He just disappeared, you say? Well, I guess I never liked him much anyway.
Strange, unknowable and often psychotic, the Fringers are a class of people embraced by the secrets of the void. They understand that which the common man has never conceived, and the power lent to them by this understanding helps them to bend reality to their wills. Whereas other races often work to build a common goodness, they seek mainly to subvert and to destroy. They are widely mistrusted and feared — often to the point that others would rather shoot at first sight than risk being caught off guard. For this reason and for others, Fringers tend to be very short-lived. Few make it past fifty. Those who do tend to be either very reclusive or very, very dangerous.
This ability allows Fringers to exchange points from their longevity into their paranormal caps. In this way, Fringers can “self-agument” to increase their allowed paranormal skill. The cost is steep, however. Fringers pay for their newfound powers with their lives. The first time a Fringer does this marks the moment of her Awakening.
The process of Awakening takes a heavy toll on a Fringer’s physiology. Physically, the manifestation of the Enslaver virus that gives a Fringer her power causes her eyes and hair to take on a distinctive copper hue, which she will bear naturally for the rest of her life. Artificial means can alter this color, but most such alterations are only temporary. Even genetic alterations of eye and hair color do not last, as the virus continues to ravage and corrupt the Fringer’s genes. The action of the virus also renders a Fringer incapable of having children, so that the moment of her Awakening marks the end of her prospects of having children.
Little is known about the origin of the Fringer clade. There is believed to be no single homeworld, just as there is no single “ancestor” population of Fringers. Rather, scholars believe that populations of modern Fringers are composites of sub-groups that originated independently on at least half a dozen worlds of the Frontier — many widely separated in space. Fringer populations are most concentrated at the edge of the Far Periphery in the direction of the constellations Sagittarius and Crux. The regions they have since populated are known collectively as “The Fringe” — hence the name given to the modern clade. There emergence here may indicate ties to New Icarian populations — a hypothesis that has been at least partially confirmed by genetic profiling — but it is the general consensus of Elderworld academia that New Icaria is not itself the origin of the Fringer clade.
Fringer populations are characterized by the presence of distinctly alien DNA in the genomes of native individuals. The purpose of these foreign genes is unknown, as are their origins They are readily identifiable, as they are made up of right-handed peptide chains, whereas all Terran DNA consists of left-handed versions of these molecules. A complex “switching” molecule is employed to bind the two incompatible genomes together, and for the most part, this arrangement allows the affected Fringer cells to operate normally. The foreign genes are transmitted from parent to child — no other mode of transmission has yet been observed, raising some question about how they came to be included in the Fringer genome in the first place. They are functionless in all but a very small subset of most Fringer populations. For those in which the alien DNA is active, it seems to take on the characteristics of a parasite, slowly infiltrating and destroying the genetic makeup of the infected individual and replacing the resultant “gaps” with its own gene sequences.
The alien DNA sequences characterizing the Fringer clade are identical in all Fringer populations — even those that are otherwise completely unrelated and separated by enormous interstellar distances. This suggests that, whatever the source of this “infection,” it is not indigenous to any one world on the Frontier. The fact that is is benign (in most cases) offers no comfort to Expansion governments considering further exploration and settlement of the Frontier. Rumors abound that the influence seen in the Fringer genome is ultimately Enslaver in origin. If it comes from Enslaver colony worlds, hidden somewhere in the uncharted expanse of the Frontier, then the presence of such worlds could spell dark uncertainty for human interests in this region.
Much of the region currently recognized as the Fringe has been populated by various Fringer sects. This is the dominant clade within this region, though it cannot be said that there is any unifying society binding these populations together. Fringer civilization seems to take a more anarchic approach to social organization. Whereas the Privateer populations in the Near and Far Peripheries have formed some distinct nation-states around the larger colonies, Fringer populations tend to be nomadic and non-cohesive. Thus, they cannot be said to control any distinct territories or spheres of influence.
The Fringer “clade” is much less a clade in the same sense that many other Expansion clades fit the definition of the word. There is a great deal of variance in the genetic makeup of modern Fringer populations, and there is even more social variety among them. Fringers are characterized as a clade by a common genetic trait — the presence of alien genetic material interspersed throughout their genomes. Although individual Fringer populations may vary dramatically from one another in the general genetic sense (and therefore cannot be said to be naturally related to one another) all populations of Fringers exhibit these alien genes. The origin of these sequences is unknown, though modern scholars note it bears a remarkable resemblance to latent segments in the genomes of the intelligent Khi’t’tra castes. This has led to speculation that they trace their origins to the Enslavers — though such a chilling possibility has yet to be proven conclusively.
The first recorded emergence of a Fringer population within the Terran Expansion took place in MY 1073, in the Arcadia Periphery, when a crippled Fringer colony ship limped into the Arcadia spaceports in dire need to repairs. From the descriptions of the colony ship’s passengers recorded by the dock attendants who services the foreign vessel, the Fringers then were much as they are today, insofar as their general appearance is concerned. Upon questioning by port authorities, the captain of the Fringer ship indicated that he had come from an uncharted colony world deep into the Frontier, some 47 light-years from the heretofore supposed boundary of human expansion. Given that the badly damaged craft had made it to Arcadia from this distant locale, authorities suspected that the number of jump points connecting the two systems was relatively small. The inclusion of this Fringer colony on the star charts would push the boundaries of the Arcadia Periphery forward through a region approximately 2500 light-years in volume, promising a boon to local mining interests as well as to the academic community. So the Fringer colony ship was sent on its way, fully repaired and restocked and armed with a message of good will from the Arcadian Protectorate. The question as to how the colony ship came to be so badly damaged was never satisfactorily answered.
