Name: The Awakeners
In their original state, the Awakeners are small clumps of fungal matter, usually white with grey and black spots. Long rhizomes sprout from the mass with thin webs of slime between them, giving an almost winged appearance.
Due to their unique biology it is unusual to see an Awakener without a host. In most cases the host is a Vessel, a member of a race that the Awakeners claim to have engineered for this purpose alone. Vessels are mostly-hairless pallid primates who bear a casual resemblance to humans and Zig. Their overlarge eyes and proportionately small mouth and nose have earned them the nickname “Kewpies” among humans. Their bodies are soft and lack significant musculature. Occasionally members of other races will choose to host an Awakener, most notably members of the Great Family and humans.
A being playing host to an Awakener begins to show highly visible signs within a standard Terran day. Its outer integument becomes covered in a thin slime and white tendrils spread outward from its orifices.
The Awakeners developed on a world with conditions very similar to that of Terra. Being that the Awakeners’ concept of history is difficult for members of other races to comprehend, general understanding of their ancient past is a bit uncertain. From what they have informed the Collective and from genetic examination, a rough picture of their development can be drawn, however.
Whatever incident it was that caused the fungal colonies that the Awakeners are descended from to act as neural networks is completely shrouded in the past; a lot of theories have been raised and more will certainly present themselves over time. The psychic abilities that they posses very soon after reaching full development (and often begin to practice before) allowed them to explore their environment in a unique way, through the perception of other creatures. This became such a common practice that they adapted to physically interweaving themselves with their hosts, benefiting from the host’s size and ability to gather nutrients and benefiting the host by warning it of unseen dangers and psychically driving predators away.
Due to the fact that possession of a life form with a lower mode of cognition is exhausting to their kind, what followed was a long phase of exploration of personal and individual identity. Chained to the needs of the beasts that they possessed their society, such as it was, became not unlike the feudal human model (without the same concepts of inheritance). Eventually, they became aware of a species that would allow them to maintain some clarity of thought and were capable of more finesse in environmental manipulation than others. This species was bred carefully and refined, eventually becoming what today are known as Vessels.
What followed was a period of philosophical and physical expansion. Through chance meetings with other sentient species, the Awakeners soon realized that they had the capability of exciting psychic development in sentient beings that they choose as hosts. This was where the most modern version of their concept of the Awakening originated: All beings capable of thought and self-awareness are capable of interacting on a purely mental level. If every such mind in the galaxy or cosmos could be awakened to these possibilities, the strictures of physical existence would become less and less important to them, and a form of transcendence would be achieved on a galactic or universal level. The actual practical description of this transcendence varies greatly; most of the sectarian lines in the race are drawn on the borders of interpretation.
Some Awakener sects left their homeworld and known space behind in search of places where they could form their own colonies and practice their disparate philosophies. One such colony was the one that the Zig encountered in the First Contact incident on Menelaus 4. The Awakeners of this world were of a Sect that called themselves the Endless Spores of Enlightenment. They were shunned by other Awakeners for their expansionistic beliefs, namely that the Awakening should be spread through memetic contagion, or in more plain terms, infectious mental disease. After arriving at the world they destroyed their form of transport and left their Vessels to perish without their guidance in an effort to separate themselves from their past. It was due to their intense introspection and lack of sophisticated instruments and that they failed to notice the presence of the Zig colonists until their ecosystem had already begun to suffer severe environmental damage from the thallium and gold poisoning that is part and parcel of Zig terraforming.
The Endless Spores of Enlightenment perceived this invasion as a golden opportunity to test their contagious memes on sentient subjects. The experiments were considered a failure, as the memes were not well calibrated to the Zig psyche and rather than becoming psychically active, sane, rational, and agreeable they became violent, psychotic, and paranoid. Worse still for the Spores, there were no other sentient tool users to control the Zig equipment, which remained efficient in its unsupervised operation. The Endless Spores, somewhat recanting their hermitage, called out with their minds across the depths of space to the colonies of Awakeners that they had left behind, begging for aid.
A Zig ship arrived first, however. It had been responding to a beacon triggered by equipment failsafes failing to be reset. The crew landed, and found the staff of the facility in a maddened state, and fearing contagion returned quickly to their planet of origin, where they underwent thorough but ultimately insufficient quarantining procedures. The psychic disease spread with a dangerous ease, prompting a full Collective investigative effort to be launched to the fallen colony world. The Collective team included a Hrotata psychic, who, in a manner typical to their race attempted communication with the alien entities that it sensed, and succeeded. The Awakener ships arrived not long afterwards in response to the cries for help from the Spores and introduced themselves as representatives of the largest governing body of their race.
