Expanded article on Earth system.
Earth (1719 A877A7C-B, pop=30b)
Until recently, Earth was dominated by a vast computer network called the "Virtuality". Over the centuries, hundreds of billions of people uploaded their minds into this "life after death". Eventually, living people came to be a minority who were largely excluded from decision-making. Out in the living world, nation-states still existed, cooperating through a fairly strong "Earth Union" - successor to the United Nations. However, aside from a tiny elite, most living people felt entirely disenfranchised. Many chose to go to the colonies rather than live as a second-class citizen.
In the last decade, telepathic radicals from the colony world of Esperanza have infiltrated, and entirely overturned this ancient, conservative society. One by one, they seized control of Earth's nation states, destroyed the Virtuality's data centres, and imposed their own brand of totalitarianism. Finally, four years ago the central Earth Union fell completely under their sway, and the remaining conservative nations were conquered in a short, bloody war. The Next Step calls this the "War against the machines", while the opposition calls it the "Coup". Today, the "Next Step" radicals are still consolidating their hold over Earth, whilst pushing aggressively on into the Outer Planets.
Old Earth Society:
- Uploads: There were well over 200 billion uploaded minds in the Virtuality, most of them are many centuries old. The Virtuality absolutely dominated the Earth Union, which effectively existed to construct, maintain and power millions of data centres. There were a few virtual environments - known as the "Shores" - that were deliberately designed for living "visitors". However, the vast bulk lay beyond, its internal politics and social structures incomprehensible to outsiders.
Earth's living society has ossified into a rigid caste-system. Interpret social status as follows:
2-3 Underclass (%age increased for interest's sake) 4-6 Peon 7-A Commoner B-D Favoured "gentle hom/fem" (%age increased for interest's sake) E+ Elite "the honourable", "sir/ma'am"
Elite: The "0.1%". These few stood at the apex of the caste system. The descendents of the ancient nobility and super rich. The Elite are the only members of society who could collectively stand against the wishes of the Uploads.
The Elite can usually be identified by their entourage of retainers. They normally wear their household crest, as do their servants. All Elite are referred to at "the honourable", and addressed as 'sir' or 'maam', and eye contact should be avoided. Failure to observe these customs may result in a beating delivered by the noble's followers. Such beatings are not strictly legal, but they are widely accepted as normal. Few police forces will take action against the perpetrators.
Favoured: (1%) Earth's rich and famous. These are wealthy industrialists, media stars, politicians and academics. A majority of these people are descended from "white" Europeans - their caste's insularity has prevented them from participating in the intermixing that has bred out most region-specific phenotypes over the last centuries.
The wealthiest Favoured can afford servants of their own, although none will affect the ostentatious entourages of the Elite. They are address to as "gentle fem" or "gentle hom".
Commoners: (60%) Below the Favoured ones are the 'Commoners'; Earth's well educated professional caste. Today, Commoners form the majority of Earth's population. They have well paid jobs and live in large comfortable homes.
Offworlders find Commoners the most approachable Earthers. They have a sophisticated urban outlook. Only their attitudes to other castes surprises visitors. Naturally they show the proper deference to their Favoured masters, but their disdain for the lower castes can be quite shocking. It is considered quite acceptable to beat a lazy or disrespectful servant.
Commoners no longer show much of their racial heritage. Everyone looks much like 20th Century mixed-race Brazilians.
Commoners typically Uploaded when they died.
Peons: (35%) Historically, the Peons were manual labourers who worked in factories or on the land, and who owned little or no property. Today, Peons are servants, drivers, gardeners and so on. Most policemen and the bulk of the armed forces are also from the Peon caste. About 35% of Earthers are Peons. Surprisingly, most Peons are not unhappy with their low status. They work hard and strive to improve their lot, or at least that of their children.
Peons tend to be less racially mixed than Commoners. They move around less, and retain more of the features that are geographically associated with their birthplace. As a result, racism is still not unknown amongst them.
Peons are usually addressed by just their family name. E.g. Wilkins, Yuen, Skinner.
Underclass: The Underclass form the remaining 4% of Earth's population. They are the dispossessed who have no place in society. Originally, the Underclass were mostly of East Asian descent. They performed only the most menial of jobs, if any at all.
Today the Underclass remains a vast underprivileged population. Those who stay on Earth prosper through art and performance, or make a living as prostitutes or criminals. Many leave Earth for a life of asteroid mining or as free traders, or for life in the colonies.
Surprisingly, the Underclass have a monopoly on computer programming. Earth's other castes consider programming to be an unsavoury occupation, because Uploads are generally so much better at it, and so the Underclass has made it their own. The best programmers in Human Space are trained in Earth's Virtual University Of Software Engineering.
The Wheel of Life religion originated in the Earth Underclass over 500 years ago. It still claims adherents even today. The religion emphasises good works and has little to do with the spirit world.
Almost a century ago, the invention of the J1+ drive brought the Core Worlds within easy reach of the Main. The Esperanzan "New Puritan" regime seized this opportunity, and began using Earth's industrial power to complement its own. A formal alliance between the Earth Union and Esperanzan Commonwealth lead to a series of wars that drove the Xa Imperium completely out of Corridor, and weakened its ability to regulate trade with the Long Republic.
