Planetary type: Binary Earth-like worlds.
Region: Smyrnian Bubble.
Age: 9 billion years.
Parent star: single M-class star.
Natural satellites: None (binary planet configuration).
Surface gravity: 0.75 g (Silesia) // 0.74 g (Smyrnia).
Atmosphere: 0.75 bar, breathable (Silesia) // 0.65 bar, breathable (Smyrnia).
Average temperature: 9.5°C (Silesia) // 8°C (Smyrnia).
Climate range: High altitude cold desert to low altitude mist valleys.
Ecosystem classification: Carbon-based, with occurrences of natural radioactivity.
Solar revolution length : 4 months.
Day length: 22 hours.
Settlement Type: Pockets of planetary civilisation.
Settlement age: 48 years.
Population: Estimated around 2 to 3 million (both planets combined).
Allegiance: Meta-queen // Smyrnian Flux State.
Distance to Earth: 1,000 lightyears
Wind blew over the ice shelf, sharp and mean like a rusty blade. A red, pale sun hung in the sky, right above the icy planet that filled half the horizon. Small, miserable-looking pseudo-penguins shivered in the train station's shadow. A radiotelescope gleamed under the eternal twilight, its white dish painted in a mixture of pink and blue, outlining the symbol of the meta-queen. Lazy djinns roamed the open hallways and the few humans in sight wore brightly coloured frost jackets, complete with rebreathers and googles. It was hard to distinguish half-buried derelicts from usable equipment and, to be fair, the locals did not make a clear difference either. A lone train had come to a halt in the station, black-clad locomotive pulling blind wagons and an oversized surface-to-orbit cannon. On one side it bore a delicate hand written inscription: "Welcome to Smyrnia." On the other, it said "THE RIDE NEVER ENDS" in big, red, obnoxious letters.
Smyrnia-Silesia is a binary planet, made of two habitable icy worlds orbiting each other, themselves locked in an elongated orbit around a red dwarf at the heart of the Smyrnian Bubble. While not unheard of, stable binary worlds are exceedingly rare, and only two habitable binary planets have ever been found. Now, to be entirely fair, both Smyrnia and Silesia stretch the definition of habitability quite a bit. Located at the very edge of the puny goldilocks zone of their parent stars, the two worlds share very similar characteristics and are often classified as “Heavy Mars planets”, i.e cold worlds with a thin atmosphere but enough mass and magnetic field to enable the presence of complex life on the surface. In effect, the two planets have never known anything other than freezing cold temperatures and a razor-thin atmosphere. Local life mostly exists under the local ice shelf, with the few surface creatures having evolved to generate their own heat, often through photosynthesis though a very peculiar endemic animal, the great Smyrnian sea serpent, practices a form of natural radioactivity to keep its blood from freezing.
Radioactive serpents are probably a good way to introduce the binary planet, in fact.
The colonization of Smyrnia and Silesia owes a lot to the general inhospitality of the Smyrnian Bubble, but make no mistake: even without the cold, the icy twins are a harsh place to live on. While Smyrnia is a true ice ball world, Silesia enjoys a slightly warmer climate with a few open seas in summer, due to heightened geothermal activity; however, Smyrnia has a more coherent tectonic structure and does not suffer from daily earthquakes the way Silesia does. If you intend to settle on either of the twins, you get to pick your poison, but do not worry, they share a lot of the same annoyances. With an Earth-sized planet in the sky, both worlds suffer from massive tides that result in shifting ice shelves, and the albedo from icy surfaces mean that true night doesn’t exist on the barycentre-facing sides. The system’s red dwarf is also a variable star, with all that entails in terms of sudden magnetic storms, yearly climate variations and raging flares. Did I forget to mention oxygen in the atmosphere only rises to acceptable levels during stellar summers, when vegetation and plankton finally dare to come to the surface?
