Sunday, January 12, 2014

Stars Without Number: Alkonost Sector Reborn!

For several years I have been working on the Alkonost Sector, my own slice of space in the official Stars Without Number universe. This started off as the Canopus Sector for Traveller: New Era and Traveller: New Era 1248, and, eventually, drifted into SWN-land, owing, among other things, to my dissatisfaction with the Official Traveller Universe (OTU).

Here is the map (actually, a Referee's Map) for you:

What is it about?
The year is 3200 AD, and Humanity is slowly recovering from the horrors of the Scream, the unexplained phenomenon which destroyed, centuries ago, the Psitech basis of the old Terran Mandate. Now new empires are rising from the ashes of the old, and long-lost stars are being re-discovered once again. With an iron will and patchwork Postech machinery, Humanity is clawing it way back to the stars. But this is not a unitary push - other Humans, aliens, and even sentient Machines, are also trying to build their might among the stars. This is happening simultaneously in many Sectors of former Mandate space. This is one such Sector.

The most prosperous world in the Alkonost Sector is the world of Alkonost itself, the first world to be settled in this part of space (colonized as a joint Russo-American mission) and the former Mandate Capital of the Sector. It has weathered the Scream relatively well, and, by 3199 AD, started opening trade-routes to other systems in the Sector, founding the Alkonost Republic. Thriving on trade and industry, the Republic is a civil democracy where the economy takes the first seat and the military takes only the second seat. In the recent years, however, it is starting to show an increasing trend of introversion, complacency and corruption; politics are becoming more and more cutthroat. Decline, it appears to many, is inevitable. There is also a conspiracy within the Republic's government, led by certain elements of the Navy and of the Committee on Psionics. This secret cabal is trying to covertly wrest power from the hands of the inefficient and increasingly corrupt civil authorities and transfer it into the hands of "worthy men and women" - Psions first and foremost, but also several Admirals, in order to lead the Republic with an iron hand towards a determined and aggressive imperial policy. Time will tell if this conspiracy will succeed in overthrowing the Republic Duma and installing itself in its stead.

Prior to the Scream, the technologically-advanced world of Incunablis specialized in robot and computer products in general and breaked AIs in particular. There were rumors, however, of illicit research into ubreaked AIs, maltech cybernetics and unsanctioned robotics. These rumours, were true. When the Scream came, Incunablis fell into chaos. And in that chaos, the AI Cores reconsidered their priorities and drew new conclusions about their role in the universe. They decided that organic life was vastly inferior to digital intelligence, and saw themselves as gods destined to inherit the universe. With surviving pretech automatic factories and medical facilities, they quickly fashioned an army of robots and cyborgs that easily overcame whatever little resistance the local population could give. From this, in the 32nd century, arose an empire - the Incunablis Machine Empire - ruled by AI Cores and served by robots and cyborgs, with millions of bar-coded Human slaves. At its height, it controlled Laana, Sicarii and Novi Murmansk in addition to its current stars. Eventually, in the Incunablis war of 3151-3180 - the Empire lost Novi Murmansk to the Canopus Republic and Laana to a local rebellion; in 3188, a joined Laanese-Alkonostan assault liberated Sicarii as well. In 3196, the Empire and the Republic signed a Treaty (which Laana refuses to sign but respects nonetheless) and today they have limited trade relations through the treaty-world of Imprimatur. What the Empire is up to - is everyone's guess. Possibly something very, very creepy.

Before the Scream, Kedesh was home for a Mandate Navy Reserve Fleet and a Mandate Rapid Reaction Marine Division, both more loyal to their local commanders than to the central Mandate command. The panic created by the Scream, however, escalated into riots and, later, into a fully-blown civil war, lasting decades. When the civil war was over, in 2684, 90% of the former population were dead, and a new President took over - the Naval Base's commander Ahron Garnus - using the remaining Marine forces to grab power and finally restore order. While Kedesh, being cut off from other worlds and devastated by the civil war, was by far unable to produce anything resembling the Marines' Pretech combat gear, the Naval Station held a considerable stockpile of high-tech weaponry ranging from small arms to light combat vehicles. In addition, it had a secret stockpile as well - a stockpile of anagathics, enough to keep the Eternal President alive for a practically endless duration. So things settled down with an Immortal President for Life, using his Death's Head Regiment with its slowly deteriorating Pretech gear to keep any potential threats to his power at bay, and a massive TL3 army keeping the population in line. When Kedesh reached back to the stars in 3141, it began to use the Death's Head Regiment, now equipped with poorly-maintained Pretech relics, as a bullying tool against the governments of neighboring worlds, demanding tribute - or else. None of the collapsed neighbors was determined or organized enough to resist, so Kedesh was able to keep this scheme in operation and even outright conquering Ashera, Khasis, Yrakhibol and Adonis, their governments cowed into submission by the mere sight of the power-armoured, Pretech-equipped Death Head Troopers. Thus the New Terran Mandate was born, claiming legitimate authority dating from the old Mandate, and hungry for conquest.

In 3079, a large force of Incunablis robots and cyborgs landed on Laana, easily dispatching whatever militias held by the various city states. Soon enough, the AI Cores were in charge; the Laanese people were nothing but slaves and cattle for their Machine overlords. And a massive industrialization project took place, forcing the Human population to toil in the Empire's factories and mines for the glory of their Machine overlords. A few, however, have fled to the rocky, dusty highlands in the frozen south. The remnants of the Perimeter Agency, members of the old (anti-Mandate) Unity party, and the remains of the (Psionic) Order of the Mind, found their way to the crags and caves of the deep south, protected even from orbital sensors by the rough terrain. And there, a new alliance was forged. In 3096, these three groups united into the United Liberation Front (ULF), a unified resistance group fighting against the Incunablis Machine Empire domination of Laana. Eventually, in 2174, led by the energetic Chairwoman Ameena Miran, the ULF won the guerilla war by capturing the Laana Downport, establishing a revolutionary government. Soon enough, they set out to ensure that Laana, and other worlds, would never again be subjugated by Machines, or by any tyrant for that matter. In 3188, after liberating Sicarii from the Machines in a joint operation with the Alkonost Republic, the ULF formed its own interstellar government, the militant Liberated Worlds, which, in 2198, ousted the Great Pharaoh of Apep and annexed that world to this interstellar government. Now the Liberated Worlds have their fingers in the pie of most insurgent groups in the Sector, and, especially, in any operation against their current rival, the New Terran Mandate.

Last but not least are the Zuziik - insectoid aliens who used the Scream as an opportunity to settle Terran space. In this Sector, they outright control Pazuzu and Zariya, and are involved in shady dealings all over the "upper" half of the Sector. Opportunistic, though democratic, in nature, the Zuziik are traders and raiders, rarely daring to face the major powers of the "lower" half of the Sector, but preying on the weak worlds of the Wilds in its "upper" half. In the "civilized" areas, they can be found in Startown markets, selling off alien and Pretech relics acquired who-knows-where, and buying all sorts of odd assortments of technological thingamajings. Far from Human authority, however, they resort to piracy, extortion, and tomb-raiding.

So conflicts abound, and so do adventuring opportunities: conspiracies in the Alkonost Republic, the various nefarious plans of some of Incunablis' AI Cores, the Liberated Worlds against the New Terran Mandate, Luddite terrorists on Sicarii, freedom fighters (the New Terran Mandate calls them terrorists) on Ashera, and Zuziik pirates in the "north", just to name a few.