The darker side of Hydrospan

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(NB: this was written before Ancient Echoes was published.)

The canonical BP background has some quite clear-cut moral distinctions, especially between the various Incorporates. GenDiver is an out-and-out baddie, while Hydrospan is portrayed as an ideal, utopian employer. However, I think it's more fun to include some shades of grey into my worlds, so I'd like to make some comments on why all is not happiness and light at Hydrospan.

First of all, the idyllic view of Hydrospan, as presented in the BP canon, is the line that the Hydrospan PR people push. But, scratch the surface, and you soon find some darker corners: things may be wonderful, but the psychological stresses placed on its employees, especially its human ones, can be considerable and damaging.

Many of the problems in Hydrospan stem from the fact that it is a corporation and a state that is run by dolphins for dolphins. Humans think and behave differently, and this causes problems when they have to fit into a dolphin world.

30-hour society

Dolphins, being active breathers, don't sleep in the same way that humans do. If they fell completely asleep, they'd suffocate. Instead, dolphins put half of their brain to sleep at a time, meaning that they're awake (at least in part) for the full 30 hours a day. Dolphins really do have a 30-hour society, and it's personal. Each dolphin is awake and active, all hours of the day and night.

Unfortunately, humans don't operate this way. It's bad enough that their circadian cycle is disrupted by Poseidon's longer day anyway: but having to keep awake and aware all the time puts a great stress on the human citizens of Hydrospan. But woe betide the human who's asleep when something needs to be done.


Humans evolved in groups of up to 100 individuals, and that remains the natural upper limit on sizes of human groups. Dolphins, on the other hand, evolved in groups of only a few dozen or most. This also puts a strain on the human members of Hydrospan: from a human perspective, dolphins are not terribly gregarious, and have a tendency to form small cliques. Once these cliques form, they can put up high social barriers to outsiders, higher than those erected by humans in the equivalent position. This means that humans can very quickly become isolated and given the cold shoulder by their dolphin colleagues.

And all these small cliques don't lend themselves to large-scale co-operation and co-ordination, which leads us on to the next problem.


In pre-uplift dolphins, small groups of young males would spend much of their time together, but separate from the rest of the pod. These groups would often visit their own, or sometimes other, pods when they wanted something (usually sex). And they'd just take it, using force if necessary.

This is a trend which continues in the uplifted dolphins. The dolphin cliques tend to become introverted and isolated from the rest of Hydrospan. Left unchecked, such tendencies would quickly lead to the disintegration of Hydrospan as a corporate entity. The solution is the bully squad.

These small groups of young, hot-headed dolphins come down with orders form higher management to make sure that the cliques don't become too introverted and continue to co-operate with the rest of the corporate state. They do this by very assertive, sometimes violent, means. They barge into the clique, demand what information they've been tasked to get, and throw their weight around to ensure that Hydrospan continues to operate in a smooth manner. And if that means that examples must be made, and cliques broken up, so be it. Even if long-term friendships or family ties are shattered in the process.

Up or Out

Hydrospan makes a big deal of its meritocratic structure: everyone starts at the bottom, and is promoted solely on the basis of performance. If you're good, you go up. If you're not, you don't. That would be fine, except that performance assessment applies to everything. This creates pressures on all the employees, and can lead to some rather creative reporting of outcomes and achievements. It also leads to some really quite vicious infighting as rivals vie for the one promotion on offer. It's a trend which could easily lead to corruption and eventual corporate destruction. And it all adds pressure to the already stressed humans.

Long-term relationships and sex

The final difference between dolphins and humans is in sex and long-term relationships. Humans pair-bond for long periods, often life. Sex is normally restricted (by social mores) to couples that have long-term relationships. And there's a physiological support for that: post-coital hormone surges reinforce the emotional attachments to the other in the pair-bond.

Dolphins don't to this. To them, sex is far more casual, almost a way of greeting. Dolphins don't really understand the concept of long-term monogamy. To them, promiscuity is natural and a good thing. It means that if a human does form a long-term, monogamous relationship, they're regarded as rather odd, perhaps even unhealthy. Humans are expected to change partners often, despite the emotional costs to the individuals involved.


All of this means that a great many humans become damaged by their tenure in Hydrospan. The effects are less in those people that have grown up in the Incorporate state, but even these humans find that the dolphins' ways can be disquieting, even unpleasant.

The 30-hour society leads to the widespread use of stimulants by humans. There are times when they just have to keep going for long periods, perhaps days at a time, without sleep. The only way to achieve this is pharmaceutically, whether by external drugs or implanted multiglands.

Bullying is a fact of life. When the bully squad comes to visit (and they will), expect a hard time. And even when they're not around, the constant pressure on getting results makes for a stressful working environment.

Finally, the pressure to dissolve long-term relationships can become intolerable. Many a human in Hydrospan has had to make the difficult choice between leaving their spouse, and perhaps children, or seeing their career slam into a dead end.

All these stresses lead to some severe psychological damage among Hydrospan's human employees. To avoid squandering their human capital, Hydrospan has a vigorous and comprehensive mental health programme. Most of the time, this take the form of counselling and psychological assessment, but it quite often steps over into formal psychiatric treatment. Most high-ranking human employees have had mind-jobs of various degrees, to allow them to cope with the extraordinary pressures that arise from living in a dolphin world. But these treatments aren't always successful, and sometimes early 'retirement' to a controlled environment is the only option.

That the damage Hydrospan can cause to its citizens is not more widely known is a testament to its publicity and marketing machine. Aggressive, though subtle, information campaigns are constantly run by Hydrospan both to present itself in the best possible light, and to turn attention onto other issues. The effectiveness of these campaigns is largely due to the wealth of experience of manipulating human nature from which Hydrospan can draw: experience that largely arose from dealing with its own problems.


So, what is the true face of Hydrospan? Is it the utopian ideal that is presented, or is that simply a gossamer of PR that obscures something altogether more sinister and unpleasant? I think it's something for you to discover through your own games.