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Gondwana Port


Type: Cathedral class station.
Location: Gondwana System, Southern Approaches (15,000 ly from the Earth).
Population : 110,000
Dimensions: 5 kilometres long, 1 kilometre wide.
Age: 38 years
Environment: Depressurized cities/Ruined Industrial lands
Allegiance: Starmoth Initiative.

1 - The Southern Approaches

[The flow of reality resumed as “Lighthouse” emerged from the suspended time of a geometry translation a mere hundred kilometres away from Gondwana Port. The Inyanga-class vessel hailed the nearest navigation beacon which immediately recognized its Starmoth Initiative hull number and beamed an approach vector to the ship. The navigator ordered to flip the vessel around to decelerate, then turned towards the irenian xenobiologist who sat next to their haptic panel in the command centre.

“First time to Gondwana, mistress Talasea?”

The blue-skinned woman nodded.

“First time in the southern approaches as well. Never been that far in the galactic south…”

As the vessel drew closer to the station, the vast megastructure revealed itself from the blinding light of the nearby red dwarf. Gondwana Port was a Cathedral-class station, a five kilometres long O’Neill cylinder capable of unassisted faster than light travel. Its silhouette was familiar to Talasea and reminded her of her own home station, Phi Clio, which had also been dragged to the Pleiades by way of long-range travel. There was, however, a notable difference between Irenian stations and Gondwana Port. The Pleiades were located 450 lightyears away from the Earth, while Gondwana Port now stood in a trinary system 15,000 lightyears away from humanity’s motherworld. Phi Clio had reached its destination fifty years ago with a single jump that had taken eight years to compute. Gondwana Port had just spent thirty-two years in deep space, surging forwards at the pace of five hundred lightyears a year. In comparison to this odyssey, Phi Clio’s trip to the blue giants had been but a mere stroll.

Gondwana Port still bore the scars from its final translation. The station was followed by a field of debris on a slow decaying orbit, the remnants of the various superstructures destroyed by the rupture of Gondwana’s geometry drive. One of the external arms stood broken in the void, merely held together by the absence of friction. The other reflected the light of Gondwana’s parent star in a strange, almost eerie manner, metamorphosed into a vast weapons array that surged like a dagger towards the void. The main O’Neill cylinder was cribbed with holes created by fragments of realities punching through the fragile, transparent hull and exposing the inside. Even from afar, Talasea could see dead forests and frozen rivers exposed to the void where the countryside sections of the cylinder should have been, as well as small nest-cities gleaming in the middle of a void-stricken orbital metropolis.]

2 - Subspace Lance

[“I work on the big blade in the sky.” said the orbital fixer. She wore yellow and dark blue, the colours of qith Saïmour, incongruous this far out in the margins of the Milky Way. Talasea glanced at her through the water vapour from her teacup.

“So you came all the way from Elora to work on...what exactly? A space bayonet that’s five kilometres long?”

“I was born on Masan, actually. Look, it’s a bit embarrassing but...we don’t really know what we are working on. I know it was installed as a safety measure, right? When our geometry drive broke, we lost our main line of defence against a Sequence raid. Gondwana Port is dead in the water and it’s not like we can just make another drive this far out in the void — not one that can translate a station, anyway. So they took the fragments of the drive and arranged a weapon out of it. I think it’s a weapon, at least. That’s how the station cooperative describes it.”

“Wait, you’re working on it and you don’t know what it is? What kind of engineering work is that?”

The orbital fixer shrugged and her q-augs briefly gleamed in blue as they started their self-cleaning routine, drawing toxic compounds from her skin.

“I’m a power supply specialist. They hired me and my cooperative to make sure the whole thing remains powered, even under stress...but I’ve never been able to view the bigger picture. The only thing I can tell you is that the whole installation draws a lot of power. Way more juice than a geometry drive, even a station-sized one.”

“But you don’t know if it’s a weapon.”

“In truth, no. I’m just repeating what everyone else says, but you know, it checks out. It’s a vast installation that requires very short bursts of power, if you told me it was a five kilometres long railgun, I’d trust you. What I would really like to know is why do they need drive fragments for the thing…”

“I heard Irenians are working on it as well.”

“Ah, yes. I’ve seen a few Irenians, but they didn’t look like you. They had this...I don’t know, sort of detached gaze, as if they weren’t entirely there. And one of them had a q-aug right there, shaped like a triangle.” The worker pointed at Talasea’s forehead. “Never seen anything like it.”

