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Background

Oh dear, this document does seem to get a bit longer with each game. It would be useful to read it once, but you don't need to know it. You really don't.


The Basics

The year is 2525.

Until just over a hundred years ago, Humanity was confined to Earth's solar system. Earth was pretty full up, Mars had been terraformed enough to provide a breathable atmosphere in the lowlands; and colonies existed on the Moon, Titan and scattered through the Asteroid belt.

The wars of the 2300s had led to transfer of many powers to the old United Nations, rechristened Earth Gov in 2400. Old nation states retained some powers, but these dwindled over time.

Some science stuff

We've tried to minimise the level of unnecessary science wherever possible. Please forgive us where we've failed.

Large scale energy weapons exist, and are used in warships. But most people tend to use old-fashioned projectile weapons as sidearms. Most energy comes from fusion reactors, as these are relatively small and reliable and don't require large amounts of fuel.

The Turing Test has not yet been passed. Limited, so-called "artificial intelligences" exist. These are capable of reasonably complex, abstract reasoning and are programmed to act as if they are self-aware but most people (who care) would argue this is just a clever programming trick. Those AIs that do exist (online customer service agents and the like) come across more like idiots savant than ordinary people. As a result, they're not very popular. Academic research into artificial intelligence hit a standstill around fifty years ago, with some researchers positing a theoretical limit for non-human intelligence had been reached and adding more computational power made no difference.

Cryogenic technology was tried, but never deployed on anything other than an experimental basis. Half a dozen cryo-ships were sent out into deep space, manned by brave (or foolhardy) volunteers, before the invention of the warp drive. Four of these have so far been recovered, and the survival rate of those in cryo-sleep was less than five percent. Besides, the invention of the Warp Drive made cryogenics irrelevant.


Warp Drive

Several breakthroughs led to the invention of the warp drive, and at least three research teams claimed to have the first lab-based demonstrations of the technology. However the successful first use in space was a hand-built drive from the University of Doha bolted into the cargo bay of a Hassani shuttle. The first commercial warp drives entered the market two years later, in 2421, with Mitsui Heavy quickly becoming the market leader.

A warp drive somehow generates an energy shell around the ship, inside of which the normal laws of physics cease to apply. This allows the ship to accelerate almost indefinitely and perform bone-crushing manoeuvres that would kill an unprotected crew. This effectively allows travel at very high multiples of the speed of light and so reduces the time taken to travel between nearby solar systems to hours or days. The true science behind warp drives is so complex very few people understand it, but appears to validate elements of string theory in that the warp field moves anything it contains out of our normal three or so dimensions into three pocket dimensions where mass and inertia are no longer relevant.

Turning off a warp drive whilst travelling faster than light would lead to a near-instantaneous deceleration and the complete destruction of the ship and everything aboard. This is what almost certainly happened to the cruise liner SS Magellan in 2523, leading to the death of all three thousand passengers and crew. The Freedom Alliance (see below) subsequently claimed responsibility for the incident, but there has never been any evidence either way.

Warp drives cannot be used safely near large gravitational objects and so plasma drives are use for manoeuvre near planets and space stations.

 

Warp sinks

There are still many oddities about warp travel, but the most significant is that Warp Space (as it is usually called) is not flat. It uses considerably less energy to maintain a warp field when travelling towards some locations than when travelling away from them. The few warp sinks, or "downhill areas", in our region of space are centred on suns with particular spectrographic signatures. This implies some connection between the two, probably an as-yet-unknown common cause.

And, perhaps coincidentally, the largest warp sink in our region of space centres on Earth's sun. The energy cost of the 80 light-year journey from Earth to Cordoba is roughly two-and-a-half times the energy cost of the return journey; and roughly twice the energy cost of the same-length journey between Cordoba and Nueva Brasilia. This effect is part of what made the initial colonisation efforts so expensive, but also helps cement Earth's position at the heart of galactic trade.

Whilst the origins of warp sinks are unknown, we do know they are not necessarily permanent. An unusual solar flare in 2518 in the uninhabited Meitner system was followed by both a change in the Sun's spectrographic signature and the disappearance of its (very small) warp sink.


Expansion

Once a commercial warp drive was available, many of humanity's hardier elements took to the stars, taking with them everything they needed to colonise new planets. Crash terraforming programmes, using technology developed on Mars, pretty quickly took nearly-habitable planets and turned them into nearly-pleasant ones. Some programmes failed, with often disastrous consequences, but there were always more people willing to leave Earth for the frontier and able to pay the price for this in cash or labour.

