The Broken Shard Cluster
Demarunk - System A
T +3 (Slipstream mastery)
Despite appearances, this system got off lucky. Legend has it that the world now called Demarunk was once a paradise, more beautiful even than Lost Earth. Certainly it was once far more pleasant than it is; the remnants of cities dot the surface, glittering and lifeless. Now the barren remnant orbits a dimming sun, and the one thing its inhabitants agree on is that the Collapse will not happen again. Dozens of different Houses maintain their own patches of viable life on the airless world, some buried deep, others in domes, a few (considered crazy even by other Demarunk inhabitants) use forcefields to hold in a local atmosphere. There are few constants amongst them - all are ruled by Engineer-Scientists, all are protective of their science, and all trade beautiful one of a kind wonders of technology. And all of them, or at least most, feel an obligation to keep other worlds from collapsing. They remember the death of billions, and won't let others repeat their ancestors' mistakes. To this end, they only trade 'safe' technology and keep their secrets hidden from those who wouldn't understand. And they are perfectly happy to meddle in other world's affairs to stop their technology from going too far, too fast. It's probably a good thing for the cluster that the population is low and the Houses don't cooperate well even on shared goals.
All evidence points to the fact that the cluster today is but a broken fragment of a much larger and more complex network of interstellar slipknots that might date back to Old Earth itself. Something happened to shatter that network, leaving this simpler, broken branch--and presumably other isolated branches around the galaxy or beyond. But evidence indicates that our current cluster could collapse even further to a simpler configuration if certain energies were applied. The application of these energies may have been what caused the collapse of Demarunk civilization. It is suspected by many Houses of Demarunk that the destruction of their world was due to an attempt to reconnect the local slipknots to other isolated clusters in the galaxy. This collapse may have weakened the local slipknot network, and the Demarunk Engineer-scientists are trying to research what went wrong so it doesn't happen again. Problem is that other factions in the cluster would like to get their hands on this lost technology to try to successfully do what the long-ago Demarunk natives failed to do. Just think of the business opportunities with new markets to exploit! But they may risk damaging the slipknot clusters even more if they do.
Qing - System B
T -1 (Atomic power) Qing has advanced information technology, but lags elsewhere.
As a world rich with resources, but where the natives have not yet achieved anything but the most primitive space travel, Qing has been carved up into spheres of influence by the major powers of the cluster, in a situation reminiscent of China in the late 19th century C.E. on Earth That Was. There are a number of major polities, with various forms of government, ranging from democracy to autocracy. All of them remain formally politically independent. In practice, most are dominated by some power from outside the system, seeking to exploit the world for its rich resources. Representatives of these foreign powers have immunity from local law enforcement and will often use their own troops to enforce their will alongside the local police and military, always under the fiction of helping the local government maintain order. Members of Qing's upper classes may receive an off-world education in one of the colonial powers' universities. This colonialism has not gone unchallenged, with many different anti-colonial movements active, with a range of philosophies from religious fundamentalism to democratic socialism, and a range of methods from terrorism to nonviolent protest.
One distinct aspect of Qing's history of which its people are proud is that they have not fought conventional open wars. Instead, they have fought what are known as shadow wars, relying on methods ranging from propaganda and psy ops to assassination. The people of Qing see this as superior to the open warfare seen elsewhere in human history, as this rarely results in civilian casualties, only involving those actually wielding power. Some of the outside powers have recruited Qing psy ops specialists and assassins to work for them in the rest of the cluster. Even the nonviolent anti-colonial movements make as much use of psy ops as they do of open, mass protest.
Werve - the miracle drug. Probably not naturally occurring, it's just too useful. If it's engineered, though, its creators are long gone. The plant itself is rare, near impossible to farm, while it will grow on other worlds or in controlled environments, it won't produce the compound everyone loves it for. ingesting even small amounts of werve regularly slows aging, fights cancer, and induces a mild euphoria that doesn't get in the way of your work while being very pleasant. Qing has many resources to export, but werve is probably the most valuable, and conflicts between polities can result from finding a rich patch of the plant.
Yebon Domes - System C
|Yebon Domes (C)
T -2 (Industrialization)
The system in which Yebon Domes resides was long considered useless by and large, until an innovative soul in the interstellar corporation Trellen Industries came up with an excellent idea for it several decades ago. The Yebon Domes have now become the premiere prison planet for the cluster. Each Dome is essentially a shell that provides air for its inmates, with some shipments of food, water, and raw materials for them. Mostly on the later, because it's far more efficient and good for security if the prisoners are constantly busy taking care of their own survival.
While most of the prisoners in the Yebon Domes are common criminals or leaders of organized crime groups, a sizable number are political prisoners. Leaving political prisoners largely unsupervised has turned out to be a bad idea (at least from the perspective of the people imprisoning them), since they have taken the opportunities presented by the Yebon Domes to politically educate and organize the prisoners. While in some domes, their efforts have been stymied by the leaders of criminal gangs, in others they have begun to be successful. These political prisoners and "ordinary" prisoners who have become politicized are now trying to build ties between the domes. The efforts to do this are slowed by the wide range of political ideologies and differing ideas about strategy (from terrorism to nonviolence) present, but they are slowly building links. And the powers-that-be remain largely oblivious to all of this, confident that their system is fool-proof.