15 years ago, the Esperanzan Puritan regime was overthrown by a telepath-supremacist group who called themselves the "Next Step". The telepaths have brutally subjugated "betas" (as they call non-telepaths), both on Esperanza itself, and throughout the wider Esperanzan "Commonwealth".
A concerted campaign allowed the Esperanzans to undermine the member states of the Earth Union. One after another, member states fell to Esperanzan-inspired pro-telepath "Next Step" parties. Ultimately the few remaining hold outs were crushed militarily, and the Virtuality was shut down - effectively killing the hundreds of billions of uploaded individuals. Telepaths cannot interact with uploads, and therefore Next Step ideologues deny their humanity.
The final collapse of the Earth Union came shockingly quickly. In its final days, a few hundred-thousand refugees were able to escape to Procyon, together with millions of uploads. The Outer Planets, and loyalist elements of the Earth Fleet assisted the refugees. It took months for the new regime to purge loyalist elements from the Fleet and bureacracy. During that time, Esperanzan Fleet elements opened hostilities against the Outer Planets, which were able to defend themselves surprisingly effectively. Their defences were lead by the Space Patrol, who used daring tactics to wield their relatively small, lightly armed ships with deadly effectiveness. Finally, the purged Earth Fleet joined the battle, and decisively defeated the belters' ramshackle forces.
Today, Earth is a highly regulated society, with Thought Police on every street corner. The Outer Planets occupied by the military. An underground resistance continues to fight an insurgency. The military use collective punishment and concentration camps to battle them. The Belt/OP population is too thinly spread to be controlled effectively by telepaths.
Hon. Outo Bradford Michaelson Gates is the Secretary General of the Earth Union. This is a largely ceremonial position. Elected on a "for life" basis by delegates to the General Assembly. Gates is a distant descendent of Bill Gates. Previously known for womanising and snow boarding, he has retained his position and become the figurehead of Next Step's regime.
Hon. Felicity Khadija Bronson Shoda is the Chairman of the Council. This position is effectively the executive head of the Secretariat. As the Next Step consolidated the power of the Earth Union, once they controlled it, this position has become that of Earth's supreme leader. Madame Shoda was appointed by the heads of Next Step governments, and lead the vicious campaign to subjugate nations that held out against their rule. Many believe that she is a telepath herself, but she showed no sign of it prior to the Next Step takeover.
Luis Gilroy is the highest ranking Esperanzan in the EU government. His official title is Political Adviser to the Council. In practice, he dictates most of the Secretariat's executive decisions, which are merely implemented by Shoda and the rest. Gilroy is a powerful telepath.
Gentle fem Maharet Elizabeth Bagshaw Cummings is the Primus of the Alpha Corps. - the Earth branch of Next Step's feared telepaths' organisation. She is ultimately responsible for the Alpha & Zero testing programmes, training of Alphas, coralling of Zeroes, and for the Thought Police programme of attitude adjustment, aimed at the general populace.
Mars (B4F1864-A pop=800m)
Mars has been successfully terraformed, and has a population of 800m - Only the depths of the Mariner Valleys currently have a high enough air pressure for breathable atmosphere.
Conditions. Mars has been warmed by addition of CFCs and ammonia to the atmosphere. This has increased the atmospheric pressure sufficiently that pressure suits are no longer required. Manufacture of CFCs is a significant local industry. A genetically engineered ecosystem of lichens and algae have been introduced, which have darkened the surface, and given it a green tinge - particularly in low lying areas. A series of engineered comet impacts have increased the amount of water sufficiently that there are a few small, very salty seas - extremophile cyanobacteria have been introduced, and are in the process of generating an oxygen atmosphere. Orbiting mirrors are speeding this process, as well as helping to drive local water cycles.
Over the centuries, Mars has attracted disaffected people from Earth. They come to homestead, often in the highlands. Life is tough, but freedom is sweet. Mars is governed by the Martian Terraforming Authority (MTA) - an agency of the Earth Union. The colonial authorities have a very hands-off policy. Everything is permitted, unless it's definitely going to cause trouble. Regional government is allowed free-reign within their own areas, so populous cities usually have a higher law-level than L4 - L7 is common but L9 is imposed in some places. Up in the highlands, most places are a law unto themselves. The authorities make some effort to control unauthorised spaceship use, and try to restrict weapons import or manufacture, but aside from that...
Much of the population are Earth peons, or outcasts. Travel to Mars was historically much cheaper than purchasing passage on an interstellar colony slow boat, so many chose it, even though conditions on Mars were harsh. Much of Mars' terraforming was paid for by immigration fees. Typically, colonists would either homestead, or work in mines - extracting salts or fluorite to drive the terraforming process. Many died. Those who thrived were able to afford to move to the lowlands, and join the burgeoning middle classes.
