Drifting takes place in a science-fiction universe in which humanity has moved to another solar system, one with many habitable planets but much social strife.
Transolar is a major provider of solar power and "sunlight services". They maintain several large stations that block or redirect sunlight as needed, as well as high efficiency solar arrays that produce massive amounts of electricity. They do not have a planet base, so they are constantly vulnerable, but remain somewhat protected by merit of being in a hostile environment- most starships have smart material hulls that cannot handle high temperatures, while Transolar stations and ships are built with rhenium-tungsten alloy hulls, which are inefficient but durable and heat resistant.
Originating on one of the many small moons of Smith, the Lightbringers are a religious order. They are very dedicated to spreading their faith, a universalist belief system which states that all humans are capable of transcending mortal limitations by going through repeated cycles of meditation and wandering. So far, nobody has succeeded "the furthest transcendence", not even their leader. The group is still numerous, but is losing members at an alarming (or comforting) rate, depending on who you ask.
Based off of the planet of the same name, Tyrel Industrial Systems provides all sorts of manufactured goods, from food products to waste disposal units, which can be found all across the Tigris system. They are technically a corporate entity and operate under Unified System jurisdiction, but Tyrel Industrial Systems includes a paramilitary force that has been known to favor any high bidder, going so far as to violate laws (and, according to unverified rumors, attack US forces) in order to fulfill lucrative contacts. The manufacturing branch of the company operates under more ethical constraints.
Built from the trade giants of Waypoint, the Interior Trade Council dominates shipping between the Inner Planets, and while it doesn't compete with Forest Mercantile or the likes in terms of the scale of its operations, the Interior Trade Council is known for being almost eerily efficient and coldly calculating. It also controls the entertainment districts on Waypoint, which it runs carefully to maximize profit by neither scaring away potential customers but still trying to empty their wallets with extravagant and expensive demonstrations.
Named after the asteroid ring around the gas giant Morocco, the Blue Ring Pirates are fairly docile, tending to only extort small sums from passers-by; typically flying through their territory costs less than it would to fly around even after the fee. They have, however, been known to show no mercy to ships that refused to pay the tribute. They have several "megacannons" that can magnetically propel husks of destroyed ships smaller than Capital class across the solar system. They use the threat of catastrophic bombardments from their guns to prevent retaliations.
This "benevolent dictatorship" is in a time of crisis. While it occupies two planets, Calm and Storm, and is enjoying a time of relative peace and quiet, the MMF's beloved leader, Darian Ko is approaching the end of his life, and the succession frenzy is beginning to become detrimental to the peace. In the absence of a strong, prudent leader a civil cold war has begun which occasionally escalates into raids and skirmishes. It is highly unlikely that the MMF will survive, and the fact that Darian is trying to reinstate democratic control is a major sore point for most of the warlords vying for control.
A leader in high-tech industries, Augustine Manufacturing has a strategic corporate alliance with Tyrel Industrial Systems, which allows them to produce heavy-duty high quality weapons and starship hulls, not to mention body armor and other materials. Augustine Manufacturing almost exclusively produces for United System use, though some shipments get "mistakenly" shipped to people willing to pay highly for quality weapons, and they do run a line of civilian sale gear, shipped directly from their home planet of Augustus.
Based off of Augustus, Industrial Fusion Technology makes both deuterium-tritium and pure deuterium fusion cells, components for fusion breeders, and large scale fusion reactors. They have very few restrictions on who they sell to- with the exception of fusion breeders almost everything they sell is readily available to civilians, and fusion breeders only require a radioactive waste disposal certification. They may not manufacture many systems, but what they manufacture is considered essential for life in the Tigris system; it is important to note that they do not hold a monopoly on their market despite being the only significant manufacturer of fusion components.
The Exiles are a ragged band of people who have left their old lives behind and rallied under a common banner. They live on a network of stations beyond Tigris' planetary orbits. As a general rule they are not bloodthirsty, but are known to have an impressive amount of firepower; they are also known for their disregards of social norms, including their practices of human augmentation, widespread genetic alteration, and a more decentralized form of government. The Exiles are known to hail vessels passing through the Dark with a "raid or trade" offer, presenting either a more-than-fair deal for something they need that the travelers have, or taking it by force if they decline.
