The term Mutes is a Tracker word referring to the relatively primitive civilisation of hunter/gatherers occupying most of the overground of the North American continent. They are officially classified as 'subhuman', little better than animals, but in reality the Mutes are, in terms of potential intelligence, not very different from the Trackers or the Iron Masters.
The word 'Mute' is derived from two sources: a shorthand for 'mutant' and the fact that captives from this race tend to be sullen and withdrawn, sometimes refusing to speak, even when tortured. In their natural environment, however, Mutes are fairly talkative.
The Mutes are divided into two distinct types. The Plainfolk dwell on the Great Plains and are fierce, with a primitive but strongly-held code of honour. The Southern Mutes live in coast regions and in the southern parts of the former United States and into Mexico. They are seen as softer and less fierce in battle by their northern cousins. The Southern Mutes have largely been crushed by the advancing forces of the Amtrak Federation, although they remain free in numbers in areas such as California and Florida. The remaining Southern Mutes are not seen as a major threat to the Federation, but the Plainfolk are considered to be a sizable threat by both the Federation and the Iron Masters.
Mutes are humans and come in as many variations as other human races do, although they also have a number of differing characteristics, which are shared by both the Plainfolk and their southern cousins.
Mute bone structure has been affected by a thousand years of exposure to the surface and high radiation levels, and as a result most Mutes exhibit signs of unusual bone structures and growths. Oddly, these are mostly restricted to the crown, forehead and cheekbones, which often have a misshapen or 'lumpy' appearance. Most Mutes have also developed six fingers (enough that many clans have adopted a mathmatical system based on variations of twelve, rather than ten) rather than five.
Mute skin texture has also changed from human norms, with some exhiting a rough, tree bark-like texture along the sides of the face and down the arms, whilst others are covered in irregular stripe-like patterns or spots of darker or lighter colouring covering most of the body. Some Mutes are also completely bald (possibly related to the radiation malady that similarly effects the Iron Masters), although this appears to be a much rarer phenomenon.
The Mutes occasionally produce 'straights', who exhibit smooth and unblemished skin but still with the unusual skin patterns. The First Family also knows of the existence of 'super-straights', who not only have smooth skin but also normal human colouring, and can pass as Trackers. Super-straights tend to use dyes and paints to create skin patterns to fit in more with their clan-brethren.
Mutes have extraordinary resistance to pain and fatigue, and have developed the impressive ability to run without rest for hours at a time in a lolloping stride which can eat up vast distances in short periods of time. A typical Mute can run in this way from sun-up to sun-down. It is not unknown for them to cover 50-60 miles a day in this manner.
The biggest difference between Mutes and Trackers is that Mutes have difficulties with memory and vocalisation. They sometimes cannot put into words the images in their minds, and their memories tend to be random in what information is retained and what isn't. Tasks that have to be performed regularly and habitually soon become second-nature, whilst highly specific information (like intricate messages or the identity of a single person they met once a few years ago) will likely be lost within a few months. Learned knowledge is also tricky to retain: Mute wordsmiths usually have to teach the clan's children the same facts or stories dozens of times for even the basics to take hold.
This memory problem is not universal and some Mutes suffer from it much less than others. Those who do not suffer from it at all and retain clear memories are usually employed as wordsmiths, the keepers of the clan's legends and lore who also serve as teachers and advisors to the clan elders. Wordsmiths and their apprentices are not expected to win honour in battle, but instead are given standing for winning arguments or using clever wordplay to defeat an opponent.
Summoners and seersEdit
Discussion of 'Mute magic' was a Code One offence within the Amtrak Federation until 2991, when the First Family rescinded this order among senior officers and privately acknowledged to the masters of the wagon-train fleet that it existed, but this knowledge could not be spread any further without it causing panic and a lessening of morale. Simply put, Mute summoners can call upon the 'Rings of Power' to create storms, unleash earthquakes or plant suggestions and orders within the minds of others. Seers can use seeing stones to see images of what is to come in the future. Both of these abilities are immense tactical advantages which, in the past, have equalled and neutralised the Federation's superior technology, leading to the loss of at least one wagon-train and numerous Skyhawks in battle. The First Family is urgently working on various programmes to counter these abilities.
The gifts of a wordsmith, summoner and seer are quite rare. For any two of the abilities to be embodied in one person is highly unusual, and marks them out as a Mute of great power and influence. According to myth, only Talisman will wield the powers of all three simultaneously.