Racing the Darkness: A Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri Fan Fiction Photoessay



A settlement of "Dry Gaians" at Asopus's Bend in the Tséyi Bowl. Manufactured components of the original colony pods have been fashioned into durable shelters, but working infrastructure--the windmill at bottom left and the scuttles and docks at center--is of locally-sourced Chironian flutewood, highly resistant to the planet's acidic hydrology.

Scale-punchers have arrived on the opposite bank pushing slakes of desperately-needed remounts. Synoe's Four-Toed Monitors were adept swimmers and even better climbers, taking their Gaian riders up vertical rock faces where no
Unity ground vehicle could hope to follow.


Gaia's Stepdaughters stubbornly maintained a handicraft economy--partly out of concern for Planet's natural ecology, and partly because heavy equipment was largely diverted to the militia after First Contact with other factions.

Because of their advanced techniques, nutrients, water, and (considering their low draw) energy were often plentiful, but minerals were harder to come by. Production and technological progress were painstakingly slow. Mechanical and electronic devices were kept in good order, but significant repairs or replacement were possible only with the help of sympathetic Hunter Lodges or visiting New State shipping--both rarities. A half-dozen supercomputers scavenged from recovered Supply Pods were remanded to Gaia's Landing for weather forecasting and gene sequencing. Heavy equipment not converted for war-making was pooled and apportioned under the supervision of a council answerable to the Lady herself, but almost always found it way to agricultural use.



For resupply, Gaian fighters depended on battlefield salvage. Standard practice was to let mindworms incapacitate enemy patrols before stripping them of their equipment. The prisoners, treated with scrupulous care, could then be traded back as the price of a temporary truce.

This powered combat suit, a Norinco-made Jiànkè (剑客) originally supplied to the expedition by Golden China and once used by Spartans for base security, was more than 110 years old when it stood in defense of The Autumn Clade.



Cranberries, which favored acidic soils, were a popular early transplant.

Here, Gaian drones harvest the fruits from a bog with the help of jury-rigged safety equipment. The shells are clearly spacesuits, while the hoods are bladders sewn from hab-tent scraps and the re-breathers have been converted from water filtration devices. Although similar, the suits are not identical, pointing to the all-important role of improvisation in frontier living.
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Sources:
First image is from the beauty render in the portfolio "Canyon Civilization Rural Village" by jordi van hees on ArtStation.

Second image is "The Rot begins" by DustBye-Fantasies on DeviantArt.

Third image is "Harvest" by Eteriv on DeviantArt.
 


Holnist paramilitaries block a Michigan road with the help of an old M939 5-ton.

When Jean Baptiste-Keller, then a failing soybean farmer with access to an old 1150 kHz radio tower, described Holnism as "a refusal of this modernity," he was somewhere in the vanguard of countless subsequent thinkers trying to answer the question, "Why now?" Why were so many mid-century Americans clamoring for "home rule" and forsaking national unity?

Colonel Corazón Santiago never publicly grieved her decision to using the movement's veterans to claim her spot in what she called "the New Order," a not-so-subtle dig at the original vision for a single, unitary colony governed under U.N. auspices. Nevertheless, in bringing Holnists from Earth to Chiron, she forced her contemporaries to speak to the same problem that confronted Jean Baptiste.

The standard history of Holnism, Strong Men, by Christophe Mitre, spends 200-odd pages distinguishing Nathan Holn the man--"misshapen in appearance and disposition," dead long before the conflicts that would take his name--and the disparate bodies of thought later ascribed to him. Holnists engaged in what Interior Secretary Oscar van de Graaf memorably called "radical contradictions," holding their neighbors as slaves while denying the jurisdiction of federal and state law on grounds of "Nullification by Conscience." According to their actions, most Holnist leaders were actually proponents of political anarchy, preferring conditions that afforded them maximum autonomy, even at the expense of the political projects (such as state secession) to which they sometimes became attached. To the extent that they recognized any form of government as desirable, it was petty despotism, with themselves in the starring role.

Mitre ventured that Holnists and "supporters of Holnism" were actually two distinct groups. The former were more akin to the right-wing militias of the 1990s: armed to the teeth, already sequestered from the world at large, preparing themselves for a fatal (and inevitable) clash with authority. Many were engaged in illegal activities. The latter were typical political malcontents who had seized on provincialism as a way to manage change, and mistook militants for muscular allies who could defeat the dark forces of their partisan fantasies. They were also early adopters of the World Wide Web, building national and international connections, becoming "people out of place." A decade earlier, said Mitre, and they would have been shunned into hermitage, but in the late 2030s, they felt vindicated by the support of people they had never met.

Environmental activist Deirdre Skye diagnosed Holnism as "a civic fungus"--the predictable condition of any people who would forsake environmental stewardship, "for a disordered home breeds every malady in the search for relief, and an unhealthy organ poisons or starves the rest." Mitre called it the "Broken Windows Theory of conservationism."

Raoul Andre St. Germainé told colleagues in the Marine nationale that Holnism arose at the intersection of the dangerous relationship between constitutional democracy and the World Wide Web. Forms of government invented during periods of pensée lente and grosse pensée--literally, "slow thought" and "fat thought," meaning elite control over mass print communication--should be modified or abandoned in the presence of pensée rapide. Without censorship to protect the boring and complicated government by the competent, people would elevate an incompetent alternative--the first one prepared to flatter their many prejudices and misconceptions.

J.T. Marsh wrote that Holnism was an attempt by humans to reassert themselves in the presence of something they recognized attavistically as a mortal threat: the machine. The movement's notorious violence was being deployed, he said, to recapture a sense of personal efficacy. Santiago's own take was not very far off from that of the Game Warden. Planet: A Survivalist's Guide contains clear traces of the Holnists' paranoia: for the Colonel, the only way to avoid political irrelevance--the calamity of being subject to the whims of another--was to accumulate so much latent military power that no decision could be made without without her.

The good bureaucrat, Dr. Lal, ascribed Holnism to failures of the American educational system, curiously overlooking its strong appeal among Canadians. As Lal would have it, Holnism was the misbegotten child of refusal to reckon with uncomfortable aspects of national history. "The Americans made for themselves a false ideal, and were surprised when it stepped off the pages of textbooks and into their parlors, guns in hand." Sathieu Metrion and Johann Anhaldt agreed. In dialogue at a symposium on youth education at University Park, they warned that "a falsified historical experience" would produce an intemperate people without the common fund of historical memory--data--required to develop correct solutions to their shared problems.

In her final years, Santiago wrote extensively to try to separate Holnism and Survivalism, but try as she might, the two could not be easily distinguished. Central to both philosophies was a presumptive entitlement: followers became convinced that something good was being denied them, hidden away in the halls of government, the shipyards of the Moon, or the root cellars of neighboring homes, and that it could, and should, be taken by force.

It was left to Pete Landers to describe a Survivialism without predatory features in the shape of Kellerism, with its monomaniacal focus on the immediacy of human relationships and a call to become genuinely useful to one's fellows. Keller was himself an Evangelical Protestant, but he asserted that God was in "the Fellowship of This World," rather than awaiting His Children in the next world. Church was the grill or the firepit, the post office or the general store or the bowling alley--wherever a brother or cousin or neighbor was waiting with a kind word and a cold beer. Holnists replaced the nation and its myriad obligations of citizenship with kingdoms of cruelty and excess they carved for themselves, but Kellerites put family and community front-and-center, gathering together the makings of functional clan groups long before trapped residents of cities like Miami and Los Angeles fell back on criminal gangs as a replacement for foundering governments, absent utilities, and disbanded police departments. There was some astonishment within the Federal Bureau of Investigation after agents described The Complete Jean-Baptiste Keller as "an encyclopedic primer on everything from Robert's Rules of Order to the proper filling of sandbags." The U.S. Army estimated that one in three of its non-commissioned officers carried contraband editions of Keller's tapes as "indispensable leadership aids," a behavior that persisted among many Unity recruits to the great chagrin of U.N. Security Forces.



Somewhere in Kansas, a U.S. National Guard M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank levels its cannon at a municipal building where Holnists have gathered in surrender.

Sources:
Both images are stills from the television show Jericho depicting Ravenwood mercenaries, courtesy of the Internet Movie Firearms Database.
 
Academician Prokhor Zakharov said:
Disk Obedience is capitalism for a new age. The programmer assumes the rule of the industrialist, and we are assured that only his talents are adequate to the avoidance of doom. - For I Have Tasted The Fruit



"The Meeting in Moscow." Vidcap presented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the trial of American spy Rayman Slathers. Found guilty of treason in 1999, he was executed by firing squad the following year. Soviet Premier Garayev celebrated the deceased as Father of Soviet Robotics.

Not every Probe job demanded violence. University researchers frustrated by their leader's long distractions with personal projects or undercut by faculty and student politics were forever bringing their ideas to market with the help of the Morganites or the Bourse. Nor was it unheard of for entire project teams to make the trek high into the Sawtooths in search of that "true scientist," Tamineh Pahlavi, and never mind the nervous rumors of what happened to those who displeased her.

A full division of Morgan Strategic Services did nothing with its generous budget and plentiful human resources but harvest the good ideas from Zakharov's leaking sieve and the notoriously security-deficient Dreamer clinics.




The central assumptions of Disk Obedience were two. First, that the probability of inadvertent emergence of malignant A.I. increased with every post-production change in a thinking machine's code. Second, that the most-impactful change was likely to occur when more than one individual contributed to a single code legacy. The best legacies were short and simple. Idosyncracies in style and the mistakes inevitable in larger legacies created the "liminal spaces" where sentience could supposedly form--the spaces that haunted Sathieu Metrion's sleep. In the most Obedient societies, robots that exceeded the lives of their creators were destroyed.

Where Obedience was weaker, upgrades would be conducted primarily through "practical machine learning," which meant teaching robots in the same manner as humans: by use of reason. A robot could therefore learn in the manner intended by its creator, but (so it was said) no other way. Here, a New State Thinker instructs medical androids to assemble new medications.



The pilot of a crash-landed Hopper awaits rescue in a fungal patch. He is lucky to have survived this long. Such craft were small enough that loss of containment was a common problem after hard landings.

Our subject is conspicuously without a robot guardian. The School of Disk Obedience believed that thinking machines, like humans, would grow most through adversity, and limited their use to a narrow set of roles.


Sources:
First image is "Negotiations" by Alexander Mandradjiev on ArtStation.

Second image is "Wisdom vs. Tech" by iamrudja on DeviantArt.

Third image is "Crash Landing" by iamrudja on DeviantArt.
 

Argentine fighter-bombers dash for safety after surprising the British Antarctic Patrol.

Military theorists from Place No. 2 to Sparta Command clamored for Sathieu Metrion's librarians to find them lessons on small wars. The madman Sheng-ji Yang called it "the study of what can be done with nothing." Officer training among the Memorialists began with guided study of three such conflicts: the thirty-six hour War of the Mercenaries waged between Communist Ethiopia and pro-American Sudan at the border crossing of Gallabat in 2024; Red China's "electronic decapitation" of the Philippines in 2036; and the Bolivian Encroachment in the Paraguayan Chaco, a case study in the use of public policy to create "stubborn facts on the ground."



The Erehwolle Style combined industrial authenticity with nods toward Art Deco splendor like the analog clock face at the apex of this turbine stack's auxiliary gas diffusion pod.
Brightly-colored lead lines for aerostatic collectors, also used on Chiron, rise away into the low-scudding clouds.


Morgan Industries found that Erehwolle's philosophy was no real solution to complaints about industrial sprawl. On Earth, stations like the Philadelphia High Mile (pictured above) were tolerated as a necessary evil, but the CEO's rarefied investors were as uncompromising as Gaians in their calls for "free sky."


Gaian Ranger in full "battle rattle."


Sources:
First image is "Untitled" by JPAN03041992 on DeviantArt.

Second image is "Bfd4fo16" by jdc4429 on DeviantArt.

Third image is "Jungle Guardian" by Auzy on ArtStation.
 
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Official flag of MECO

The Stellar Lifeboat Project proved to be a boon for authoritarian states to offload citizens deemed troublesome. While FEMA Spring Cleaning, the clandestine American system to deport HERITAGE Act-ineligible nonviolent dissidents, was excoriated by the international community thanks to the heroic efforts of anonymous leakers, other governments cloaked their own schemes. The Damascus Axis, also known as the Middle East Coalition, momentarily got over its member states' mutual mistrust and attempted the Al Falah Plan ("our success"), an intelligence-sharing nexus to identify potentially destabilizing persons of interest before dropping them on the Stellar Lifeboat's doorstep. These largely secularist-nationalist, Arab socialist, Arsanjanist, Green Booker, and renaissance republican regimes and personalist monarchies saw dangers at every turn. Whether Soviet, Israeli, or French provocateurs from Dār al-‘Ahd or jihadist movements like the Al-Samad network and national liberators like the People's African Union within Dār al-Islām, there seemed to be no shortage of bogeymen.

