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Fomalhaut

Fomalhaut was colonised in 2074, and to this day is one of the more unfriendly systems to navigate too. With a large, unpredictable debris ring and a massive gas giant, arriving where you planed is near impossible, and it is one of the few systems that offers detailed navigation data to all passing traffic, just so they can get to the planet without sandblasting their hulls. The inner system is a little friendlier, with a lot of the debris either drawn into the central star or Fomalhaut b[1] (the gas giant). Even so, the area is young and chaotic, with the planet of Fomalhaut frequently being hit by meteors.

The surface of Fomalhaut is described as semi-condensed, not molten per-say, but quite geologically active, and the colony reflects this. Buildings tend to be rather squat, to protect them against earthquakes, and will often have multiple air seals due to the high probability of ruptures[2]. Most residents carry a respirator as a matter of course and the atmosphere is actually a little over two bar, though non corrosive largely consisting of carbon dioxide and various sulphur compounds. Attempts at terraforming are more or less moot at this point, so most efforts are based around bringing down global temperatures through sun shielding methods.

Due to its position it receives a moderate amount of interstellar trade, but no where near enough to make an industry of it, and so most of the economy is based around construction of the colony and manufacturing for internal consumption. Paradoxically the world is rather short of heavy metals as most are locked away in geologically active areas, and quite a lot of material is acquired from orbit and dropped into quarries where it can be later retrieved.

Politically Fomalhaut is often overlooked; not being a major trade port or a site of manufacture; it is fairly under populated and not yet economically sustaining. This puts it down on the list of areas to conquer, but, having a relatively peaceful history[3], the planet has no real defence beyond its incredibly hardened buildings. It is one of the first the begin demanding independence during the Independence Wars, despite the amount of support it was receiving from Earth.

Random Fact: Fomalhaut is one of the few planets to run almost entirely on geothermal energy. Which is much less impressive a claim when you consider sixty percent of the surface is volcanically active.

Authors Note: Not the most exciting planet to talk about, though far too exciting to live on. I don’t think Fomalhaut gets more than a passing mention in the book until the Corporation Wars, where it is host to one of the earlier battles and from then on sports a ship graveyard.

Alpha Centuri

Alpha Centuri is one of the first colonies people think about when people think of the stars, and that’s not surprising as the system boasts the location of the first interstellar jump and the first colony out of the Sol system [2072]. The system of Alpha Centuri, is fairly clean, with only a handful of stellar bodies and fewer still in stable orbits.

Alpha Centuri the planet[4] is fairly peaceful, with a rather stable geology and a surface composition of a friendlier Mars. It is by no means habitable right off the bat, but with a surface temperature of -10 and reasonable polar icecaps terraforming was underway from the very get go and seas of moss already cover some areas of the planet.

The cites follow a dome and bloom method, in which a large central dome was erected initially, and the buildings then constructed within it. The capital has one of the largest domes in existence, having built a second right over the first to give them a greater area to expand into. Because not everyone can fit into the domed cities, there is what is known as a suburban sprawl around the perimeter, which is made up of a massive web of interconnected buildings[5]. With little civic planning these places can be near impossible to navigate unless you have lived there all you’re life, and even then people get lost as random access ways, and even whole buildings, are added and removed.

Alpha Centuri, due to its fairly unique role in the history of space exploration, is one of the few systems to boast a tourist trade, with large areas of the capital and space port given over to impressing the punters. While there is some controversy over the amount of money poured into these projects, when it could be boosting the standard of living world wide, tourism does generate much needed revenue.

During the age of piracy Alpha Centuri was a frequent target, being on a major trade lane to the New Incan territories, and being fairly accessible from all areas of the local cluster. Like Sirius, these raids[6] led to some of the first ground based defences to be built in the Vast Worlds universe and these are used to great effect during the Independence Wars

Politically, Alpha Centuri is a reasonably large player, boasting a high population and a self sustaining economy. While only on a few major trade lanes it manages to focus enough attention onto itself to fuel a small space industry, and this gives it significant pushing power and modest orbital ship yards.