And yet, an entire civilisation was born on Silesia and Smyrnia, on these two deeply intertwined planets that have been facing each other for billions of years. On Silesia lie the railway communes of the Northern Company, based on vast nuclear trains crossing the icy plains at the pace of stellar years. Smyrnia is dotted with self-sustaining “nest cities” built under the ice and inside the great, dark ocean below, the largest of which is Bismarck, home to the Tsiolkovski Institute, specialized in exobiology and exoarcheology studies. And at the barycentre between the two planets is Orchard Station, home and seat of power for the meta-queen, a memetic entity that holds the twins together and the Smyrnian Flux State with it. Her rule is firm, but distant: on Smyrnia and Silesia, political life is strange, colourful, extremely dynamic and relies way too much on nuclear explosions.
The ride, indeed, never ends.
Illustration courtesy of Lilly Harper, who writes most excellent sci-fi prose on the Beacons in the Dark blog.
Planetary type: Earth-like world (presumed).
Region: Uncertain, probably near the Traverse on a cosmic scale.
Age: 70 million years (presumed).
Parent star: single B-class star.
Natural satellites: None.
Surface gravity: Unknown, presumed close to the baseline.
Atmosphere: Unknown, presumed slightly higher than baseline.
Average temperature: Unknown, presumed similar to baseline.
Climate range: Temperate cold to tropical hot.
Ecosystem classification: Carbon-based, temporal-assisted panspermia.
Solar revolution length : 1,200 years.
Day length: Unknown.
Settlement Type: Planetary civilisation.
Settlement age: 25 years (presumed, without temporal tampering).
Population: Unknown, estimated around 4-5 million.
Allegiance: Circle of Irenia.
Distance to Earth: Unknown, estimated 700-800 lightyears.
1 - The planet that doesn't exist.
Space is vast.
This is a very common trope but it has to be explained every now and then when it comes to simple questions, such as how easy is it to lose a settled planet?
Turns out it is pretty easy, in fact. Given that it is impossible to track down a geometry drive translation from the exit point and given the astonishing number of stars in the Milky Way the location of a settled planet can remain only known to a select few. This is exactly what happened to the world of Azur. Interstellar charts mention that the planet is located somewhere "east" of the Traverse, presumably between 700 and 800 lightyears away from the Earth and within 200 lightyears of Elora. A quick napkin calculation tells me that as many as one hundred million stars are to be found in what is suspected to be the broad location of Azur. Even filtering non-B class stars still highlights about one million candidates. Azur is essentially impossible to find unless one was to meticulously track down a local ship...and they are very good at covering their tracks.
2 - The Blue Sun
Azur orbits a B-class blue giant which is almost unheard of among habitable planets. Though blue giants have a Goldilocks zone their intense radiations and very short stellar life tend to forbid the existence of life-bearing planets in their vicinity. One way or another Azur has fallen through the cracks and it is almost a certainty that human settlers are directly involved. Azur is under the control of the Circle of Irenia, a splinter of the Irenian Enclaves that was originally specialized in long-range travel. The navigators of the Circle were responsible for displacing Phi Clio station from the solar system to Alcyone and are considered among the most skilled geometry drive specialists in human space. According to Algorab, the Circle leveraged the paracausal properties of unshackled geometry drives to carry out a manoeuvre known as "temporal seeding", sending samples of microbes and algae in Azur's past to create a biosphere without having to wait for centuries. It is all speculation, but the Irenian Circle has publicly declared its intention to further explore the time-travel ability of geometry drives and temporal seeding has been theorized by one of their head scientists, Aramanae Talasea.
There are very few pictures of Azur itself but the planet is assumed to be an ocean world with scattered equatorial islands enjoying a hot, damp climate supporting mangrove and jungle-like vegetation likely to be engineered to survive the aggressive UV exposition. The atmosphere is likely thicker than the baseline, with a very active hydrosphere and atmosphere. No moons have been reported but they might exist.
3 - The Azur Manifesto
Aside from using potentially timeline-destroying temporal seeding techniques, Azur and the Circle of Irenia are mostly known for the Azur Manifesto, a concise pamphlet-size document that outlines the social and technological project behind the colonisation of Azur. The Circle claims that their self-imposed isolation and secrecy stems from the desire to study the full implications of interstellar travel in peace and without risk for the rest of human civilisation. As much a technical document as an artistic declaration the Azur Manifesto asserts the "imperative necessity" to start considering ships and space travel in aesthetic terms, superseding the purely practical considerations of human expansion.
