Vāk and Erinaa
Central in Tahora Whai society sits the neural link—known by the Whai as the Erinaa that is built into the cybernetics of its people. The voice and song of the Erinaa is ever present in each person in the Tahora Whai and allows rapid communication of thoughts and ideas. Enabling this connection, AI systems onboard stations and ships as well as latent harmonies of near-by Tahora megafauna. The collective consciousness of the Erinaa is an emergent property of these interactions, and is not controlled by a single entity, but rather a reflection of the society's wants, thoughts and emotions.
Functionally, the link enables the Whai to work efficiently and in harmony, breaking down the barriers and constraints between the diverse population of aliens and cyborgs. Integration with the neural link varies from person to person. The strength of one’s connection to the link operates on a spectrum and roughly corresponds with social roles and milieu they operate in and their proximity to the amplifying Tahora. When deeply connected to the Erinaa, or otherwise connected with the people around them, Tahora Whai will often sing together, as the system finds melody and rhythms to be a more effective medium than any form of spoken words.
The backbone of the Erinaa is the Vāk, a technological marvel developed 347 Sector years before present during The Great Migration. Creating a pseudo-telepathic connection, the Vāk imitates the poorly understood FTL signals of the Great Tahora. Personal Vāk interfaces with the network are usually incorporated into cybernetic implants and functional tattoos, but varies heavily from person to person depending on species, degree of integration, and personal preference. The appearance of Vāk cybernetics varies from species to species, is hyper-customized to the individual and can be as discrete or bombastic as suits the carrier. Blood of Tahora is also incorporated into these devices and ceremonially consumed by utilizers of the Vāk, although academic observers dispute the actual function of the blood in the network.
Some Whai consume copious amounts of Tahora meat, blubber, and blood to hopefully enhance their links, mental fortitude, and physical prowess. This practice is generally agreed to be unnecessary as only occasional ingestion of Tahora products, much lower than the average Whai diet, is believed necessary to maintain healthy and effective neural connections
Between two people, personal cybernetics and support Vāk communication through touch. Holding hands, hongi, and other close gestures are commonplace among Whai. Joining together, the stream-of-consciousness of thought and emotion may be isolated from others. This connection does not require expensive and complex relay facilities or computer intelligence. Alone, out in the stars, two fellow Whai can unite and communicate effortlessly with merely a touch.
Beyond two individuals, however, the complexity of Vāk conversations increases exponentially and third-party interfaces are required. Most commonly seen aboard Tahora Whai starships, advanced computer intelligences empower small isolated communities to connect. Known as The Gam (also used as a verb), this ship-link helps unite the crew in collaborative action. Outside of the range of relay facilities or the Great Tahora, crew members must be hard-wired into the ship’s intelligence to properly engage with the Gam (wireless transmitters introduce too much noise and interference for all but the most power-hungry computer intelligence.) Crews connected to the Gam may sing or chant to melodies evocative of sea-shanties and other work songs. By creating a unified beat and consistent tune, the crew easies the processing load of the ship’s computer and translates the complexity of thought into a more seamless medium. On raids, these chants are often performed as war cries and challenges (similar to Maori haka) that are broadcasted to terrorize their targets.
Relay facilities to amplify and focus the natural signal of the Great Tahora within a system. Within a short range—astronomically that is: within 2-3 light seconds—Vāk communication and the Erinaa is clearer and more precise without the delays found in conventional technologies. Within a solar system, multiple facilities can extend the reach of the Erinaa, but in a limited form: stream-of-consciousness communication is impossible due to loss of detail and inevitable delays. The most impressive facilities are found at the heart of both Tinara and Starnaby, two great space stations of Dynae. There, the Tahora Whai tend to a pair of small Teuthemi Leviathans named Kahurangi and Anahera. These two whales are physically connected via a mess of cables and machines in the station’s bowels which synthesize the whales’ capabilities of song to amplify signals of local Tahora Whai. This complex renders effective links throughout the Teuthem system. While most clear and detailed within the orbit of Dynae, thanks to the Great Tahora, faster-than-light communication can connect individuals across the system.
Smaller facilities, found in a handful of other space stations and bases controlled by the Whai, organs of the megafauna are artificially supported and connected to hives of machines. These relay beacons help amplify and extend the range of Vāk communication to cover local space. Although theoretically possible, true instantaneous communication of extreme distances is relegated only to the megafauna themselves. Observations indicate that the Great Tahora are even able to connect with each other across interstellar distances.
The technology that can maintain this life within the detached whale organs and process the signals is large, heavy, and incredibly expensive to maintain, let alone implement. Guarded closely by the Whai, the relay facilities and tended Great Tahora are impractical to outfit aboard ships and non-permanent installations.