Random Fact: Alpha Centuri the planet was discovered by the first ship to jump into the system, humanity had so far missed all signs of a small rocky body in the system. This did lead to some brief speculation that Earth like planets may be far more common than we thought in space, but most systems were later revealed to be uninhabitable.

Authors Comment: Alpha Centuri has a special place in my heart, as it is the first major battle in the Independence Wars timeline that a main character gets caught up in.

Sirius

The last of the independent planets Sirius is another rather young system, though nowhere near as messy as Fomalhaut. There are a few rather dense planets in system, which leads to worlds with notably higher gravity than is comfortable. Fortunately the colonised planet of Sirius is comparatively small, with a relative gravity of about 1.4g, though with a lesser surface area than Earth.

The surface conditions are rather warm, with very little water on planet, and even in system and various ‘sun shield’ projects are planned, though not actually under construction. Like Alpha Centuri, Sirius uses a dome and sprawl method of colony design, with, unbelievably, less order than its neighbour. This is mostly due to the lower budget and slower development of the Sirius system, coupled with its position as a major trade hub which leads to rather uncontrolled immigration with people pitching up wherever they could and the infrastructure hurrying to catch up.

Sirius is probably the most multicultural independent, with strong links to the New Incans and the Chinese, and this means it has a booming space industry, with a major star port known as the Esperança[7], which is fairly unique in having a truly massive population of civilians and is officially the most populous free orbiting structure outside of Sol. At one point the Esperança did have a fighter squadron flying from it, but it was disbanded after the age of piracy and the launch bays converted to deal with cargo. As Sirius shares a similar geographic (stellargraphic?) location as Alpha Centuri it also suffered excessively from pirate raids and maintains defences, though not to the same extent as the planetary government was quick to cut costs when the crisis past.

Politically Sirius sits on one of the major routes to the New Incan territories and the A,-1 expansion region, and so commands some moderate power over those wishing to use the system as a stopgap. The only issue is that Sirius relies on these for a good chunk of its income and so can’t exert any control without harming itself, not to mention that it is quite hard to deny an area of space.

Random Fact: Sirius is one of the last planets in the core cluster to be terraformed, mostly due to the hostile nature of its star.

Authors Note: Due to its positioning Sirius tends to make a rather minor appearance in the books, though politically it becomes far more important after it becomes amalgamated into the Chinese Empire.

Procyon

The first colony to be founded by the Chinese, Procyon the largest planet in settled space with a staggering population of over four hundred million. The planet orbits Procyon A, receiving far more light than is strictly healthy and so has a rather dusty surface, but massive comet capture methods are slowly increasing the water levels to habitable levels. It is a rather unusual terraforming strategy, based around using water vapour to shield the planet from stellar radiation, but it appears to be working, and the colonists are never short of water, with vapour making up about thirty percent of the atmosphere.

Procyon uses an arcology based infrastructure, but this was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people arriving in the initial wave of colonists. This left a huge number of scattered settlements, which are essentially green houses with buildings inside of them, dotted across the surface. These communities will then sell any surplus food produced to the main cities and use the income to power the local utilities and so contribute little to the economy, beyond the terraforming gasses they release.

Cites are huge and teaming, with the original low density arcology floor design long ago abandoned in favour of tower blocks within the towers. Public transport is stressed to say the least and many will only travel more than a half dozen floors once or twice in their lives due to it being simply infeasible to go any further. Even with these the G.D.P. of the colony is staggering due to the sheer number of people and only Procyon has a greater shipbuilding capability than the home nation back on Earth.

This makes it a massive political block, with hundreds of ships in system at any one time, and an economy that rivals Earth. Not surprisingly, many of the citizens[8] want a slice of this wealth that flows through the system, though most would be satisfied with a rise in quality of life rather than total independence. With the imminent completion of a stellar fleet [2106] to ensure the surfaces cooperation once and for all the various rebel movements are getting desperate.

Random Fact: Procyon hosts the first battle of the Independence Wars and later becomes a literal second Earth, maintaining the second highest population for centuries to come.