We will do it because we do not have to, says the last line of the manifesto, reasserting and radicalizing the hedonistic Irenian outlook on life, culture and technology. Bringing beauty and invention to the world isn't just a possibility: it is imperative for any interstellar species which is by definition detached from the mere question of survival.
In the first decade, Azur was only known for its art exports but in the past few years, the planet has seemingly managed to develop a complex industrial-artisanal network, producing ships built around the gentle, wishbone-like shape of the iconic "Azur Arc" borrowed from the superstructures of Phi Clio station. Many communes, as well as the Starmoth Initiative, consider that the shipbuilding activity of Azur is but a front made to hide the true purpose of the settlement: manufacturing and experimenting with highly dangerous "unshackled drives", that were engineered without their built-in timeline paradox safeties.
After all, what is a better illustration of the Azur Manifesto than timeline-defying works of art?
Planetary type: Earth-like word.
Age: 7.5 billion years.
Parent star: single M-class star.
Natural satellites: two quasi-satellites (current).
Surface gravity: 0.6 Earth gravities.
Atmosphere: 0.8 atmospheres, mostly breathable.
Average temperature: 265 k.
Climate range: Warm wet to cold dry, with stark contrasts between sides.
Ecosystem classification: Carbon-based, fully formed, with pockets of exotic life.
Solar revolution length: One Earth month.
Day length: Tidally locked.
Settlement Type: Planetary civilisation.
Settlement age: 46 years.
Population: 8 million.
Distance to Earth: 575 lightyears.
1 - Fatal exports.
There are very few planets with names chosen out of spite. Ishtar, baptized after one of the only deities to blend love and warfare, is among them. Tidally locked, it has an entire side plunged in permanent night. Unending rains are pouring over deep oceans and sand-tinted dawns lit up basalt cliffs surging from dark waters. Icy deserts cover the dark side, with tidal forces carving unfathomable canyons that harbour ecosystems that have existed in isolation for billions of years. Powerful flares regularly set the magnetosphere ablaze, frying electronics and unlucky plants alike. At the centre of the light side hemisphere lies an eternal hurricane through which pours the star like the eye of an angry but silent goddess.
None of this is unique to Ishtar. Tidally locked planets tend to be hostile and alien in this way. There is something more to the planet and it is to be found under its surface.
They look like dark diamonds. Organic compounds that seem to absorb light, they come from Ishtar's past life, a relic of an entire era populated by land creatures building incredibly strong shells to protect themselves from solar flares. Foreigners call them Tears of Ishtar: the more pragmatic locals call it meta-coal. It would be another planetary oddity if it did not have a very peculiar characteristic: meta-coal can be consumed by pseudonigella stellaris plants, enabling them to produce a very specific variety of dark red hyperdimensional crystals that are very well-suited for simple, disposable FTL vessels.
2 - Artisans of war.
Despite being part of the Traverse, Ishtar is an independent world instead of being under the control of the Eloran Ekumen. It is ruled by the Ishtar Convent, a semi-religious organisation that has ties with interstellar pagan cults and is formally organized as a cooperative of workshops that double as temples. In the forty-odd years since the settlement of Ishtar, its inhabitants have fully embraced their role as the only human world fully dedicated to the creation of weapons and ammunition. "If it wasn't for us, it would have been someone else" seems to be the moral motto of the Convent. Ishtar-made FTL missiles are works of art. Every single one of them come with state-of-the-art weapon systems and are covered in unique, hand-made carvings that tell the tale of the planet and its patron goddess at a nanometric scale. The inhabitants of Ishtar have no political allegiances and no loyalties: they have weapon procurement agreements to the USRE, the Eloran Ekumen and Laniakea at once. To many, they are cynical at best, criminal at worst.
There is more to it than that, however.
A few years ago the Starmoth Initiative produced an in-depth analysis of the meta-coal geometry drives mounted on Ishtar-made weapons. They found that the drives all bore a series of subtle modifications that had escaped all analysts beforehand. Intricate locks that would cause self-destruct upon translating into an upper atmosphere. Modified ping parameters that made translation next to a civilian target uncertain. Details that meant the drives had been fine-tuned to prevent wanton use against non-military targets in a way that most navies would overlook until using the weapons in a real war situation.
