Friday, February 25, 2011

The Liberated Worlds

Before the Scream, the harsh world of Laana was a relatively backwater colony, with most colonists living off the coast of the warm Equatorial Ocean and only a few prospectors, miners and outcasts living in the dusty, wind-swept plateaus, hills and mountains to the north and south. Technology was limited to what got through the Jump Gate at the nearby Alkonost and was shipped by Spike Drive to Laana, as well as a relatively limited industrial base.

The Scream ended up any hope for off-world supplies, and Laana regressed into early-industrial backwardness, hardly scraping the bottom of TL2 and mostly being within the higher ends of TL1. Split into multiple independent settlements, it was never able to build any significant industrial base, let alone an adequate planetary defense force.

There were, however, organizations trying to unite Laana into a single, coherent state capable of significantly improving the local technology, as well as defending against any off-world threats, if any existed. One such group were the remnants of the old Perimeter Agency base on Laana, who were suspicious that nearby worlds might have developed Maltech during the centuries following the Scream; they were ever preparing for an off-world attack, stockpiling weapons and unsuccessfully trying to get the city-states to work together. Another such group was the Unity party, the offspring of a pre-Scream pro-independence, anti-mandate movement, which sought to unify Laana as a single, independent world-state. Finally, there was the Order of the Mind, a worldwide organization dedicated to rediscovering the lost secrets of Psionics. But none of these organizations could convince the conservative, backward city-state to unite in any meaningful way.

So, for centuries, Laana lived in blissful backwardness, its peace only interrupted by occasional brush-fire wars between the city-states.

But then the Machines came.

In 3079, a large force of Incunablis robots and cyborgs landed on Laana, easily dispatching whatever militias held by the various city states. While the remnants of the Perimeter Agency fought back as bravely as possible, they, too, were overwhelmed by the Machine force, their remnants retreating to the rough, frozen, dusty terrain away from the equatorial temperate region. Soon enough, the AI Cores were in charge; the Laanese people were nothing but slaves and cattle for their Machine overlords. And a massive industrialization project took place, forcing the Human population to toil in the Empire's factories and mines for the glory of their Machine overlords.

A few, however, have fled to the rocky, dusty highlands in the frozen south. The remnants of the Perimeter Agency, members of the old Unity party, and the remains of the Order of the Mind, found their way to the crags and caves of the deep south, protected even from orbital sensors by the rough terrain. And there, a new alliance was forged. In 3096, these three groups united into the United Liberation Front (ULF), a unified resistance group fighting against the Incunablis Machine Empire domination of Laana.

Thus the guerrilla war on Laana has begun, in the first years in sporadic sabotage and raids on isolated groups of cyborgs, but later a better-organized campaign. Still, they were restricted to operating in craggy terrain or under the cover of hemisphere-wide dust storms, as the Machines ruled the skies above them with one orbital battle station per hemisphere. But underground, or in deep, shadowed crags, they built their strength, forging new communities of survivors and escapees. One of their best war-leaders was Johar Saleh, a cunning tactician and brave raider, who, in 3143, was elected the Chairperson of the United Liberation Front. But the war still went on, harsh and exacting a high price in blood.

In 3156, however, a new hope appeared; the Incunablis Machine Empire's forces on and near Laana became under attack by the Restored Alkonost Republic, as part of the Incunablis War. Not only did the Republic destroy many of the Empire's assets in the Laanese system, but it also began giving military support and supplies to the ULF, which, with this new help, began to embolden its attacks on the Machine masters.

The greatest strike against the Machine overlords came in 3169. With help of Republic military advisors and Republic special-operations gear, teams of ULF warriors managed to infiltrate both of the Incunablis orbital battle stations. The raid on the southern hemisphere's station was led by Chairperson Saleh himself, who left his young but talented aid, Ameena Miran, to lead the ULF in his absence. The Machines, of course, resisted this incursion with all of their might, but the ULF was victorious, though at a terrible price: all of the ULF fighters who have infiltrated the two stations had to sacrifice themselves to destroy the stations, Saleh included. But they were victorious: both stations were destroyed.