Among those snatched up from their beds by Al Falah was a particular Iranian activist from Khuzestan. Despite being a peaceful advocate for Arabistan independence, the Pahlavi monarchy brooked no patience for such sentiment. Upon the d'Avrail administration's reprisal bombings of Syria ("the Damascectomy"), which both caused the bloc to be renamed to the Aleppo Axis and shifted the fulcrum to Tehran, the increasingly junior partners of MECO were perfectly willing to sell out their brethren living under imperial Persian rule.

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For his role in distributing literature about Ahwaz liberation, Ali Numrūd Kašk was confronted by SAVAK hatchet men and given a choice of indefinite detention in Evin Prison, or off-world exile. Having already lost his wife to the regime, he signed the voluntary confessions and, along with his sole surviving child Firyal, was sent across the Iraqi border to the Middle East Coalition's joint launch site at Al Anbar. For mysterious reasons, the two were separated. Inattentive UNHCR inspectors waved the daughter through, sending her into orbit. She would never see her father again. Carrying nearly three hundred captive passengers, the bulk transport Golden Shah arrived at the Stellar Lifeboat's later-stage training facilities on the Moon before departing for the lunar cradle, where it was retrofitted into a large landing pod for the UNS Unity itself.

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An Al Falah men's billet trains at rapid assembly of solar arrays for colonial manufacturing, William Diego Base

The mission's lunar assets were a shadow of their former glory. Once the shiny toy of the great powers, the bases were now equal-access playpens under U.N. governance. Through the Al Falah Plan's shell corporations, MECO funneled sumptuous contributions to the mission to ship its people there on one-way flights. Firyal and the others had bypassed basic training and survival school the mainline colonists received, only to be tossed into the dangerously grueling screen of low-g. For months, they were subjected to intense training for a mission that was not their own.

Presided over by apathetic backwater United Nations Space Authority officials and impassive Morgan Emergency Services instructors, Firyal learned first aid, life support mechanics, welding, conflict deescalation, emergency delivery, and disaster rescue while walking on the Moon itself. Perhaps it was a prisoners' camaraderie among the Al Falah exiles that aided their survival rates compared to other Charter billets. Indeed, some observers joked that if the Stellar Lifeboat Project had been considered a regular Charter, it was perhaps among the most cohesive- but neither its factors nor these Charterists themselves really wanted to be there.

And even in the face of the worst adversity, love could bloom on the battlefield of hardship. During surface spacesuit training, Firyal Kašk would meet a young Pakistani migrant worker who had been drafted into Al Falah by Connex-Killen for organizing fellow laborers in the oil fields at Dhahran, of the Triplet Cities Emirate. Bonding over the family and lands they had left behind, raging against the oppressive forces that had brought them into this space hell, the two struck up a relationship that would take them all the way to Planet.

Notes:

The Middle East Coalition is inspired by the Middle Eastern Coalition from Battlefield 2.

Arsanjanism here refers to Hasan Arsanjani, the populist Iranian minister of agriculture whose radical land reform concept presaged the Shah's institution of the White Revolution. In our world, he was forced to resign.

Al-Samad is from Alpha Protocol.

The "Damascectomy" (the taking out of Damascus) is from Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams.

Lunar base image is taken from the Alien Legacy opening cinematic.

Connex-Killen is from Syriana.

Dhahran being an independent oil state (or part of one) is a very tiny reference to the massive Tripartite Alliance Earth alternate history by Randy McDonald.
 
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A corporate overseer awakes a demolitions expert during Planetfall

The Stellar Lifeboat struck against its moorings and splintered into a thousand pieces during the Planetfall crisis. Scores of incognito stowaways threw off their disguises and dissolved into the night, infiltrating factions as useful operators in one vital specialization or another, rather than the former victims of Earth's misfortunes. Scores more were hunted down as human assets to be bartered with and exploited. Unity Comptroller Suzanne Marjorie Fielding laid down her duty to the flailing mission and resumed her due diligence to the American Reclamation Corporation, using her masterlink access to create harvest lists of choice Lifeboaters for collection. Rushing to beat their corporate rivals to the punch, her Overseers employed lawyer programs to mass-draft contracts of indenture, customized for each individual's polity of origin- usually U.N. compacts governing treatment of No-Pats- and went to the cryochambers, becoming the first sight for many a bewildered refugee after sixty years of sleep.

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An American Machines R-79 Robodigger "Rusty" deploys from the Golden Shah in search of potables

Al Falah, one of the larger providers to the Stellar Lifeboat Project, made up of just over eleven percent of the ten thousand. Nearly all of the billets belonging to the MECO black project were scooped up by ARC, secured by newly-awakened corporate security forces and PMCs that included the Val Verde Veterans. In a stroke of cosmic irony, these conscript Charterists were crammed into the landing pod built around the imperial Iranian-constructed Golden Shah and sent to the surface. A double dose of coincidence led them to land just east of the central stretch of the Great Dunes, hundreds of kilometers away from any coast or large body of water. Without motorized vehicles, the motley crew were forced to set up base amidst the inhospitable wastes. Mercifully, they had brought along robotic servitors who were able to locate a nearby well. From humble, mutually suspicious beginnings, Fort Quileute was established.

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The medina of Fort Quileute during the high years of the Director's Council

Even after they reunited with the New Two Thousand, the base was a lonely outpost only tangentially related to van de Graaf's ambitions. Isolated from ARC leadership, the would-be overseers were at a loss of what to focus on, and survival was a necessary priority anyway. Perhaps out of paranoia of their own security forces' loyalty, and out of an Orientalist understanding of the very own Charterists they had assembled, the governors of Quileute granted the Al Falah host the privilege of self-management. Deferring to the refugees' cultures of origins- in reality, the vast majority were urbanites whose contact with the desert amounted to the occasional vacation tour- ARC permitted Al Falah to build their new civilization on their own terms, with minimal interference. This allowed a rather hands-off synergy as the corporate heads retreated into their inner sanctums to hem and haw about what the big chief would want, their guards and mercenaries made splendid war against the peculiar armored local mindworms Tomorrow Institute xenoentomologists at Bembridge called "scarab-snakes," and the interstellar refugees were free to run their own affairs.

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An ARC-Al Falah exploratory group chances upon the fossilized pincer of a great desert subrid

Firyal Kašk volunteered for the hastily-formed Sand Scouts, putting the high marks she had received on the Sea of Serenity survival courses to real use in the field. Rising quickly, she took ARC expeditions further and further into the wastes, finding new water sources from Chiron succulents and food from the canny species that lurked among the dunes. Firyal's comrades grew to respect her daredevil spirit, and love how she saved them from sandstorms and scarab swarms. Yet her impetuousness hid a deep melancholy from leaving behind her father and all she had known back in Khuzestan. Pouring her grief for her lost land and life, Firyal spurred on the scouts into the ancient alien complexes that littered the Great Dunes, discovering relics unique to that region of Planet.

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Augmented with last-gen prosthetics, a Sand Scout veteran turned cyborg Qawwāl sings devotions at the door to the al-Farghānī Mosque at Garlandabad district

Meanwhile, her lover rallied the people of the new base, endowing the workers of Quileute with a sense of ownership and unity that had been denied back on Earth. A local labor leader who once brawled against Triplet Special Police and rooted out Connex-Killen oilmen infiltrators alike, he moved to form a united front among the Al Falah, drawing from their shared trauma and cultural similarities between the variegated peoples of the Stellar Lifeboat. To the ARC administrators he smiled and promised unparalleled productivity from worker cohesion; in dark hallways of the hab he whispered the need for all to set aside their difference to avoid megacorp domination. He forged this union in the converted supply closets that became musalla prayer rooms and the improvised washrooms used for wudu. Posing faith and tradition as an affectation of a superstitious, backwards people, the Al Falah veiled their growing unity. In their sacred spaces they formed their own secret social structure free from ARC's prying eyes.

Notes:

Lawyer programs are are concept from Earth by David Brin.

Robodigger is from Sierra On-Line’s Outpost.

The Quileute are a Native American nation who Frank Herbert learned greatly from prior to writing Dune.

The medina image is “The Center” by Ismail Inceoglu.

The giant crab art is from Yukinobu Hoshino’s sci-fi classic 2001 Nights, specifically "Night 10: Medusa's Throne."

The multi-limbed sitar player painting is by Omar Gilani.
 
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Antiquity Abubakari-9429, or the Projection Stone

After a robosurveyor detected a subterranean network during a water search, veteran Expedition Leader Firyal Kašk launched a dig just east of the Charbagh of Bones. Spelunking through caverns measureless to man, the Quileute Sand Scouts discovered a vast Progenitor complex containing several alien artifacts. Among them was a mysterious rock etching that seemed to depict the Centauri system with strange satellite trajectories projecting forth from Planet. Aeons old according to radiocarbon dating, this was the most coherent xenogenous symbolic representation discovered yet. The fort's meager computational resources spent a fortnight attempting to decrypt its inscrutable writings. Appraisals made later by the New Two Thousand's ARC art valuation division suggested that when taking into account its immense historical and scientific value, the rock was worth hundreds of millions of ¤.

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ARC Chief Human Intelligence Officer Suzanne Marjorie Fielding speaks to the wayward colony for the very first time

Fort Quileute's pseudonode had had no luck in unravelling the mystery of the etchings, but in one of the miracles of Alpha Centauri science, the scanning process stumbled upon an anomalous harmonic resonance beneath the surface of the Projection Stone. This “Wow!” signal was backwards-engineered by the lone ARC acoustics engineer attached to the fort, who along with a Cairo University mathematics professor (and Muslim Brotherhood member) banished by the United Arab Republic, devised a transmitter that boosted the base's communications array tenfold. Nearly a continent away, an assistant to the executive assistant of ARC CFO-CHIO Suzanne Marjorie Fielding picked up the phone and was bewildered to find himself dealing with a first contact situation. Escalations were raised and c-suite notified. After mission decades of isolation away from the New Two Thousand body politic, the desert outpost reestablished contact with mother base.

While Terra Nova was far from the Great Dunes, overland trade expeditions were attempted to bridge the two. Governor Oscar van de Graaf was eager to restore another one of his stakes back to his righteous patrimony. CFO Fielding was keen to introduce proper Pilgrim operating standards upon the colony. And the long-lost Director's Council of Fort Quileute was desperate to prove to the Pilgrim elite "back home" that they were proper stakeholders, not provincial sand-eaters.

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The Three Domes of Fort Quileute. Right to left: The Green Crescent Primary Agridome, producing over seventy percent of the colony's food supply. The Jamshid Manufacturing Plant, a multi-industry factory. And the Bayt al-Hunayn, the House of Yearning, a shared reliquary and library bearing the population's memories of Earth

To their credit, salutary neglect had benefited the city. The labor leadership formed by Firyal's lover had kept the interstellar felaheen satisfied with autonomy, hummingly productive, and in the captain's seat. United against even the threat of subordination, the Stellar Lifeboat families overcame their cultural, sectarian, and linguistic differences to create a new ummah. Never would they tolerate being played by ARC as their home nations were once subject to the interventions by the Americans and other farang powers. Dispersed by their own governments, brought together by fate, the peoples of Fort Quileute created a cosmopolitan refugee society.

Each district administered its own district rules, often organized along the spiritual life of the respective community, through cramped meeting rooms that doubled for prayer and ritual. Headmen and elders were appointed to a "Senate" of sheiks that governed the overall population. Differences and disputes between the communities were mediated by the Al Falah Trade Union, the name of their embittered exile reappropriated for their new success.

This arrangement kept peace between Arab and Jew, Turk and Kurd, Persian and Mandaean. And the drone population exceptionally low- though the ever-pervasive threat of "second exile" into the desert wastes, or conscription into the Sand Scouts to fight scarab-snakes and SMACER bandits under cruel hazing by V3 mercenary officers, already deterred shirk. The worker cohesion of the Al Falah diaspora, assisted by the mystical benefits of the alien artifacts retrieved from sandblasted monolith ruins, created a modestly successful standard of living. When the first Pilgrim caravan arrived from Eaton's Shore, they were amazed to find a rough-cut but shining jewel in the desert, its agridomes filled with well-tilled fields of emmer wheat and barley, its sole factory outputting small batches of fuel cells, robotic parts, and textiles.

