The Biomancer's Guild
Of all the technologies developed by sentient species, biotechnology is the most important. The possibilities it offers are unimaginable. No longer would intelligent species be subject to the whim of nature. At last, the body would be subject to the mind. The enlightened power of reason would rule the blind impulses of inherited meat. Defects, diseases, even death itself could be eliminated. Individuals could remake themselves into anything they desired. Science had finally unlocked the secret of limitless potential.
But some feared this knowledge. They feared what it would do to their societies and power structures. They feared the deeds they would need to perform to understand it. So these small minds put barriers on the knowledge. They put limits on what topics could be researched, what experiments performed. They said it was to protect the living. But really, it was to appease their fear.
So the science of biotechnology whithered. Perhaps it would have died, were it not for the vision of one man: Angram Scotes, celebrated geneticist and notorious war criminal, the man who was tried in absentia on 11 worlds for his use of the anthrochimeric retrovirus, which inserted human DNA into alien species, usually resulting in a painful death (a later, more sophisticated, version would target the reproductive cells, causing compatible species to give birth to human children). Even before he became a fugitive, the infamous Dr. Scotes stretched medical ethics to the breaking point. After his self-imposed exile to the outer worlds, he no longer saw the need for ethics at all.
From the dark reaches of the lawless outer regions, Angram Scotes carved an empire. Backwards species paid outrageous sums for the doctor's medical treatments. Primitive species provided an endless supply of experimental subjects. Rumors of his success drew like-minded scientists to his side. And so the Biomancer's Guild was born.
Unlike drug cartel "chemists" or organ-stealing "surgeons," the doctors and scientists of the Biomancer's Guild are good at what they do. Scotes may be amoral, but he knows what he's doing, and he doesn't tolerate dilettantes or sadists in his organization. The Biomancer's Guild makes genuine advancements, particularly in fields where ethics demand noninvasive or indirect experiments (the physiology of the sentient brain, for example). This makes their relationship with galactic civilization complicated, to say the least. People want their technology, but condemn their practices. The guild doesn't mind. Black-market profit margins go far towards funding their research.
The Biomancer's Guild is a strange hybrid of criminal syndicate and industrial cooperative. The guild makes its money by selling high-quality drugs, extreme genetic and surgical modifications, and cutting-edge medical procedures. It uses the proceeds of these sales to fund research that universities, governments, and corporations simply won't touch.
Most of the time, guild-subsidized projects simply use faster, more inhumane methods than mainstream science. Testing new medical procedures on sentients as the first step, rather than the last, significantly reduces the time it takes to discover effective treatments. Sometimes, the aims of the research are themselves taboo. The guild does a lot of work ways to chemically or genetically control the behavior of sentient life - a subject of particular interest to the friendly criminal cartels that help move the guild's product.
Occasionally, both the aims and methods of a guild-sponsored project are perfectly legitimate, but the scientist cannot otherwise obtain funding. Sometimes, the guild "rescues" a formerly respectable scientist who was disgraced by some scandal, possibly one set up by the guild to put them in this very situation. More frequently, recipients of guild funds are promising young scientists who lack the reputation or connections to obtain more traditional funding. This early sponsorship often comes back to haunt them later in their careers, as the guild is not above blackmailing the now-successful scientist into divulging confidential information.
The Biomancer's Guild is strongest at the outer reaches of civilized space. Isolated planets, far from the eyes of galactic law enforcement, make the ideal place to perform their experiments. But concealment is not the only advantage of working on the fringes. Thanks to their network of poachers, smugglers, and frontiersman, the guild can study exotic species long before they come to the attention of the galaxy at large.
The guild is particularly interested in finding planets with sentient life. Societies that have not yet made interstellar contact can provide both markets and specimens. If a species is too primitive to pose a threat, the guild simply takes what they want from the planet, plundering its resources and abducting its citizens without fear of retribution. If a species does have the ability to oppose or hinder the guild, they take a different approach. Appearing as otherworldly benefactors possessed of miraculous alien cures, they negotiate unfavorable terms with these alien worlds. If the world does not possess especially exotic life, they will often "trade" the planet to other criminal organizations, capitalizing on the goodwill from their medicinal "gifts" to hand the naive contactees an extraordinarily bad deal.
The Biomancer's Guild is an organization with two mandates: to advance biotechnology through any means necessary, and to enrich its highest-ranking members through the sale of contraband produced by that technology. Very rarely does a single person have the necessary skills to pursue both agendas. The guild understands this. Its scientists are not asked to hustle their inventions on the street any more than its thugs are asked to make discoveries in the lab. Instead, the guild is more like two criminal organizations in one, each with its own particular take on lawlessness.
Most of the guild's scientists consider themselves scientists. They may be operating outside the galaxy's standard code of ethics. They may be getting their funding from criminals. But, at the end of the day, they're scientists. They do what they do for the advancement of knowledge. The upper echelons of the guild consider this to be an adorably naive delusion, and do everything in their power to reinforce it.
As long as the guild's scientists remain in denial, they can be controlled. Scientists who work exclusively for the guild are kept isolated. They live and work on unihabited planets. Their only human contact is with other guild scientists. They begin to think of their experiments as normal, even reasonable. They lose all sense of perspective, as they commit atrocities that would horrify their peers. All of this occurs in a friendly collegiate atmosphere that thoroughly masks the corruption underneath. The scientists might complain about the primitive conditions and lack of conveniences, but most are overcome by a sense of adventure, and the thrill of making real, measurable progress in their field.
The guild also employs more traditional criminals. Because it deals in high-end specialty services, the guild's thugs are less outwardly frightening than most, but no less dangerous for their upper-class appearance. The guild's "collection specialists" are particularly nasty. They specialize in the targeted deployment of tailored viruses, the nastiest of which will only make their victims wish they were dead.
The guild's most skillful salesmen, known euphemistically as "brokers", work closely with guild leadership. The brokers sell miracle cures to desperate millionaires and illegal biomodification to ambitious politicians. Any misstep on their part could lead to disaster for the guild, but the work they do is too rewarding to abandon. These high-class clients shield the Biomancers from official scrutiny, delay the exploration of guil-contolled frontier worlds, and provide access to the restricted materials and controlled substances the guild needs to do its work.
But the guild's most profitable business is not custom work for the super rich - it's drugs. Manufactured on industrialized frontier worlds, with the cooperation of oblivious local governments, the guild's drugs are both cheaper and safer than those produced by other criminal syndicates. Well aware of the potential problems, the guild does not compete with other crime organizations. Instead, it acts as a primary supplier for select cartels. These deals are negotiated by specialists, known as "liasons." Liasons, even more than brokers, come from criminal backgrounds, and frequently run their own mini-cartels, diverting small amounts of drugs away from official deals. Pragmatic to a fault, the guild leadership turns a blind eye to the theft as long as it stays small.
By far the largest group of guild employees are the "explorers." A colorful assortement of poachers, smugglers, adventurers, and renegade diplomats, the explorers do the guild's dirty work on undeveloped frontier worlds. An independent lot by nature, they work without oversight and are paid on commission. Only when the guild wishes to infiltrate a pre-spaceflight society do the high ranking members get involved in any kind of supervisory role.
Governance of the guild is theoretically democratic, but Angram Scotes and his cronies maintain a tight grip on the process. A group of senior Biomancers, the Administrative Council, is