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Independent Worlds

These systems lie between Liberty and the other major Houses. All have trade lanes and jump gates to connect the Houses, and some have bases and way stations, but the level of development is almost universally less than in the House systems, and the level of criminal activity almost universally higher.

The Independent Worlds (Article by Microsoft Game Studios)

Hudson
Hudson is one of the two independent worlds that separate Liberty space from Rheinland. Hudson is part of the Tanner Asteroid Belt, named for captain Steve Tanner of the Liberty exploratory vessel Einstein, whtich stumbled onto the Bering system in A.S. 94. The asteroid belt, which consists of fairly dark asteroids, was not previously spotted by astronomers.

In 661, a survey expedition financed by Interspace Commerce (IC) entered the system. IC was concerned with the rising number of insurance claims made by the shippers, which were high due to the drifting asteroid problem. There was talk at IC headquarters that a serious mistake had been made when the decision was made to build the trade lanes through that sea of asteroids. Hudson had not been considered for Jump Gates when the original route passed through the area, because of its excessive jump traversal distance to Hamburg at the time. With several additional centuries of technological innovation, it was now feasible.

Hudson did offer a few key gaps, through which the trade lanes could be easily constructed. It also contained a planet named Atka, not habitable, but potentially Terra-formable. It would be expensive, as there were no ice asteroid fields in close proximity, and the planet was near the outer limits of habitability without supplemental heat sources. The Liberty government wanted to establish a prison planet, further removed from Liberty space. Here they could quietly deposit excess economic undesirables from Texas, where an explosive situation was developing with the boom in the prison populations.

The adjacent Bering system continued to flourish, until the Rheinland crisis following the popular revolution. By 720, crime on the Bering trade-lanes was out of control, and IC was writing off huge losses. Texas was approaching the saturation point, and the Rheinlanders were ready to talk. Liberty graciously agreed to fund the construction of a new jump-gate path and trade lane route through Hudson, if Rheinland would agree to the eventual annexation of the space by the Liberty government. Eventually, manufacturing would be removed from Liberty space and relocated to the planet. It would become the Sirius sector’s dominant manufacturing center, using its proximity to Rheinland space to produce products of all sorts, competitive with Kusari, with no fixed labor costs outside of food and basic shelter for the workers.

That was the plan, anyway. The new route was opened in 730, and almost immediately it went off track. The Unioners discovered a jump-hole from Bering into the system within 5 years, and renewed their attacks. By 770, the xenos had discovered the jump-hole from Texas, and established their primary headquarters in the abandoned miners base from centuries before. Over the last thirty years, rogues from Texas have also drifted in, and established a second small base. Hudson is now one of the most crime-ridden systems near Liberty space. The Liberty military patrols the system daily, but this has not been enough to significantly curb the piracy. Terra-forming plans have been temporarily shelved, as the xenos destroyed the first Planetforming Inc. survey ship that entered orbit around the planet in 771. Planetforming Inc. refuses to reenter the system until it is more secure.

The original plan in tatters, the Liberty government is now pondering a variation. Encourage the xenos and rogues to settle the system, gradually shifting high value commerce elsewhere. Make a deal with the xenos and rogues. The government will terra-form the planet for agriculture ? at which point it is theirs for the taking. The trade lanes will be closed, and the Jump Gates tightly guarded at either end. The system will be effectively turned over to the xenos and rogues, and they will not be persecuted while there, only if they attempt to enter another system. Finance security for the Bering system, and persuade the Rheinland government to remove the Unioners and zoners from Bering.

The Unioners soon swamped the station’s resources, leading to increasing harassment by Republican backed freelancers and even the Rheinland military, looking for perpetrators. By 720, it was a crisis. The zoners laid down the ultimatum: take your criminal activities somewhere else. The Unioners established their asteroid base out in the belt, gradually added onto it until it could support a decent sized population. From here, they staged attacks on Republican shipping, and any other shipping, for that matter.

A second route through the Tanner Belt had been discussed for years, one less asteroid prone. With the rise of the Unioners, the urgency was now great. Republican shipping losses were beginning to eat into profits. The Kusari shippers were blaming Rheinland for not controlling its undesirables adequately. The Rheinland government, short of cash could do little, begging Liberty to help them as they needed the metals shipments as much as anybody. This led to the construction of the alternate route through the Tanner belt, one which required longer jumps, but offered fewer asteroids, and no criminals — yet.