Within fifty years, largely self-sufficient colonies existed on some seventy worlds within a hundred light years of Earth. Life on these worlds was, and is, hard; and fewer rules tend to apply than back in the civilised core. The inner worlds are highly populated and produce manufactured goods, software and ideas. The outer worlds have very few people and produce raw materials - and food - for the people of the core.

 

What was out there

Life, it turned out, is pretty common throughout the galaxy. We'd already found primitive life in Mars' geothermal vents, and the squid-like creatures in the seas of Jupiter’s moon Europa have millions of years of evolution behind them. Further out, plant and animal life on Earth-similar planets became an expected sight. Some of this fell victim to terraforming, and some survived the environmental changes we made to their homes. Interestingly, all complex life detected so far has the DNA molecule in common.

What we have not yet found any definitive evidence for is non-human intelligence, let alone advanced technology. Of course some people would disagree with that. Several planets have features so regular or unusual that many people think they cannot be natural. The hollow ‘asteroid’ which became Cassini Station is one of these. Some claim intermittent electromagnetic signals detected from several gas giants indicate some kind of language-using civilisation deep within, and have generated enough interest to get several dedicated listening satellites built in orbit round Jupiter.

Some of the more curious possible indicators of intelligent life have been long-range energy pulses very similar to warp signatures which have sometimes been detected out in deep space. These appear to indicate something massive (at least planet sized) moving at two to three times the speed of light and are not yet explained by any generally-agreed theory. The longest-lasting such signal was detected ten years ago and two expeditions were hurriedly dispatched to try to intercept it. The first was a Federation Customs cutter, accompanying a scientific survey ship. The second was a new, Independence-class frigate fresh from the shipyards of Allora, once of the first Rim worlds to declare independence from the Federation. It was accompanied by a couple of freighters hastily kitted out with scientific instrumentation and crewed by volunteers from the University of Outer Planets. Neither expedition returned.


Origins of the war

Some claim it was about principles, some say it was about trade and tax and some that it was just about who gets to dictate what to whom. What almost everyone agrees is that life had changed too fast for existing systems to keep up - and so something had to give.

The vast initial costs of the colonisation programme had been paid for by Earth Gov and it insisted on repayment through the right to buy raw materials at below market prices. Producers on the outer worlds, who could increasingly sell to each other at a greater profit, started to resent this. Those who tried to set up manufacturing facilities on the outer worlds faced high export tariffs on the manufacturing equipment they needed and then high import tariffs on any finished goods they tried to sell into the core worlds.

The high cost of getting out to the colonies led many people to commit years of future labour in exchange for passage. In extreme forms, indentured service like this was close to slavery and a popular movement against the practice quickly built up in the core, putting pressure on the nascent Federation to revoke all such contracts over a year long. At the same time, population pressures - and populist policies - led to severe restrictions on people emigrating from the outer worlds to the core.

In order to cope with a highly dispersed body politic, Earth Gov gave up large areas of sovereignty to the newly-formed Federation. Votes in the Federation are by planet, but planets need a minimum population to be entitled to vote and highly populous planets have more votes. The concentration of humanity close to Earth means that inhabitants of outer worlds feel significantly under represented.

In 2516, three planets seceded from the Federation and established the League of Outer Worlds. Six followed the next year, when they realised Earth's reaction boiled down to basically pretending this hadn't happened. Then in 2518, two things happened. First, Jengzou seceded, declaring it considered all colonisation costs repaid and would from now on only sell its wheat and beef to Earth at full market price. Second, the Magdala Virus decimated the Canadian and Siberian crops on Earth. The formal Federation report on the origin of Magdala traced the virus' genetic markers back to the microbiology department of the University of Outer Planets and resulted in bioterrorism arrest warrants being issued for several postgraduate students and faculty staff, at least two of whom had been on Earth at the time the virus hit.

At last, the Federation responded. It declared all the secessions "improperly constituted and undemocratic" and said it would proceed to impound all grain and rice supplies from Secessionist outer worlds in order to handle the crisis on Earth and keep up Colonisation restitution payments. Under pressure from vocal activists, it also passed a resolution making all indentured labour contracts lasting longer than one year null and void.

Seventeen further worlds seceded within weeks and joined the League of Outer Worlds. The League issued the “Freedom Declaration” a few months later, claiming its freedom from any further Colonisation compensation of any kind, demanding removal of trade tariffs between them and the Federation and insisting on their right to self-determination. Any trespass on their territory by Federation military forces would be met with force.


The War

With hindsight, the Secessionists never really stood a chance. Once the Federation got its massive industrial capacity switched to warship production, and the first few fleets out of Earth's warp sink, its advantage was huge.

But the League enjoyed several early victories, and for a while seemed on the verge of forcing terms from the Federation. One early success was the near total destruction of the 4th Federal Fleet in the 2519 Battle of Koenig by a much smaller League force. Koenig is an uninhabited system that had been selected by the Federation as a rendezvous and resupply point for the 4th Fleet.

Later the same year, however, the surprise Federation attack on the Alloran orbital shipyards cut the League's fleet construction capacity by nearly a third (and caused some thirty-five thousand deaths amongst shipyard workers and their families). With the space lanes secured, large numbers of conscripted Federation troops were shipped out to the rim and landed on worlds that continued to resist. Some of the ground fighting was extremely fierce.

Atrocities were committed on both sides. Human rights organisations complained in particular about the treatment of prisoners of war. The Federation camp on Mars, where League officers and senior NCOs were held, was a spartan, desert site where torture was regularly alleged. However the most notorious camp was the "Black Hole of Allora", a dank cave system where many Federation prisoners - including all survivors from the 4th Fleet - were held in darkness on starvation rations.

The war clearly lost, one after another individual worlds left the League and surrendered to the Federation. A final armistice was signed in 2520.

 

Aftermath

The Federation Navy maintains a heavy presence in the major Rim systems and runs occasional patrols elsewhere. Arming civilian ships is a capital crime.

The terms of the Armistice require even heavier price discounts on goods to Core Worlds, in order to catch up with colonisation costs owed and make war reparations. There's a growing black-market in rim world goods being sold to the core and then re-exported to the rim that has made fortunes for a number of unscrupulous traders (particularly those who complete the whole transaction on paper using forged customs forms without actually bothering to move the goods in question).

Trade is increasingly licensed. But this has opened up opportunities for small traders with their own ships (often decommissioned supply, escort or long range patrol vessels).

Many of the Federation troops found themselves involuntarily resettled on outer worlds rather than returned to their homes.

Reform to the political system agreed as part of the Armistice has given a greater voice to the outer planets, with a second chamber established where representation is by settled world and not population. This chamber has provided some balance over the past two years, but is limited in its powers.

Some League forces refused to surrender. A few have disappeared altogether (some five percent of the League navy appears to have just vanished), a few have become little-more than pirates attacking commercial ships from Core world businesses, and some have become terrorists. The most successful - and notorious - such organisation is the Freedom Alliance.

 

The Freedom Alliance

The Alliance attacks soft targets on Core worlds, generally going for Federation servicemen and their families or core world armaments businesses. It uses sabotage, bombs, poisons and low-grade biological weapons. The Alliance claims to have destroyed the SS Magellan two years ago, saying it was targeted because more than ten percent of its passengers were former Federation Navy personnel. Its most recent outrage was in a Military Hospital on Nova Moscva in July 2025. It contaminated the water supply with Caesium stolen from a nearby reprocessing site.  Over five hundred people were killed. More than eighty of the dead were children.

 

Salazar

But until a couple of years ago, one man, and an increasing number of followers, urged a different route to independence. Kai Salazar was a once-honoured Outer World scientist turned politician.

Holding no office, Salazar travelled with a few supporters from world to world calling for de-facto independence; not with violence but through non-engagement with the Federation. The Outer Worlds, Salazar said, should turn their back on the core and trade with each other as equals. The Federation, and its unjust laws, should be ignored or resisted non-violently where necessary.

Salazar’s popularity on the Rim grew quickly over the course of 2023 and a mass-movement started to build. But Salazar was killed in a shuttle crash two years ago near Jengzou. The official record states the crash was an accident, but many of Salazar’s people believe the Federation assassinated him.

Without its leader, little is left of the organisation Salazar founded. Many adherents, perhaps as a result of the alleged assassination, have migrated to groups advocating violent resistance to the Federation.

 

Now (at least for the Linfarn Run)

You are the crew and passengers of Kestrel, a light freighter travelling from Bethesda to Linfarn.  Bethesda is one of the quieter staging posts for journeys between the core and the outer worlds.  Linfarn is an inhospitable mining world, one of the major producers of iron ore on the rim.  You boarded an hour ago and are just about to enter Warp.

Kestrel has four crew, rather light for a vessel of this size but not unknown.  They are the pilot (also the Captain), first mate, engineer and a general crew member.  Eight passengers, and assorted cargo, are aboard.  Kestrel's facilities are pretty standard.  Every passenger has their own bunk in the common dorm and is free to share the dining space with the crew.

The trip will take two days.  It's a routine run, so you might as well just settle down and make the dull journey more interesting.  Break out a deck of cards, exchange stories with crew members or fellow passengers (always bearing in mind the war's not long over and some tensions can still run high), open a bottle of something or just catch up on some reading.