Notes:

Space base art is "Exoplanet Space Station" by Alfie Rodriguez

Agridomes (agricultural domes) are from Outpost and Outpost 2. Here's a short story from the latter.

Eaton's Shore refers to U.S. Army officer William Eaton, who fought in the First Barbary War. Long story.
 
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"The Rainbow Wedding", by Rana al-Mami, watercolors. The bridal couple is flanked by shamdan candelabras, symbolizing clarity and vitality

After mission years of service on behalf of their found families and the city they were made to build, the Pathfinder of the Sea of Thirst and the Muezzin of the Exiled Asabiyyah were finally wedded in the greatest celebration known to Fort Quileute. Incorporating a mosaic of cultural traditions from lost Earth, the ceremony was the boast of the base as all denizens gathered to witness the marriage of these two heroic citizens. Decorated in South Asian henna patterns from the mehndi night before, clad in a dress spun from revived Egyptian cotton strains, Firyal Kašk was escorted to the sofreh aghd wedding table by an honor guard of her fellow Sand Scouts and given away by Colonel Kassad himself. Her groom wore a simple sherwani of pure white as he presented to her the mahr dowry: an ornate jeweled compass crafted from desert glass in Jamshid's foundries, and a key to a larger suite in the base's newly-remodeled hab complex. Their zaffe grand entrance to the reception was accompanied by the beating of dholak and dohol drums, the twinkling of the daf, and the piping of dozens of mizmars.

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Pilgrim Joe, a resurrected Titanotylopus camelid, was originally intended to be a gift to the Wrangler Lodge prior to yet another vendetta with the Hunters of Chiron

Normally a place of somber remembrance, the House of Yearning had never seemed so full of life. From the rising Al Falah workingmen to the nervous, yet boastful ARC directors and their raucous Val Verde Veteran soldiers of fortune, all reveled in the union of this power couple who had done so much for the colony. And it was a celebration that went beyond the walls of the scorching dunes: it was the six-month anniversary of recontact with Terra Nova. The very first caravan from the New Two Thousand had arrived but a fortnight ago, bearing gifts- one of the Governor's famed stunjack cannons for disciplining unruly slaves, an Agenid Hermes hoverbike hardened for desert travel, and even a resurrected Titanotylopus extinct North American giant camel.

The eleven-foot tall prehistoric megafauna, revived by Schreiber Project mad science and gengineered for docility, had been eagerly welcomed by Tuareg and Rajasthani refugees. Camel trainers from the respective Stellar Lifeboat populations had taught the great beast to follow the sound of singing women and the rhythm of the Nigerien Tendé drum. And so it now danced to the great merriment of the Quileute crowds. The wedding couple laughed politely from their table at the center of the library dome, underneath the new Projection Stone exhibit. Satisfied at the reception of their gift, the leader of the Pilgrim caravan, a Regulator officer, sat in attendance with his men as guests, carefully surveying this alien society that they would now bring back to Oscar van de Graaf's fold. His gaze could not help but be drawn to the mysterious rock, its ancient etchings infused with unknown purpose, its polished surface shining with eldritch colors out of space and time.

Notes:

The artist’s depiction of the wedding of Firyal Kašk and her unnamed lover is “Ancient Eastern Wedding” by Hanaa Al-Mansour

Kassad, of course, is a reference to the legendary FORCE soldier and Final Shrike Pilgrim of Hyperion.

Stunjack cannons (& training for police) is the Flavor.txt description for Non-Lethal Methods.

Space Camel” is by Anastasia Johnson.

Camel dancing is indeed practiced by both Rajasthani people in India and the Tuareg of Niger.
 
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The Governor’s Gate was the ARC-built western entrance to Fort Quileute, inaugurating the third anniversary of Recontact. Its subsurface arboretum featured gengineered water-efficient trees that each consumed forty liters a day

Recontact with the New Two Thousand transformed Fort Quileute. As Pilgrim trade caravans made the long trek across the sands to the jewel of the Great Dunes, the mission decades of alien artifact searching and harvesting finally yielded economic dividends. The base became a major hub in the xenoartifact trade, bringing visitors from across the known world. The ARC Moon Over Parma, the Pilgrims’ experimental cargo airship, paid a visit to the desert rose, docking at the minaret of the Golden Shah Mosque to bring forth stores of seedstock, solar panels, and seafood. It took back crates upon crates of artifacts discovered buried beneath the sands. Many were still functional, never connected to the Fort’s pseudonode. At Terra Nova, civilization, their secrets would be properly exploited to unlock technical knowledge, or sold for very profitable sums on the antiquities market.

Reunited with its faction, the Director's Council solicited investment to build paved highways and trade depots, garages full of rovers and rudimentary ‘chopper pads. As development funds poured in, the base next constructed lodgings for traders; a hologram theater, a MindMaze dreamhouse, and an entertainment center to amuse weary travelers; and a huge shopping complex that cast a shadow over the Grand Medina between the hours of 10:00 and 12:00 in the mid-afternoon. Fort Quileute had found an industry, its place in the Planetary economy, and it would milk it as long as the Great Dunes had treasures for sale.

John Adams said:
I could fill Volumes with Descriptions of Temples and Palaces, Paintings, Sculptures, Tapestry, Porcelaine, &c. &c. &c. -- if I could have time. But I could not do this without neglecting my duty. - The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Sciences: the Art of Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts. I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine. - Letter to Abigail Adams (12 May 1780), Datalinks

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A recreational psychonaut visits old Jerusalem and the Holy Land at the Seven Sleepers Dreamplex, built during the Recontact years

Firyal Kašk and her husband gradually retired from public service to focus on their growing family. Their eldest, Nasum, received an upbringing quite unlike their own- far from the traumas of repression, exile, and frontier toil, the boy grew up in the rapidly increasing quality of life that came with the Governor’s patronage of the base. Luxuries unimaginable only several mission years ago were suddenly within a caravan’s reach. Children’s clothing were no longer made of re-stitched Unity uniforms or of the clothing of the deceased, spun from Egyptian cotton only for the wealthiest scions of the colony. Aerogel fashions from Terra Nova’s consumer-facing factories upended the native textiles industry of the base.

The local food diversity quadrupled overnight as Pilgrim caravans and ARC supply runs brought forth fruits, vegetables, and grains lost to the colony’s agriculturalists, a cornucopia compared to the enriched but bland nutrient resources tapped from the monoliths of the desert. Young Nasum and his siblings grew up running through new orchards of Jaffa oranges and McIntosh apples in the fresh fruit parks that adorned the base’s green belt, destination of tourists and local poets alike. The reintroduction of the coffee plant fueled a cultural renaissance within a renaissance as cafés sprang forth like toadstools after rain. Caffeinated hookah with a coffee fruit extract base added jolt to relaxation, quickly becoming the default vice for elderly retirees and idlers. In his youth, Nasum himself became a frequenter of the hookah lounges, listening to the tales of the bad old days from the grizzled ex-scouts and laborers who had surveyed the burning seas and built the society from under the noses of the ARC Directors.

Sophia Al-Maria said:
Sueraya Shaheen: You explore the shopping mall as a destination.

Al-Maria: That’s certainly an environment. It’s the future. It’s time travel that you went through, and it’s the end of the world. It’s even after the end of the world, when there’s a few ghosts of people left, people that you are not able to identify with blurred faces. The work shows the shopping mall as the haunted house. It’s frightening but it also has that deliciously scary feeling to it.

- Vogue Arabia interview, Datalinks

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Skipping Jumu’ah prayer, a lazing shopper stretches in the main entrance of the Forty Thieves Commercial Plaza

Even as Recontact satiated the basic material needs of the frontier base, it also sought to enrich the cultural, even spiritual lives of its inhabitants. Nasum was the first generation of Fort Quileute to grow up with new toys instead of those recycled from the earliest days of the Stellar Lifeboat Project, carved from desert stone or scarab-snake shell. Gone were the days of simple dolls and figurines adorned in traditional garb stitched together from rags. Now were miniature robots that could sing, dance, answer homework questions, and beam holographic images onto every surface. They were joined by their elder sibling servitors, household robotics of every type that the Pilgrims had secured from the Unity or bought from the Morganites and the Children, making sweeping the Hab Complex and harvest season in the Agridome a thing of the distant past.

But most of all, the colony received widespread consumer tech, from optical datalinks to ClipCom devices, each a far cry from the quicklinks sleeve computers left over from vintage Unity uniforms. Each plugged the user directly into the datalinks, a world hitherto unknown to the Al Falah host. Suddenly, the desert seemed a lot smaller as news of faraway biomes and vendettas between unfamiliar peoples, entire factions’ worth of cultural creations, athletics and recreational games invented post-Planetfall, all became within grasp, making the endless sands a little more finite. Places to yearn to visit, if not to one day relocate to, entirely.

The clans that once safeguarded the former exiles of the Stellar Lifeboat Project no longer seemed as relevant. The rich oral histories that once thrived in the absence of mass media seemed quaint. The youth of the base, bored to tears by the conservative thrift of their survivor ancestors, drifted out into the Commercial Plaza and other ARC-oriented amenities to stare mindlessly at soap operas and sports programs displayed in electronics departments, sneaking into alcohol-vending cantinas.

Sammy Abdullahi said:
You see that nice, juicy number on the bottom? That's your golden parachute. Drape it behind your pleasure foil, make the top-tals at the cabana club jealous. Fly a hot air balloon over the Uranium Flats, jump out, wave 'hi' to Chairman Groundhog, whatever you like. But know this is the payout you forgo if you reject acquisition. You walk, and I guarantee you so many Pilgrim gentry fungs will come crawling with their field hands, you'll think you built this little trade post on Plymouth Rock. - transcript from the Annexation of Echo Factory, formerly Morgan Rarities

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Burgemeester Sammy Abdullahi was the Governor's eyes and ears in Fort Quileute, the face of ARC during Recontact

In contrast to the carte blanche that the overwhelmed Council had once granted the citizenry of the base, reintegration with mother faction meant more than minimal oversight. But while van de Graaf's natural move would have been to send one of his tough-talking mountain man-turned-stakeholder country squires to crack the whip and ensure the cattle trains ran on time, his CFO-CHIO pursued a different tactic. Fielding chose one of her fixer-operators from one of the New Two Thousand's few urbanized centers to serve as the unlikely magistrate of this furthest frontier. Fresh from corporate vendettas and financial destabilization campaigns against the faction's business rivals, Stadtholder Sammy Abdullahi was sent packing from his private energy fund in the New Guilderland financial district, ferried by prototype airship to Fort Quileute.

A third generation Manhattanite whose Farsi was largely acquired via data-wheel, Abdullahi had taken one of ARC's financial services spin-offs and commandeered it into a brokerage of ecological futures, sovereignty swaps, and other complex derivatives that all boiled down to betting against the sunrise. Taken to Centauri to recreate an economic system with all of the last planet's trapdoors, backdoors, dirty tricks built in from the start, he had advanced the firm's interests against the likes of Morgan and Preston, and oversaw the development of shell companies for proxy battles in the capitalist jungle of the Chiron Cartel. Through overwrought profane skullduggery, the acerbic investor had secured a not-inconsiderable interest in the Ministry of Public Information of the Memory of Earth, successfully prevailing in the courts that his shares of RoyStar Weiguo from Earth were still legally binding in this new biosphere. (The fact a government institution is subject to the opinions of an outside shareholder, never mind an agent of an occasionally-hostile faction, infuriates Commander Mercator to no end, presenting plenty of nightmarish situations for the hapless Chairman of News Programming Jerry Wobegon and his assistant Donald “Dharma” Vetter.)

The economic probe was to be a judge of the change over the transformation of the base into a legitimate Pilgrim city. As Burgomaster, he was in theory the new governor of the base, a viceroy with full and sweeping powers left completely to his discretion.

