and brass fittings in the cabins, weapon ports, a robodoc of alien manufacture, and highly accurate, external sensors. At the end of Resurgence the Have it All was severely stripped down in order for the characters to escape the dying planet Marglot. The current location of the Have it All is not known.

the No Regrets[edit]

The second of three small vessels grown out of the Pride of Orion. The No Regrets was named by Teri Dahl and crewed by herself, Julian Graves, and Torran Veck. It is equipped with its own sensors, drive, Bose Node transfer capability, and autochef. The last known location of the No Regrets was inside of a colossal Builder Artifact shaped like a hollow sphere.

the Pride of Orion[edit]

Pride of Orion is the ship in which the characters set off for the Sagittarius Arm in Resurgence. It is possible that at the time of departure only Julian Graves was aware of the Pride of Orion's origin and composition. However, Hans Rebka theorized that it might have organic components. The Pride of Orion is capable of subdividing itself into six self-contained interstellar vessels. Additionally, it carries two pinnaces for extra vehicular activity. The Pride of Orion is not especially large when fully integrated, but due to its compartmental nature it has scores of chambers which may be used for privacy or meetings. The central data bank monitors occupancy of all chambers at all times. Besides its internal sensors, the Pride of Orion has an external sensor package which included synthetic aperture radar, bolometers, mass detectors and visual sensors. It appears that no effort was spared to make the crew comfortable. Artificial gravity is provided throughout and there are several autochefs aboard. The last known location of the Pride of Orion was within an unnamed star system in the Sagittarius Arm.

the Tally-ho[edit]

The third of three small vessels grown out of the Pride of Orion. The Tally-ho was named and crewed by E.C. Tally. It is equipped with its own sensors, drive, Bose Node transfer capability, and autochef. The last known location of the Tally-ho was 50 meters away from a Builder Artifact in an unnamed star system in the Sagittarius Arm.

the Savior[edit]

The first of three small vessels grown out of the Pride of Orion. The Savior was named by Ben Blesh and crewed by himself, Hans Rebka, and Darya Lang. It was equipped with its own sensors, drive, Bose Node transfer capability, and autochef. The Savior was well equipped for surface exploration, as well as operations in outer space. It contained two wheeled ground vehicles as well as sleds and environmental protection suits. It also had the same types of sensors as the Pride of Orion. The Savior was completely destroyed on Iceworld.

Builder Artifacts[edit]

Cocoon[edit]

Artifact: Cocoon
UAC#: 1
Galactic Coords: 26,233.589/14,599.029/+112.58
Star/planet: Lacoste/Savalle
Bose Node: 99
Estimated age: 10.464±0.41 Myears

This is the first artifact to have been discovered by the human race (approximately 3,000 years prior to the time most of the books in the Heritage Universe are written and approximately 1,100 years in the future from present day). This artifact was discovered by a Crawlspace colony ship looking to settle in the Lacoste system. The artifact is tied to the planet Savalle in that system.

The artifact is patrolled by Phages, so exploration of the interior of this artifact is considered dangerous. It is thought that Cocoon was constructed from a moon of Savalle as the fossil record on the planet shows the presence of two moons, but the planet currently has one.

The artifact is constructed of 48 Basal Stalks connecting the surface of Savalle at the equator to Cocoon. Cocoon is then made of 432 hollow filaments that wrap the entire planet which are between 2 and 4 kilometers at their exterior radius (no two filaments are the same). The structure is constructed of superstrength polymers, such as are found in many artifacts. The forces required to hold the structure in place are not beyond current science. The best computers available, however, could not solve the optimization problems involved in constructing the artifact. The Builder artifact Elephant was used to attempt the required calculations and came up with a limited solution after 4 standard years.

The structure could be used to cheaply move goods from the surface of the planet to any part of the system, though why such a massive system should be required is unknown. The theoretical capacity of Cocoon could move one fifty-thousandth of the planet into space each year. That is enough mass to slow the planet's rotation and add 2 seconds to every day.

The initial discovery of this artifact is given in the Prolog of Summertide.

Cusp[edit]

Artifact: Cusp
UAC#: 300

This is the first artifact to have been discovered by the Cecropians.

