First explored by Lester Arkwright, who claimed the system for the NATO Bloc and established an initial settlement on Franklin, the Independence System was quick to attract the interest of multiple parties in the area, primarily the Neo-Soviets and the already established NATO colonists. It didn’t take long before conflict was already brewing over the system, primarily because one of the planets, Franklin, was suitable for human life. Eventually an agreement was reached in which NATO and the Neo-Soviets would share Franklin and establish settlements in zones designated to each. Meanwhile NATO would take control of the moon of Burr while the moon of Hamilton would fall under Neo-Soviet control. The rest of the system was then declared to be neutral ground with the exception of a handful of independent settlements that were later established orbiting the gas giant Washington.
The planet of Franklin is at one time habitable and bizarre. Like Earth, Franklin orbits within it’s star’s habitable zone and experiences similar seasonal changes, although in most regions it is more likely to rain than snow in the winter. The planet’s surface is white and chalky in most places ranging from fine sand to solid rock and during heavy rains the sand turns into a thick paste.
Surprisingly, both NATO and Neo-Soviet scientists have been able to to engineer crops able to be grow in the planet’s alien soil, although these crops require special attention. To date most crops grown on Franklin are engineered variants of potatoes, beats, and various root vegetables. More traditional crops are grown in special green houses.
Flora and Fauna
These imposing creatures are mainly scavengers, eating whatever their tentacles can pick up off the ground. Pedestrians should beware however, the tentacles are tipped with deadly stingers. When sleeping they lower themselves to the ground in order to blend in with the landscape.
Those who have hunted these massive creatures hoping for a feast have often been disappointed. The majority of the creature’s body is its shell, which is continually extruded and grows thicker as it grows older.
These gelatinous multi-cellular organisms resemble a giant cell. They move slowly, and attack their pray from above. This is a very painful experience, the poison they excrete slowly breaks their victims down, allowing them to be absorbed by the dropper.
Alone a single dropper is not a huge threat, but droppers reproduce via budding and are often found living in “packs.”
Instead of trees Franklin is home to “forests” of organisms resembling coral. These colonies are mostly dead except for those parts of the colonies close to the ground where they can easily absorb nutrients.
Dead coral is very brittle. It shatters easily and broken coral shards can be quite sharp. Some settlers have begun polishing coral fragments to make jewelry.
The bane of every technician and soldier stationed on Franklin. Creep is most similar to algae on Earth. It links to grow in thick mats on objects with lots of crevices. Just a small amount left remaining on a surface is enough to restart the colony, providing endless work to those who have displeased their superiors.
Washington is a gas giant slightly larger than Jupiter. Though it may not be habitable like Franklin it does possess many moons with varied environments. Many independent settlements have been established on these moons that have chosen to put themselves under the umbrella of the Rogue Star Collective. Their concerns are mostly represented by the RSC Administrators who oversee Washington Station.
Officially Washington Station is an important trade hub for the Independence System. It’s the one place were merchants of any nation know that they can trade freely. It is also a place were spies and informants often meet and secrets are sold.
Officially the Rogue Star Collective is a neutral entity within the system. However, many suspect that the value of the system has caused the local administrators to assemble a larger concentration of force than is typical for the RSC. Whether this concentration of force is significant is unknown but represents an significant unknown in the plans of many other actors.
Washington Station was built after several independent settlements on Washington’s moons petitioned for membership in the RSC. Washington Station was then built to house the RSC administrators and representatives and to direct trade around the gas giant.
Many independent merchants have made their home on this station. The ring is full of taverns, warehouses, and casinos that do not wish to be under the thumb of other powers in the system.
A small asteroid that was captured in Washington’s orbit. Berzog Point is a mostly lawless settlement administered by the Berzog Family. They don’t much care what goes on in their asteroid so long as everyone pays their docking fees.
This sounds exciting, but for the most part the people here just want to avoid more expensive docking fees or experiment with drugs that have been outlawed elsewhere in the system.
Cold, icy, and full of interesting chemistry. Tartan is the manufacturing center of the Washing Sub-System. It’s surface is home to a number of large plantations home to self-replicating molecular systems. These self-replicating molecules harvest light from the star Independence and use that light to grow a variety of useful polymers that are sold elsewhere in the system.
final boarding. Take off in twenty minutes.”
and Alice leapt up from their molded plastic seats and into the scragly excuse
for a line that was forming quickly in front of the gate. The city’s disheveled
dreggs, the last to board the evacuation flights, who had been waiting over a
week to find out if they would even get a spot on one of the last flights out,
now seemed ready to fight each for a spot in line. It didn’t matter that all
their spots had been guaranteed by their ticket purchase. Everyone in that
line, Marshal included, still feared the prospect of being left behind or being
told than an excess of tickets had been issued.
wondered what he would do in that case. He of course liked to think that if it
came down to it he would make sure his wife got aboard even if he did not. Marshal
imagined such a thing happening and pictured himself muscling his way past the
attendant only to be gunned down by the two marines who stood guarding the
gate. Fortunately, suicide by marine did not seem to be in store for him, he
managed to insert Alice and himself in about the middle of the line, well
within what he thought must be the ship’s margin of error.
were still other concerns of course. The military could find a sudden need to commandeer
the ship and leave them all stranded. It had happened to a few others already.