Shortly after arriving upon the dusty streets of the fort, Abdullahi skipped out on the elaborate welcoming ceremony hosted by the Director’s Council to sip Arabic coffee, posing as one of the many independent artifact traders who had flocked to the base. After several chats with natives and fellow visitors alike, sampling the local fried luqma- a notorious gourmand, the Burgomaster was as equally renowned for his sumptuous lavender-draped wine and cheese soirees at Morgan Riviera as he was for stealing one-erg cronuts from Queequeg's Coffee franchises back at NG - he disappeared into the crowds of the medina. Emerging hours later, a case of sweets in one hand, an exquisite midwakh carved from mindworm husks in the other, he congratulated his bewildered hosts for the marvelous little society they had built. Then, gesturing at the hazy air casting mirages down the hall, opening the box to reveal half of the Turkish delights melted, proceeded to demand the Directors upgrade its environmental control systems immediately. Dazed but dazzled by praise, the former masters of the base immediately ordered improvements to their Closed Habitat Atmospheric Production facility. Thus did air conditioning, built from mission decades' worth of advancements from the rest of Planet, kickstart the viceroy's tenure.

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The Alfitr Towers were built for storing surplus resources reclaimed from Recycling Tanks. The design, an exact replica of the Swedish-built mushroom water towers of Kuwait City, was mandated by the Burgemeester to attract visitors

The arrival of Burgomaster Abdullahi marked a new stage in the hyper-development of Fort Quileute. The expansion of the mall into a bonafide Commercial Plaza modeled after the Prince Nasir Al-Subaai Supermall in Dammam, the Triplet Cities Emirate, took place under his watch; as did the construction of a massive vehicle bay for housing crawlers bound for the desert. The secondary guest Hab Complex was converted into a two-star luxury hotel in imitation of a Morgan Hilton, which was still far more extravagant than the region had ever seen. A Schreiber Project adventurer-anthropologist at the time described the looks of "mad anticipation" that greeted a troop of Sand Scouts returning from one of their artifact sweeps, beholding the gleaming edifice of the Quileute Continental for the first time. Weatherworn smacers, contracted by the viceroy to assist in the search and disarming of hazardous alien ruins, threw drunken revelries in the ultra-thread count upholstered suites of the hotel, becoming yet another sign of the incongruous progress that characterized the Recontact era. As were the increasingly expanding mega-projects replacing entire sections of the old base.

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Burj Al Falah penthouse, high Recontact era

The rejoining of Fort Quileute with the New Two Thousand irrevocably changed the soul of the base as it did its exterior. While posterity would condemn the time as a “generation of weakness,” little surprise that those who were farming moisture from the desert air and gathering crumbs from deep desert monoliths would readily grasp the horn of plenty, when proffered. As the base slowly joined Planetary society, it too would take on familiar problems of drone discontent, datalinks addiction, and ecological destruction.

There were those who disagreed with change. The labor organizer who could not be bought by thirty thousand ¤ a year, the over-pious imam or priest. Movements deemed too recalcitrant or dangerous were identified with pinpoint accuracy and handled by the newly-formed Desert Regulators, largely imported by veterans fresh from vendettas back home. But for the most part, the population of the base was glad to receive the fruits of modernity, regardless of cost.

The Burgomeister had rubbed the right shoulders, paid the occasional visit to mosque, doled out gift boxes of neocoke (he was a casual user- the elites he introduced it to, less so) through the office of the viceroy itself. Over time, the senate of sheiks gradually sold to the advancing ARC authority the same properties they had so fiercely, and perhaps quixotically, protected against the previously-ruling Council. Some who had signed away entire districts under their care could expect to be compensated with sports speeders imported from the capital, racing them through the sands and on the gleaming new highways around the base perimeter. The populace was largely satisfied by Public Antiquities Fund payments even as Terra Nova exported its own set of expert artifact hunters, ruin scavengers, and transporters, leaving the natives with more time for consumption. And the Al Falah Trade Union was happy as it received contract after contract to build yet another hotel, yet another discoveries showroom, yet another monument to factional grandiosity. Firyal Kašk and her husband retired contentedly to care for their brood, confident that the future of the colony was in the right hands. Their son Nasum aspired to be an academic of history, perhaps at the burgeoning university under construction.

Whatever one’s opinion of Recontact is, all agree that it was a Golden Age for the base that sprouted as abruptly as its tragic termination. Remembered not only as a mourned lost age, but recited as a promised glorious future to come.

Casting

Sammy Abdullahi is portrayed by Arian Moayed as Stewy Hosseini in Succession

Notes

This post was inspired by Gulf Futurism, a term coined by American-Qatari author and artist Sophia Al-Maria and Kuwaiti composer and artist Fatima Al Qadiri to denote an aesthetic marked by the drastic changes brought about by oil wealth to the Persian Gulf states: the rise in consumerism and materialist excess in traditionalist cultures, the drastic increases in wealth inequality, and the authoritarianism involved.

A quick primer on Gulf Futurism from WIRED columnist and cyberpunk founder Bruce Sterling, linking to “The desert of the unreal”, the original 2012 article where the phrase was first defined.

The ClipCom is a device mentioned in Outpost 2's Tales of New Terra

Quicklinks are computers built into a uniform sleeve, linked to other citizens, as described in the “Journey to Centauri” novella by Michael Ely

The fate of the Al Falah youth in the face of the datalinks is taken from the description of the Gaian-esque rustic Forest Arcology of Sim City 2000

Introductory scene of Succession’s Stewy Hosseini, the basis of Sammy Abdullahi

Queequeg's Coffee is from Deus Ex: Invisible War

CHAP facilities are from Outpost 1

Prince Nasir, of the Al-Subaai family, is from Syriana

Image Credits

The opening photo is concept art of Saudi Arabia’s Neom project, dubbed the Line.

Elevator into the Dome of the Rock is from the short film Nation Estate (2012) by Larissa Sansour, which imagines what if Palestine's statehood is confined in a high-rise skyscraper, with each city in a floor of its own. (“Ancient Aliens, Gulf Futurism, and Social Justice: The Liberating Visions of Arab Science Fiction”)

Figure laying on the marble floor is still from Sophia Al-Maria’s Black Friday exhibit, Whitney Museum

Kuwait Water Towers photo is by Al Manlangit

The opulent penthouse is album art of Fatima Al Qadiri’s Genre-Specific Xperience

Further reading

Al Qadiri & Al-Maria on Gulf Futurism - architectural and media examples of the aesthetic, Dazed Digital

'Gulf Futurism' Is Killing People - real-world repercussions, VICE Magazine

Ethnic Futurism In The Gulf - a critique of Gulf Futurism, Thesigers

Gulf Futurism: The Future Is Not A Desert Mirage, Sail Magazine

The Luxury Mall as Consumer Prison, review of Sophia Al-Maria’s “Black Friday”, New York Times

Gulf Futurism: How Post-Carbon Imaginaries Are Reproducing the Systemic Crisis, Berliner Gazette
 
Facility: Commercial Plaza

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Robin Sparkles said:
Everybody come and play
Throw every last care away
Let's go to the mall, today
- “Let's Go to the Mall”, Datalinks

From the beginning, there were bargains. Despite the widespread tales of mass looting and extortion, some desperate survivors engaged in semi-civilized trade during the heady hours of Planetfall. Medtechs sold painkillers and analgesics at bulk discounts for duffel bags' worth of high-powered rifles and handfuls of shredder flechettes. Librarians auctioned off crates of unmarked data wheels for power cells, making no promises whether they were clear for new recordings, or contained the memories of those long abandoned on Earth. It is said that Nwabudike Morgan approvingly strode through impromptu flesh bazaars as Charterist drudges, low-level jobtechs, Stellar Lifeboat Project refugees, and the otherwise indentured were bought and sold for bushels of grain. All around him was the incessant, inexorable march of commerce.

Colonial retailing was far less unsavory, if little more developed. At the beginning, economics of the frontier relied on essentially faction-run state economies where goods vital for survival were guaranteed to each citizen, if rarely equally distributed. The treasure troves of Earthmade goods, from raw materials, to broken parts, to baubles and trinkets, were sometimes confiscated by the state, other times left as the domain of the holder for the sake of preserving citizen morale. This ownership powered the emergent personal-scale barter systems between individual citizens, then small-time businesses that specialized in the collection and re-exchange of goods. Workers paid in energy chits traded for the meager luxuries available in base life, and privileges ranging from more rations to more hours at Rec Commons. This nascent activity laid the base for shops built along the principles of General Retail, serving frontier folk. With the formalization of rudimentary commercial doctrines into Retail Economics, and the construction of light industry factories for Consumer Production, new venues were required to serve interfactional shoppers.

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Caidu (財都) - “wealth capital”, outskirts of Plex Anthill. While free market-friendly factions centered commercial plazas in base life, such urban design was inimical to Hive ideology

The natural evolution of the dusty General Mart of frontier development, the Commercial Plaza allowed factions to showcase even more products and services for colonists to consume, stimulating economic behavior and population morale. In time, they served as third places between home and work, the setting for social development. From basic staples to luxury wares for citizens to enjoy during leisure hours, these facilities housed personal care articles refined from fungal by-products, toys fresh from factory-fabs, replicas of famous crown jewels based on 3-D lithography and composed of fool's gold and synthetic diamond, clothing and cuisines of all kinds. The luxury elite of Planet purchased racing vehicles, resurrected or mechanical animals, and household safe alien artifacts from high-end commercial plazas. Group dynamics researchers and social engineers assured administrators that the very act of shopping for products was almost as beneficial as buying and owning them.

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Wicker furniture made from reed and bamboo were a common and affordable household product, thanks to the plants' hydroponic hardiness and water absorption qualities.

Experiments in consumer behavior resulted in small, short-lived, low-complexity items intentionally created in short production runs. Profiteering from the retro waves of nostalgia for pre-Centauri existence, faction governments and Planetary corporations alike built 8-track tapes, beach balls, chia figurines, fuzzy dice, Neuromancer games, wax lips, and whoopee cushions and sold them in limited-edition drops at ridiculous markup, creating markets for Veblen goods that were inexpensive to make but exorbitant through artificially constraints. Though this supply was often supplemented by smuggling and counterfeiting from the black marketeers of Red Light Districts.

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Local cultures that celebrate the miracle of life might make use of commercial public spaces. Joyous Tribals at the Jaxton Communal Store line up to see the newest arrival of Arlen Hill base

Commercial Plazas were consciously modeled after the shopping malls of old Earth. By the time of the Unity mission, massive "giga-malls" dotted the megalopolitan conurbations of the planet. Equipped with the latest environmental scrubbers and filters, sporting geodesic domes reflecting the harshest of UV rays cast through depleted ozone, protected by layers of machine gun nests and evacuation fallback tunnels against survivalist or terrorist activity, these were the last refuge for prince and pauper alike. Even amidst global decline, a visit to the mall promised a chance to try on the latest fast fashions, window shop the Jones' latest gizmos, sample some cinnamon-infused pastries, play a game of electronic skee-ball, ski on synthesized snow-topped manhills, and drink a delicious ice-cold can of Jamesmont Soda. And beyond- malls acted as gathering locations for elections, civic demonstrations, religious ceremonies, revolutions.

The design of these edifices, the last great monument of terminal capitalism, were easily adapted by xenourban planners on Planet. As malls were often already hermetically-sealed miniature city-states of their own, it was an easy step for their Chironian cousins to protect patrons from nitrogen atmosphere and mindworms, instead of Earthbound threats. And as on the old homeward, they would offer residential space to those either too poor or too rich to live in a Hab Complex.

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Morgan PayStation at sunset. The fourth largest shopping complex of the Dynamic Enterprise, the facility was a hybrid Commercial Plaza and Entertainment Center that hosted games for multiple Laser League teams, including the Morgantown Slicers, the Morgan Collections Buyers, and the Jeneba Complex Worm-Wranglers

Each faction has its unique flavor in every facility. Morganite malls were man-made monoliths, towering and brimming with sugary nutrients, polished minerals, gamified energy. They functioned as miniature company towns within bases, boasting their own corporate regulatory jurisdictions and defense militias to protect their indoor greyhound racing tracks and basement polo fields. Some Morgan Capital Police units, such as the guardsmen of the gargantuan Factional Mall, are considered among the Dynamic Enterprise’s finest warriors, far from mere mall cops.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are factions that eschew the extravagance and symbolism of these cathedrals of commerce. The Human Tribe builds modest plazas modeled after the homespun malls of Anyburb, USA- certainly a concept to send Keller vomiting in his grave, but also a reflection of the lived experiences of Tribals from the strip mall-blighted American southwest. These nostalgic recreations of tackiest Americana hide their community vitality beneath garish architecture. Nestled between the post office, community energy bank, indoor pickleball court, soda fountains, and children’s escape room, shops in Tribal malls are basically mom and pop street fair stands housed in proper spaces instead of tattered tents. The Tribal way is to subsidize small-time creators under a common roof. Also, given Kellerite traumatic memories of the Second American Civil War, such as the massacre that followed the Siege of San Cristóbal Galleria in New Los Angeles, there is a tendency to reject the mini-fortress giga-mall designs out of respect to fallen Tribals from past generations.