Elephant[edit]

Artifact: Elephant
UAC#: 859
Galactic Coords: 27,548.762/16,297.442/-201.33
Star/planet: Cam H'ptiar/Emserin
Bose Node: 1121
Estimated age: 9.223±0.31 Myears

Elephant is a large gaseous mass, approximately 4,000 kilometers in length and no wider than 900 kilometers at any point. It isn't strictly a gaseous mass as it is constructed of stable polymer fibers and transfer ducts. Elephant can function as a large general purpose computing device. It has been used extensively in applications requiring enormous storage and moderate computing speed.

The whole system is able to repair any damage to itself by reconfiguring or synthesizing and replicating its parts. Any piece of Elephant that is removed loses its function.

It has been speculated that Elephant could be a sentient construct. However, there is no definitive evidence on the subject.

Glister[edit]

The Glister artifact is discovered at the end of Summertide as it and another artifact (unnamed) are ejected from the mantle of Quake. Louis Nenda's ship (carrying Atvar H'sial and Nenda at the time) is "kidnapped" by Glister as it headed into orbit of Gargantua from Quake. The exploration of Glister consumes much of the first part of Divergence. Within Glister is a Builder transportation vortex which leads to the artifact Serenity.

Iceworld[edit]

This artifact is discovered in the Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy during Resurgence. This artifact is externally similar to Glister.

Labyrinth[edit]

This artifact was discovered by Quintus Bloom and announced at Lang's research institute during Convergence. Darya Lang, with the help of Kallik and J'merlia, explores the interior of Labyrinth shortly before it and all other Builder artifacts in the Orion arm of the galaxy vanish.

Lens[edit]

Artifact: Lens
UAC#: 1023
Galactic Coords: 29,334.229/18,339.895/-831.22
Star/planet: None, free space entity
Bose Node: 108
Estimated age: 9.138±0.56 Myears

Lens is what its name implies, but on an extremely massive scale. Lens is a focusing region of space 0.23 light-years across with no apparent thickness. It has a 0.22 light-years effective aperture and 427 light-years focal length. Through it, planetary objects have been observed in galaxies more than 100 million parsecs away. It is not known how Lens is constructed. It is not made of any particles known by science and it is not a form of space-time singularity.

Paradox[edit]

Artifact: Paradox
UAC#: 35
Galactic Coords: 27,312.443/15,917.902/+135.66
Star/planet: Darien/Kleindienst
Bose Node: 139
Estimated age: 9.112±0.11 Myears

The artifact known as Paradox is known to have been discovered by Ruttledge, Kaminski, Parzen, and Lu-lan, but may have been discovered many times before. The interior of Paradox contains a powerful lotus field, which erases all memory of any biological or electronic device entering the field. Ruttledge and Kaminski were discovered by Parzen and Lu-lan a few days after entering malnourished and with the mental ability of a newborn infant. Lu-lan and Parzen chose to confirm what happened by sending in one more person. After drawing lots, Lu-lan returned after three days with his memory completely empty, though his somatic knowledge was intact. Paradox has since been declared off limits to all but specially trained investigators.

Paradox externally appears as a slightly luminescent "soap bubble" with a diameter of 50 kilometers, with iridescence similar to that of a real soap bubble. Based upon the transmission of radiation sent through the structure of Paradox, it appears to be complex in the interior. It is thought that it might be a four-dimensional extrusion in space and time of a body of much higher dimension. The purpose of Paradox isn't known, but it has been speculated that the purpose is to blank the memory of other large, intelligent Builder artifacts.

In Convergence, Hans Rebka and EC Tally explore Paradox. They visit the artifact intending to use a technique they used in Glister to circumvent a lotus field found within that artifact. They were planning on disembodying EC Tally and connecting his brain via a long neural cable and then having EC Tally enter the artifact with his body, but leave his brain behind so that he could still recount his findings.

However, Paradox had already begun to disappear when Rebka and Tally reached the artifact and Rebka became inadvertently trapped within during their initial exploration. Tally and Rebka entered the toroidal structure at the center and then used a Builder transportation vortex in the center to escape Paradox with three other explorers discovered inside. The vortex takes them to Labyrinth.