In the immediate aftermath of the Coup, Gentle hom Mario Landis Wang, the Director of the MTA declared that the MTA did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the new Earth Union administration. He called for the matter to be referred to the World Court. Three months later, the Alpha Corps mounted a botched assault on the MTA's central administration dome. The intent was clearly to use telepathic operatives to quietly take control, and "persuade" the MTA's top management to declare in favour of the new regime. Instead, many of the telepaths were captured and spirited away to a secret wilderness location. Guarded by remote controlled drones, they were unable to use their telepathy to escape their predicament. Wang made a show of turning them over to the colonial courts for a show trial. Five days later, the MTA dome was bombarded from orbit and EU jump troops violently seized the levers of power. Wang remains at large, now the leader of the Mars Resistance. Nothing has been heard from the detainees for years. It is widely assumed that the Resistance has them in stasis, somewhere.
The Outer Planets
The Outer Planets had a much more vibrant culture. Light-speed delays forced the Virtuality to be much more fragmented than on Earth, so uploads preferred to avoid the far reaches of the solar system. The Belt & Saturn system are an economic power-house, concentrating on resource extraction, high-tech manufacturing and advanced R&D.
There is a large O'Neil colony-style space station (like Babylon 5) at the jump point to Esperanza (pop=300k). Named "Threshold", this station was constructed nearly a century ago to capitalise on the (then) new J1+ trade route to Corridor. Since then, it has grown and grown. All of the original parkland has now been given over to business districts and villas for the wealthy. The sub-surface volumes are incredibly crowded. The surrounding space is filled with old space vessels, used as overspill. Plans for a replacement station have been on the drawing board for decades. The new Next Step Earth government has finally funded the project, and the skeleton of "Threshold-2" can be seen under construction a few tens of kilometers away.
By contrast, the similar station "Elysium" at the jump point to Wolf 359 is a ghost town. This station was constructed nearly 400 years ago. Today it is shabby and under utilised (pop=50k). Whole sections have been closed down, and are the preserve of refugees and criminals.
The Asteroid Belt is home to around 1 billion "belters". A majority of these are homesteaders, who live in independent village-sized groups, on bodies that have been claimed under the terms of the Homestead Treaty. There is a degree of dissatisfaction amongst the less well-off homestead residents. Several large interstellar colony vessels have been launched over the last century, carrying disaffected belters to pastures new. There are a number of bubble-world habs that have been constructed from iron-rich planetoids - the Iron Angels. They are spun for artificial gravity, and use giant mirrors to provide "outdoors" conditions on their inner surfaces. Each bubbleworld is home to tens of millions of belters. The Belt is mostly run on libertarian anarchic principles. The Space Patrol provides a light-touch policing function.
There is a small colony on Jupiter's moon Callisto (pop=800k). This moon-like worldlet is the only place in the Jupiter system that is safe from the giant planet's intense radiation belts. Callisto's main industry is extraction of Helium-3 from Jupiter's atmosphere. The fuel is tanked up and send down to the Inner system in robotic ships, or fired by rail gun. The Callisto rail gun was briefly militarised by the Outer Planets Alliance, until Earth Union fleet units disabled it in 2719 CE. There is a Space Patrol base on Callisto.
Patroclus colony (pop=25k), at Jupiter's L5 point mines water ice and sells it to asteroid miners.
Saturn's moon Titan (pop=150m) has the largest population of any body in the outer system. It has been successfully terraformed, following a pattern that is being emulated by human terraformers of several gas giant moons (e.g. Eridani - 1817). Vast quantities of sulfur hexfluoride have been added to the atmosphere, and warmed by giant orbiting mirrors. Today Titan is a small water-world. Traditionally, the population lived aboard gigantic floating cities - the capital of Titan is Kraken, a floating city-state with a population of 15m. Kraken is renowned as a hub of the arts - theatre, poetry, comedy. Every three years, the Kraken Festival attracts performers and sophisticated audiences from across the solar system and beyond. Floating vegetation-mat species have been imported from a distant world, and now support an oxygen breathing ecosystem - called the "Islands". The largest island city is Prometheus, a manufacturing hub, and home to the Titan Institute of Engineering - a respected university. Titan's main industry is the mass production of organic materials.
Enceladus is also home to a substantial population (pop=20m).
The Saturn system is also home to hundreds of orbiting space colonies - usually wheel, or cylinder patterns, with populations ranging from 1k to 10m. Their biospheres are sustained by hydrocarbons exported from Titan. In some ways, these Saturn colonies have better living conditions than the moons: they can spin for higher gravity. The Space Patrol headquarters is on Island One, one of the larger colonies.
The Outer Planets have no central authority, however the Space Patrol is a single organisation that weaves a common thread through all of the OP communities. Cadets are recruited from across the solar system, and trained at their headquarters in orbit around Saturn. From there, officers are dispatched to every community, dispensing justice, and upholding civilized ideals. For centuries, Patrol officers have been the idealised lone heroes of popular imagination.
The Space Patrol sigil is a silver spaceship. Patrol officers wear black jump suits with the silver spaceship swoosh across the breast. Rank is denoted by silver stars on the left shoulder. Cadets wear orange jump suits, with a silver-on-black spaceship patch on the left breast.