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Two views of the Merchantmorph Trade Tower at Bishop Telecomm base, Chiron Cartel. Left - lower level floors undergoing remodeling between rival stores, courtesy of ward keeper Superior Defense Systems. Right - mid to upper floors under joint visionary management of Shidou Arms and Kanzaki Optics

In between these extremes include Chiron Cartel shopping centers, which in contrast to Morganite monoculture, sport hundreds of corporate brand outlets and dozens of firms’ department stores. In the characteristic unregulated style of the free enterprise zone, most Cartel shopping centers are an anarchic assemblage of retail spaces of radically differing sizes and haphazard placement. Like the faction’s government- or lack thereof, these facilities have a bare central governance that handles security, while details are hashed out by denizens. The more successful plazas more resemble collections of neighborhoods of stores that have signed strategic working contracts with one another, rather than pure anarchy.

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Halloween, considered one of the most important holidays among the Data Angels, is celebrated for an entire decurn. One annual event is the Cyber Shock, wherein the entire Segfault Mall is converted into an interactive haunted house for hardlight paintball between costumed players and animatronic horrors

Some factions dispense with indoor exclusivity altogether. The New Two Thousand cares not for the soft-handed, clean-nailed excess of other corporate factions, and thus holds mobile, pop up farmer’s market-type affairs where stakeholders of prominent families and companies gather to trade crops, flocks, and slaves. These might take place within domed or otherwise enclosed open spaces in bases- or outside, by the xenofungus fields themselves. The Zenith Zócalo at the U.N. Temple of Sol, built by Dai Seung Heavy Industries according to the Sons of Centauri-Ra’s exact specifications (mostly a fanciful recreation of the titular main square in Tenochtitlán), is perhaps the largest open air Commercial Plaza in the world, serving adherents of the solar cult, Unicorp chaebol businesspeople on leave, and curious intrafactional tourists from other Peacekeeper bases alike. Finally, travelers among the lone and level sands of the Great Dunes still whisper among themselves of the Grand Medina of long-lost Fort Quileute, perhaps the first Commercial Plaza of its kind. Once the cosmopolitan marketplace under painted clear skies, then a bustling entrepôt for the entire region’s alien artifact trade, nothing beside remains of that colossal wreck.

Notes

This entire post was inspired by the appearance of a shopping mall on the second episode of new animated series Fired on Mars. It reminded me that malls are a recurring feature in space colonies, orbital stations, even interstellar vessels. It’s interesting how shopping complexes, which themselves might be arcology-like interior worlds, can be nested into even larger self-sustaining structures. (Also see depictions in Total Recall, Mass Effect, The Expanse, etc.)

The concept of a Commercial facility was partly inspired by the titular structure from Outpost. Its successor, the Consumer Goods Factory from Outpost 2: Divided Destiny, includes a neat description for how a frontier consumer economy might form. Here’s a short tale about one.

The list of retro product offerings comes directly from the in-game manufacturing options for the Light Industry factories from the first Outpost.

Red Light Districts are also a structure from the original Outpost.

The benefits of wicker furniture in space colonization comes from blog article “Mars will have a lot of wicker furniture” by Tyler Maran.

Jamesmont Soda, a fully-owned subsidiary of Jimmy James Incorporated, is from Newsradio.

The Zócalo is also the name of Babylon 5’s central marketplace.

Image credits

Header image is from a mallsoft or vaporwave themed VRChat hub/world Starlight Plaza by theycallhimcake

People lining up to see a colony baby at the mall comes from Fired on Mars, episode 2

Morgan PayStation is album art for exotics by vcr-classique

Mall on fire is the Solomons Galleria of Sevastopol Station from Alien: Isolation, image courtesy of this amazing thread

Less-dilapidated space mall with Isaac Clarke is the Concourse of Titan Station/the Sprawl from Dead Space 2

Cyberpunk vs. techno-zombie picture is System Shock 2 concept art by Gareth Hinds

Further reading

“The Teens Who Listen to ‘Mallwave’ Are Nostalgic for an Experience They’ve Never Had”, MEL Magazine

“Let’s Go to the Mall”, Wikipedia
 


A Chosen Companion of the Spartan Federation. They are armed with a late-model hand weapon, the Heckler & Koch G97 automatic rifle. Santiago paid premiums to traders for the long-barrel variant, the better to advertise the saw-toothed bayonets issued to all non-commissioned ranks. Along with nineteenth-century military theorists, Santiago believed they encouraged élan, communicating that Spartan warriors were fully prepared for the grueling trial of close-quarters battle even in high gravity.

This mimetic fabrics of this soldier's fatigues have taken on the red shade of the fires at her back. The bulky helmet contains a point-to-point radio set while the torso is protected by bulletproof ceramic plate.




Gaian Patroller in civic duty uniform. The white shoulder boards and sun helmet indicate assignment to Gaia's Landing. Other noteworthy features of his kit include the tall gaiters--Gaians disdained to cut more brush than was strictly necessary for walkways--and collapsible Sarsilmaz machine pistol, typical of the faction's mostly unimpressive armory. Rebreathing equipment is stowed in the pouch at the small of the back: Gaian soldiers practiced endurance drills to accustom themselves to the nitrogen-rich environment. This trooper will go thirty minutes before donning a mask.



Ensign of the Temple Guard, dress uniform. What little wealth the Conclave amassed was spent in two ways: on grand architecture and even grander missions of exploration. Believers guarded their houses of worship in a manner no less fastidious than Miriam guarded their souls. Security was posted at all exterior access points and again outside the mausoleums of the movement's saints, to which only the faithful could gain admittance. Successful colonists were obliged to first make offerings, while all others were accepted on the basis of tithes. Because no "implements of war" were permitted within the Sanctuary, Temple Guard were skilled hand-to-hand combatants.


Sources:
First image is Imperial Guard battle uniform by FiloBeche on DeviantArt.

Second image is Palladian Regular Infantry by FiloBeche on DeviantArt.

Third image is Imperial Guard of Galileo - AI version by FiloBeche on DeviantArt.
 
The below content is written according to the template of the 1999 SMAC game manual. It follows the same style and reproduces, then builds on the language and formats thereof. Those familiar with the game should see many hints of new game mechanics that are nevertheless in keeping with the original themes.

Getting Started
Introduction

Welcome to Racing the Darkness, a portfolio of multimedia projects set in the universe of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, a 1999 computer game developed by FIRAXIS Games™.

These creative, not-for-profit works, like the game by which they were inspired and on which they remain predicated, offer perspectives on a question that has preoccupied members of our species since time immemorial: how now shall we live?

Ideology is the driving force of politics, economics, and conflict in this setting, and we strive to tell stories that will speak to where we have been, where we are, and where we may be going as a global, human community.

The Story
Soon after the new millennium begins, humankind’s oldest enemies—war, famine, and disease—are winning the battle on planet Earth. The United Nations decides to attempt the mission that has been the dream of countless science fiction writers and fans for generations: the colonization of a new world, before it is too late. The establishment of a new outpost for mankind as an alternative to the decaying situation on our mother planet seems to be the last and best hope for the continued existence of our species.

Codenamed “Unity,” the plan is simple: send an expedition to the nearest Earth-like planet, Chiron, in the Alpha Centauri system. Furnish the people, equipment, and supplies necessary to build a new and prosperous society. Ensure that the mission stays on-track by carefully monitoring its progress from Earth. Then, when the time is right, and if the need still exists, begin shuttling others to this New World.

But space travel is a difficult undertaking. It is hard to reach our own moon. Nuclear pulse propulsion can achieve only a fraction of the speed of light, meaning the journey to Chiron will be decades long. During that time, the colonists will be placed in suspended animation—cold sleep—to arrest the natural aging process and reduce the logistical complexities of travel. (It is not yet feasible to supply enough food, water, and other necessities to produce a viable generation ship.)

As Unity reaches the Alpha Centauri system, it is beset by multiple crises: a micrometeorite collision leading to the catastrophic, cascading failure of multiple ship's systems, compounded by a general mutiny that culminates in the assassination of the expedition's leader, Captain Jonathan Garland, and its ultimate dissolution.

Factions
The human factions of Planet are not divided by race, language, or place of ancestral origin. Rather, the survivors organize themselves according to ideological preferences. Each faction is guided by the vision of its leader. These visions, in turn, give each faction a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. By comparing the strengths of your faction to the parameters of a customized planet, you can either give yourself an edge against the other factions or set yourself a unique challenge to overcome.

You are likely to find the game more enjoyable if you pick a faction you can empathize with (even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything they profess).

University of Planet (led by Academician Prokhor Zakharov)
The University is completely dedicated to research and the creation of technologies to solve the problems of mankind. They are rumored to sometimes put the pursuit of knowledge ahead of ethics. They start the game with the Unity Computing technology and one bonus technology of their choice (a nod to data tapes they have salvaged) and must pursue the Discover research path. As befits their interest in tools, the University’s affinity is for Supremacy. Each University base receives a free Network Node at founding. The University’s research progresses quickly, but their open-access philosophy makes them susceptible to attacks by covert “Probe Teams,” and their natural curiosity causes them to question the authorities that provide security and defense, undermining internal stability and power projection. The University cannot make Romantic or Enlightened social choices. The University builds a new Robot for every 6 citizens. Three of the University’s five starting populations are Robots, placing an early cap on their economy. A Librarian helps add to their already-impressive edge in technological research.

Gaian Stepdaughters (led by Lady Deirdre Skye)
The Gaians are determined not to repeat the environmental mistakes of Old Earth. They seek to limit the impact of human settlement on Planet. They start out with the Centauri Ecology technology and advanced abilities to interact with native life, including the ability to move freely through xenofungus squares and gather extra nutrients from the fungus. Their empathy with Planet gives them the ability to place ravaging mindworms directly under their control. Their experience with life systems makes their bases more efficient and confers significant bonuses to food production but their pacifist leanings undermine the abilities of their military units and they resent police control in times of crisis. Because of negative environmental consequences, Gaians cannot choose the Free Market economic modality. Gaians may prioritize either the Explore or Choose research paths. The Gaian affinity is for Harmony, following from their desire to live “in dialogue” (symbiosis) with Planet. The Gaians begin the game with Emergency Supplies representing Unity’s seed bank. Their starting population includes both a Technician and an Artist, allowing them to get head starts on culture and production.

Human Labyrinth (led by Chairman Sheng-ji Yang)
This faction is ruled under harsh collectivist/authoritarian principles. The good of the individual is totally subordinate to the interests of the state as defined by its ruler. The Labyrinth seeks to radically redefine what it means to be human, trampling preconceived notions about right and wrong. These so-called “Hivemen” are isolationist and militaristic. The Labyrinth begins with the Doctrine: Loyalty technology and may choose two bonus doctrines at game start. Their bases are built underground for security, and befitting their hermitically closed society, each base receives a free Resocialization Chamber facility to convert citizens to drones. The Labyrinth’s population growth, social engineering multipliers, and production output are all above average, but their economy is weakened by isolation and they suffer from inefficiency caused by repression. There is a 50% chance that new populations will be Drones. The Labyrinth cannot make Democratic social choices. The Hive’s starting population is divided between simple laborers and the ruling castes, consisting of one Overseer, one Talent, and a Thinker. The faction’s Colony Pod and ‘Former both use the drill rig chassis and can burrow beneath Planet’s surface. The Labyrinth’s Affinity is for Supremacy and it may pursue either Expand or Command research priorities, in line with the Chairman’s philosophy. The Labyrinth cannot make social choices except on the Frontier and Classical spectrums.

Morgan Industries (led by CEO Nwabudike Morgan)
The Morganites are organized along corporate lines and dedicated (at least in theory) to laissez-faire capitalist economic principles. Everyone and everything are presumed to be in competition for material wealth and comfort. The Morganites start the game with 100 energy credits and the Industrial Base technology. This faction prioritizes the Build research lane. Reflecting their entrepreneurial endeavors, Morganites receive a percentage of bonus income based on the total amount of commerce between factions and generate additional energy and trade goods. Because citizens have expensive tastes, it is difficult for them to support units in the field and they must build Hab Complex facilities before the population of any of their bases can exceed four citizens. The Morganites have limited options on the Economics spectrum. Despite starting the game with a unit of mercenary soldiers that is generally superior to basic militia, Morganite citizens lack the interest to sacrifice for their convictions, reducing the quality of their armies. The Morganites begin with the game with a mixed bag of two Citizens, one Drone, and one Overseer to join their Talent. Morganites are Supremacists who see no reason not to modify self or Planet. Morganites may not choose the Equity value. The second of the Morganites’ unique starting units is a crawler, which can be used for trade or resource-ferrying missions.

