by Peter Gray
Quichotte (1729) possesses large interior deserts, an artifact of an ice age that ended about 8,000 years ago. French speaking colonists, arriving here in the late 500s, found the local soils depleted by glaciation. Farming has always been difficult. After jump drive technology reached Joyeuse after the Third Frontier War, they contacted Quichotte and found the local population stricken with severe poverty. Joyeusean money helped the farmers to finally wring some decent returns from their fields and the economy became willingly dependent upon that aid. Economic aid led to the world's willing annexation in 1042.
In the years before the Islands War, the small farms were bought out by the Joyeuse government and replaced with huge "latifundia" governed by wealthy private landowners. Commercial plantation farming supplanted subsistence cultivation. The local economy boomed as larger amounts of food and oil crops, and some livestock, were exported to Joyeuse. But most of the wealth ended up with the landowners, or with the colonial government, while the locals sank further and further into impoverished dependence. During the Islands War, local production was intensified to the point of exhausting the land, and pesticide and industrial residues have poisoned the air and water. To prevent a rebellion, Soma was passed out to the populace as a medicinal drug, reducing the population to penury. To visitors, Quichotte is a ghost world, populated by emaciated and diseased phantoms idling amidst the ruined farms and castoff dreams of a feckless imperial master.
Neubayern (1822) is one of the three worlds originally settled by the long range ESA colony mission. Most of the population lived in compact, comfortable cities on the world's two smaller, northern continents, reserving the warmer southern continents for agricultural production. A socialist bureaucratic system was developed to fairly distribute housing and food to the growing population, and to provide regimented education assisted by rigorous testing to provide employment to all of the world's citizens based upon their abilities. Eventually a hereditary elite arose from this meritocracy and the population, and most of the world's industry, were parceled into estates under the control of each "Elector" and subject to their whims.
The once heavily industrialised world suffered immense losses during the Islands War, the result of fighting too many enemies at once. Worn down by attrition on several fronts, its forces could only manage feeble resistance against the New Home planetary strike squadrons that razed Schleisen Belt and several of Neubayern's communities. The massive destruction uprooted large sections of the population, driving them across estate boundaries into neighboring regions. Since that time the Electors have become progressively less relevant and a new generation of popular leaders has challenged them from refugee and internment camps.
Recently the Electors have engaged in the four way negotiations between themselves and Amondiage, Sansterre and Serendip. All four of these worlds are intent upon rebuilding their shattered economies with the incentive of reconstruction money from the Regency government. While much of Neubayern's industry remains shattered, much of its agricultural productivity has survived and expanded. The other three worlds are chronically short on foodstuffs and the Electors hope to create a complimentary market with the other peaceseeking worlds to raise revenue and rebuild the remainder of their world.
New Home (1925) was the first Islands world to be colonized by the ESA Long Range Mission, in -9. The colonists found it to be hot and humid, but otherwise very amenable to human habitation. The colonists scattered into small communities across the surface of the world, eschewing any government beyond a mutual aid alliance. Because of the natural bounty of its farms and fisheries, New Home enjoyed an easier time developing and higher standards of living. Prosperity and the attendant increase in spare time meant that more attention could be diverted into scientific research and technological development. While the locals never developed an inkling of jump science, they were already at TL-11 when Serendip came calling with its fleet of starships around 993.
The brief takeover by Serendip had immeasurable consequences that went unnoticed at the time. New Home's people had such an easy time of it compared to the other colony worlds, whether by accident or deliberate design, that they had become convinced that their world truly was paradise. But a grubby bunch of belters with a dubious entrepenuerial bent punctured that supercilious air of supremacy, and New Home's inhabitants never forgave that transgression. The easygoing pastoralism gave way to a "paradise lost" syndrome that drove New Home to manically seek technical and military superiority over its neighbors and rivals. When Serendip and Neubayern went to war over Topas in 1106, New Home lashed out at both forces with its powerful fleet, and the localised confrontation spread into a general war.
New Home's forces enjoyed a reputation for ruthlessness second only to its co-belligerents on New Colchis. Its technologically superior forces pushed everyone around. But then it made the mistake of intervening in a civil war on nearby Colchis; the overdeployment of resources and troops to contain the local insurgency allowed its enemies to regain the initiative and wear down its forces through attrition. New Home has lost its technological and economic lead through Neubayernian and Joyeusean commerce raids and planetary strikes and it has had to consolidate its forces to defend Colchis and the mainworld against terrorist and guerilla attacks. Nonetheless its forces remain dangerously overstretched on several battlefronts and the increasing dominance of its military in the planetary government has undermined alternatives, such as the current Four Power Talks. New Home is considered to be the main long term threat to the restoration of peace in the region; and perversely a good friend of the local RQS command for its intransigence.