Joining the consciousness of the Tahora Whai is a dangerous and mentally taxing process for the uninitiated. The complexity and intensity of conversation was observed to be too much for an individual to endure without extensive preparations.
When children of the Whai reach maturity and when new members are invited into the fold they are gradually introduced to the Whai. Taking these initiates out into the abyssal void of space away from the intense network of Dynae and Vāk relay facilities, mental exercises and limited connections help ease newcomers to the intensity of the link. On board the Whai ship outside the Tuethem system, final modifications to Vāk cybernetics and easing into the link is conducted in the safest means possible. Despite the extensive precautions, less than forty percent (40%) of candidates manage to successfully link without extensive mental strain. In rare occasions, potential Whai are rendered catatonic or even brain dead by the experience. Successful integration with the ship-link and the crew is marked with a commemorative tattoo by the ship’s artist and the Whai are taken back to Tuethem to experience the totality of the link. The day that Whai jumping back home, now connected to the link, is known as Link Day. A sense of indescribable understanding and compassion is remarked to flood the Whai in their first moments and is irreplaceable and forever bonds the Whai together.
Those that survive but are unsuccessfully link to the network are given opportunities to later connect to the link, but are often employed as free-merchants and mechanics. However, ‘front-line’ roles of raiders and whalers are restricted. Meditation and mental focus programs are made freely available to this community to refine their cognitive acuity and manage the stress and strain of connection. While not perceived yet, the Tahora Whai hold an immense compassion for the candidates who do not initially pass and endeavor to provide the resources and aid to incorporate more into the loving embrace of the Whai.
One of the more peculiar aspects of the link is the social resource known as Mana unconsciously perceivable between linked Whai. Loosely translated as spirit, honor, and prowess, Mana is an ambiguous measure of the prestige inherent to an individual. Neither a metric nor value, it is the general feel of a person’s essence as aligning with the ideals of the Whai. A vibe if you will.
Mana is also important in the delegation of tasks necessary for the operation of ships and stations. It would be easy to assume that with the opportunity of adventure granted by exploration, whaling, and raiding that any unpleasant jobs would not get done. Virtual intelligences onboard help compile the chores and duties required and monitor what gets done and what doesn’t. Picking up these chores and pitching in one’s efforts to the communal operation and common good increases their standing. Doing that which others would not is seen as valuable and noble.
The democratized nature of neural cybernetics and the Vāk technology among the Tahora Whai facilitates a society without direct and delineated hierarchies. In two instances, this flat structure is directly challenged.
- On ships and in fleets, it is common for sailors to support a “Captain” or “Admiral” as the face of a vessel, however, this relationship is fluid and hinges upon the respect and prestige of the individual, known as Mana, as an effective crewman and not for a title.
- The title Kaiārahi, a term that generally means guide or teacher, is often used in more academic settings to describe a well-respected person who can share knowledge in a particular field or might have the influence to shape the general culture of the Erinaa. These individuals would also be considered to have a lot of Mana.
Direct barter is the preferred medium of exchange between the Whai. However, in many situations, a transfer of goods both ways is cumbersome or infeasible. In such instances, the Whai turn to social credit in the form of Mana. Prestige and honor are exchanged in the transaction in favor of hard currency or discrete recorded credits. Rather, purchases are done on faith where one’s trust among fellow Whai is risked. One’s standing within the Whai and their crew or tribe will reflect their potential purchasing power if they lack a coherent good PR service for barter.
Hoarding assets beyond what is necessary for survival is looked down upon by the Whai. No halls of gold or crystal palaces are found on their stations. Resources are dispersed evenly and pooled together during times of need. The medium of the Tahora Whai's neural link sustains this social equilibrium. Those that excel and are highly regarded among the Whai, like the Kaiārahi, but not at the expense of others. While good fortunes provide aid to all ships, downturns and disasters affect all. The new age of exploration and expansion has brought great prosperity to the Rangi, though some Whai remain cautious about unfettered and unsustainable investment.
Whai merchants who buy and sell wares with outside groups are the few who will accept foreign currencies. However, these traders prefer direct barter as a more reliable and concrete system that does not rely on the fortunes of foreign factions and their fiat currencies. Goods used solely as intermediate trade resources (gemstones, rare minerals, etc,) are similarly avoided or devalued. The few vendors in the Rangi who exchange currencies offer some of the least competitive rates in the sector, not to mention their exorbitant handling fees.
Degrees of Integration into the Spectrum of the Link
Individuals have varying levels of integration of the Vāk into their day-to-day lives. Less intensive connections allow some to more fluently express themselves with outsiders. On the other hand, deeper links allow greater empathetic insight and sense of community.