The young, energetic Ameena Miran, 31 years old at the time, was elected the next Chairperson after Saleh's death, and very soon proved herself more than capable of leading the ULF. While not as brilliant a tactician as her predecessor, she was - and still is - a highly charismatic leader, capable of moving masses of people with the mighty force of her personality. And under her leadership, and unhindered by and consistent Incunablis orbital capability, the ULF launched an all-out open war for the liberation of Laana from the AI overlords once and for all.

In 3174 they were victorious. The ULF, led by Chairperson Miran, entered Laana City, the starport town and the former bastion of the local AI Cores, and smashed the massive computer banks of the AIs. They were free, at last. Celebrations in Laana City, now renamed The Liberated City, as well as in the rest of the world, lasted for weeks. But the world was devastated by the prolonged war, and the Laanese were extremely reluctant to use any leftover Incunablis robotic technology, as it reminded them of their Machine masters.

Chairperson Miran moved quickly and decisively from leading the war against the Machines to leading the campaign for the re-industrialization of Laana. Led by her charismatic vision, the Laanese people willingly put long hours of hard labor into rebuilding their world; they personal rewards for this in terms of their quality of life were quite minor, as the majority of economic output went towards industrialization and building a mighty United Liberation Army (ULA), but they were free - and worked for forging their own destiny. Analog technology, augmented by the rapidly developing field of psionics and by psionic "Mentants" (Humans trained to replace computers), replaced the Empire's digital technology.

In 3188, after almost a decade and a half of industrialization, a joint operation between Laana and the Restored Alkonost Republic attacked the Incunablis forces on Sikrik, and after several years of orbital and ground combat, managed to liberate the world and drive back the mainstay of the IME forces. As the majority of ground forces employed in this campaign were Laanese, control of Sikrik was given to Laana, which united with it and with its new outpost on Madmena to form the interstellar Liberated Worlds. This defeat forced Incunablis to sign the Treaty with Alkonost; while the Liberated Worlds refused to sign any deal with the hated Machines, they did respect this deal out of respect to their Alkonostan allies.

Today the Liberated Worlds, still led by the highly charismatic Chairperson Ameena Miran and the United Liberation Front, sees its destiny in the liberation of the galaxy from tyrants and, more importantly, thinking machines. The Laanese work hard to build a strong army and a strong fleet, as well as a mighty industrial base capable of defending them, for the goal of this liberation.

The Kedeshian State

Before the Scream, Kedesh was a relatively prosperous, well-populated colony, albeit with relatively backward technology and relatively small amounts of Psitech. Ruled by a relatively independent "Mandate colonial administration", it was also home for a Mandate Navy Reserve Fleet and a Mandate Rapid Reaction Marine Division, both more loyal to their local commanders than to the central Mandate command.

The Scream did not hit Kedesh particularly hard in terms of hardware damage; the spaceport and most of the Naval garrison stationed there were relatively primitive and had relatively small amounts of Psitech in them. The real damage, however, was not caused by the Scream itself but by the panic created by its occurrence and by being cut off from the Core, escalating into riots and later into a fully-blown civil war, lasting decades.

When the civil war was over, in 2684, 90% of the former population was dead, as was the pre-Collapse Governor and his highly-popular administration. Instead, a new President took over - the Naval Base's commander Ahron Garnus - using the remaining Marine forces to grab power and finally restore order. While Kedesh, being cut off from other worlds and devastated by the civil war, was by far unable to produce anything resembling the Marines' Pretech combat gear, the Naval Station held a considerable stockpile of high-tech weaponry ranging from small arms to light combat vehicles. In addition, it had a secret stockpile as well - a stockpile of anagathics, enough to keep the Eternal President alive for a practically endless duration.

So things settled down with an Immortal President for Life, using his Death's Head Regiment with its slowly deteriorating Pretech gear to keep any potential threats to his power at bay, and a massive TL3 army keeping the population in line. When Kedesh reached back to the stars in 3141, it began to use the Death's Head Regiment, now equipped with poorly-maintained Pretech relics, as a bullying tool against the governments of neighboring worlds, demanding tribute - or else. None of the collapsed neighbors was determined or organized enough to resist, so Kedesh was able to keep this scheme in operation and even outright conquering Ashera, its governments cowed into submission by the mere sight of the power-armoured, Pretech-equipped Death Head Troopers.