Spartan Federation (led by Colonel Corazón Santiago)
Spartans are paramilitary survivalists. They believe that people have both a right and a duty to bear arms—and to use them when tyranny threatens. The Spartans begin the game locked in a Vendetta with all other factions for 40 turns. It is in a permanent Vendetta with the Tribe. The Spartans start the game with the Doctrine: Initiative technology and a powerful Impact Squad. As befits their focus on preparations for war, they do not pay the added cost for developing new unit prototypes. Spartan research follows the Conquer tree. The morale of Spartan units is exceptionally high and their seasoned officer cadre imparts a substantial combat bonus, but their extravagant military spending weighs down economic operations. The availability of three War Stores can help the Spartans turn out a large army in the early game. Because of the presence of certain malcontents in Spartan society—those who take the call for armed vigilance to a bullying extreme--overall faction cohesion is poor. The Spartans may not make the “Wealth” social choice. The Spartan population is small, but an Officer adds to their punch. Spartans are Purists who romanticize the past.

The Lord’s Conclave (led by Sister Miriam Godwinson)
The believers of the Conclave devote themselves to pursuit of higher truth and seek to persuade other societies of the correctness of their beliefs. They start the game with the Social Psych technology and follow the Choose research path. Believers are resistant to probe brainwashing but their suspicion of the mind-machine interface and reduced attention to secular affairs ******s their research efforts, while their belief that Planet is their Promised Land sometimes interferes with their ecological sensibilities. The Believers cannot adopt Eudaimonia as a social choice. Believers are Purists when it comes to affinity. Also, this faction will not make Cyborgs or Specials. The Labyrinth grows at a fearsome rate and is already the largest faction by population size at game start. An Artist and a Thinker provide opportunities to focus on cultural expansion or doctrinal advances. Believers pursue research on the Choose tree. The Believers also begin the game with a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital once used to treat the sick and dying aboard Unity, later repurposed as a ranging vehicle to survey their new inheritance.

The Peacekeeping Forces (led by Commissioner Pravin Lal)
The Peacekeepers continue to advance the humanitarian principles embodied in the Unity Mission Charter and are officially committed to the reunification of the factions under their own democratic leadership. They start the game with the Information Networks technology, reflecting their commitment to the free and vigorous exchange of ideas. The idealism of this faction attracts an intellectual elite, but their society tends toward bureaucratic inefficiency. Peacekeepers have an aversion to the Classical social choices. They follow the Build and Choose research trees and hold the affinity of Purity. Peacekeeper bases can exceed normal population limits by 2. Due to their experience with parliamentary maneuvering, Peacekeeper votes count as double when the Planetary Council convenes for an election. Peacekeeper societies have little slack: they begin with the game with an Administrator, Artist, Librarian, and Talent, allowing the player to make early headway on Secret Projects. The Peacekeepers begin the game with a squad of Power Armor, reflecting their association with what remains of the elite United Nations Marine Corps.

The Human Tribe (led by Selectman Pete Landers)
The Human Tribe is a network of communities (some would say, a cult) founded in the United States during the last civil war. Members believe that the ideal society resembles a neighborhood: small, intimate, and determinedly parochial. Tribal forces stowed away aboard Unity and helped contribute to the ship’s destruction. They begin with the game with Doctrine: Defense. The Tribe’s veteran soldiers are highly effective, especially when on defense, and its suspicious society is hard to infiltrate or subvert. Each base also receives a free Bunker facility. However, the faction suffers significant penalties to production and research because of its emphasis on informal relationships and suspicion of centralized government. Tribals are Purists, hearkening back to an imagined ideal of social amity and civic engagement. This faction must make social choices from the Frontier or Romantic spectrums. Tribals may explore the Build and Conquer research trees. The Tribe is the smallest faction at game start. Reflecting their status as violent stowaways that participated in the fighting that led to Unity’s destruction, the Tribe begins the game locked in Vendetta with all other factions for 20 turns. It is in a permanent Vendetta with the Spartans.

The New Two Thousand (led by Governor Oscar van de Graaf)
The New Two Thousand are investors in a joint-stock company that helped to finance the U.N. Mission to Alpha Centauri. They agreed to be compensated with land after a brief period of service to the “main” mission. Faction members hope to carve out their own slices of paradise with as little interference from others as can be managed. Their affinity of Supremacy matches a belief that Chiron should be the oyster of anyone with enough courage to place it under the plow or the lash. The New Two Thousand begin the game with the Doctrine: Expansion and may pursue the Build and Expand research pathways. The faction’s values lend themselves to higher efficiency and industrial output but reduced morale and cohesion due to the enforcement of contracts that are not always favorable for their signatories. The faction starts with one War Stores and two ‘Formers that represent assets of the American Reclamation Corporation, a federal corporation once run by the governor himself. The New Two Thousand begin the game with two Talents and two Technicians, a reflection of the Governor’s success at recruiting “the best of the best.” This faction is Supremacist; it may not make the Planned or Post-Scarcity social choices.

Sources:
Chris McCubbin, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (Redwood City, CA: Electronic Arts, 1999), pp. 11-13.
 


Believers carve new tracks in the Troilus Hills as twin suns burn through the gloaming overhead.

Territorial disputes were a leading cause of vendetta. Hopes of putting an end to serial violations of its "sovereign range" by Hunter overlanders and Conclavist expeditions finally tempted even the proud Two Thousand to participate in Pravin Lal's planetary government.

Godwinson refused to abandon the Naming Project, notwithstanding the very limited resources available to her faction for warfare, especially by unsupported flying columns.

Curiously, the first Believer expeditions reported almost no untoward encounters with xenofauna, a finding that confounded their less-fortunate opponents. Lady Deirdre Skye later hypothesized that the "almost respectful quality of the surveys" must have been apparent to the Living Planet.

The Believers, of course, were later notorious for their proprietary attitude towards the new world and its resources, using the knowledge gained through early roaming to support the Shaping wrought by Chief Liquidator Nagao.


Unity Scout Choppers combined all the most desirable features sought by Mission Control: collapsible, portable, easy to fly, and simple to maintain, with exceptionally long range and an impressive payload considering their weight. Even better, they were cheap: U.N. logisticians sourced them from the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, which supplied 164 units that had been previously rejected for service in Afghanistan. (Slow and lightly-armored, they were tempting and easy targets for mujahedin fighters, but neither limitation was judged relevant to flying conditions on Chiron.) Refurbished, fitted with larger power plants and broader rotor blades to handle the much stronger gravity, Scout Choppers took pride of place in J.T. Marsh's blueprint for early reconnaissance.

After accounting for the full squadron of twelve on loan to the Forward Contact Teams, Kleisel Mercator's Air Operations Directorate survivors are believed to have hoarded most of the remaining air-frames. Others were loaded aboard Supply Pods since observed operators by M.Y. 15 included Gaia's Stepdaughters and the Human Ascendancy, and at least six were in the hands of the Lord's Conclave from very early on.


Automatics were as varied as the beasts of the Earth. Many survivors grew to fear cyborgs and robots--"things" that appeared to be facsimiles or caricatures of themselves--without giving a second thought of the use of self-driving vehicles that, equipped with polymorphic software, were often better at avoiding or outrunning danger than organic pilots.

The Forward Contact Teams put thousands of radio-dispatched Unity Crawlers to work. They spread quickly and silently across the face of Shamash and beyond with configurations for every biome: self-righting capsules for the wine-dark seas; wheeled platforms for broken grounds; tracked haulers for fungal toadstools and nitrate heaps; and ski-mounted variants the permanent ice.


Each Landing Pod carried a fleet of micro-vehicles. Provision included at least one emergency tug to perform incipient medical transport and firefighting duties either aboard the Pod itself or in the tight confines of early settlements.

The dearth of atmospheric oxygen meant that most fires would be fueled by whatever the colonists brought with them--industrial gases, and radiological or conventional fuels. Most tugs used expansion foams in lieu of water.

Experience taught that the most common base emergency was loss of life support, and many crews dismantled the firefighting apparatus altogether in favor of conserving onboard storage space for self-contained breathing apparatus and quick-assembling oxygen shelters.

Sources:
First image is "Scout the Danger Zone 3 - Hill" by lhlclllx97 on DeviantArt.

Inspiration for Believer expedition's is StrategosRisk's recommendation of Earth by David Brin, in which it is suggested that God's first positive commandment to Man was to name the beasts of the Earth.

Helicopter is Mil Mi-8 Ink Drawing [IV] by Rooivalk1 on DeviantArt.

Third image is AF-44 'Autonomous Fuel Transport' by moth3R on DeviantArt.

Fourth image is an MD-33 Navy Tractor firefighting apparatus by Mick Evans.
 
How Now Shall We Live?

Late twenty-first century scholars of international relations need not have searched far or long for indictments of the modern nation-state. Scarcely four hundred years after Peace of Westphalia, and less than one hundred-and-fifty years after the founding of the United Nations, the gross failures of “commonwealth government”—“political community founded for the common good”—prompted broad and decisive reassessment of how the societies of Planet Earth should live henceforth.

Of the many inquests performed on the carcass of commonwealth government, those carried out by French military officer Raoul André St. Germaine and World Health Organization Director-General Pravin Lal were most influential outside academia. St. Germaine's popular history, written for the lay reader, traced the decline of what he called “the American project,” or multi-ethnic, participatory democracy, to its roots in the pre-modern era. Using data supplied by the Tomorrow Institute’s World Wide Web Watch, St. Germaine showed that, starting from the year 1990, the dispositive content of digital speech was overwhelmingly lies. Without a shared truth to anchor debate, the political amity necessary to hold together heterogeneous societies simply disintegrated. Confronted with a dizzying array of ideas, citizens declined even to seek information that was not pleasing to them, much less to accept it. Political battle lines hardened progressively until the disputants became convinced of the fundamental moral illegitimacy of their opponents, leading predictably to increased tolerance for anti-democratic behavior. Democratic societies therefore experienced a rash of coups d’etats and regional secessionist crises in the search for conditions under which single-party rule could be asserted.

Lal’s assessment was incompatible with St. Germaine’s, but his conclusions were essentially the same. St. Germaine represented central governments as flat-footed and naively idealistic. Lal wrote that they had become infected with the same manias as their constituents, promulgating mass political fantasies that were such a poor fit for objective reality, public administration became impossible. In essence, governments opportunistically sold their voters lies to the point that they were forced to govern as if those lies were true. Under conditions of state-sanctioned censorship, attempts to define national identity in ways that served the state became corrupted by chauvanism. Eventually, civic fires burned out of control as bad-faith actors tired of compromise and despaired of the sacrifices they were being asked to make on behalf of government in spite of its clear incompetence.

Commonwealth government endured as of 2071, but in a much-diminished capacity. Fewer nations attempted it, and fewer people demanded it compared to the previous century. In the words of Survivalist provocateur Corazon Santiago, “Democracy was for the poor and the downtrodden--those who still lack a voice.” Those whose fundamental needs were met usually tried to choose something else.

One of the earliest replacements for commonwealth government was oligarchy—government delivered with many of the same stylings as before, but which did not even pretend to serve the interests of disfavored groups. Instead, these were explicitly persecuted under the pretext that they represented a threat to political order. The distinction between a troubled commonwealth government and a “full” oligarchy was always in dispute, but the non-profit Freedom House identified just fifteen free governments worldwide in 2060, down from a high of forty-three in 2023, whereas the number of partly free and not-free governments rose sharply over the same time period. [1] Microgovernments presiding over populations of less than 20,000 were excluded from this count. On Chiron, participatory democracy was preserved in numerous societies, while multi-party democracy was most associated with the Peacekeepers, the Shapers, and the Hunters of Chiron.