Colchis (2026) has one of the most divided populations of any world in the Islands, with the exception of Amondiage. The world was settled by smaller utopian groups that had travelled aboard the C-Jammer, but were incapable of integration with the mainstream colonists of New Home. These groups opted to head into space once again after the planetary government constructed a new generation ship to carry them. After arriving on Colchis, disparities between groups led to conflict, and for most of the period leading to contact with the Serendips after the Third Frontier War, the world was divided into warring states that fought over economics, resources and ideology. Several socialist factions were driven offworld and one of these settled New Colchis.
Unification was dictated by the new paradigm of jump drive equipped enemies. However, unification was only made possible by the importation of troops, materials and money provided by several offworld powers, most notably Serendip, Joyeuse and New Home. The ascension of a capitalist free-trade oriented bloc helped cement ties with New Home, and a low-level war broke out between the "Republicans" and Pro-Joyeusean "Nationalists-Redeemers." During the Islands War, the Republicans were exhausted by civil war and the world drifted towards Joyeuse. New Home launched an invasion of the world in 1127 and its forces have been mired against rebel forces ever since. The occupying forces are limited to fortified bases and the major cities, while the countryside has been plunged into anarchy. The population has long tired of the fighting and disorder but are bedeviled with guerilla armies cum crime blocs, police spies and an occupying government that is an absolute terror to friend and foe alike. While not amber-zoned, visits to Colchis by offworlders are rarely recomended.
St. Genevieve (2123) was settled in antebellum times by a group of reclusive millionaires from Sansterre. Their peaceful retreat became a major battleground in the four way war between the subsector's major powers. Almost two thousand local inhabitants are party to about one hundred thousand troops. Neubayern, New Home, Sansterre and Amondiage fight over this dry rock, policed by twenty thousand RPKF troops manning the large DMZs that crisscross the surface like a chess board. The fighting is mostly desultory, and most of the offworld troops would rather be sent home. Recent negotiations between Sansterre and Neubayern have resulted in a de facto peace treaty between them and many of Amondiage's myriad nations have indicated a desire to negotiate as well. New Home's continued intransigence prevents a final settlement and desertion is beginning to sap the local units of their strength as the war continues to drag on.
Acadie (2225) was one of the first colonies to be settled by one of the original three worlds, in this case by Amondiage with the newly constructed Asterix. Acadie's local flora is largely inedible to humans and hostile to offworld strains. The early colonists genetically adapted their livestock to be able to ingest selected local species and be able to plant friendlier terrestrial grain and vegetables in fields cleared by these grazers. The livestock proved so successful that animal husbandry proved more profitable than horticulture and still makes up a large portion of the local economy.
After Amondiage acquired jump drive technology, it used its military and economic power to annex Acadie in 1033. Mining surveys discovered large deposits of iron, manganese and cobalt, among other metals, and mining became the primary revenue source. The locals were disinterested in politics, a consequence of their far-flung settlements, and they were mostly content with Amondiage and Tokapi's rule. During the Islands War, New Home and Sansterre glassed over the local starport and briefly disrupted Amondiage's control over the world, but otherwise were little interested in staking a colonial claim of their own in the face of continued resistance. Acadie is of fairly low strategic importance to anyone nowadays and it now attracts tourists and offduty RQS personnel attracted to its backwater obscurity.
Sansterre (2322) was the first world colonized from Amondiage, and the beginning of the diaspora of French speakers into the rest of the Islands. The world has virtually no dry land (hence the name "Sansterre", literally "no land") for active undersea volcanism prevents the accumulation of dry land for long periods of time. Despite this barrier, the colonists constructed a base on the world's moon and used it to build floating habitats. Most of the current population lives in massive "pontoon" cities that are advanced, giant descendants of the original settlements, or in huge mobile submersibles that anchor themselves temporarily to any stable section of the sea floor. Several large orbital habitats also exist and house much of the world's industrial base.
Of all of the ESA colonised worlds, Sansterre has tried hardest to remain faithful to its progenitor culture, which is to say its indestructibly French in its outlook on culture and its interest in the intellect. Despite this loyalty, and the "fossilised" local French dialect, cultural gaps have been unavoidable. In antebellum times the world spurned offworld contact, actively harrased visiting offworlders and aliens, and tilted power towards a male-dominated hiearchy that favored militarism. The local government is the most pluralistic of all the Islands; but this is largely relative as suffrage was limited by the government to "rational" individuals (generally people favored by the military and bureaucracy), and government institutions are primitive for a democracy, with no developed parties and factions beyond feudalistic patronage machines.