Authors Note: Funny, I don’t think I have any plots set around Procyon. For my characters it is unsettlingly foreran, and so they generally chose to go to places where the primary language is English.

Vega

Vega is a comparatively dim star, with a grubby[9] system and a few small planets[10]. Because of the rather loose collection of material in system Vega possesses no central colony and instead has numerous domes spread out across most of the terraformable planetoids in the system.

Unsurprisingly, there is a massive space industry in the Vega system and, with an average gravity between settled worlds of about .7 launching material into orbit is surprisingly easy. It is not quite at the point of commuting to another planet for work, as jumps are required to traverse the system at any meaningful speed, but it has been reduced to a two day hop to most places in the system for many of the orbital shuttles and regular freighters[11]. Unsurprisingly, back in the day the Vega dust clouds were havens for pirates, and Vega was one of the last core systems to still host the occasional raider. This has left quite a lot of orbital defences in system, but mostly tooled towards long range interception of lightly armoured targets than engaging full warships.

Colonies on Vega are unusual in that they rarely have domes, this is due to the fairly weak sun and variable distances due to the erratic orbits meaning growing crops in natural light is hit and miss at best. Habitats instead resemble armoured bunkers[12], with whole fields buried under the crust and lit by sunstrips[13], but many complain that the atmosphere is oppressive and tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time outside.

Vega is a major trade hub, being the only route to the Russian territories without going through Arcadia (under construction), and this means there is a massive amount of civilian traffic, especially coming from Earth. Vega is therefore, a very well connected system[14], but it also suffers from being a navigational nightmare, with three to five jumps needed to safely traverse the system. The Vegan government is endeavouring to reduce these numbers, but until such time encourages freighters to travel in convoys or use the military protected waypoints, to avoid being caught by raiders.

Politically Vega is a major player, with a large economy and a strategically significant location, but this muscle is hard to flex as the only territory accessible through the system is Russian anyway.

Random Fact: Vega actually has its own space elevator, taking advantage of the low gravity of the stellar bodies. This is used not only to transport cargo, but to generate power, as falling cars filled with raw materials can generate electricity via a dynamo.

Authors Note: Vega is an interesting system, both from my point of view and the characters. It tends to gather a bit of a bad reputation in the books due to the persistent pirate threat, but in actual fact it is no where near as bad unless you actually go looking for trouble.

Arcturus

Arcturus is a red giant on the very limits of Jump range. The system is fairly stable, with a single large planet where the colony is based, though no gas giants are present in the system so there tend to be a higher incidence of meteor strikes. The spectra of Arcturus is sufficiently in the infrared that the planet always feels hot and curiously the colony is actually a little dim in the visible spectrum, even though they actually receive more energy from their sun per square metre than Earth.

Arcturus the colony uses dropped arcologies[15] to provide housing for most of its population and boasts more than fifty city towers peppered across the surface. Beyond the towers massive farm domes sprawl, though as these cover several hundreds of kilometres, domes might be misleading. They are actually vast sheets of reinforced polymer suspended about two stories up and the crops contained within provide food and oxygen for their attached tower, meaning that each city is technically self sustaining. Oddly, due to the high levels of infrared the plants on Arcturus have been modified[16] to absorb mostly in the red spectrum or lower, leaving the leaves to be a peculiar blue colour which is seriously off-putting for most visitors.

As the major route to the British colonies Arcturus receives nearly as much trade as Procyon, boasting impressive orbital facilities and ship building capabilities. The population is large, though not the largest, and for a factional colony surprisingly multicultural, with significant numbers of Indian, Chinese and African residents, as well as the Westerners, and all are technically citizens of the Commonwealth. Cities tend to follow actual aspirations for arcologies, and most areas are comfortably suburban, with a multitude of parks and greenery providing a lot of the local oxygen.

Farming is highly mechanised, with the vast domes spreading across the surface, and there are a few areas where it is possible to walk between arcologies without going ‘outside’. Most of the population is involved in the services sector, with a high level of education in the general population, and an impressive state schooling system. The biggest problem facing Arcturus is its massive spending deficit, which is almost wholly owed to the Earth based Commonwealth nations, and this could pose some serious problems if the source of credit dries up.