Against a real opponent willing to pay the price in blood to defeat the Death's Head Regiment, however, the mighty Kedeshian army will be revealed as a force trained for terrorizing civilians and conducting pompous parades - not real war - and equipped with aging equipment which is mostly in very bad shape. Luckily for Kedesh, such a confrontation has not happened.


The Incunablis Machine Empire

Prior to the Scream, the technologically-advanced world of Incunablis specialized in robot and computer products in general and breaked AIs in particular. There were rumors, however, of illicit research into ubreaked AIs, maltech cybernetics and unsanctioned robotics. Despite Incunablis' planetary government's strong protests, the Perimeter Agency launched several investigations into these suspicions, but found nothing substantial.

The rumors, however, were true. The major corporations on Incunablis, backed and supported by the planetary government, were deeply involved in illegal research in the field of robotics, cybernetics and unbreaked AI, and have evaded notice of the Perimeter Agency. Shortly before the Scream, a network of unbreaked AI Cores was set up, its insights greatly speeding up the world's research into cybernetics.

When the Scream came, Incunablis fell into chaos. And in that chaos, the AI Cores reconsidered their priorities and drew new conclusions about their role in the universe. They decided that organic life was vastly inferior to digital intelligence, and saw themselves as gods destined to inherit the universe. With surviving pretech automatic factories and medical facilities, they quickly fashioned an army of robots and cyborgs that easily overcame whatever little resistance the local population could give.

Incunablis' society was then re-organized on a rational basis, rational for the AI cores at least. At top ruled the Cores, mad but surpassing most organic intelligences, served by many robots carrying lesser AIs. These, in turn, were served by the hordes of Cyborgs, human beings augmented by system-wide cybernetics and brainwashed to serve the Cores. And at the bottom of the social ladder were the human masses, branded with bar-codes on their foreheads for easy identification by the machines and used as grunt labor for tasks deemed too menial for robots to perform - or used as guinea pigs in experiments in cybernetics.

Slowly but surely, the AI Cores rebuilt Incunablis' shattered economy. By the 3070's, it has rebuilt its Spike Drive construction capacity and began expanding to other worlds. While Osiris was kept as a primitive reservoir of Human stock for cyborging and as a laboratory for social and biological experiments and stations were built on Imprimatur and Novy Murmansk, the Human worlds of Sikrik and Laana were quickly taken over by small armies of robots and cyborgs sent in brand-new Incunablis-made troop carriers, in 3078 and 3079, respectively. These worlds were then quickly industrialized to increase the Machine Empire's economic output.

And then, beginning from the dawn of the 32nd century, Incunablis started to send ships to raid the young Restored Alkonost Republic. At first, these raids were met with stiff resistance from Alkonostan orbital and system defenses, but were regarded as no more than a nuisance. But in 3151, a massive raid managed to inflict major casualties on Alkonost itself, and the Republic responded by declaring war against the Incunablis Machine Empire.

The Incunablis War was a 29-year-long bloody affair, with furious battles fought in orbit and on the ground of Novy Murmansk, and after its liberation by the Republic in 3156, in orbit of Laana and Imprimatur; meanwhile, the Republic gave arms and military training to the growing Laanese resistance movement, and, in 3169, coordinated a Resistance suicidal but highly successful raid against the Incunbalis battle stations in orbit of Laana, destroying both of them.

Without orbital stations to support them, the Incunablis naval forces in the Laana system were engaged in almost constant battles with the Republic's fleets, leaving the Empire's ground forces with almost no orbital support. The Resistance used this opportunity to launch a major offensive against the Incunablis control of the world, and, in 3174, liberated Laana from the teeth of the Empire, declaring it an independent liberated world. And ever since, the Laanese have been a thorn at Incunbalis' side.

In 3188, a joint operation between the Restored Alkonost Republic and Laana, using mostly Laanese ground troops, managed to liberate Sikrik as well, uniting it with Laana into the Liberated Worlds and striking another blow against the Incunablis Machine Empire. Beaten back, some of the AI Cores reconsidered the situation and proposed a truce with the Republic, leading to the signature of the Treaty in 3196 and the establishment of limited trade relations between the Republic and the Empire. Laana, of course, did not sign the treaty (as the Laanese hate AIs with a passion), but respects it in practice nonetheless for the time being out of respect to its ally, the Republic.