The Awakeners showed great interest in the Collective, it being the first cooperative venture among sentient species that they had yet encountered. Likewise, certain members of the Collective showed great interest in testing the promises of the Awakeners: their ability to awaken psychic abilities in others, their general facility with telepathic communication, and their claim of being able to glean information from the minds of the dead. The Mauraug and Zig, the former horrified by the prospect and the latter still suffering from seemingly incurable psychic wounds, stood firmly against their joining, but the Great Family, the Humans, the Ningyo, and the Tesetsi convinced their delegates to finally agree after subjecting the Awakeners to stringent membership conditions. In addition to the already severe laws regulating the use of telepathy, Awakener colonies found to be possessing a sentient member of the Collective without their consent would be hunted and executed without possibility of mercy. The Awakeners assured the assembly that this would present no problem, and thus ensured their role in the Collective.
Since joining the Collective, other colonies of Awakeners of different Sects have been encountered. The choice presented to them by the Collective is to either to join the dominant Awakener Sect or remain entirely aloof from Collective affairs and absent from space that they hold. The Awakeners with the Collective understand the reasons behind it but do occasionally protest what to them is an offense to freedom.
The Hrotata, Humans, and Ningyo have been the closest allies to the Awakeners in recent years. Many Hrotata and not a few Humans eagerly embrace the Awakening. The Awakeners themselves are leery of the Ningyo, as they are the only sentient species with whom they cannot interface psychically (although they are aware of Ningyo telepathy), which suits the enigmatic Ningyo just fine. It has been suggested that the Ningyo see in the Awakeners kindred spirits in strangeness, the only companions in this galactic civilization that are as unlike the others as they are.
Telepathy. The Awakeners have telepathic techniques that far outstrip the meager practices of the other races. They are capable of creating animas, units of pure thought that act as independent telepathic entities, which they use for surveillance and exploration. They can create memes that spread and disseminate information quickly among minds through the use of simple triggers. They claim to be able to read the psychic resonance of beings long-dead while within some proximity of their remains or the physical location of their death, a feat which to the Mauraug is unhallowed necromancy. Of course, they are also able to Awaken the minds of (almost all) sentient beings, bringing them into full psychic awareness and preparing them for the training of their newfound capabilities.
The Awakeners are each an individual fungal colony, carbon-based and highly complex. In general they resemble Terran slime molds and many other varieties of galactic fungus; a small gelid mass composed of a single colony of cells, greenish-grey in color and with a volume of roughly 100cc. Long white filaments are anchored within the central mass and aid the colony in mobility and physical sensory perception.
Of greatest interest to xenobiologists is the fact that the largely homogonous structure of the mold is composed of cells roughly analogous to cerebral nerves. Due to the fact that the creature is of a gelatinous consistency, ‘neural’ pathways are temporary and can reform easily whenever necessary. The mechanism behind this is still not fully understood, even by Tesetsi researchers.
Awakeners reproduce sexually, though each colony contains reproductive cells of both sexes. When Awakeners fertilize each other, they become temporarily immobile as they form translucent bioluminescent pyramidal fruiting bodies in which the spores develop. The spores are released after a period of ten days as the fruiting body collapses, releasing the liquid stored within, and the Awakener reabsorbs the membrane that held its structure. Although thousands of spores are released with each mating, Awakeners are delicate organisms, especially in their developmental stage, ensuring that only a few manage to grow to a size wherein they would achieve sentience. Outside of hospitable worlds with very specific characteristics, Awakeners must reproduce in a controlled environment if they wish to have any hope of their offspring maturing.
The Awakeners have stated that they all have a deep, driving need to attempt to Awaken other sentient minds to psychic awareness. This statement has raised a lot of curiosity as there is no biological basis for this need, and no marked physical benefit other than the production of hormones related to stress-release, which are produced by most positive stimuli. Whatever the origin of this drive, it defines Awakener culture.
Since the early Awakeners listened to the songs of distant minds from across interstellar gulfs, they have felt the urge to communicate with them. The minds that they heard were by and large unaware of them. Great debates raged among them as to what should be done about their inability to communicate with these other sentiences, proof that they were not alone in the galaxy.
Some claimed to have Awakened beings from across galactic space (which has lead members of other races to attribute such Awakenings to prophets, psychics, and famous madmen) but most did not seem to have that capability, and it was a difficult one to test. Star travel was developed by their race as a method of reaching out to these other beings. The Awakener Sects began to take their modern shape during this period, as individual colonies are groups differed in opinion on the method of Awakening.
Awakener Sects belong to a broad spectrum of ideas. The term “Awakener” is actually a shortened form of a title for the primary Sect that has found allegiance with the Collective, although it has many sub Sects. In addition, there are other minor Sects that are aligned with the Awakeners that are also part of the coalition that supports the Collective. Most of their Sects are welcome to join, with the exception of those such as the Expanded Galactic Canalization Colonies who believe in direct domination of ‘lesser’ minds to guide them by force to the Great Awakening, and the aforementioned Endless Spores of Enlightenment.