Magellan
Magellan lies in the heart of the Barrier, a vast cloud of mostly ice asteroids that traverses the western third of the Sirius sector. The formidable wall of rock and ice was not penetrated successfully until 105 A.S. by a Liberty exploration vessel, Edison. The major companies present in Magellan were Universal Shipping and Bowex, now the dominant shippers of their respective houses.

When the Trade Lane technology arrived in the fifth century, Magellan was one of the top priorities in the independent worlds. Bretonia Liberty trade was becoming crucial to Liberty’s industrial might, and the tortuous passage was a major bottleneck. Deep Space Engineering crews arrived in 528 A.S. 7 years later, the lanes opened. The high-speed commerce era had dawned. This fueled not only the raw materials trade, but made luxury food and terra-forming material shipping more cost effective. Trade boomed.

But the station did not, as the new Trade Lanes were highly automated, protected by sensors embedded within the Rings that could warn of encroaching asteroids on the Lane. The station was officially decommissioned by the Bretonian government and left to drift, but it would not remain unoccupied for long.

By 580, it was again inhabited by various unemployed miners from New London. They eventually joined the Independent Miners Guild (IMG) and renamed the base Freeport 4. Magellan offers mostly water and ice mining, not a terribly profitable venture for the IMG. Much of their product goes to passing ships, or the criminal bases in the area. They also maintain an old repair ship that they send out on occasion to fix broken down transports, which still occurs on occasion. Shippers, bounty hunters, and the odd criminal all pass through here.

A more recent arrival in the system has been the Lane Hackers. Former Ageira employees from the Los Angeles software development facility, they created the extremely complex scanning and database system known as Universal Ship Identification (USI) system. Departing Ageira rather acrimoniously in A.S. 750, they have become a serious thorn in IC and Ageira’s side. Able to crack the database from any operating Trade Lane, they have inside knowledge of most shipments currently passing through the IC trade-lanes scanners within the Sirius Sector. This allows them to target only the most lucrative cargos.

Security measures have been added to the software, but they remain one step ahead, leading Ageira security experts to believe that there are many sympathetic programmers still within the company, possibly being secretly paid off with the proceeds from the thefts. Fancying themselves as modern day Robin Hoods, they avoid direct confrontation when possible, unless it is the henchmen of the despised IC and Ageira. They are all addicted to Cardamine, trading drugs for Trade-Lane information with the Outcasts.

Kepler
The region between Colorado and Shikoku has always been a somewhat mysterious zone. The early Kusari explorer Matsuo first stumbled upon it during his great survey of that sector of space during the first century after arrival. He named it Kuryo, or “black cloud.” It eventually came to be known as the Kuryo anomaly.

It was vast, more than 10 light years in crosswise, although very thin — less than a typical star system’s radius. Fortunately it was not entirely continuous, and subsequent explorers eventually established a relatively safe route through it. The clouds gradually drifted with time, requiring constant updating of the routes. Periodically, strange electrical storms would rage, sometimes for years. When they died out, the clouds had usually moved significantly, requiring an entirely new mapping to be done. One area remained consistently free of the clouds. It came to be known as the Kepler system, even though there really wasn’t a system, just a hole in the clouds. When the great jump-gate routes were constructed at the end of the third century, this was the path chosen. Deep Space Engineering and Ageira were well aware of the problematic nature of building Gates that crossed dark matter zones. They had the potential to seriously disrupt and even destroy an object attempting to displace that space. The Kuryo anomaly would have to be bypassed the old and slow way. The Gates to Shikoku and Colorado were constructed between 290-300, and opened in 301. The trade route was linked.

The second phase of construction would not come for another 150 years. With the introduction of trade lanes, Kusari hoped to finally traverse the anomaly with secure, high-speed technology. Deep Space Engineering was brought in. It was a challenging task, as the clouds moved over time unpredictably. The Ames Research Station was established in 550 to study and map the movements of the clouds for 20 years. Their data, fed into Monument Engineering (ME) computers, created a reasonably accurate forecast of potential cloud movements and their potential outcome. The trade-lane routes would need to be periodically moved. This was left to a squadron of heavy lifters, run by ME. The station, deemed independent, also houses a collection of Zoners, who eventually took over the general maintenance, leaving the trade lane operations to the ME crew. The two factions make an odd group, and there is little social mixing.

It was decided to construct a second insurance trade-lane route that would cross the anomaly at a second location. Surveying commenced immediately, with a new route mapped within two years. Monument engineering crews rushed in and built the new route in record time. A second remote monitoring station was set up in Galileo, as the new system was called. Plans were made to dismantle the trade rings in Kepler at the first sign of danger. The long wait began. After the 50-year limit came and went, a few Valhalla programmers murmured that maybe there had been a flaw in the program. The eventual fallout was tremendous at Valhalla, forcing several executives and an elite development team out. This would become part of the historical core of the lane hackers, along with the California scanner group. The technical experts, very knowledgeable of the Kuryo anomaly, soon planned their revenge. Within 10 years, mysteriously accurate attacks on trade lane shipping began to occur in Kepler and Galileo, matching the accuracy of the California area attacks. Ageira suspected that the programmers had left with more than a severance check. The investigation continues to this day, but has so far been unsuccessful in locating the lane hacker bases. There are rumors that the Lane Hackers have somehow figured out how to traverse the gap between Kepler and Galileo, an extremely dangerous route given the historical precedent of the Texas incident.

Factions

Lane Hackers

Former Ageira employees from the Los Angeles software development facility, they created the USI system. Able to crack the database from any operating trade lane, they have inside knowledge of all shipments currently passing through the IC trade-lanes scanners within the Sirius sector. This allows them to cherry pick only the best shipments. They also have the ability to disengage the trade lanes when they please.

The Lane Hackers in Magellan and Galileo share one common origin – they were all former employees of Ageira Technologies. The two groups, though isolated from each other, both have access to the USI tracking system used by IC and Ageira to track shipping in the trade-lanes.

The scandal that erupted within Ageira after the great Galileo bypass project, which resulted in the unnecessary construction of a hugely expensive set of jump-gates and tradelanes, forced several executives and an elite development team out. This would become second part of the core of the lane hackers, along with the original California scanner group that fled to Magellan. Within 2 years, mysteriously accurate attacks on trade lane shipping began to occur in Kepler and Galileo, matching the accuracy of the California area attacks. Valhalla suspected that the programmers had left with more than a severance check. The investigation continues to this day, but has so far been unsuccessful in locating the lane hacker bases. No lane hacker has ever been captured, although various rogues in Galileo and Kepler have been caught possessing remarkably accurate information regarding upcoming high value shipments.

Security measures have been added to the software, but they remain one step ahead, leading Ageira security experts to believe that there are many sympathetic programmers still within the company, possibly being secretly paid off with the proceeds from the thefts. The lane hackers prefer to sell their information to others rather than do the dirty work themselves, although they sometimes will swoop in and tractor in a cargo if it’s particularly juicy.

The lane hacker base in Galileo is a key transfer point for smuggled goods between Kusari and Liberty, especially the artifact trade, which the Hogosha dominate. A steady stream of Hogosha ships make the journey to Galileo, where the lane hackers’ second primary base is located.

Orbital Spa and Cruise

In 465 A.S., a Liberty survey ship stumbled onto Cortez. It consisted of a small white sun, various ice asteroids, and one planet. The planet was blue, covered in water. Excited at the discovery of a potentially new place to colonize in the name of Liberty, the expedition sent a landing party. They found a very pleasant ocean planet, covered in a shallow primordial sea. No land, however. There was a breathable atmosphere, with a surprisingly high oxygen content. The seawater contained no abnormally high concentrations of minerals, and the high oxygen content would be problematic for large-scale industrialization. The low gravity combined with the high oxygen content did give the members of the surface party a feeling of euphoria, however, which they duly noted.

The planet, which was named Curacao, would become a resort. Outside the laws of Liberty, they could run it as a pleasure palace with all the casinos and vices that people desired. The jump-gates were eventually constructed, and the first hotel platform in the Orbital spa and cruise lines empire was built. A second location was added in Stuttgart to cater to the Rheinland rich. As trade-lanes and jump-gates opened up the border worlds, Orbital spa and cruise expanded into the eco-adventure cruise market, building huge ships to explore the wild frontiers of known space in Edinburgh and Sgima-19. Curacao remains the headquarters to this day, as they prefer to keep their distance from Liberty, which allows them to coexist with many factions in the border and edge worlds. This non-alignment has made them free ports of sorts, with a no questions asked policy if you can afford the nightly rate. Wealthy outcasts and Hogosha have been known to throw big parties at some of the locations. On these pleasure palaces everything can be found, from alien artifacts and cardamine to luxury goods and foods. The good life for those who can afford it.