The exobiologist grinned.

“Hypercristal control interface. They’re from Azur. Congratulations...Gondwana Port might very well house the first paracausal siege weapon in history.”

“Rad.”]

3 - In lands of Islam

[As Talasea walked through the gate to the mosque, she found herself plunged in a sea of silence. Cold colours filled a vast space all around her, with pillars like palm trees born out of a sunless ocean, spreading their branches towards the deepest sky she had ever seen. Gold and silver glittered in this vast en-voided expanse, abstract drawings folding on themselves like ouroboroi. They would gleam and move away when Talasea tried to walk closer to them, as if they had been shoals of diamond-fish; or perhaps stars born in a dark nebula, moving away from some kind of void-goddess. In contrast to planetary places of worship, the mihrab wasn’t an altar. It was a vast, delicately adorned sphere that rotated slowly, in unison with Gondwana Port itself, in order to point in the direction of the Earth. But Mecca was 15,000 lightyears away and in its great isolation the ever-shifting mosque of Gondwana could have very well considered itself as the centre of Islam. That it did not, that contrary to its Christian counterparts it still felt the need to call back to the Earth — that was something Talasea respected. Humility, in all ways, even in the most splendid mosque ever built in this world. Further out in the dark blue void, phoenixes and simurg birds filled the skies with the flutter of their feathers; and above the mihrab was a simple shape, floating in the mist, a cube that gleamed in light blue. A geometry drive.

Talasea briefly remembered a single line in a surah from the Quran: “Travel through the land and observe how Allah began creation.” Such was the geometry drive to those who had built the mosque; a gift from Allah, the tools through which humankind would contemplate and explore the world created by the divine — which was, perhaps, the strongest act of worship an advanced civilisation could conceive.

This too, she could respect. And even admire.]


Adowa Point

Type: Zanzibar-derived military station.
Location: Null Point, Serene Sea (850 lightyears from Earth).
Population: Unknown.
Dimensions: 4 kilometres long, 2 kilometres wide.
Age: Unknown.
Environment: Industrial.
Allegiance: Algorab Expeditionary Corps.

Dear Azches,

I am happy to report that the construction of the Adowa Citadel is complete. It has been quite the achievement if I am allowed to boast a little. Just as a reminder, the station's mainframe comes from a discarded Zanzibar core that we bought from a Smyrnian commune via our contacts at the Meta-Queen's court. I could have selected a stronger and less old shape but I wanted to avoid attracting attention. No one would mind a random mining cooperative buying an old frame for scrap, right? Rest assured though, the Zanzibar I selected had other qualities than discretion. Though the external superstructures were in very bad shape, the internals were all intact. The former owner was a mining commune operating near a neutron star: you will find the outer armour exceptionally sturdy, even without the additional ablative layer I took the liberty of adding. After buying the frame I purchased two Farseer Transporters and towed the station to a remote system in the Smyrnian Bubble where I transformed it into the deep space citadel you desired. Then I brought the station all the way to the Serene Sea with the help of an Algorab unit. The navigation units of my two Farseers have been erased and replaced with forged records. As for the workers who took part in the retrofitting process, at no point did they know that 1) they were working for Algorab and 2) they were working on a single, coherent project. I would not go as far as saying that the entire operation went undetected (you can't really hide a project of that magnitude) but I have left enough traps and dead-ends behind me for secrecy to hold at least for a while.

The station has been towed and stabilized at Null Point, as you requested. It is four kilometres long and two kilometres wide. The closest star system is a stellar black hole, three lightyears away. For human sensors, the detection radius of the station is less than two light-seconds. You might want to multiply this by five to ten for Sequence-made sensors, but that still leaves a good safety margin. The station is equipped with a Cathedral-class geometry drive for tactical jumps if need be, though I would advise against using it outside of emergencies. I have replaced the ageing fission reactor with a Saïmour-made fusion reactor. Though the station can work in idle mode, the reactor can be set to a military power setting (much like on a Firefly Interceptor) to increase the efficiency of onboard weapon systems. You have about one hundred years of fuel stored in the citadel. Given what we know of Sequence-made weaponry I have arranged the internal layout to decrease the odds of penetrating damage: if a relativistic beam was to hit the station, it would have few chances, if any, of neutralizing more than one critical system. Your own mainframe will be remarkably well-protected too, embedded in a proprietary Sahaak-made military cocoon.