Awakeners in general have little interest in material goods outside of subsistence and those which aid in further exploration. Clothing for their Vessels is strictly functional, and physical forms of artwork are unheard of. Awakener art has been described as psychic orchestra, complex waves of feeling and information, intricate tides of simulated sensory input and codas of sublime sensation. Just as any direct communication with an Awakener can be uncomfortable or even traumatic to most unprepared minds, an Awakener symphony is not something to be experienced by the unenlightened.
Awakeners that have bonded to a sentient host may break any and all of the above rules. This can produce great psychological changes in the Awakener. Marty Sam Fitzpatrick, an Awakener who developed a ‘human’ identity after bonding with a human for five years, explained this way, “Using a Vessel is like looking at something through a microscope. You need to see something that you can’t ordinarily interact with, so you get a ‘scope to look at it, and make sure that you poke it right. Bonding with Martin was like actually living on that microscope slide, actually being there. It’s the difference between ‘being’ and ‘becoming’. I still use a Vessel now, sure. I may have Awakened Marty to his psychic potential, but he gave me a view and understanding of the universe that I cannot even begin to explain to other colonies that haven’t bonded. You’d think that I could, since we can share experiences, but they never feel it. Awakening is a two-way street.” Although this is primarily true of those who have bonded, just the experience of living in a Vessel among members of other races can produce similar epiphanies and changes in behavior. Given this, Awakeners who have succeeded in Awakening another sentient are the ones most likely to be chosen for roles as diplomats to other races, and are highly valued for Collective missions.
Given the fear of the threat that other races assume that the Awakeners represent due to their ability to directly dominate the minds of others, not many are willing to take them up on their offer. Thus Awakeners create missions on alien worlds where it is allowed. They proselytize vocally, encouraging others to join in the vast web of self-aware consciousness in an active role.
The Hrotata and other members of the Great Family have shown the greatest interest in bonding, although even the vegetative Awakeners occasionally grow frustrated with the Hrotatas’ flightiness. They have expressed that bonding with Taratumm is quite difficult, though possible; a gentle touch with great finesse is required. Several permanently insane Taratumm and dead Awakener colonies attest to this. Vislin on the other hand make excellent bonding partners, but usually require that the Awakener prove itself to their pack before agreeing to bond with it. The Awakeners claim that their much-vaunted pack tactics and mentality are in fact a very basic psychic connection that they learn to create as infants, and that this serves as an excellent starting point for greater development. Humans are the next most likely to volunteer for Awakening, and have expressed frustration that this process cannot be extended to their AIs. Some few Tesetsi have engaged in the process out of scientific curiosity, more than anything else, but their brethren seem to find something amiss with them once the process is complete, and these Tesetsi are even less likely to be found in the company of others of their own race. Ningyo are not capable of serving as hosts, their biology being far too alien for even an adaptable fungus. Nonetheless they seem to enjoy the company of the Awakeners, and occasionally even taunt them as they do other sentient races. The Zig heavy metal composition is deadly to the Awakeners, and no attempts have been made to find a workaround. The Zig have not forgotten the psychic plagues inflicted on their kind by the Spores, and the disastrous First Contact incident is still very fresh in their long, calculating memories.
As for the Mauraug, no devout Mauraug of the Collective would bond with one of these creatures. Awakeners or sentients hosting them are not allowed to even disembark on most Mauraug controlled worlds, except in emergencies, and even then only in the company of a trained Inquisitor. It is possible that some of the more itinerant Mauraug have made such a compact in secret. Certainly finding a willing Awakener would be no difficulty, and if they remain away from Covenant worlds they have little to fear from Inquisitors. There have even been rumors of renegade Sects being sought out by the Mauraug Apostasy.
When Awakeners gather amongst themselves they psychically share their experiences, in a process they call “Nurturing”. They will occasionally hide certain experiences from one another for personal reasons, and such privacy is tolerated to a limited degree. An Awakener who does not participate in Nurturing or who regularly edits large potions of its experiences will not typically be looked at as devious but rather unhealthy. If this persists the other colonies will attempt to force the Nurturing upon it. Psychically aware members of other races who witness it have compared the experience to kidnapping and rape, but the Awakeners consider it a natural, instinctive nurturing behavior, causing serious headaches for the Sentients’ Rights Councils of many planets.
An Awakener is at all times aware of the other Awakened and otherwise psychically aware minds around it. The other Awakened minds, especially those of other colonies, are in constant low level contact with one another. Self awareness took the Awakeners a long time to develop, evolving in such a mental environment. They do not possess the level of ego that many other sapient beings do.