Phage[edit]

Artifact: Phage
UAC#: 1067
Galactic Coords: Not applicable
Star/planet: Not applicable
Bose Node: All
Estimated age: 3.6 to 8.2 Myears

Phages are found in and around many Builder artifacts. Whether or not they are actually constructs of the Builders is sometimes disputed, but the general consensus is that the phages were constructed by the Builders, but only because they are associated with so many Builder artifacts.

All phages seen until Rebka, Lang, and the other explorers explored a series of new artifacts, were identical. All phages known to that point had the form of regular dodecahedrons at 48 meters to a side. The surface was a roughly textured uniform gray, with mass sensors on the edge of each face. At the center of each face is a maw that can be opened to ingest objects up to 30 meters in radius.

Any object entering the maw (including many explorers) is consumed without altering the mass of the phage. Explorers Sawyer and S'kropa fed one a large solid silicaceous fragment with a 25 meter radius and 425 kilometers in length. The phage consumed 1 kilometer of the material per day and did not have any detectable change in mass.

Phage avoidance systems are now standard equipment when exploring Builder artifacts. Until Rebka, Lang, and the other explorers began their exploration of Glister, phages were only known to travel approximately one to two meters per standard day, relative to the local frame. No phage was known to have exceeded a velocity of one meter per hour.

During the exploration of Glister in Divergence, phages were seen to move at very high velocity as the explorers approached and landed upon the surface of Glister. The phages had the appearance of being agitated at the explorer's presence and swooped down upon them as they explored. One was even found to have destroyed itself by smashing into the surface of Glister. The sentient Builder construct on the artifact Serenity stated that the phages are actually the stupefied remnant of the Builders. The construct speculated that the Builders grew tired of the uniform sameness of existence and seemed to become dysfunctional. This theory was later discounted by Darya Lang in Transcendence.

During the exploration of Labyrinth in Convergence, just prior to the disappearance of that artifact and all the other artifacts in the Orion arm, hundreds or thousands of small phages (approximately the size of the human hand) guided the explorers in Labyrinth away from the artifact before it vanished into a massive Builder transportation vortex.

Sentinel[edit]

Artifact: Sentinel
UAC#: 863
Galactic Coords: 27.712.863/16,311.031/761.157
Star/planet: Ryders-M/Sentinel Gate
Bose Node: G-232
Estimated age: 5.64±0.07 Myears

The Sentinel artifact is visible from the Ryders-M system (and, in particular, from the planet Sentinel Gate). The artifact is a large, dimly glowing energy field shaped in a perfect sphere with a diameter of 3.2 light-seconds. The interior of the sphere is inaccessible, but is permeable by electromagnetic radiation on certain wave lengths. Light traveling through the sphere requires approximately 4.2 light-minutes, suggesting that the space-time within is not simply connected.

Inside the sphere is a large object known as the Pyramid, a tetrahedral structure thought to be an enormous library.

The Sentinel artifact appears in the books as an object clearly visible from the planet Sentinel Gate on a few occasions. It is briefly and partially examined up close during Convergence by Darya Lang, Kalik, and J'merlia. Shortly after, Sentinel vanishes from the local spiral arm along with all other known artifacts following Lang, Kalik, and J'merlia's exploration of Labyrinth.

Serenity[edit]

The artifact named Serenity is discovered during Divergence after Lang, Rebka, and the others enter a Builder transportation vortex in Glister. Serenity is a massive artifact set 30,000 light-years above the galactic plane. While on Serenity, the explorers find a collection of Zardalu being held in stasis, which are subsequently wakened by the sentient Builder construct aboard Serenity.

Torvil Anfract[edit]

The Torvil Anfract is a region of space where many physical laws do not apply, and is so chaotic that if not navigated by a skilled pilot, will cause a ship to become hopelessly lost.

It is not listed as a Builder artifact until after the exploration by Lang, Rebka, and the other explorers in their search for Genizee, the home planet of the Zardalu. It is thought that the planet must be in the center of this complex area of space as the home planet of the Zardalu was never found since that race was completely annihilated (or nearly so) millennia earlier.

During the exploration of the Anfract during Transcendence, the explorers do, in fact, find the planet Genizee nested within the center along with a large orbital artifact. They also discover that the interior of the planet of Genizee is itself an artifact.