Politically, Arcturus is a major power block, controlling all access to the Commonwealth territories except through Altair[17]. With its impressive economy, large shipbuilding capabilities and well educated population it could theoretically stand on its own two feet with only a little work.

Random Fact: Arcturus is the first planet other than Earth to complete a space elevator. While this was a significant achievement it was a very expensive move for such a young colony.

Authors Comment: Compared to many of the other locations in Vast Worlds Arcturus is very ‘sunshine and happiness’, or at least seems that way. Post Independence Wars its prospects are significantly bleaker.

Denebola

Another young system, Denebola has just reached the point where the planets have finished condensing and so the colony of Denebola is quite a hot world with a highly sulphurous atmosphere. Technically it is a little too close to its host star to be truly habitable, so the New Incans are attempting to terraform by dropping large quantities of water vapour into the atmosphere to prevent the world warming as the sulphur sun shield is reduced. Later, cloud cover and planned icecaps are going to be the primary method of temperature control[18].

These are the grand plans for Denebola, however New Inca has very little in the way of budget to actually fund a colonisation effort and it is estimated that ninety percent of the investment per colonist is spent on actually spent on getting them too the planet. Residents are therefore left to their own devices, with the cities on Denebola being mostly urban sprawl, where containers of any shape or size are stacked together, knocked through and sealed to hold atmosphere[19]. This gives the whole world a shanty town look, though many of the more affluent areas use locally produced materials to create proper buildings.

The residents of Denebola do not seem to mind the low standards of living on the colony however, partly due to a pioneering sprit, but mostly due to a sense of national pride over forging another world for the New Incan Empire. This produces a sense of camaraderie unmatched on any other world and, while conditions aren’t great, wealth is shared a surprising amount, from neighbours splitting a can of sealant, to the prosperous shipping in food when the harvests fail.

Space based industry is Spartan, but effective, with the majority owned at least in part by the government. Surprisingly the colony also boasts a space elevator, which is used very little. Many complain that the government pushed the production so much that it completed years before demand would make it economically viable, but it is a fantastic status symbol for the colony.

Politically, Denebola, along with Polux, stands as the gateway to the A,2 expansion region is a major trade hub for traffic coming from the local cluster. However quite a lot of this trade seeks out alternate routes due to the disturbingly large incident of piracy in its space and these, somehow, never seem to target New Incan convoys, but instead focus on the American and Chinese freighters. Allegations over the supposed issuing of letters of marque have never progressed due to lack of evidence and blanket denials.

Random Fact: Denebola consumes a greater percentage of its origin nation’s GDP than any other colony. This is either a demonstration of the conviction the New Incan’s have for colonising space, or a sad testament to the state of their budget. Probably the latter seeing how little is actually spent on Denebola.

Author’s Note: An interesting place Denebola, and amazingly nationalistic. But I don’t think there is any character interaction with the system until the 2800[20] setting as the system is simply so dangerous for anyone not flying New Incan colours to traverse without military escort. It also becomes the capital for one of the empires involved in the End Time Wars.

Merak

Merak is a system that mirrors our own in its infancy, all be it with a much brighter sun. Merak the planet orbits at about two AUs out, and is rather a hot world, with vast dust plains covering much of the surface. Meteor strikes are uncommon as most will burn up in the thin atmosphere and the emerging gas giants in the outer system sweep up a lot of the debris.

The AMAn colonisation policy is odd in that there is no central government. Instead, massive numbers of people were moved to the planet, a basic dome erected, and then they were left essentially to their own devices. This lead naturally to more than a few settlements dieing off entirely, but most survived and the successful became very large, very quickly as more immigrants arrived along with refugees from other parts of the planet.

Eventually, this created the political situation that is currently present on the planet, which is actually fairly reminiscent of the ancient Greek city states. Individual metropolises control vast tracts of land and hold dominion over the various satellite towns within their influence. Rather unsurprisingly, Merak is one of the few planets to boast surface based armies, and a significant militarization of space. Most of the these weapons are pointed at other cites as an ultimate deterrent, and so far there has only been a single instance of strategic weapons being used aggressively.

