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The Order of Malta

The Order of St John of Jerusalem is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilization.  Present in Palestine in around 1050, it is a lay religious Order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature.  Its 31,000 members include Professed Friars and others who have made vows of obedience.  The other Knights and Dames are lay members, devoted to the exercise of Christian virtue and charity.  What distinguishes the Knights of Malta is their commitment to reaching their spiritual perfection within the Church and to expending their energies serving the poor and the sick.

The Order of Malta remains true to its inspiring principles, summarized in the motto "Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum", defense of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering, which become reality through the voluntary work carried out by Dames and Knights in humanitarian assistance and medical and social activities.  Today the Order carries out these activities in over 110 countries.

The Order of Malta's mission has been expanded since Vatican II to include the training of metahuman Catholic clergy and the faithful in the use of their powers and to run the Church's official team.  (The team is commonly called "the Knights of Malta" by those outside of the Order and the Church, despite the fact that the term "Knight of Malta" is applicable to any member of the Order, not just the metahuman members.)  Viewed as skilled and capable individuals, the Order has focused on its work with the poor and injured.  When called upon to defend the faith and faithful the Knights have shown themselves to be equally capable combatants as live savers.


OTEC Power Plants

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plants depend on the difference in temperature between ocean surface water and water at 600 to 1000 meters depth to generate electricity.  While several nations have experimented with this technology, the only nation to implement its use on a large scale is South Africa.  Its array of OTEC plants, strung in the deep Atlantic and Indian Oceans (in the Benguela and Angulhas currents, respectfully), generate an average of ten million megawatts of electricity annually.


The Pelkons

The Pelkons (pronounced "PELL-kahns") on Earth are a species traveling with the Xorn who have been freed or had escaped during the Xorn Invasion of 1984.  The Pelkons held a unique position in that they were something less than the Xorn, but something more than the other slaves.  It is a current fad for wealthy and powerful Xorn to retain Pelkons as teachers of a sort.  In addition to their keen understanding of ecology, the Pelkons also spend much of their time in philosophical argument.  Experienced Xorn can debate Xorn Philosophy as well as they can spar with Xorn Warfist.  Younger Xorn, however battle-scarred they are, may be tasked to spend time with a Pelkon Sophist.  This is not punishment, but intended to both test and train those who show promise for command positions.  For failure to truly understand Xorn Philosophy is a sin.

For their part, the Pelkons agree to spend time with Xorn so that they can collect data to test their theories about cosmological, geophysical, biological, ecological, and social evolution.  They collect historical archives from civilizations that the Xorn are besieging or have conquered.  From analysis of the archives, they derive natural histories of planetary evolution and compare them to the theories proposed.  To them the Xorn and their actions are not really important - it is the philosophical debates and development of theories that is the most important things in their lives.

Relanda, the homeworld of the Pelkons, though typically described as a "garden paradise" is actually not unlike Earth in most respects.  Its size and atmosphere are nearly identical to Earth's, and its distribution of land and water, climatology, biochemistry, and variety of flora and fauna are all very close though the specifics vary somewhat.  Arguably, what makes Relanda a "garden paradise" is the Pelkons' careful attention to preservation of the native vegetation, particularly in the popular resort areas.  Even the planet's most crowded cities have trees, flowers, bushes, and other plants lining the streets.  Xorn conquest did not ruin any of this because the Pelkons, realizing they were overmatched, surrendered completely after receiving assurances that if they did so, their homeworld would be spared depredation.  No Xorn commander has risked his honor to break this treaty.

First contact with the Pelkons was not made by the Xorn; rather, it was the K'kriki'i, who arrived at Relanda roughly around 1200 BC, by earth dating.  At the time, Relanda was suffering a worldwide plague that swept over the population in the course of three centuries.  The K'kriki'i, as is their nature, assisted the surviving Pelkon by genetically altering a small population of Pelkon (its believed no more than ten thousand individuals) to be immune to the disease while allowing the remainder of the Pelkon population to die out.  Every Pelkon alive today is a descendent of those who were bioengineered, and they are all thus immune to natural diseases.

Of all the Xorn slave races, Pelkons are the most humanlike.  Biologically, they are almost identical to Humans.  They are mammals, are the same general size (though with a slightly taller average height - 6'1 on average for male Pelkons, 5'10" for female Pelkons, as opposed to 5'9" and 5'6" for human men and women), have the exact same distribution of coloration, the same number of eyes, ears, and limbs, and in most other ways function like them.  Pelkons and humans can eat all the same foods, and breath the same air.  Humans and Pelkons are even physically compatible as far as sexual contact is concerned, though such liaisons are not interfertile.

In fact, the biggest difference is that Pelkons seem to age slower, having in general twice the life span of humans.  They are also physically distinguishable by the presence of four to nine vertical ridges on the bridge of the nose and the lower part of the forehead; stark white eyes with black or dark grey sclera; and a series of irregular dark spots averaging about two square inches in size.  These spots run from the temples down the neck, branching at the shoulders; one branch runs down the arms and to the backs of the hands, while the other runs down the back and along the outside of the legs to the tops of the feet.

Pelkons can easily fit in with humans and need very little in the way of cosmetic surgery to appear completely human.  Many Pelkons on Earth are sought as environmental advisors to governments or environmental groups.  Thus, in addition to the Pelkon language, most also know at least one Earth language.


Powered Armor

Powered armor and battle-suits are a strongly developing technology.  The armor used by Checkmate's rook agents are currently the state of the art in mass-produced battle armor, although individual inventors and major corporations have occasionally made one-of-a-kind models with significantly more power.  Powered armors have been used in the world's military forces since 1991, when France deployed the first practical battle suits in the Gulf War.  Despite this, due to their high cost and power consumption, powered armor is not widely deployed by any military outside of the United States.  Since they require practice and skill to control (not to mention considerable support and upkeep), they are limited to elite units and special combat teams, and are rarely risked as point forces.  Most of the time they are used for support, cover, and mop-up.

In yet another case of military technology finding civilian use, unarmored and unarmed powered suits (called "lifters") have been available to the construction and demolition trade for the last 13 years.  From the first slow, clumsy hydraulic rigs of 1995 to the near-man-sized exoskeletons of today, they have become an integral part of those industries.  Some successful powered-armor superheroes have had suits that were clearly based around a commercially available civilian rig.  For those who are curious, the typical model powered lifter is the John Deere Iron Man II model, which weighs 560 pounds and has a lifting capacity of 1 1/2 tons.  It comes with headlamps, tool racks, and a built-in fire extinguisher as standard features.  Manufacturers suggested retail price $75,000.