The station has teeth as well. Aside from a standard all-aspect laser grid, the citadel boasts some serious firepower. I was originally planning on adding ten long-range laser arrays but if the worst was to come, engaging in beam weapon duels with Sequence ships would be foolish. I have instead added about a hundred FTL missile hardpoints, as well as eight hangar bays for disposable drone platforms. Algorab ships can of course dock at the station, with a main hangar bay that can fit up to four Inyanga-sized vessels in adequate if cramped, conditions.

Now, on to the main course. The station's sensors cost me a lot to acquire and set up (I had to invent an entire scientific organisation for this, a con fifteen years in the making!) but you will find them most adequate. They are fine-tuned to detect engine burns from Sequence fleets at distances up to 10 lightyears but the gravitational lensing effects provided by the local black holes multiply this range by a factor of three to four. The station is ideally located to spot Sequence incursions decades before they reach our settlements in the Serene Sea...and to spy on Sequence worlds and megastructures in the area. Bubbles suggested that I call the sensor array "Eagle Eye", but I think it's a silly name - though I assume their suggestion was ironic, as usual. Don't look in the abyss for too long, however. Who knows what they hide in that darkness.

Oh, one last thing. The life support systems of the stations are limited on purpose (they would only need to assist a ship in case of emergency) but I did manage to install the personal life support pod you asked for. If I may - what is the purpose of this module? It draws about ten times more power than a regular one-person life support system and I assume it's not for you, right? Are you planning on having human company on that station? If so...well, they're fairly robust people, that's all I can say.

NB: Yes, I saw your notice about interior design and no, I did not find "vaguely flamboyant gothic stuff", do your own silly shopping yourself.

NB 2: Oh, I just realized why you've named it "Adowa" and I must say, given our relationship with the Sequence this is either incredibly apt or incredibly inappropriate.

Yours truly,

Simanda.

Illustration courtesy of Lilly Harper, who writes most excellent sci-fi prose on the Beacons in the Dark blog. 

Station Zero

Type: Sequence-built Banks Orbital
Location: Zero System (15,000 lightyears away from the Earth)
Population : 180 million (estimated).
Dimensions: One million kilometres in diameter.
Age: 2 million years (estimated).
Environment: Varied, mostly temperate.
Allegiance: Station Zero Civilisation.

1 - Temporal Enclave

The origins of the megastructure known as Station Zero are rather vague but the consensus is that it has been built by the Sequence when their slower-than-light interstellar empire was at the height of its power. Despite having a habitable surface several times that of the Earth, the orbital bears very few Sequence ruins, as if the ancient civilisation had disappeared before the completion of the ringworld's infrastructure. About a thousand years ago a small Algorab Fleet translated in orbit of Station Zero after collective misjump had brought the eleven exploration ships ten centuries in the past. Most of the crew died when reintegrating realspace but about seven hundred people managed to reach the surface of the orbital. These survivors formed the core of a local human civilisation that knew from the get-go that it could not expect any rescue from the Earth.

2 - Station Zero Civilisation

When Station Zero was discovered during the Laniakea Expedition the local human population was totalling almost two hundred million inhabitants and had reached a technological level comparable to fossil-fuels less 1980s. This civilisation only occupies a small part of the orbital, estimated at 5% of its total surface. In fact, it is believed that the civilisation of Station Zero developed space technology not to reach for the stars but to travel within their immense ringworld by way of suborbital flights.

The human civilisation of Station Zero developed from the ground up as most of its technology and pre-existing traditions were lost with the original ships. Ancient tales of space travel and advanced techniques became myths and religions in this new society that held the rare Sequence ruins of the orbital in a mixture of respect and fear, reflecting the ideology of Algorab. A few individuals did retain fragments of past knowledge, however. Some of them retained the use of their monads and managed to pass on some of their genetic memories to their descendants, creating a dynasty of seers known as Augurs, capable of getting glimpses and images from the past through their residual monads. A few engineers kept the only working geometry drive of Zero Fleet and their descendent slowly turned the artefact into an object of worship and later of study.

