The Iron Masters are a race of humans who inhabit the eastern seaboard of the former United States, occupying a sizable nation-state they call Ne-Issan. The name is of Mute origin. The Mutes also call them dead-faces. They refer to themselves as the Sons of Ne-Issan.
The existence of the Iron Masters is not known to most of the inhabitants of the Amtrak Federation, but is well-known to the First Family and groups such as AMEXICO. The information is classified so as not to distract the Trackers from concentrating on their primary goal, the elimination of the Mutes.
According to the COLUMBUS databanks, the Iron Masters are officially classified as a 'race of clear-skinned hairless anthrophods' and are assigned a position on the evolutionary scale halfway between Trackers and Mutes. They are still classified as sub-human, although unlike the Mutes they have grasped such concepts as literacy, mathmatics, the arts, metal-woking, weaving and primitive metallurgy and chemical engineering (most notably the development of firearms).
The Iron Masters are hairless, an unusual side-effect of radiation they were exposed to following the War of a Thousand Suns. Most Iron Masters wear wigs to disguise this condition. More seriously, Iron Masters have weaker hearts and a greater preponderence to cardiac problems and haemophilia. They also tend to be shorter in stature than other humans, although there are exceptions.
Due to the problems presented by heart conditions, the Iron Masters have adopted an unflinching attitude to life that encourages a stoic attitude and a lack of emotion in all dealings. This lack of emotion, combined with their tendency to wear masks when dealing with Mutes, is the cause of their Mute nickname.
The Iron Masters believe in a code of honour known as bushido and a hierarchal structure of responsibility and respect. Whilst not strictly a militarised society such as the Amtrak Federation, Iron Master society is based on unflinching obedience to one's social superiors.
Iron Master society is based around a hierarchy of racial supremacy, which ranks the Japanese at the top of the socal pecking order, followed in turn by the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese and Thais. The Mute slaves occupy the lowest strata of society, apart from the rest.
Society is also based around a rank system, with the samurai warrior-class occupying the highest tier followed by administrators/scribes, craftmasters, merchants and farmers in that order. At all levels and amongst all the races, women are allotted a secondary, subservient role as consorts, housekeepers and child-bearers, although in private women are sometimes permitted to take on other roles. Men who are seen to be ruled by their wives or heed their counsel lose standing and are seen as weak, but in private it is not unusual for even the greatest warriors to discuss personal matters with their wives. Succession is also always through the male line.
Supreme authority in Ne-Issan is vested in the Shogun, head of the leading samurai family and titular head of the government (bakufu). The Shogun is the first amongst equals and in theory is supported by the heads of the other major samurai families who rule the sixteen other domains of Ne-Issan. In practice the Shogun must walk a careful path through political alliances or risk being unseated.
The characteristics of Iron Master society are its martial character and its respect for authority and tradition. Bushido lays emphasis on duty and obligation to one's superiors (giri), to which human feelings (ninjo) take second place. The individual is thus required to have unquestioning loyalty and obedience first to his or her domain-lord, and through him to the Shogun.
The Iron Masters believe in both gods (most notably their chief sun god, Amaterasu-Omikami) and spirits, and pray to both at shrines and temples scattered across Ne-Issan. They are a superstitious people with a great fear of the 'witches' who dwell in the deep forests. Despite their technological inferiority to the Federation, of which they are well aware, the Iron Masters believe that their superior determination and honour will secure their ultimate victory over both the Federation and the Mutes. Despite this belief, the Shoguns have ordered no further expansion of their borders south-westwards towards Federation territory or westwards into Plainfolk territory. With only one million people inhabiting a region stretching from Nova Scotia to Cape Fear (an area inhabited by over 71 million people at the time of the War of a Thousand Suns), further territorial expansion will not be required for some considerable time.
The Iron Masters also believe that it was mankind's embracing of the Dark Light - electricity - that led to his downfall. All attempts to recapture the Dark Light are therefore banned under the pain of death. Some Iron Master factions chafe at this restriction, knowing that unless they do embrace the Dark Light they will be no match for the forces of the Federation.