The Starmoth Initiative report concluded that this was part of a global plan. That the Ishtar Convent was using its dominant position on the communal market of weapons of mass destruction to flood the world with missiles that could not be used for war against civilians.
And then they trashed the report and never talked about it again.
Planetary type: Rocky world.
Region: Tyra Expanse/Central Galatic Bulge.
Age: 8.7 billion years.
Parent star: K-class star. One natural satellite.
Surface gravity: 0.98 Earth gravities
Atmosphere: 0.95 Earth pressures, mostly breathable.
Average temperature: 288k.
Ecosystem classification: varied. Recent mass extinctions.
Solar revolution length: 120 days.
Day length: 36 hours.
Settlement Type: Local civilisation, failed colonization attempts.
Settlement age: 36 years.
Population : 2 million.
Allegiance : Independent.
Distance to Earth : 20,567 lightyears
It's seven in the morning, Tyra local time. The sun bleeds above the horizon. I am scrubbing dust off the solar panels on my rover. I think a local inhabitant tried to break in during the night. There are scratch marks on the main external instruments panel. Probably a desert rat. That's an invasive species. We imported them from the Earth. Amusingly enough they may be the most complex form of life on this planet.
There's a half-buried billboard next to my rover. Dust and sunlight have turned its bright colours into a mixture of grey and decaying flowers. It says something like "WELCOME TO TYRA" in all caps and a dozen languages. There's a happy couple on the billboard: two men holding hands, with a child frolicking in the background. This is probably a remnant of the first private colonization attempt, thirty years ago. I guess there was supposed to be a settlement here. It never even left the planning stage. There's a small self-cleaning solar panel unit next to the billboard. It powers a water extraction pump and a few battery reloading systems. The whole thing must be, what, five meters tall? On my map it's called "Central Relay 7-B" and it's a key element of the trade route I am currently following.
That's the absolute stage of public infrastructure on Tyra.
When I was a kid I liked watching movies about the early years of the Low Age. The immediate post-apocalyptic period. The plots were often simple, picturing ragtag bands of unlikely heroes going against raiders and relics of the old world. Tyra isn't much different. We just don't have raiders. Mostly because there is nothing to raid.
I turn my gaze to the stars. The thin white plume of a reentry vehicle crosses the blue expanse. It's probably heading for Kalahari Port. Scratch that, it's certainly heading for the capital. Where else would it go, anyway? Tyra doesn't have any other settlements to speak of. I think it used to, in the past. Several civilisations have used Tyra as a colony or a staging area, leaving ruins everywhere beneath the great sands. I just have to dig a little with my nails to find something from Tyra's past. Sometimes it's fragments of strange clay-like materials belonging to ancient Forgotten Traveller ships. Sometimes it's an artefact from cities gone. Sometimes it's a heat tile lost by a human shuttle. But most of the time it's a minuscule grain of bone, wood or shells.
When I look at the sky the stars are never gone. Even in the clearest and brightest of days they still shine. Billions of stars, as if someone had frozen the world's biggest fireworks in time right after ignition. The heart of the Milky Way is not far from here on a cosmic scale. Billions of stars surround us and they are to blame for Tyra's state. Billions of hot, massive stars that sometimes turn supernova at the end of their lives, emitting gamma bursts that cauterize life on everything they touch. I do not know how many gamma bursts Tyra suffered from in its history. Two, maybe three. Maybe more. It is impossible to say. Life on Tyra never had time to develop beyond unicellular organisms but it never gave up either. Miniature lichen forests and tardigrades frolic happily in the dusty plains, unaware of what may strike the planet at any moment.
Gamma bursts travel at the speed of light. If Tyra's warning beacons were to spot one, we would have between two to three hours to find shelter. We would survive. The already fragile Tyran ecosystem would probably die. At this point, I wonder what we would do. Perhaps we would re-seed the planet with imported life. Perhaps we would abandon it. I do not know.
Sometimes I do wonder why we are here. There is nothing that should draw us to this planet. The ruins can be excavated using drones and probes. The ecosystems can be studied remotely. We've got a breathable atmosphere, so what? We can still live in stations. The Central Bulge is a hostile place anyway. We should not be here. We do not belong here.