Or their ship could suffer some crippling malfunction and leave them stranded.
It was after all, not actually built for its new task. Only necessity had made
them resort to converting battered freighters and loadings docks into passenger
liners and lobbies. If the colony was not staring at certain ruin the same room
where Marshal, Alice, and all the other passengers were currently jostling for
a place in line would instead be full of crates of generic drugs and ingots
eagerly awaiting to be loaded onto a ship for some out-of-system buyer.
whole thing was tragic, and a little ridiculous. Marshal couldn’t help but be
sad about it. New Bismark was hardly the pinnacle of civilization, but
generations of his family and everyone else’s had worked hard to build it. Now
they all had to flee because of war that didn’t really matter to anyone living
in the colony and because, as many would argue, it shouldn’t have been built to
great, great grandfather had been one of the original colonists. Back when
telemetry data was still unreliable and warp engines even more so. When the
original settlers had reached their new home, they had found it to in fact be
in an irregular orbit around its gas giant. This coupled with the moon being so
small that its own gravity just barely held itself together meant that the
colonists had not been able to count on anything even approaching geological
stability. But the settlers hadn’t had enough fuel to go anywhere else, so they
resolved to make do with what they had. An impressive system of dampeners and
glorified springs had been built to keep the colony in one piece, and New
Bismark had fared surprisingly well since. Over the decades it had grown to
become a modest but respectable trading center on the edge of the NATO sphere. Until
one living in New Bismark had ever really expected the Neo-Soviets to come
knocking, but knocking they came. The initial attack had been repulsed at great
cost and after a bit of callous accounting work had been done the admiral
commanding the 23rd Battle Group had decided that New Bismark simply
wasn’t worth what it would cost to defend. That the bombardment had destabilized
the moon’s already unstable tectonics did not help the colony’s case. And so,
after a few days of deliberation the decision had been made to evacuate
everyone who could be evacuated. That there were not enough ships to carry everyone
was seen as unfortunate, but unavoidable.
had spent the next month watching his home fall apart. Anyone rich enough to
own their own ship or important enough to warrant a seat on an outgoing fleet
ship left first. Then private companies began offering seats on luxury liners,
those were snapped up quick, leaving still thousands without an out. Finally, a
lottery was announced. Evacuees would be chosen at random with appropriate
weighting given to skills, age, and family size, and those that won would be
able to purchase tickets on converted freighters like the one that Marshal and
Alice were currently in line for. Marshal hadn’t been concerned. He had pulled
out his savings early, before the rush on the banks. He had figured that with
his two years in the service and six years as an engine repair technician, and
Alice’s master’s degree in ecological design that they two of them would be shoo-ins
for one of the early departure groups.
had passed. He had watched scores of people that weren’t him be selected by
lottery, and even more get rejected. Finally, he had woken up in the middle of
the night to message on in terminal that he and Alice had won a spot on the
last ship out. With just minutes to spare on their purchase window he had
reserved for them one of the last private cabins on the Majesty, a battered old container ship that had been converted for
the evacuation and would be their home for at least a year. Looking at it
through the terminal’s windows Marshal could wondered if it would even get off
the ground. He had worked on several of the other ships and knew that some had
been destined for the scrap heap before the attack.
squeezed his hand as they approached the gate and he felt his own pulse quicken.
All the anxieties that he had kept down since the attack surged forward. It was
ridiculous what was happening to them. Here the two of them were, in the middle
of the city that their families had helped build, leaving it with only each
other and what they could carry on their backs. It was a scene reminiscent of
the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, not the twenty sixth. It shouldn’t have
been happening, but it was.
attendant smiles and scanned both their boarding passes, checked that they
matched their biometrics, and waved them through. Marshal felt the hard gaze of
the marines boring into him as he walked past. Up close he realized they were
just as tense as he was. Did they expect another riot? Or even a bombing? There
had been several attempts by fringe groups to disable the evacuation ships so
that all of New Bismark would have to face them same fate together. Some of
those attempts had been successful and their would-be passengers had been left
trying to figure out what they would do next.