Some wished to dispense with democracy altogether. Monarchists demanded simplification of politics by selection of an enlightened despot who would provide the wise discernment of which a democratic body politic was incapable, and the perpetuation of their dynasty according to hereditary principles. Interest in this form of government was greatest among those steeped in paternalistic, meritocratic, and deterministic institutions that taught obedience and suggested the possibility of closely grooming monarchs-in-waiting to perform their role well. Thus monarchy was most appealing to military officers, technocrats, and geneticists. Monarchy, distinct from simple despotism, was regarded with widespread suspicion and practiced only in a few places in 2071: in Golden China, imperial Iran, and most notably, on the artificial continent of Shamash during periods of national emergency. On Chiron, monarchy in stratocratic (military) trappings became the dominant government type of the New State.

Another transformative answer to perceived failures of commonwealth government was corporate rule, sometimes called corporatocracy. Its chief exponent, entrepreneur Nwabudike Morgan, called it “the antidote for stability.” The purpose of a corporation was to generate profit for its shareholders. Whereas commonwealth government aspired to deliver aspirational goods such as culture and purpose, corporatocratic governments confined their promises to (in Morgan’s words) “measurable, material benefits: food, lodging, entertainments, and physical security.” From 2050 to 2070, roughly ten percent of the Earth’s surface and fourteen percent of its population was managed by for-profit corporations under charter or contract to national governments. The success of corporatocracy as a full replacement for commonwealth government is hotly debated. Biafran PhD candidate Osa Bamidele, who stratified survey respondents according to title and income levels from 2064 to 2066, reported strong satisfaction with corporatocracy as a replacement for commonwealth government among elites, but felt that his results for drone workers must reflect tampering. Corporatocratic governments on Chiron emerged among the Morganites and was also practiced by the Bourse and Unicorp.



St. Louis, MO. The Lucinda P. Shaw Government Building, more commonly known as the ARC Pyramid, is left of center. In the background, the Malcolm Baldrige Suspension Bridge spans the Mississippi River, made four miles wide by the 2039 New Madrid Megaquake.

Shaw was the third African-American to serve as U.S. Attorney General, a position she occupied for fourteen years across five administrations. She survived two assassination attempts unscathed and, upon her retirement, was honored with appointment to the
Unity Mission as an adviser to Captain Garland. Her fate is unknown.



Popular impressions of the corporation-as-government were favorably influenced by the American space program. Every American president from Eisenhower to Shanden claimed that private entrepreneurship was the best guarantee of keeping pace with, or maintaining America’s lead over, the Soviets in Space Race. The credibility of these claims seemed manifest in the success of Project Orion, as well as the more than fifty human recovery missions launched under the auspices of Comprehensive Transport, Liberty Bell Astro, and Kryad Synergies in support of the U.S. Air Force beginning in 1970.

It was widely accepted that the cost of space development outside Earth’s orbit required that profit motive, not civilian science, drive decision-making. Corporations had their own reasons for investing heavily in the skills and welfare of space workers, who almost always reported strong satisfaction with their favorable circumstances.

A fourth answer to dissatisfaction with commonwealth government was self-separation, distinct from secession in that self-separation was always only a temporary measure reflecting objective state failure, not alienation from the very premise of commonwealth government itself. “Classic” secessionism as practiced by the Christian States of America or the governors of Free Missouri, Alberta, Lone Star Texas, North Florida, and Chiapas, wanted permanent estrangement because of irreconcilable differences over the laws and political structures of the states from which they attempted to divorce. Advocates of self-separation, including but not limited to Kellerites, Proto-Survivalists (a blanket term for those who explicitly disavowed the tents of Holnism), and some Vaulters, claimed to have been first abandoned by their national governments, and thereby thrown on what Jean-Baptiste Keller called “the mercy of our own means.” The most generous estimates of the number of self-separated communities approached two percent of global population in 2050 but dropped below a half-percent two decades later. Most were Americans later reabsorbed into Unionist society. [2] Self-separatist communities usually lacked the diversity to achieve democratic pluralism, but did make decisions under a one-person, one-vote principle. On Chiron, this form of government defined the Tribe and the Neo-Spartans.

Corporatocracy and self-separation withstood tampering over time. Joint-stock entrepreneurialism was a form of corporatocracy distinctive for the small number of participants, which meant flatter organizational structures and more opportunity for direct experience of risks and rewards. Echoes of self-separation were evident in the almost hostile attitude that joint-stock entrepreneurs directed toward government. Unlike more traditional corporatocrats, whose wealth was synonymous with power in whatever government system persisted, joint-stock entrepreneurs saw themselves carving out wholly new spaces, merging the lust for wealth with a desire for total self-actualization. Members of the New Two Thousand carried this tradition to Chiron, where they looked to alienate land and practice a radical individualism that some felt was indistinguishable from Holnism.

Some believed that the best salve for loss of commonwealth government was organized religion. The Great Reawakening coincided with the Crisis of the Twenty-First Century. Archaeological recovery of ancient texts brought more than 120 apocryphal texts into consideration for inclusion into the Judeo-Christian biblical canons. Radiological incidents were almost always attended by eschatological claims. Debate around the legitimacy of this new information attracted keen attention from a global readership grappling with the traditional maladies of war, famine, scarcity, and disease.

As civil authorities became less able to meet the physical and spiritual requirements of their subjects, faith-based actors answered the unmet calls, mobilizing charity on an unprecedented scale. Faith movements sometimes allied themselves to secular political causes, as in the case of Miriam Godwinson, whose initial analysis of Scripture led her to the conclusion that civil and religious leadership should be held carefully distinct, or they could become estranged from them. Hundreds of “petty” religions were made and unmade in the liminal spaces of the Indian Ocean Exclusion Zone. Revivalism was especially hot in space habitats: disconnection from the familiar and the very high rate of fatal accidents focused cultural development on the question of life after death.

So Marian Christianity, Catholic Christianity, New Judaism, Sunni Islam, and Confucian thought experienced booming growth. Marian Christians, who comprised most of Miriam Godwinson's followers, incorporated eighty new texts into their canon and were heavily influenced by the belief that works, not faith alone, would come to define their eligibility for salvation. These included charity as well as a new concept, called stewardship, which defined their relationship to Earth, and, for Unity mission survivors, Chiron, which they sometimes called New Earth. Although influenced by the Green movements of the 1990s, the Stewardship movement rejected conservationist values in favor of practical human interests. This put the Believers more in tune with the Morganites than the Gaians with respect to the disposal of planetary resources, but it also suggested the possibility that faction members could have a spiritual relationship with the Planet that was not so much a meeting of equal minds as the acknowledgement between master and subject. Unlike the relatively new innovation of Marian Christianity, other revivalisms tended to be concerned with the engagement of long-standing tradition and thought with the ethical quandries posed by modern technology.

A last noteworthy solution to problems of good government was automation. Some called for humans to submit their common problems to computers that would supposedly strip away any agenda when calculating viable options and balancing competing interests. While Johann Anhaldt would not go so far as to eliminate the human element in governance, he and Prokhor Zakharov undeniably attempted to divest certain aspects of base and social administration in ways they called "scientific."

[1] Colonial governments and minority-rule states usually practiced a form of limited (“closed”) democracy in which only certain privileged classes were permitted to participate officially in national decision-making. Freedom House’s policy was to classify colonial governments as partly free or not free. This included Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Israel, South Africa, Rhodesia, Katanga, Australia, and Thailand.

[2] Per Xolo-Boaz, enduring estrangement between self-separated populations and commonwealth governments should not be regarded as evidence of abandonment of commonwealth principles by the former. Indeed, it is best understood as reaction to the belief that self-separated persons were treated, unfairly, as traitors.


Sources:
For the definition of a commonwealth, I used Wikipedia.

First image is “The Pyramid” by Bogdan-MRK on DeviantArt.

Second image is “Colony Ship Launched” by Fondrin on DeviantArt.
 


Hive sand dredges begin construction of Visionary's Bolthole as a rare storm brews. Moisture will aid the digging process, but, more importantly, the violent winds and rain will suppress Neo-Spartan air patrols.

With few Talents to spare for viceregal duties, Chairman Yang preferred to build outposts in lieu of additional bases after MY35. The Bolthole would serve as just that--a relatively small and inelegant strong-point capable of providing convenient shelter to Hive raiding parties caught out on the far dunes.




Half the tank for half the cost. The Ghazal was a prototype light tank built by the Neo-Spartan Column sometime before MY39.

Its configuration was deceptive: the gyro-stabilized turret contained a highly sensitive television camera used to guide the flight of micro-missiles carried in launch tubes on the hull. For close-in defense, there were pairs of coaxial weapons in recessed mounts to either side of the camera pod: two 7.62mm machine guns firing NATO-standard rounds, each one set below a grenade launcher fed with hard-kill countermeasures. This active defense was guided by the tank's large monodirectional radio crests.

Because there were few better options, Santiago found herself emulating the Hermet King with which she shared a sandy exile, poaching off those foolhardy enough to risk a desert crossing.




Believing that kings must conduct affairs in the open, Contre-Amirale St. Germaine spent jubilee years on land in La Tropicana, a pleasure palace abutting the Promenade Ligne Haute, a resort city reserved for his faction's elite--those trusted not to abuse the privilege.

The "CO" often solved political problems either by entrapping unwary members of "problem" families to undermine their standing in his court or rewarding them with extended furlough at the government's expense.

Though considered a moral obscenity by Miriam Godwinson and a blatant threat to the competing interests of Nwabudike Morgan, La Tropicana famously lured Lady Deirdre Skye into compact with St. Germaine after she discovered he had ordered his gardeners to preserve examples of Chironian flora pushed to extinction elsewhere on Shamash.

Sources:
First image is "Harvesters of Dune" by Constantin Simion on ArtStation.

Second image is "Sci-fi tank" by Sergey Shinkevich on ArtStation.

Third image is "Abdotupe 0004" by DeviantArt.
 


The cell blocks of Unity's correctional facilities were accessible only by a trunk-line tramway that traversed the open space between the end of one of the vessel's heat dissipation fins and the forward-most Hab Bay. That gulf was the location of a battery farm, residual light from which is visible through the tramway aperture at the top right of this picture.

Occupying the lowest rung of any Chironian society was the prisoner.

This position was potentially accessible in three ways. Some portion of this population consisted of people made prisoner before 2071. These were convicts placed aboard Unity as unfree laborers by various donor nations. Most were inmates of the Soviet or Chinese penal systems, all were selected on the basis of good health and fitness for hard labor, and the U.N. suspected that a majority were guilty only of political crimes. A very high proportion of these individuals survived hibernation to fall into the hands of Aleigha Cohen. The second population of prisoners were captives, usually taken during vendetta, but also during informal skirmishing or in raids. A third set of prisoners was created through the normal operation of criminal justice when individuals violated the laws of their respective factions or committed trespass while on the territory of another faction.



An image from the Unity Crisis. Two members of a heavy rescue team drag an injured convict to a temporary holding area on the orders of Commandant Sardul Singh, the officer responsible for the mission's correctional functions.

Prisoners presented serious ethical problems for early colonies especially. They demanded food, water, shelter, medical care, and warding. If they did not receive these minimum interventions, there would be trouble: either the prisoners would sicken and die, or they would become violent. For this reason, the Conclave immediately attempted to ransom any prisoners that fell into their hands. Others took a harder line. Spartans, Pilgrims, Gaians, and Tribals shot most surrendering enemies so as to avoid the imposition of care, keeping only a few higher-ranking individuals alive for interrogation. Hunters stripped their victims, consigning them to narcosis. The New State similarly set the occasional prisoner adrift in inflatable rafts. Taking prisoners appealed only to factions eager for labor: the Hive, the University, the Dreamers, the Ascendancy, and the Morganites.

Unruly prisoners could be nerve-stapled into dumb docility, but only at the cost of much of their intellectual and even physical utility, and this strategy was embraced only by the Labyrinth. Some were also made into soldiers, but prior to the advent of reliable neural re-patterning, the reliability of these forces was too low to make the prospect at all tempting. Conversation was possible, but expensive--and controversial, for one's own citizens were sure to object when their enemies were welcomed at table. To create incentives that redounded to the benefit of the faction that possessed them, prisoners were often indentured for lengthy terms of servitude. The Morganites and Pilgrims both practiced this form of coerced labor in lieu of slavery.

Rumors abounded that prisoners of the University could expect prolonged suffering as victims of gruesome experimentation, a fate actually more likely to be befall them in the hands of the Morganites or the Dreamers. With so few able-bodied citizens, Zakharov was more interested in laboratory assistants and medical orderlies than test subjects, at least for the first thirty years of settlement. In a warped reflection of the cruelties visited upon them by their neighbors, the Gaian Sisterhood drove their prisoners into the fungus, a strategy defended by the Lady Skye as her people's best deterrent against future abuse. Spartans were equally infamous for their brutalities to the servile class.