Despite their origins as literal exiles, modern Exiles tend to be honor-bound and bold; challenging what they see as ills in society. They are also built around an incredible culture of arts and sciences, which means that they are considered to be on the cutting edge of technology and are viewed as a somewhat alien (to most of the inhabitants of the system) but still advanced culture. While they often harass travelers, they are also known to be gracious hosts and generous to those in need.
Technically an alliance of four planets located in all parts of the solar system (Tiber, Augustus, Corona, and Waypoint), the Unified System government has annexed over 75 colonies, including most of the significant ones, mostly through peaceful means and promises to improve living conditions. While it tries its best to fulfill the promises made by its leaders, it does not produce resources at the rate it currently consumes them, and it often lends massive sums of money in order to keep on top of its current obligations. It technically should only skim off a small amount of taxes from all of its member planets according to its constitution, but often extorts more from planets in order to prevent retribution for rebel activities there.
The United System government is unpopular with a wide variety of people, many of whom have formed into a rebellion. Most of these people are discontents from planets like Tyrel or Corona where the US either is too rough or too loose to control the populace. Many do not care about overthrowing the United Systems alliance so much as simply getting it out of their space, though some more extreme elements attempt to strike off-planet targets in order to cripple the entire federation.
This shipping company has roots back on Earth, and is the oldest company in the Tigris system. Forest Mercantile is known for their exceptional technology and calculations that allow them to perfectly optimize their routes. While their technology is no longer cutting edge compared to others', they still have the resources and standing to be competitive. Their headquarters are on Corona, and they are exempt from most US federation tariffs, so they are favored for their slight discount.
The Tigris system was a major focus for colonization due to the unusual density of planets and moons. With terraforming technology, it was possible to reclaim more than sixty major life-supporting bodies (with Earthlike atmospheres), as well as numerous smaller non-sustainable natural satellites. Along with man-made stations, Anteli has well over 200 individual human colonies.
While each area is theoretically calculated by distance from the central star, Tigris, they do not necessarily represent travel times; each of the planet distance categories is large enough to have substantially different orbit times, and planets in the same category are not necessarily on the same side of Tigris, meaning that it may be quicker to go from an Outer Planet to an Inner Planet than to go between two Outer Planets.
Tigris is the only star in its solar system, and is a F-type star (it is larger and hotter than our own). It has a surface temperature of about 7400 degrees Celsius, and weighs about 1.2 times as much as our sun does, and it is a very light yellow color. It is unusual for the sheer number of orbiting stellar bodies, which made its solar system one of the premier focuses for terraforming colonies.
Tyrel is a solitary metal-heavy planet very close to the sun. Its high surface temperatures and lack of standing water make it hard to live on, but farming is possible and very fruitful within greenhouses with engineered soil. It is home to Tyrel Industrial Systems, a major manufacturing corporation that employs all but a small fraction of the planet's population. Tyrel is technically a member of the United Systems, but it did not receive any aid due to being well-established prior to the United System's formation, as well as the fact that it tends to keep any official US presence at arm's length. There is no US police presence on Tyrel, making it a hotbed for fleeing rebels.
An Earth sized farming planet with several moons, Smith is one of the more temperate inner planets, as well as the source of a good chunk of the system's agricultural goods. Smith is independent from the United System, but is in good standings with them because of their mutually beneficial trade arrangements. Smith remains neutral in wars, and tends to be conservative and peaceful even in times of strife, with a democratic planetary government that also allows full representation for its moons based on population and production. Despite its origins there, the Lightbringer religion is not over-represented in Smith, with traditional Earth religions being more common.