When war erupted in 1106 between Neubayern and Serendip, Sansterre informally allied with its German neighbor, allowing them to concentrate on other enemies without fear of an additional front developing between them. This alliance allowed Sansterre to rip Amondiage's military into shreds and to shield them from New Home aggression that was concentrating on Neubayern. The alliance fell apart in 1119 and a protracted fight with Neubayern and New Home over St. Genevieve drained it of irreplaceable military units. As the war dragged on, popular displeasure was turning into widespread dissent and the militarists were totally discredited by the time the Regency intervened in 1140. Sansterre suffered few civilian losses or infrastructure damage, but the dominance of the military made its economy inefficient and slow in adapting to change and much of the world's industry was simply burned up by the emphasis upon the now futile war effort.
Sansterre has been transformed since contact with the Regency. The military and its testosterone culture has subsided in favor of a more moderate political structure. Though patronage still dominates, sexual equality has leveled the playing field. Contact was reinitiated with Neubayern in the 1180s, and a de facto peace treaty has permitted the resumption of trade with that world, exchanging locally harvested sea floor metals and edible aquatic life for dry land foodstuffs. The success of this arrangement prompted Serendip to initiate the Four-Power Talks in 1195 and trade has increased between all four worlds since then. Recently the Sansterre government has negotiated the purchase of a dozen new 5000 ton TL-12 bulk transports from Serendip, giving the world a modest but significant merchant marine for the first time since the war.
Amondiage (2325) was the second of the Islands worlds to be settled by the ESA Long Range Colony Mission, in this case by the Voyageur in -6. Amondiage is a world under heavy geological pressure. Tectonic motion on this world is mostly vertical, as on Venus in the Sol System. In a few areas, the plates have parted enough to permit the creation of deep rifts or depressions where surface water has pooled to create small seas. The rest of the world is dry, dusty desert with few resources worth developing. The three largest seas are surrounded by Himalaya-sized mountain ranges and escarpments that shelter verdant grasslands and forests. Temperatures are significantly cooler here and nearly the entire population lives in packed cities along the shorelines or on small, intermontane plateaus. Land is scarce and the population engages in strict ecological practices that limit population growth and recycles water and waste. Large scale industry is limited by the lack of resources and most manufacturing and commerce was initially carried out by small but highly efficient factories and business groups.
Because of the great distances between the individual "Massifs" and "Mares", the planetary government was imposed by the largest and most powerful group of communities, a coalition known as the Tokapi, which was headquartered on an island in the middle of the largest Mare. A series of popular dictators, elected for life by the Tokapi elite, ruled the world in a semi-enlightened fashion, promising the other subjugated communities to provide the fruits of empire in return for their support. After a very brief takeover by Serendip in the early 1000s, this imperialism metastisized into full fascism and the world's economy was socialised and transformed into massive enterprises to construct an oversized military bent upon conquering the universe (or at least the local portion of it) for the motherworld.
The world and its forces were led into the Islands War by the reckless hand of the dramatic, handsome, charismatic (and brainless) dictator Auguste de Froidesval, whose sole heroic contribution to the war effort was to get himself, and most of his command staff, killed in a moronic frontal assualt against a New Home fleet. The worst damage was inflicted by Sansterre, whose forces quickly destroyed most of the local navy in quick, brutal strikes in the first few years of the war. Froidesval's death, and the loss of most of the officer corps in these battles, left a leadership vacuum that could only be filled with less competent and resolute officers. Amondiage became an appendage to the rest of the war, as its forces lost the initiative, and inertia prevented capable response to the enemy's moves.
Disgust with the entire misadventure, and the growing number of coups and assassinations carried out by would be dictators, led the subjugated communities to progressively secede from Tokapi's control. Several Vampire fleets succeeded in reaching Amondiage in the mid 1130s, destroyed several communities with orbital bombardment weapons, and intensified the anarchy. Regency forces arrived in late 1140 to find a world on the verge of ruin, with most of its industry and starports shattered beyond repair. Careful reconstruction by outlying communities has pulled the world back from the brink and restored most technology and starports. But Tokapi and her allies are still consumed with coups and intrigue and small brushfire wars have been fought between them and their former subjects. Meanwhile, Tokapi's interstellar forces remain in combat postions on St. Genevieve and are still pursuing hostilities against the other Islands. The defenestration of Tokapi and her troops is the main barrier to the Four-Power Talks success and the rehabilitation of the Old Islands.