3 - Contact Protocol

Despite Elodie Garro's best intentions, Laniakea's close inspection of the orbital did not go unnoticed. The Station Zero civilisation - or at least its nation-states with space launch capacities - are fully aware of the presence of Zero Fleet's ruins and did notice that a ship of similar design spent some time in the orbital's space. What they do not know is how much debate they are causing in human space at large. The Starmoth Initiative has taken the decision not to interfere with the civilisation of Station Zero, partially because it doesn't want to create social and cultural upheaval and partially because it has another, more pressing problem to solve in this system: Zero Fleet's reality-defying temporal jump. This opinion is not shared by everyone, far from this, and especially by Algorab which considers the Station Zero societies to be "their" people and intends to take as much information about the Sequence from them as they can.

As it stands the Starmoth Initiative firmly holds the system and prohibits any large-scale interference. Though Station Zero humans are aware of their off-world origins, only a select few (mostly academics and politicians) know the true extent of humankind's interstellar presence and Zero Fleet's fate. Both Algorab and Starmoth keep communications to a minimum but maintain a few isolated research stations in unsettled parts of the orbital. 

Phi Clio Station

Type: Cathedral class station.
Location: Alcyone - Pleiades (450 lightyears from the Sun).
Population : 450,000
Dimensions: 8 kilometres long, 2 kilometres wide.
Age: 46 years
Environment: Urban/Blue giant forests
Allegiance: Irenian Enclave

A city suspended in the stars, bathed by the blue light of the Pleiades, home to Irenia.

1 - In Alycone's Light

At one point in the interstellar age, the world realized one thing: there was no technical limit to where humans could install new settlements anymore. Phi Clio Station is the embodiment of this realization: a durable human settlement orbiting the eminently hostile expanse of a blue supergiant system. This endeavour entertains a very ambiguous relationship to communal and solarpunk ideals: while it is a completely gratuitous, wasteful enterprise, it also embodies the ambition of adapting mankind to new environments.

Battered by powerful radiations and devoid of exploitable celestial bodies, Alcyone is far from an ideal colonizable system, even for a fully enclosed space station. This is one of the reasons why Phi Clio was not built in the celestial region it now inhabits. Assembled in the solar system, the Cathedral-class contraption was translated to the Pleiades nebula in what is often considered as the single most complex faster than light journey ever performed, requiring eight years of calculations. Phi Clio's original drop in Alcyone was the opportunity to observe a previously unknown phenomenon for the first time: spacetime disturbances created by the translation of a massive object known as "weaves".

Even if it is still technically capable of travelling again, Phi Clio has never left the Pleiades: Earthlings often presume its inhabitants just enjoy the scenery and the star's blinding light. It's not entirely accurate. They don't just live in such a hostile place.

They thrive. 

2 - Home of Irenia

Phi Clio's inhabitants collectively consider themselves as Irenians, a name originally referring to a genus of moths that were found to particularly appreciate the light of blue giants. Irenians have two very specific physical traits which are instantaneously recognizable. First, the vast majority of them are born female, due to the widely spread practise of human parthenogenesis in Irenian populations. Second, Irenians have a strikingly blue-purple coloured skin, a tint created by the inclusion of symbiotic algae in their epidermal cells. This quasi-augmentation is more than a simple ornament: it diffracts and absorbs the harmful radiations of Alcyone, enabling Irenians to live in conditions that would be deadly for most non-augmented humans.

Irenians are more than their weird skin and strange gender ratio, two elements that are not uncommon among isolated deep space populations. They are a civilisation scattered in the Pleiades and Phi Clio is their capital. A strange capital, in truth. One without a seat of government, one where power lies in beautiful hidden gardens and libraries whose bay windows show the triple blue stars of Alcyone. A capital city that fits Irenia perfectly.


3 - Weaves, blue forests and solar sails

To deep space travellers, Phi Clio station is one of the last stops before the vast unsettled region which stretches all the way to the galactic edge after the Pleiades know as the Outer Gap. And one hell of a stop it is. Urban areas of the station are made of locally grown coral creating smooth white curves that gleam under the sapphire radiance of Alcyone. Garden areas are made of deep, sprawling and silent jungles whose plants patiently filter the deadly ultraviolets coming from outside. The delicate docking tendrils extending away from the arms harbour strange solar sailors, with their geometry drives blinking in golden light upon jumping. Hot springs and libraries reserve subtle, peculiar delights for both the body and mind. Such is the Irenian way: oniric, high-tech hedonism. 

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