agoraphobia kicked in as they walked through the vestibule. It was a common enough
condition in the colonies that he had thought his time in the service had
trained out of him. But the combined anxieties were too much to bear. He caught
himself staring through the windows into the abyss of the blast chute. Only
Alice’s tight, steady hand allowed him to keep his composure long enough to
make it across.
inside, he saw that the Majesty’s
cavernous hold has been cut up and subdivided by sheet metal bulk heads and
rough plastic panels. It was a sloppier job than he had seen on the ships he
had helped to retrofit. The air was filled with smell of setting epoxy and new
air recyclers. Exposed conduits and pipes told him how their plumbing and
electrical systems would work.
the directions on their boarding pass brought them to Cabin 241. The number had
been painted hastily on a plastic sliding door set in the metal bulkhead. It
shuddered as Alice pulled the latch and slide the door open. Marshal didn’t say
anything, but he knew both of them were thinking about all the atmosphere that
the door would fail to seal in if the ship suffered a hull breach.
was a ‘common room’ that they would be sharing with another couple. The room
was barely the size of a standard elevator, with just enough for a set of folding
chairs, a collapsible table, and a shower unit that unfurled from the wall. Their
private room was 241A, to their left behind another shoddy sliding door.
private quarters had two parts. The first was a narrow, arched section just
inside the door. One side of this arch housed a sink-toilette combination with
a small curtain for privacy. A kitchenette stocked with frozen and freeze-dried
foodstuffs too up the rest of the arch. Marshal opened the cabinet and saw that
the liquor he had ordered had already been stored there. That small luxury had
been painfully expensive, but there was no guarantee his money would be worth
anything once they reached their destination, and he saw no reason to be sober
during their forced exodus. The second part of their little cabin had two
narrow seats that faced each other and would fold together to form an
approximately twin sized bed with room for their bags to be stored underneath.
an afterthought he noticed a space on the wall where a collapsible crib folded
out. For the first time in their marriage Marshal was thankful for Alice’s
insistence that they wait for her to be established in her career before they
had children. Caring for a child in such a small space would have been a
single luxury in their cabin was a small display hanging on the wall from a
swivel mount. After they had stowed their belongings Alice fiddled with the
controls on the side and feeds from the ship’s hull cameras flickered into view.
Turning a knob at the base cycled through several cameras and a few channels
playing preset movies on a loop. Eventually she settled on the feed from a
camera pointed directly down the blast chute before finally taking her seat.
hope my parents will be okay,” she said, and produced a microfilament library
from her bag. Her neutral expression did little to hide the concern in her
be alright,” he said trying to sound reassuring. “They’ve always been
resourceful, and in good health.” That part wasn’t wrong. Alice’s father was a
retired marine and her mother an engineer. Only their age had disqualified them
from the lottery. “They’ll be fine. We’ll see them after the war, once it’s
safe to send ships here again. The admiral promised, the fleet will be back.” Even
as he said them the words felt like a lie. There was no guarantee that there
would be a New Bismarck to come back to, or that the war would end for that
huh,” Alice said into a book.
Marshal stopped talking. Burying herself in her work was her way of avoiding unpleasant truths and this truth was not one that Marshal intending on making her face for the moment. In a way he was lucky, both his parents had passed. That didn’t make up for the void that had existed at their wedding or a dozen other life events, but it was a small comfort that Marshal chose to hold on to as he kept watching the feed from the blast chute.
count down appeared in the upper right corner starting at sixty seconds. He
held his breathe and waited while he envisioned all the unfortunate
possibilities of the next few minutes. A timed explosive could disable the
engines, or the launch could shake their improvised cabins to pieces, or the
turbulence of launch could tear open the old hull and kill all of them. There
was a horrible moment when the counter reached zero and thought one of those
might have happened. Then a massive explosion of light erupted across the
display and he felt the unmistakable rumble of take off.
squeezed his hands around the armrests until his knuckles turned white while
Alice continued with her pretense of being absorbed in her book. Once they took
off the blinding light on the display receded and Marshal could see New Bismark
shrinking until it was nothing more than a smudge of silver on the surface of a
the moon itself would be nothing more than a smudge, then the planet and star
with it. And then what? Marshal had been on in a ship under warp before but had
never looked outside of one before. Would there be anything to see? More
likely, he thought, their options for entertainment would just decreased
further as most of the cameras would be rendered useless. He thought about his
own collection of books that he had brought and realized after some thought
that it wouldn’t be long until they were forced to socialize with their cabin
sighed and waited.
Gravity returned once the Majesty reached far orbit and the ship’s acceleration stabilized. He stood up from his seat and picked a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet. They were going to be on the ship for awhile, he might as well make friends with the neighbors.