Amongst Boundless Stars
Life In The Imperium
On almost every civilised world of the Imperium, the population speaks some version of Low Gothic, known also as Base Gothic or Common Tongue. This is the language in everyday usage by the vast bulk of the Imperium’s peoples, and is derived from the speech of their distant ancestors. Low Gothic can vary widely from world to world, and even a single world may contain more than one accent or dialect. Although at first some versions of Low Gothic may appear incomprehensible to an off-worlder, there will be many rudimentary phases and words with which two individuals from different worlds might communicate.
On some worlds there are further debased forms of Low Gothic — the slang of Hive-bottom dwellers, the colloquialisms of asteroid miners — which require further study to master. Often obscure references to local customs and traditions, beasts, and organisations, which appear nowhere outside of the locale, can on occasion be translated into a common frame of reference to aid communication.
While Low Gothic can, and has been, perverted and changed by local usage to the extent that meaningful conversation takes a long period of in-situ study, when dealing with educated or travelled individuals, travellers may find it beneficial to conduct exchanges in High Gothic. Also referred to a Principal Gothic, Archaic Gothic, and Prime Gothic, High Gothic is the ancient and highly evolved language used in ceremonies, consultations, and other situations when absolute clarity and definition are required. High Gothic has remained virtually constant and unchanged, its principles reinforced through education and refinement, so that speakers from very different cultures and background can effectively communicate complex ideas.
Another language a traveller will encounter is the Techna-Lingua of the Adeptus Mechanicus. Although rarely used outside of the order of Tech-Priests, elements of the Techna-Lingua may be found integrated into the Low Gothic of highly industrialised or technologically oriented cultures. Few outside the Priesthood of Mars can fully comprehend Techna-Lingua, and it is a language replete with internal self-references and allusions to knowledge that remain unknown to those outside the Tech-Priests’ closed orders. The Magi of the Adeptus Mechanicus have preserved this form of communication since the founding of their institutions in the Dark Age of Technology, and by lore none should speak its forbidden phrases who have not been sanctified by the Machine God.
There are at least as many ways of life in the Imperium as there are planets, and the most populous of worlds sport a staggering number of subcultures, from those steeped in rarefied nobility to those in grinding poverty. On many worlds the two live cheek by jowl, while on others the upper echelons of society maintain wilful ignorance of those outside their pampered existence. Each world has its own range of customs, traditions, lineage, and heritage. Those who travel amongst the stars must become accustomed to the many manifestations of Humanity’s limitless variation.
Since the colonisation of space began, human populations have been exposed to all manner of extreme environmental conditions. Most long-established human worlds have populations with distinctive physical traits, such as a dominant hair colour, body shape, or height. Extreme cases of physical adaptation have produced mutant populations that are no longer human. Some are so heinously corrupt in mind and soul that the Inquisition considers them too dangerous to live, and ruthlessly purges whole worlds for resettlement.
The position of mutants varies within the Imperium from world to world. On many primitive worlds they are slain as soon as they are born. On more technically advanced worlds they may be permitted to live, but rarely enjoy the rights of the world’s other subjects. On many worlds they are segregated from the normal population, outlawed, or forbidden to live in certain areas. Generally speaking, they form a huge downtrodden portion of the Imperium. Their dissatisfaction occasionally erupts as rebellion, and revolts occasionally allow the mutants to take control of planets or even groups of planets for a short period. Usually however, retaliation is swift and merciless.
Mutation is widely regarded as a mark of deviance that should be suppressed. However, some mutations are not apparent immediately, and in such cases a mutant may rise to a position of social or military prominence. When this happens, individuals may be powerful enough to maintain their position despite a generally known or widely rumoured mutation.
Abhumans are creatures evolved from human stock — but changed or mutated to a greater or lesser degree. They differ from ordinary mutants in that they conform to a recognisable physical standard, breed true, and are no more prone than normal humans to further mutation. There are many millions of these creatures living within the Imperium, and they are tolerated or exploited by the authorities very much like the rest of the population. It is rare for Abhumans to reach positions of power within the Imperium’s hierarchy, and many forms are subject to popular derision, fear or prejudice. They are recruited into armies, fleets, and other services (although not the Space Marines). In the institutions such as the Imperial Guard, they are often placed within distinct groups and segregated from other humans.
The only means of communicating over interstellar distances is afforded by the Astropaths. Astropaths are capable of sending telepathic messages across space, and they can receive messages sent by other Astropaths if their minds are correctly attuned.
The need for Astropaths is enormous. They are a common sight in the Imperium and are easily distinguished by their flowing, hooded robes. They do not mingle with ordinary men except when duty dictates, and the privacy of their sanctums on worlds and aboard ships are sacrosanct areas made inviolable by Imperial law. Astropaths serve in the Fleet as shipboard and planetary communicators. They also serve in the Imperial Guard, the Inquisition, the Adeptus Ministorum, the Space Marines, and throughout the Adeptus Administratum. Confidentiality can still be assured, as an Astropath need not understand a message to transmit it. In this way, with various secret languages, codes, and ciphers, covert orders and other sensitive information can be passed across the galaxy without anyone other than the intended recipient understanding its contents.
The Imperial Commanders of distant worlds must have Astropaths if they are to communicate with the rest of the Imperium. Similarly, Astropaths are an essential part of civilian life, working for commercial shippers and anywhere where interstellar communication is needed. The vast body of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica makes up a network covering almost the entire Imperium, facilitating the transfer of information from one end of the galaxy to the other. Although the range of a single Astropath is not vast, only several light years, by means of re-broadcasting a message via a relay of other Astropaths, a communication can theoretically be sent from one corner of the Imperium to the farthest flung reaches.
However, as with everything associated with the warp, astrotelepathy is an erratic process. Like the Astronomican, an astropathic message is affected by the currents and storms of the warp. Messages may take days or weeks to traverse the distance or even wander off course and be picked up by the wrong receiving Astropath. It has been known for messages to be delayed by many years, even decades, so that a plea for help or a report of a war may only come to light long after any aid would be useful or a campaign has been lost.
No ordinary psyker could transmit a message through the warp, nor could he receive a telepathic message over such vast distances. Astropaths only gain this ability as a result of their many years training, culminating in a special ritual which combines some of the Emperor’s own power with their own. This ritual, known as Soul Binding, brings the mind of the psyker close to the psychic greatness of the Emperor. In the process, some of the Emperor’s vast energy is transferred to the Astropath.
The transference of energy is traumatic for the psyker — not all survive despite years of preparation, and not all those that survive retain their sanity. Even the survivors suffer damage to the sensitive nerves of the eyes, so that almost all Astropaths are blind. In fact, their increased psychic skills tend to make up for this loss of sight, so that they would not appear blind were it not for their distorted, sunken, and empty eye sockets.