One of the founders of the United System alliance, Waypoint is a small planet but has a thriving trade community. It orbits the Tigris very quickly, making it a favored destination of inner planet traders who want to park there for a while and save on fuel by not traveling around Tigris. It also has a large selection of casinos, bars, clubs, and other entertainment destinations, and it has a reputation of a great place to go for a vacation. It is controlled by a stockholder committee, since it is technically privately owned. Waypoint is also used as a popular destination for long-term storage due to the fact that it comes near almost every inner planet within the course of a couple months, and due to its low commercial taxes.
Morocco is a gas giant located in a strategic orbit. It has a large belt comprised of small asteroids as well as a horde of space stations, some derelict, others occupied by the Blue Ring Pirates. Some traders have been known to use it as a gravity slingshot to speed up their journeys due to their high density, though doing so forces them to pay tribute or run the risk of a painful annihilation at the hands of the pirates orbiting the planet. It has a orange color, much like Saturn, and tends to suck in a few asteroids or space stations each year.
Corona is one of the most Earth-like planets in the solar system, with a similar blend of industrial and agricultural infrastructures combined with a favorable position and atmosphere. In addition to being the first planet to be terraformed, it was also the planet that recommended the formation of the United System government. It has the highest population of any of the planets, and is ruled by a constitutional monarchy with a parliament. It is known for being impeccably clean, and dissidents are unheard of (partly on account of a brutal secret police). Most of its policies are not found in the United System alliance, despite its roots. Its capital is Lincoln, named after the first colony ship to arrive at Tigris.
A "ghostworld", Madrid is no longer inhabited after a string of nuclear incidents caused in a civil war. It is still highly radioactive, and visitors are encouraged to depart by an automated system. Madrid was moderately wealthy, so several scavengers head down to find their fortune on planet, usually leading to their deaths. Occasionally the Blue Ring Pirates stop on Madrid to ambush travelers using it as a slingshot, but even they don't wander the planet surface.
Calm and Storm share a common center of gravity, orbiting around each other while circling the sun. They are the only worlds of the Midplanet Military Federation, and are covered in lush jungles created by a series of terraforming glitches, which the MMF has decided to keep in light of the highly valuable exotic species it produces; ecotourism is a major business on Calm and Storm as well. The MMF technically owns the planets, but with Darian Ko's illness and decline, they are now run by territorial warlords. It is rumored that the MMF uses secret bases covered by the jungle to kidnap and extort ransom from some rich visitors, but these rumors are unconfirmed (and likely to be the actions of an individual warlord).
Tiber is a large water planet with a rocky core, and was one of the earliest settled planets. It exports its water to other planets that are in need of it, securing a massive amount of wealth at the cost of a mild bad reputation. Despite their reputation, Tiberians are typically considered to be one of the friendliest people to visitors, and people who want to take a break from their normal lives often go to the underwater resorts, which are less decadent than Waypoint's, but friendlier and less expensive, not to mention more family-friendly. Tiber was one of the founders of the United System alliance, and the legal system of the alliance most closely resembles theirs; they have a democratic assembly based off of population and arbitrary definitions.
Augustus was settled relatively late, but settlers found that the terraforming equipment there interacted with the soil to create beautiful crystal formations, which are also useful for the manufacturing of lasers and ceramics; once the environment cooled reliably (Augustus stays at a chilly 50-30 degrees Fahrenheit) gallium crystals began to form from their pools; providing an ample supply of gallium for semiconductors, laser production, fusion cell breeders, medicine, ion cutters and weapons, and smart starship armor, making Augustus a very rich world very quickly. It leveraged its wealth to become one of the founding members of the United System government. Augustus has lithium in sub-surface deposits and laced in its soil, which makes it infertile.
Beryl is a small farming planet, overlooked by most people for a long time. Recently, however, it has seen a surge of refugees from Calm and Storm, as well as a movement of Exiles inward. It falls into a unique role- providing food for the Outer Planets as well as being a surprisingly technologically advanced planet. It is mostly peaceful, and is governed by various nation states under an international coalition. It has become famous in recent years for its mix of traditional and Exile technology, which has recently stunned the market with a combination of affordability and quality.