Yet here we are.
And I don't know why.
Planetary type: Rocky-ocean world.
Age: 6.5 billion years
Parent star: Binary K-M star. One satellite.
Surface gravity: 0.86 Earth gravities
Atmosphere: 0.89 Earth pressures, fully breathable.
Average temperature: 280k.
Ecosystem classification: carbon-based.
Solar revolution length: 400 days.
Day length: 29 hours.
Settlement Type: Local civilisation.
Settlement age: 52 years.
Population: 20 million.
Allegiance: Eloran Ekumen (qith Talasea).
Distance to Earth: 570 lightyears
1 - Mediterranea
Vyiranga is one of the most pleasant Traverse worlds. It is a small rocky world with the majority of its surface covered in water and most of its continents below sea level. Vyiranga is classified by the Starmoth Initiative as a "Mediterranean World", a subclass of rocky planets characterized by high solar influx, average precipitations and small, scattered landmasses. Life on the planet is mostly vegetal with a prevalence of complex lifeforms made of hardened cells capable of chlorophyll-based photosynthesis. Animal life is limited to coral-adjacent creatures though the limit between animal and vegetal lifeforms is blurry on Vyiranga. Newcomers are often surprised to learn that the white-winged creatures that gleam in the planet's skies are in fact complex flowers capable of crossing continents when carried by equatorial winds. With a negligible axial tilt, Vyiranga doesn't have planetary seasons, however, the orbital mechanics of its binary stars create "meta-seasons" that can last for millennia and induce several degrees Celsius of variation between "stellar summers" and "stellar winters."
2 - Golden Lichen
Vyrirangan life is considered innocuous in that local microbes are not capable of infecting human bodies. It is however capable of interfering with the nervous system: Vyirangan pollens and toxins are known to be capable of triggering hallucinations and sudden feelings of euphoria or sadness. Such reactions can be countered with antibodies and breathing masks though the local inhabitants have learned to make do with them.
One Vyirangan species, in particular, is extremely potent: a lichen-like symbiote known as the Vyirangan Golden Lichen (Caloplaca Vyirangana) or Dream Lichen. This species is capable of communication among its kind with vegetal synapses. When ingested or inhaled the Dream Lichen can trigger lucid dreams in human subjects. It is most often used to create dream-initiated lucid dreams by consuming lichens during sleep: in this case, the dream trigger is often reported to be a golden object appearing at the very moment the dreamer becomes aware of their dream. High concentrations of Caloplaca Vyirangana can even be used to trigger wake-induced lucid dreams where the dreamer transitions from waking to dreaming with no loss of awareness. This may make evening seaside strolls rather peculiar.
3 - Dreamworld
Caloplaca Vyirangana is an invaluable tool for research and entertainment as well as Vyiranga's main export. The Dream Lichen only grows on the planet and has created an entire culture and economy centred around lucid dreams. Caloplaca Vyirangana is only an enabler: it does not create content for dreams, it only enables the user to start a lucid dream. The "Oniric Economy" of Vyiranga aims at bridging this gap by providing or triggering content for lucid dreams. Sounds, lights, local drugs or meditation techniques are used to direct lucid dreams in a specific direction or set an overall ambience. Thousands of people visit Vyiranga each year, seeking the oniric pleasures of the planet.
Caloplaca Vyirangana isn't a drug though overuse can send users in a state of constant wake-induced lucid dreaming called "Oniric Tunnel". This state doesn't seem to cause brain or nerve damage but reversing it has proven complex if not impossible, leaving the overdosed subject alternating between lucid dreaming and regular awareness without transition. This is the main reason why Caloplaca Vyirangana is considered as a rare good only tradeable by Solar Envoys.
Interestingly enough deep space navigators have reported a much rarer state dubbed "Oniric Theater" triggered by consuming Caloplaca Vyirangana during a geometry drive translation. The subject is thrown in a strange shared lucid dream that is eerily reminiscent of what can be experienced when walking the Pale Path in the ruins of .O. worlds. This effect always subsides when the jump ends and the drive comes offline. No scientific explanation has been provided yet.
Illustration from the Wootha Public Domain Release.