Terms were best from the Children of the Atom, who lacking martial inclination, were usually pleased to release prisoners on their own recognizance; the Peacekeeping Forces; the Memory of Earth; and the Lord's Conclave. Both Lal and Mercator promulgated codes of law that accorded prisoners specific protections from exploitation and guaranteed them the a basic living, albeit in semi-permanent captivity. Conclave theologians produced the Captive's Book, a collection of extracts from the voluminous Books of Meronicus, with an even larger component of theological and sociological analysis. This text, provided as a sequence of data tapes, purported to speak to the spiritual aspects of the prisoner's plight. It was mandatory reading for those convicted of civil offenses.



University Security escorts a proud scientist to his lecture hall at Budushii Dvor. The Academician did not deign to become involved in the affairs of his proctors and rarely considered a colleague's disciplinary status when assigning projects.

Captives were treated far worse than civil offenders, especially those of higher rank or caste--individuals that had already consumed a significant proportion of their factions' resources and so were judged worthy of fast rehabilitation, usually on easy terms. Morganites could buy their way out of trouble, even to the point of arranging their own contracts of indenture before the authorities could do so on their behalf. Spartans were pardoned on the condition that they volunteer for temporary assignment to penal battalions where they would serve as shock troops. Tribals remanded civil offenders to the care of their families. Repeat offenders were simply exiled.

Sources:
Source of the first image is unknown. I found it on Ben Austin's Pinterest site where it is labeled "Sci Fi Prison." A TinEye reverse image search suggested several possibilities for original provenance, including an artist with the handle of Azure_Dragon and Fantasy Flight Games.

Second image is from the 2012 film Lockout.

Third image is from the Peacock series Intergalactic.
 


Gaian artisans excavated the conservatory at Titania's Rest from the stem and cap of a mushroom more than 900 meters in length. The still-living myconid's husk proved fertile growth medium for fragrant ferns and bioluminescent bulbs.

In the words of concert pianist Cristopham Westover, who played Titania twice, the performer experienced "a transcendental peace." Sathieu Metrion agreed. Supposing that recollections like Westover's indicated Deirdre had successfully tapped into the planetary overmind, Metrion organized the capture of Titania's Rest in MY40. The Gaian defenders gave their lives dearly, refusing their lady's repeated orders to withdraw.




Members of the Unity crew assemble in the ship's hangar bays to await final departure. Anguish is evident on the face of the nearest survivor.

These evacuees have been directed to don rescue hard-shells with the intent of mitigating injuries during descent.




Tribal Minutemen plant the stakes for a sensor field somewhere in Gaian territory. When it came to the mindworm menace, time--forewarning--was an even better defense than fire.

Sources:
First image is "ComfyUI 01513" by Dralles on DeviantArt.

Second image is "EVA passage way" by helot on DeviantArt.

Third image is "Warzone art" by VentulArt on DeviantArt.
 
Chairman Sheng-ji Yang said:
The baton strikes haphazardly. Among the more fortunate, this may impart an unwanted sense of immunity. You will find that gas punishes more equitably. - Instructions to the Acolytes



The Chiron Guard reach Objective Crimson during a rapid-reactor drill in the ruins of Post 87, a Morganite trading post abandoned the year before.

Because of their obvious practical utility, but also the exceptional ease with which they could be manufactured and employed, tactical smokes were used in nearly every recorded engagement fought between the human factions of Chiron, usually by all combatants.

As an obscurant, smoke grenades were the blessed relief of every soldier crossing open ground, and often the only counter to TV-guided, laser, and other direct-fire weapons for factions that had fallen behind in the planetary arms race. For those with stronger research programs, metallic and other "additive" smoke offered protection against an even wider range of sensing platforms and smart weapons. Many a commander earned infamy (and some, a subsequent fragging) for "popping smoke" when in the presence of mindworms, reasoning--incorrectly--that some monsters were easier to fight when unseen.

Knock-out and irritant gasses were equally effective against rioting drones, barricaded Probe Teams, and coup plotters of all stripes. Faction leaders extolled the virtues of "push-button" police actions--far more humane, they said, than bullets or batons. Besides: direct action placed security forces at risk. Chairman Sheng-ji Yang celebrated smoke for its "democratizing qualities."

The Stokes Report, commissioned by the Planetary Council in MY14 to provide all survivors with an authoritative history of the Unity Crisis, named Australian engineering firm Del-Ray negligent over failures of the ship-wide dispersal system for Agent 15.

Many Purist and Supremacist factions issued defoliants to virtually all personnel going "outside the wire," with the admonishment that they should be used liberally to suppress "problem vegetation."

Marking smoke was essential for calling down artillery fire and guiding hoppers to a safe landing: most base defenders carried at least three canisters as part of their standard kit, following the guidelines recorded by Colonel Santiago in her Spartan Battle Manual.

Source:
Image is "110" by CanDemirbag on DeviantArt.
 


The cable car system of Lagos, Nigeria, a local innovation for a global problem of weak government.

Gondola lifts, first used for passenger service in 1908 on Old Earth, were a relatively uncomplicated solution for shuttling people and cargoes over extreme changes in altitude. Many urban neighborhoods around the world fell back on hand-crafted, cable-operated lifts to link high-rise arcologies when municipal services collapsed, drawing on the successful Nigerian example.

Despite questionable mechanical safety records, these ersatz solutions were robustly popular. They were the obvious solution to inundation or seasonal flooding in coastal cities, when urban geography changed with the wind and tides. Provided that care was taken in the siting and defense of their infrastructure, they were also considerably safer for their occupants than boats. Gondola lift systems could be built and maintained with local skills and scrap materials. The engineering concepts behind such systems was relatively simple, and they did not require as much supporting infrastructure as bus systems or railways. Additional gondolas could be cut and welded from junked vehicles in a matter of days. High-grade steel and cable for a pulley system were readily salvaged in urban settings where skyscrapers and bridges were abandoned to decay. Intervening buildings along a route could be converted to way-stations or load-bearing elements.

The atomization of systems, impossible to contemplate when cities were well-governed, became a draw. Smaller networks limited the potential impacts of structural failure and preserved the insularity of neighborhoods already sensitive over their abandonment by "the powers that be," including the corporations that had previously supplied modern conveniences such as transit service. Then, of course, there was the naked truth: without the lifts, most urban high-rise architecture would have been rendered inaccessible to populations already afflicted by severe overcrowding. Ambitious urban renewal campaigns in the 2020s such as China's Sunshine Plan and the Atoms for Peace Program's "Big America" Project created residential tower complexes that soared to 1,800 or 2,000 meters in height.

[Removed at the request of the artist.]

New York City, view south from The Old Battery. The Atomic Development Administration building, a Koch-era catch for the city, looms in the foreground while the Neo-gothic John V. Landsay Building looks out on the "The Fill," huge hulls of garbage that have been barged into the Upper Bay to extend the city south and create flood barriers. The Lindsay, which housed more than 40,000 people, has been colonized by unauthorized tramways.

Adoption of aerial lifts on Chiron was rapid and widespread, particularly by bases in mountainous or unfavorable terrain. Spartans built a series of gondola lifts to raise foraged supplies up to their redoubt of Xerxion. The Ascendancy likewise used cable cars to link their outposts along the Sawtooth rangetops, while the Hunters built similar infrastructure to access the permanent depot at High Hide and the Conclave used cable cars to shuttle between mesas in the Planetgorge.



Artist's rendering of Pardis. The imperial palace was situated on an artificial lake in the center of Tehran in 2022. It was a public relations disaster. Foreign journalists reported unfavorably on the Shah's diversion of water from an already-thirsty city. Architects and historians called the design a clumsy mockery of traditional architectural styles. Journalists quoted all the usual regime dissidents. They believed the project was a game of subservient theater for the throne's Anglo-American puppeteers--yet another indication that the Shah was engaging in shameful fantasism at his country's cultural expense.

Future leader of the Human Ascendancy, Tamineh Pahlavi, orbited the Peacock Throne until, at the age of 15, she lost both parents to a flu pandemic and left Iran for Switzerland, never to return. Her father, an aerospace engineer, was a cousin of Mohammad Reza Shah, while an older brother, Kamran, rose to prominence as commander of a squadron of tanks in the Imperial Guard. For years, she shared a tutor with the Crown Prince, Reza.

Young Taimneh was raised to regard the 1921 collapse of the Qajar Dynasty and the mid-century White Revolution as turning points in her country's history. She interpreted Iran's regional hegemony as evidence of the superlative quality of her family's leadership by comparison with the more tumultuous and theocratic politics of neighboring Pakistan and the Communist influences in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. One person, honed by the finest education, aided by the best associates, possessed of a worthy vision, and with all the levers of state at their disposal, could break the power of hidebound institutions. As a student of biology in California, Pahlavi went on to draw sympathetic parallels between the Shah's beleaguered position and that of Vesper Abaddon, haranguing her skeptical peers accordingly.

In the United States, Pahlavi often spent school holidays with a former courtier in Tehran, ex-Chilean president and exile Sebastian Valdes Riquelme, and his wife, Rayen. The two were enthusiastic participants in the growing Spiritual Perfection Movement, emphasizing the growth of personal efficacy through philosophical education and aerobic exercise, and flirted with solar worship. Like millions of other devotees who were encouraged to find a suitable historical archetype to emulate, the Riquelmes chose Alexander the Great following the 2031 discover of a partial copy of Adrianus's Alexandriad, previously known only by mention in the Suda, a Byzantine encyclopedia written in the 10th century. In the epic poem, Alexander is Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. Enthusiasts recast Alexander as a precursor of modern multicultural values, ignoring the cultural destructiveness of Hellenization. The belief that certain great persons drove most historical events by reaching behavioral acmes was familiar to Pahlavi, reflecting the instruction that the first Pahlavi shah had passed down to his son.

Other decisive influences on Pahlavi's thinking included Kyrie Tallowan, a member of the board of biogenetics firm Imre-Meinertzhagen. The politically progressive Tallowan was an unlikely ally for Pahlavi, but they shared a belief in the power and moral correctness of top-down change. Tallowan put forward the critique that many of society's problems were drawing reactive solutions from politicians when they should be inspiring preventive measures, which were often cheaper. As a health insurance executive, Tallowan drove steep cost reduction by creating incentive structures for subscribers to make health choices. In the Unity Mission, she saw an opportunity to leverage stronger criteria for crew selection to avoid passing on "the seeds of genetic calamity."

Tallowan's many critics called her a Communist and a Darwinist. At the peak of her unpopularity, Imre-Meinertzhagen expelled her. But Pahlavi, still haunted by the ghosts of her parents and spouse, became a passionate believer in Tallowan's ideas, repeatedly petitioning the United Nations to insist that they apply genetic standards for recruitment, just as they did in the realms of physical fitness, mental stability, and professional aptitude. Though she often invoked ethics as justification for her position, arguing that passing on infirmity was a deliberate generational choice, her attempts to capture and communicate the compounding economic impacts of hereditary illness garnered considerably more attention, leading to a media narrative that consistently presented Pahlavi as a sociopath without feeling.

During her time as an executive with the American Reclamation Corporation, Pahlavi explored transmission of genetic memory in humans and animals, as well as Lamarckianism, the transmission of physical traits from parent to child. She was aided in her work by access to the voluminous genetic databases created to assist the Vault Project, and often consulted on development of the brutal social experiments foisted on the residents of government vaults. Pahlavi was especially interested in developing experiments that could record the psychological impacts of hibernation and hermetic living, and physiological responses to the presence of androids in human societies, which she reviewed on a regular basis with ARC CEO Oscar van de Graaf.

Sources:
Speculative art depicting a future Lagos, Nigeria by Olalekan Jeyigous in his "Shanty Megastructures" series, as reported by CNN.

The "High Hide" was an aerial platform used in Michael Crichton's novel The Lost World.

The second image, now removed, is "AI arts by Dyonics" by dyonix01 on DeviantArt.

The third image is concept art from the Walt Disney Company for Disney's planned Persian Resort, an idea that did not outlive the Iranian Revolution. I found this particular image at themeparktourist.com.

The Spiritual Perfection Movement hearkens back to MysticWind's post introducing Cuzco Sol. The idea for an Alexandrine religion is taken from the Lux Invicta mod for Crusader Kings II by Shaytana.

Research for this post came from the Wikipedia articles on the Shah and his father.
 
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