Pearlstone was settled as a penal colony, but since has taken on refugees from all over the system looking to avoid potential problems. The primary reason it remains peaceful is due to the incredible toxicity of the environment-there are unsafe levels of lead in all the non-purified soil and water sources on the planet. While lifespans are improved by dust masks and water filtration, most native inhabitants of Pearlstone only live to be forty or so years old. The closest thing to a governing force on the planet are the Wardens, who go around and provide some measure of law in exchange for borderline extortion.
Prospector is the home station of the Blue Ring Pirates. Orbiting Morocco, it serves as a communications station for the pirates' operations, as well as providing a strategic point from which to launch strikes. It has a surprisingly high (75%) unaffiliated civilian population, partly in order to deter retaliatory strikes, and welcomes in refugees from Calm and Storm as well as independent traders looking for a port of call. However, the most interesting part of Prospector is that it is built on the outside of a "megacannon" which can fire ships across the solar system.
Traders often take advantage of the cannon since the pirates will lend it to their associates as a cheap and quick way to get across the solar system so long as they have a good record of paying tolls and haven't caused trouble.
Octave is a station that belongs to the Exiles, devoted to the arts and sciences. It is a frequent tourist destination (for those brave enough to venture into Exile space) despite the fact that it has no dedicated living areas; the Exiles living there have either been augmented or commute to and from nearby stations. Octave does have full life support and amenities for passing ships, though the food served there typically takes the form of a nutrient soup that is incredibly nourishing and bland.
Gamma is a self-contained station favored by smugglers, lowlifes, and Exiles. While not technically an Exile station most people on Gamma consider themselves among the ranks of the Exiles, a claim which "true" Exiles would contest. Regardless, Gamma is the place to go for Exile technology for those who want fewer questions asked; there are even a handful of surgeons on board who can install augmentations (and participate in a thriving underground organ trade). Gamma also has a scrapyard filled with ships whose original owners met an unsavory end. Respectable people avoid Gamma, and those who cannot stay far away from the slave, drug, and augmentation trading.
The Graveyard is an unusual cluster of ships melded by solar winds and extreme heat that often is used by the underground as a quiet and hard to observe meeting place. It was formed after some Lightbringer pioneers launched from Smith but their navigator, who had never actually been on a spaceship before, flew them too close to the sun and too close together. Naturally, only ships with heat-resistant hulls can even approach the region, but it serves as a hotbed of profitable and dangerous underground activity.
An oddity to science, the Theresa Cloud is a body of gas which has proved difficult to explore. It causes major electromagnetic interference, and all attempts to scout it have either found nothing on a flight through or been lost; occasionally one of the missing ships drifts out of the cloud with massive systematic damage and all hands lost. Scientists speculate on what is inside the cloud, but generally agree that it contains at least one very massive entity responsible for crushing the ships lost inside it, as well as generating electromagnetic interference and keeping the gas from dissipating, though why some ships pass through it unharmed and others are destroyed at seemingly random is a mystery. Exiles technically claim the Theresa Cloud as their territory, and in the past few years have been turning away would-be visitors "for their protection".
"Our home solar system was spiraling towards a bloody end. It was only a matter of time until we would have to expand or we would annihilate ourselves." -Jens Becher, historian; 2478 AD
Earth and its fellow planets were on the edge of both great innovations and a great war. To put it simply, resources began running out, humanity was wallowing in its own filth, and there was so much corruption in the established governments that war was inevitable. Humanity began scrabbling together what it could to launch one desperate last attempt at joining the stars.
Seeing this, several leaders united to send out colony ships destined to various habitable solar systems. Only the most elite factions could afford extrasolar colonies, and only three different colonies were established, with five extrasolar vessels launched in total.
Tigris was selected as one of the foremost systems for colonization, due to its unusually high concentration of terraform-ready planets. There were two colony ships sent to Tigris, one in AD 2236 and another in AD 2283, and the ships took around 150 years to reach the system (which took about 20 years of on-ship time). They were both sponsored by the remnants and successors of twenty-first century NATO, and were capable of near-lightspeed travel; their production came at an exorbitant cost and nearly was halted by a lack of supplies. The latter ship left just in time to witness the destruction of our solar system by atomic fire.
The War, as it is known to the colonists of Tigris, was the worst event in human history. The second colony ship approaching Tigris, the Mary, recorded the events in as much detail as possible. The first bombs were dropped on Mars, but the violence escalated rapidly. Within a matter of eight hours almost every colony on Earth had been destroyed, and by the end of the day the last "survivors" were dying from radiation poisoning, irreparable environmental damages, and injuries. The captain of the Mary, Thomas Smith, decided that it was better to continue onward to Tigris than to turn around and try to help in humanity's home solar system. While he was reviled for this decision in the short term, it turned out to save the first colony at Tigris.
Prior to the Mary arriving in the system, the Lincoln had arrived and begun to set up a colony; somewhat hindered by the fact that it had hit an asteroid while headed towards Corona, having swung by Morocco during its deceleration. More than half of the settlers had died in the impact, and crucial power, life support, and terraforming systems were damaged to the point where the survivors were lucky to hold out long enough to be reinforced by the Mary. During this time, violence and unrest were sweeping the colony.
The Mary arrived like a guardian angel, landing on Corona within fifty miles of the Lincoln's husk and the habitats that had sprung up around it. When the new settlers arrived, they witnessed atrocities and warfare they thought they had left behind in their old homes. Captain Smith exiled the worst of the troublemakers and provocateurs with enough resources to establish decent colonies, inadvertently forming both the Blue Ring Pirates and the Exiles. The inhabitants of the Mary used the rest of their resources to establish the city of Lincoln, and began terraforming efforts which have since turned most of the Tigris system into a new home for humanity.
"Change incurs loss. That's true in everything. When I was still just a bickering warlord, I understood that. I was positioned in an alliance with a variety of other factions, but I was their figurehead. They wouldn't support a war of aggression, though, and our enemies were building up on every side.
There was a refugee camp near our border. I had it destroyed. It killed five hundred people, and while I'm not proud of it, it was necessary. Within four years, I'd brought peace and unification to Calm and Storm. I write this here because I want people to know who I was- the people make me look like a god-hero, which is far from the truth. In some ways it's my confession, but nobody will see it until after my death.
My only regret is that my unified government is falling apart. Yes, I know about the squabbles of my generals. I'm not so blind as that. But I have no power. My life's work is unraveling, but I accept it with calm, because I know that while I have five hundred people on my conscience, I have millions of advocates."
-Darian Ko, Memoirs of a Conqueror, unpublished.
The son of traders, he was stranded on Calm and Storm after his parents' ship was commandeered and they were murdered by a militia band. He grew up in the retainer of a small warlord, whose name is lost to time. Darian left after witnessing atrocities he thought his employer would never commit. He vowed to start a new nation, based on human dignity and peace.
Darian quickly made a name for himself as a shrewd tactician and military leader. He seemed unstoppable, and he formed alliances left and right. He unified the twin planets after only five years of war; outsiders hardly realized the change until what was once the most dangerous part of the solar system became one of the safest stops on trade routes.
Darian started a civilian government, with a democratic bent. For the most part, he had no fears of losing elections- he had loyalists that produced a great propaganda machine even without his approval or intervention. His shrewd and just dealings also helped- his fair treatment led to very few political enemies. He began to dwindle in influence as he became older, as health issues prevented him from taking center stage.
But that was cut short about five years ago- the vestiges of the government remain, but now Calm and Storm are once again controlled by warlords without Darian's power to prevent factionalism. The once great leader now watches the situation; both disappointed with the impermanence of his order and satisfied by looking at what he was capable of preventing for so long.
The son of a farmer and a Lightbringer priest, Hezekiah the Illuminate was born Jacob Morris. Raised with devout faith and unwavering intelligence, he quickly rose to the forefront of his order. He has led the Lightbringers and Luther to a new era of prosperity and is an influential figure on Smith. He is relatively uncontroversial, and despite his quick ascension through the ranks of both clergy and politicians (offices he holds independently), he managed to do so without many harsh feelings.