Somehow, the people of Merak are some of the most productive citizens in human space. This has mostly been put down to the very low levels of bureaucracy and short chains of command that are still in place simply because no one’s had time to come up with anything more complicated. Crime is rife, working conditions are dangerous and civil liberties are fairly hit and miss at best, but at least the trains run on time.

Politically, Merak would be a huge power if the individual states would just stop squabbling and actually pull together for once. Sadly the only thing that would cause such unity would be a common enemy.

Random Fact: Merak[21] is the only planet in human space to posses multiple space ports. While none are as large as the single dedicated facility most planets boast, they all at least have at least a runway and a pressurised hangar. The more affluent states will have launch tubes, and the major powers actually have mag-rails, though these are a fairly recent addition.

Authors Note: I really like Merak, but most of my thoughts on it actually came from writing this piece. I have got to get a plot centred there.


[1] The Fomalhaut system is one of the few to use letters instead of a numerical designation of its planets.

[2] In most places there are three levels of protection. The city dome, which holds the main biosphere and most of the produced oxygen. Then individual buildings, which will generally be self sealing and hold a few hours worth of breathable air. Finally, most well constructed buildings will have a ‘panic room’, officially referred to as shelters. These are specially reinforced areas of the structure designed to have the building fall on them and maintain pressure, and, depending on the building size they will hold between five to five hundred people, keeping them alive for up to a week. The government does subsidise these shelters, but some are far better than others.

[3] Pirates would generally pass over the system in favour of somewhere easier to navigate.

[4] The convention of naming planets after their parent sun began quite early, when people would become easily confused as to their destination if they referred to the planets by any other name.

[5] Given that these include everything from office blocks to megamalls it would probably be inaccurate to call these suburbs, but that’s how they are referred to.

[6] Raiders became increasingly bold throughout the age of piracy, even landing and stealing supplies from isolated settlements.

[7] One of the few star ports to survive the Independence War, mostly because it was taken over by civilian insurrection when the [Deleted] threatened to blow the station apart unless it surrendered.

[8] Just to say, it is a phenomenally bad idea to recruit your colonists from your dissidents.

[9] The colloquial term for a solar system with a large number of low mass objects. Most would just call this a large debris field, but grubby is just such a better word.

[10] Technically planetoids as they haven’t cleared their orbits.

[11] Note: This is from known location to known location. It is significantly more difficult for interstellar travellers as their start point is too highly variable to make accurate predictions.

[12] Indeed, some of them are seeing how most planetoids are frequented by meteor strikes.

[13] Sunstrips are similar in structure to a florescent bulb (in fact, are technically) but use a wide enough  range of different materials to effectively simulation the whole visible spectrum at an intensity great enough to be mistaken for natural light. They aren’t very energy efficient, but useful in many circumstances.

[14] Jump drives place a bottle neck on communication, as the fastest way of sending a message is by ship. Due to large data stores most ships possess all relevant messages can be contained on one ship, and therefore speed of message transfer is directly proportional to ship traffic. This means that between the trade hubs messages can take as little as three hours to jump a system gap.

[15] Dropped arcologies are assembled in orbit, possibly around another world and are dropped into the planet’s surface, using the kinetic energy to drive the foundations several miles underground. There are a few towers that actually didn’t quite go all the way down on their stanchions and so spent several years disconcertingly suspended above the ground before the foundation rods could be properly excavated.

[16] By Altairian companies.

[17] Which is avoided for its own reasons.

[18] This will eventually produce large rainforests and frequent tropical storms, but maximise the habitable land.

[19] The sheer extent of these places, means that downtown you may be hundreds of metres from the outside atmosphere and you can actually walk down ‘streets’ formed purely by the various buildings overlapping and forming a pressurise void.

[20] Where the idea that the colonists had a shared county of origin on Earth is near totally alien. There is still a strong sense of national pride however.

[21] And a few of the other AMAn colonies.

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