Umbilical[edit]

Artifact: Umbilical
UAC#: 269
Galactic Coords: 26,837.186/17,428.947/363.554
Star/planet: Mandel/Dobelle (doublet)
Bose Node: 513
Estimated age: 4.037±0.15 Myears

The Umbilical is one of the few artifacts with an obvious and easily understood purpose. It is a transportation system that connects the two planets Quake and Opal. On the Opal end, the Umbilical is permanently tethered to the seabed. On the Quake end, it is electromagnetically connected to the surface, but this end is disconnected and automatically retracted from the surface each time the orbit of the Dobelle system makes its closest approach to Mandel (every 1.43 standard years). This period is called "Summertide."

There is a local space-time singularity called "the Winch," which is involved in this retraction. How this system works or is driven, is unknown.

This artifact is very important in the book Summertide. Hans Rebka, Darya Lang, and others in their party become trapped on the surface of Quake during Summertide when the Umbilical retracts before they can return after conducting a search and rescue on Quake's surface.

Clades[edit]

The different collections of planets in the Heritage Universe are called "clades". There are three major clades and one minor clade in the Orion arm of the galaxy. The major clades are the Fourth Alliance, the Cecropia Federation, and the Zardalu Communion. The minor clade is a group of planets on the border of all three clades, called the Phemus Circle.

The clades are not governed in the formal sense as maintaining government across solar systems is, in the Heritage Universe, not totally possible. Rather, they are groups of planetary systems that recognize common authorities. The Fourth Alliance, Phemus Circle, and Cecropia Federation also recognize a central authority in the Ethical Council, of which Julian Graves is a member.

Fourth Alliance[edit]

The main human nation, this is the largest and wealthiest of the clades, also claims to be the most advanced.

Cecropia Federation[edit]

Zardalu Communion[edit]

Phemus Circle[edit]

The poorest and weakest of the clades, this small nation contain one builder artifact as well as quake and opal.

Planets[edit]

Deadworld[edit]

Genizee[edit]

Home world of the Zardalu protected by two singularities

Iceworld[edit]

Mandel[edit]

Marglot[edit]

Home world of the Marglotta. It is located in the Sagittarius Arm. It was destroyed by a Builder vortex concealed within its core.

Miranda[edit]

Opal[edit]

Opal is an Ocean Planet located in the Dobelle System of the Phemus Circle, the resource poor region of the Orion Spiral Arm. Opal is in close orbit with partner planet Quake, and is linked to Quake via the Builder construct Umbilical. Being covered in kilometers deep brackish ocean, Opal is more survivable during Summertide than its partner Quake, though barely. The one million humans who live on Opal live on floating islands called Slings, a few kilometers long each, which can be greatly damaged during the Summer season when the ocean tides are greatest. Because of near constant cloud cover, however, nearby Quake is usually not visible overhead.

Pleasureworld[edit]

A planet orbiting a neutron star in the Sagittarius Arm. It is favored by Chism Polyphemes for the high levels of radiation which bathe its surface. The atmosphere is breathable, but most races require some form of protection from the constant radiation.

Quake[edit]

A relatively small planet in the Dobelle system of the Phemus Circle, the metal poor, resource poor region of the Orion Spiral Arm. Quake is in close orbit (12,000 kilometers) with partner planet Opal, thus is rotationally locked with Opal, and directly connected to that planet via the Builder construct Umbilical. Quake is habitable until a few weeks before Summertide, the closest point the planets approach Mendel in their highly elliptical orbit, when gravitational effects throw the planet into Geological chaos. 90% of animal life forms are killed every Summertide.

Sentinel Gate[edit]

Teufel[edit]

Birthplace of Hans Rebka, Teufel is a marginal planet even by the sparse criteria of the Phemus Circle. It is too hot during the day for humans to survive, but dangerous at night as well. There are a few minutes just before dawn when people can be outside, but that time is limited by violent winds accompanying the dawn that will kill anyone still outside. Even after centuries of habitation, Teufel still has a tiny population (less than 125,000) eking out a meager existence. Lifespans on the planet are less than a third of what they are on the rich Fourth Alliance worlds.