Crossroads / Namahak - System D
T 0 (Exploring the system)
Sitting at the nexus of five slipknots, Crossroads is a world divided. Traditionally, they exploit their position by essentially becoming a rest stop / trade station / vacation destination. There's something here for everyone: they provide trade and arbitrage services and paradise zones for visitors. But there are those malcontents who insist on noticing that while the planet may be paradise for a few, the vast majority of the locals are stuck producing luxuries which they'll never taste, serving in resorts they could never visit. The Namahak Movement wants to pull back from the easy riches foreigners bring in and try to make the planet self-sustaining again. As a result, while the spaceports, orbital stations, and resorts are all safe and pleasant and lean Traditional, 'backstage' (the rest of the planet) is closer to Namahak and potentially dangerous to offworlders. The gap between the two worlds can be startlingly small, too - take a wrong turn through a service door and suddenly the world of your dreams turns to bare concrete.
The conflict is constantly bubbling under the placid surface, and out of sight of visitors it often boils over into anything from fist-fights to riots. It's only a matter of time before that boils over into serious fighting, but so far neither side wants to upset the only current source of income the system has.
Between the Namahak Movement, Crossroad factions that want to squelch a threat to their income, and the natural results of a junction point where everything is for sale, spies, information brokers, and private agents are rife behind the scenes. The clash of plotter against plotter at some point may spill into the light, with consequences for the system.
Free Eidolon - System E
|Free Eidolon (E)
T +2 (Slipstream use)
The sky is purple with black swirling clouds, and the people are short, squat, and hunched by the heavy gravity. Free eidolon is a place of refuge to pirates and smugglers of all stripes, and was originally a penal colony for the same, until a massive planet-wide revolt happened. The planet’s main exports are duranium and inter-system piracy
While Free Eidolon gets all the notoriety, visitors, and business, it's not the only inhabited planet in the system. Free Eidolon with its unpleasantly high gravity and grim weather is one of the "survivable" worlds. The garden world of the system is Eidolon Prime, but not many get to visit there. Eidolon Prime is the private reserve of the Rerzhun Corporation, run by the family of the same name. There are only 100,000 or so people on the world, and few visitors are invited. The Rerzhun Corporation has their hand in various businesses throughout the system. They are big shareholders in the firms that run the Yebon Domes. They administer several "protectorates" and "free trade zones" on Qing. They operate many concessions at Crossroads/Namahak. And they are quietly, but aggressively pushing to open Demarunk to more "scholarly archeological research" (i.e. plundering for lost super-tech).
The Rerzhun Corp. will sell or lease ships up to Tech+2 to anyone willing to pay. To maintain a fig leaf of propriety, they won't install weaponry on their ships, but the ships do have empty weapons bays ready to be fitted with weapons in-system at the more unsavory world of Free Eidolon--by companies that are believed to be run by Rerzhun shell corporations. When outsiders start complaining that the Rerzhun Corp. should clean up Free Eidolon, they claim that "Free Eidolon is a sovereign government. We can't interfere in their native laws--just as we expect outsiders not to interfere in Eidolon Prime's society."
Felbyne aka "The Necklace" - System F
|Felbyne aka "The Necklace" (F)
T +1 (Exploiting the system)
Long ago in this system an advanced civilization transcended to a different, some say "higher" form. But a few billion souls were... left behind. Overnight, their home planet and its companions shattered into several dozen smaller spheres-- all in impossible orbits around the local star, and those normal humans began a long, nightmarish struggle to stay alive in a strange new environment. 200 years later, there are 80 million of them remaining, eking out an existence on these planetoids, growing crops, manufacturing and trading essential material in chemical rocket ships or slower stable cycling hulls. Most of their history and culture disappeared in the intervening years as everything except survival programs were considered a waste of precious time. The system contains plentiful research opportunities-- many of the spheres have full gravity, atmosphere and solar aspect in a way that defies conventional physics, and mysterious artifacts from the forerunner civilization offer fantastic rewards and deadly hazards, often at the same time. The disparate societies all cooperate and stress service to the state above individualism, and culturally there is a great hunger for entertainment programs, literature, and histories from other systems.
Many left-overs of pre-collapse civilization remain in Felbyne. Some, the natives have figured out how to safely harness, particularly those technologies that are passive. But many of these technologies they have put an embargo on. Unfortunately, people from societies outside the system don't take the same wary attitude towards these artifacts. As a result, Felbyne attracts a wide range of archaeologists seeking to prospect these remnants of Old Felbyne (as the collapsed civilization is generally called). Some of them are small groups of marginal, poor people, hoping to strike it rich. And then many major polities and mega-corporations from outside Felbyne send more advanced prospecting teams, guarded by heavily armed mercenaries (for plausible deniability). The natives of Felbyne are not happy with this, but have tried to engage the issue constructively. With the smaller prospectors, they send agents, part-social workers and part-political activist, to their expeditions. They seek to help them with their most immediate problems to build good will, while also offering them a route to a better life by joining the larger Felbyne society in return for abandoning their prospecting. Some of the most enthusiastic of these new recruits have even returned to their home systems as missionaries for Felbyne's way of life. With the major powers, they offer their services as native guides, using their knowledge of the system to covertly direct the prospectors away from the most dangerous sites to the safer ones. Where this fails, they use sabotage, media campaigns, and other forms of activism to derail the most dangerous expeditions.