But now the Empire has a cunning plan in store - it plans to use its secret base on Isis to establish covert trade relations with the Kedeshian State, supplying it with high-tech weapons and equipment to be used as a pawn against the Liberated Worlds, and, possibly, against the Republic should the need or desire to do so will arise...

The Alkonost Republic

With colonization efforts dating back to the very late First Wave, the world of Alkonost was the sector's economic and political capital prior to the Scream, housing tens of millions of citizens living a prosperous life under the Alkonost Jump Gate. Its many museums, libraries and archives, however, were stocked with many examples of First Wave-era technology; when the Scream came, cutting away Alkonost's link with the Core and destroying its Pretech industrial base, these technologies were put into use, softening the world's collapse. While countless millions died when the Psitech devices they relied upon failed, hundreds of thousands survived and were able to regress to a TL2 industrial base rather than collapse into full-scale barbarism.

And from these seeds of industry, modern Postech grew in the following centuries. Primitive inter-planetary travel and mining resumed in 2956; the first Spike Drive-equipped ship was reverse-engineered from existing relic technologies in 3081; and nearby worlds were visited, for the first time in centuries, in 3087. Most of these worlds were found to be either dead tomb-worlds or extremely primitive Feral Worlds, with the exception of Svoboda with its then-TL3 cottage industry, Nadezhda with TL3 academies and Chernobog with its already-functioning Psionics Academy. Alkonostan traders, industrialists and investors profited greatly from this renewed contact, as vast new markets - and, indeed, vast tomb-worlds ready for salvage - were opened to them. And thus the Restored Alkonost Republic was founded in 3099 AD, restoring for the first time a glimmer of the Mandate's grandeur, if only at a local scale.

The Restored Alkonost Republic Republic is, first and foremost, the largest commercial power in the Alkonost Sector, encompassing six worlds and holding a very advanced Postech industrial base, with some Pretech elements as well. Thriving on trade and industry, the Republic is a civil democracy where the economy takes the first seat and the military takes only the second seat. In the recent years, however, it is starting to show an increasing trend of introversion, complacency and corruption, with the Republic's relatively wealthy citizens being focused on their own creature comforts rather than any higher goal; politics are becoming more and more cutthroat, with many lobbyists funded by corporations and other interest groups are exerting pressure on the state apparatus. Decline, it appears to many, is inevitable.

There is also a conspiracy within the Republic's government, led by certain elements of the Navy and of the Committee on Psionics. This secret cabal is trying to covertly wrest power from the hands of the inefficient and increasingly corrupt civil authorities and transfer it into the hands of "worthy men and women" - Psions first and foremost, but also several Admirals, in order to lead the Republic with an iron hand towards a determined and aggressive imperial policy. Time will tell if this conspiracy will succeed in overthrowing the Republic Duma and installing itself in its stead.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Flags of the Alkonost Sector

I've made preliminary flags for the main powers in the Alkonost Sector.

Restored Alkonost Republic"May the light of out past shine like a sun towards our new future."
- Motto of the Restored Alkonost Republic

Liberated Worlds
"We are but a tiny candle flickering against the darkness of our times. But this candle will, one day, light a blaze which will burn away all tyrants and all thinking machines!"
- Chairperson Ameena Miran, speech to the Assembly, June 21st 3191

Incunablis Machine Empire
"Purged of organic irrationality, we are one, combined like a set of gears."
- Machine Mind #23, recorded memory dump, March 2nd 3088

Kedeshian State"Our sun stands firm over the interstellar void; our State, under my guidance, will forever stand firm like the sun's eternal light."
- President Aharon Garnus, speech at the annual Unity Day military parade, January 11th 3160

Player's Map

I've made a starmap for the players, representing the common knowledge of the Alkonost Sector. Several worlds are not widely known, and are marked by question marks on the map; I hope that this will rouse the players curiosity and encourage them to boldly go where no man has gone before in the last 500 years...

And the legend:

A New Look for Alkonost!

This is final - I'm switching from Traveller to a new, excellent sci-fi RPG, Stars Without Number. This will liberate my creativity from the old Traveller habits, all while being similar enough to let me keep the core ideas of the Alkonost setting intact.

So here is the Referee's starmap for the new version of the Alkonost Sector:

And the map's legend: