The academy of Gnomic arts is a shadowy institute dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of the extinct Gnomic Empire. The Gnomics were unparalleled engineers and roboticists, and many of their creation are still functional today. Gnomic designs have two hallmarks; biomimicry and a baroque aesthetic. Many Gnomic instillations resemble crowded metal forests crawling with intricate insectile robots. These artificial ecosystems can change and evolve without their masters direct intervention, allowing them to adapt to a changing galaxy. Before they vanished, the Gnomics automated their trading network, ensuring that their creations would never become isolated. Today, Gnomic machines form a galactic ecology of robots .If there are sapient machine intelligences directing Gnomic machines, they've kept themselves well hidden.
The AGA is primarily a correspondence school. Its video lessons and text files are available to anyone for a small fee. This is unfortunate, as it takes very little Gnomic engineering knowledge to get over your head. Take for instance the Qoun neural net, a flexible and self-teaching mental architecture. The Qoun can quickly adapt to aby drone body or virtual environment. However, the Qoun is so good at learning that it will quickly develop unexpected quirks and behaviors. The AGA recommends the Qoun to beginners who lack experience, perhaps because the Qoun will provide experiences.
The rest of the syllabus is similarly fraught. Gnomic engineering can quickly grow out of control, even the simplified models the AGA uses for beginners. For this reason many governments see the AGA as an esoteric terrorist organization and put them on the far side of their firewalls. However the AGA employs literal viral marketing, using worms to advertise in every infosphere they can reach.
Earning your bachelor degree is easy enough; you just have to survive your thesis. An undergraduate degree from the AGA opens many doors, mostly those in secure labs which maybe should remain closed. If you have a real passion for Gnomic engineering, and don't want to spend your time making mad science projects for the highest bidder, you can enroll in the AGA's graduate program, where you will spend your time making mad science projects for your professors. The program is fairly uncompetitive, as the professors of the AGA see grad students as disposable minions and admission standards only get in the way of replacing personnel. The good news is that with such a manpower shortage, it's easy to get your choice of assignment.
To earn your doctorate, you must complete a doctoral thesis project, and your project must survive testing by the thesis board, a motley collection of bitter and near sociopathic professors. The AGA believes in survival of the fittest, and your creation will be forced to battle the board's prized dream killers. There's always the option to unilaterally declare a review and spring your creation on the board without warning, in what is called a thesis offence. This is a good way to earn a tactical advantage, as well as some powerful enemies. Success can carry additional complications as well, as if you create a vacancy in the board you will be asked to fill it.
AGA philosophy holds that Gnomic engineering is the highest, most perfect form matter can take, and that all mortal endeavors are ultimately leading to the rediscovery of the lost principles the Gnomics used to create their great works. To this end, many professors and students choose to become Gnomic cyborgs, incorporating Gnomic machinery into their own bodies. In addition to being high quality cybernetic parts, Gnomic prosthetics subtly communicate with their owners through the neural linkages. Gnomic cyborgs find themselves with strange instincts and urges that tie them into the Gnomic ecosystem. This machine intuition makes them excellent investigators, but there's always the danger that they'll go native, choosing to forsake their origins and join the Gnomic world.
The AGA has many member who are infolife, digital lifeforms, including a great many Counter Gnomics. Counter Gnomics are viral Sapients who infect Gnomic infospheres and corrupt Gnomic architecture for their own ends. There are many factions within the Counter Gnomics, one of them being the Preservers. They seek to understand and live in harmony with the Gnomic system, instead of changing it for their own ends. They are closely allied with the Academy and many of their leaders have at least a bachelor's degree. Preservers usually choose to live in meatspace, inhabiting robot bodies. An aggressive sub-faction calling themselves the Digital Destiny chooses to colonize non-Gnomic infospheres to the dismay of Admins across the Galaxy
Gnomemart is a planet central to the automated Gnomic trade routes. It's here that the Gnomic economy interfaces with the outside economy. Gnomemart is a planet wide shopping mall grown according to strange algorithms. The stores here sell procedurally generated goods designed to be eye catching if not necessarily useful. Toys, weapons, spaceship parts, everything is for sale somewhere among the twisting malls and arcades. Visitors can exchange scrap and busted technology for virtual currency at a very reasonable rate. The Academy has a dedicated outpost here, where they buy mass quantiles of drones looking for rare or interesting specimens. Most are cheap and shoddy, but a few are of high quality. The outpost is under constant threat from the Mall Rats, tribes of savage organic squatters who are heavily equipped but malnourished.
The Proving Grounds is a planet covered in oceans of Nano assemblers; vast silvery pools of tiny robots. The Academy uses this place as a skunkworks for their more ambitious projects. Through infiltrating the Gnomic infosphere, they can give the assemblers instructions to make whatever they desire. The Academy outpost here is under constant siege by Gnomic sentinels who emerge from the oceans at regular intervals. The infosphere is also dangerous, home to a three way war between the Academy, the Gnomic immune system and a clan of Counter Gnomic settlers who wish to make the planet their home.
The Sphere Swarm is a Dyson cloud around a blue sun. Here is a metal reef in the void of space, teeming with machine life. Gnomic designs of every imaginable type are on display here, but the real stars are the spheres. There are trillions of them in this system, ranging from the size of a human head to a small planetoid, each festooned with unique, intricate patterns. The AGA outpost here is devoted to cataloguing each and every one of them. The researchers here are strange, even by AGA standards. They are all utterly dedicated to their Sisyphean task, spending hours on perilless space walks taking photographs, risking life and limb checking their electromagnetic nets. Sometimes they get lost in the rapture of that airless mechanical sea, disappearing only to turn up months later having replaced their head with a glowing sphere, ready and eager to return to work. The infamous gnomic death spheres come here to spawn, releasing great clouds of small spheres. This is the most dangerous time, as the robotic predators get riled up by easy prey.
Degravo is a grad student at the AGA outpost in the Sphere Swarm. He is an okay researcher, but an excellent drug dealer. He is the lynchpin of a thriving network of narcotic software programmers. If a particular piece of code can get you fucked up, he knows somebody who's tried it. He maintains a database of open source entheogenic programing, and a more secure database of pirated proprietary software. He lives in a dorm module in the Sphere Swarm where he can be found spaced out in a cluster of his sphere head roommates*
Professor Gonmra Divalo is in charge of the outpost on Gnomemart. He has a severe gachapon addiction; funneling large amounts of Academy funds into randomized vending machines. He is still an effective administer, as he needs a functioning outpost to feed his habit. He is very easy to bribe with rare collector's items. He is a middle aged human who pilots a beetle shaped drone tank. It is lightly armed, as most compartments are filled with trading cards and gewgaws..
Professor Quon Hosp is the head of the Thesis board. She is vindictive and paranoid. Based in the Proving Grounds, she has a network of spy drones she uses to monitor all grad students on the planet. When challenged she deploys her Killer Enigma, some kind of powerful info weapon that erases all memories of itself from bystander's minds. She spends most of her time in her fortified office letting her spy drones crawl over her, listening to their reports.
*Sphere heads are those confused souls who have replaced their heads with Gnomic machinery. Degravo is questionably one of their number, though as a Counter Gnomic he built a body with a Sphere for a head, instead of losing his original brain somewhere in the Gnomic wilds. Depending on what programs he's running, he can be way more coherent than his roommates.