Six years later, a full diplomatic corps from the Fringer colony world of Alexandria arrived via an uncharted jump point in the Arcadia system. This marked the first formal contact between any Fringer society and a recognized Expansion constituent, and led to the inclusion of over a dozen Fringer colonies in the Arcadia Periphery. This particular sect, it seems, had spent the past 300 years populating the regions between New Icaria and the Chaldean settlements, keeping a low profile as they built up a substantial political authority in the region. Their eagerness to join the Arcadia Protectorate aroused some measure of suspicion then, and only 200 years later can we speculate that their motivation stemmed from their knowledge of the growing Khi’t’tra presence in the region just beyond the Coal Sack. Their sudden change-of-policy concerning foreign relations may have been induced by the need to protect themselves from a clearly hostile presence. Indeed, though the first official encounter with Khi’t’tra marauders was recorded only recently in MY 1292, it is likely that the Alexandrian Fringers knew of their existence (if nothing more) as far back as 713.
Since the inclusion of the Alexandrian colonies, 600 other distinct Fringer sects have been identified throughout a crescent region wrapping nearly around the core-ward half of the Expansion from the Coal Sack through the outlying regions of the Chaldean settlements. Many of these populations have since colonized the full area currently known as the Fringe, some venturing as far as Corydon and the uncharted Rim worlds beyond.
A frontier mentality predominates through most Fringer populations, seemingly regardless of other factors. There is a marked difference in the psychology the the Sleepers and the Awakened. Given the effects of the infection responsible for the Awakening, this is not surprising.
Psychologically, un-awakened Fringers tend to be very similar to Privateers. Their exposure to other Awakened Fringers and the reverence their societies often hold for these individuals ingrains a sense of metaphysical wonder in many Fringers. These tend to be more holistically aware, spiritually enlightened or otherwise inspired by the paranormal and the occult. Many organized Fringer societies train un-awakened disciples in so-called “magical” arts, the ultimate goal of these disciples being to achieve “Awakening” and the strange blessing that follows this curse.
For the embraced, the alien infection that ravages their bodies also tends to grant them the extraordinary ability to manipulate subatomic events through the force of concentrated will. Elderworlds scholars have linked this ability to the complex protein structures that grow in the central nervous-system as a result of the alien infection. As these structures proliferate, they destroy existing neurons and, in many cases, supercede their function. They also modulate themselves to produce complex electromagnetic fields in and around the surrounding human tissues. How these are consciously directed by awakened Fringers to influence quantum-scale events in the environment is entirely unknown, but the fact that it happens is undeniable. Hence, the Embraced are afforded immense power over their surroundings by their infections. While the infection progresses, this power only increases. Awakened Fringers tend to survive, on average, for a period of forty years after their Awakening. In this time they slip further and further into psychosis as their central nervous system is infiltrated by the disease. By the times of their deaths, Embraced Fringers have the potential to wield extraordinary telekinetic power; however, they are often so overcome by dementia at this point that they are rendered largely incapable of tapping it.
Embraced Fringers tend to be distant from their peers, seldom lucid, often psychotic and potentially antisocial. Most covet their newfound powers, developing them even though this likely speeds the course of the infection that will inevitably lead to their deaths. Near the end, they either become obsessed with extending their own lives, or by the prospect of “transcending” their physical forms. Many commit suicide; others command their relatives to place them in cold-sleep indefinitely.
There is no distinct baseline for the physical appearance of Fringer populations, unlike many other Clades of the Terran Expansion. The influence of the alien segments within a Fringer genome do produce some distinct physical characteristics, however. The degree to which these characteristics are manifested tends to separate Fringer populations into two distinct sub-groups:
The extend of alien infiltration into the genomes of Un-Awakened Fringers (as they are described by the Alexandrian sects) is far less than that seen in their embraced counterparts, and thus the degree of physical manifestation of alien characteristics is much less. Physical appearance varies widely among the “un-awakened.” Some may resemble other clades within the Expansion, while others may share nothing in common with any other racial group. By and large, Un-Awakened Fringers share a majority of traits in common with their likely ancestors, the Privateers. Their appearance can change radically upon the event of their “awakening”, however — which, recent research suggests, may be artificially induced in some Fringer societies.
Awakening usually takes place in adolescence for a limited subset of nearly all Fringer societies. Its essentially random occurrence is marked by a sudden change in superficial appearance. Skin color tends to darken somewhat in fair-skinned Fringers. This skin of darker individuals tend to take on a slightly reddish tint. Eye color changes suddenly and remarkably to a dark, ruddy copper hue. The hair of the awakened either lightens or darkens to a ruddy blond, and the bone structures of most expand slightly at the joints, resulting in a visible swelling of these areas.
Fringer cultures tend to be nomadic and loosely knit. They often center around the relationships between the Un-Awakened and the Embraced, as those who have “awakened” are generally revered as holy figures by their un-awakened peers. Fringer societies vary widely in their levels of technological sophistication. Some are extremely advanced, rivaling the Elderworlds in sheer technological sophistication. Others are extraordinarily primitive, having lost all but the most rudimentary knowledge of space flight.
Due to the dispersed nature of most Fringer social units, and due to the radical variation of customs among these, it is difficult to draw many general conclusions concerning how Fringers interact with others of their own clade. Compounding this difficulty, the body of knowledge concerning Fringer social customs is sparse at best. Few scholars have ever studied Fringers up close — those that do are often discouraged from their efforts by an acute, albeit somewhat culturally biased, perception of psychoticism among most Fringer leaders.