This article originally appeared in the February/March 2015 issue.
The Anti-Slavery League, or ASL, was formally founded in 697 in the Solomani Rim with the merging of a number of groups opposed to slavery and legalized servitude for all sophonts. These groups and people felt that even though chattel slavery had been outlawed by the Imperium in Cleon’s Warrant of Restoration, it was not enough. Individually their influence was insufficient to halt what they considered to be wrong. There were many reasons why slavery could and would still exist even with it being outlawed. Many world governments turned a blind eye towards the industry because it was more profitable to do so. Imperial officials tasked with protecting the people found it more profitable to work with slavers, or worse, they simply did not care what one world did to its citizens so long as they didn’t cause troubles for others or interfere with interstellar commerce.
It was hoped that by speaking with a single voice they would have more influence and ability to do stop what they saw as a scourge on humanity. The majority of the founding membership were average citizens who found slavery and the various forms of indentured servitude to be abhorrent. Previous, mostly ineffectual, attempts had been made to lobby governments through legal and public channels. While the bulk of membership consisted of ordinary citizens, the majority of the funding for the various organizations came from a small group of extremely wealthy and influential mix of merchants and nobility. The newly-formed ASL hoped that by combining their disparate efforts into a single voice that their lobbying of the Imperial government, bureaucracy and individual planetary governments would enforce the current laws and help stamp out all forms of what they considered slavery (including indentured servitude, debts being passed from parent to child, lifetime labor contracts, etc.). Initially the ASL made some headway in the Moot, and had varying degrees of success at the local sector or system level. But the nature of the Imperium made the task difficult. Ideals and morals proved to be no match for credits and those who stood to profit from the misery of others. This led some within the ASL hierarchy to believe that other means would always be necessary to stop slavery.
By 779 the patience of the more militant members had been exhausted. Weary of fighting losing battles in which their only weapons were words, a small group led by Countess Van Amsbridge decided that direct action was needed in place of words. The group had become disillusioned with the minor “victories” they had achieved to date. In their eyes the growth of the slave trade anywhere in the Imperium was a testament to the failure of the non-violent ways of their predecessors. They also lamented the fact that getting Imperial authorities involved proved to be much harder than it should have been. Complaints would have to be filed, then planetary authorities would be contacted for additional information. In some cases the investigations would take years, allowing slavers to move the victims to a new location, or for paperwork to suddenly appear that would legitimize the more covert forms of slavery.
Secretly gathering those who believed as she did, the Countess assembled a small group of individuals who felt that violence was the only solution remaining.
Van Ambridge’s group immediately began searching for their first target. None of the members had formal military training, nor did they have any arms or even a ship. What they did have in abundance was conviction and a passion to strike down those they saw as evil doers. In many ways their hatred took on an emotional, quasi-spiritual overtone that outsiders might have observed as being similar to one of the religious wars that were still fought on some planets within the Imperium.
Within weeks of their formation, the group had identified their first target – a small facility on a backwater planet that was used as a clearinghouse and “storage” facility. The local planetary officials either had no knowledge or had been paid to look the other way and not ask too many questions about the remote location where small freighters would occasionally land. With their first target located, the group focused its’ attention on acquiring a vessel that could not only transport the raiding party, but could also safely evacuate the slaves from the facility. It didn’t take long for them to settle on a small subsidized liner as their vessel of choice. It was common enough not to raise any suspicions in orbit around the target planet, and it had the capability to carry the smaller vessels that would land the raiders and evacuate the slaves.
With the target identified and transportation secured, it was now time to equip the assault team with weapons. While Van Amsbridge’s wealth allowed them to easily purchase and outfit a starship, finding arms that the unskilled raiders could properly use turned out to be more of a challenge. Very few of the members had any military training, and while they had fervent desire and zeal for the operation, none had the proper skills required of soldiers or the ability to lead them into battle. Therefore, a small cadre of mercenaries was retained to provide the necessary skills. Assault rifles and pistols were acquired and intensive military training and weapons skills began. Almost immediately, some of the raiders protested that they were wasting precious time training when they should be out there rescuing slaves. Others balked at the discipline imposed upon them by the semi-military environment that they now found themselves in. Realizing that she had to find a balance between training and losing her zealots, Van Amsbridge made the decision to begin the raid even though the group was inadequately trained. Two months after training began the raiders set out on their first “freedom raid”.
It had very mixed results. Twenty-eight people died during the first raid, and fourteen more were wounded. Of the initial thirty-six raiders (of whom the half-dozen mercenaries were the only truly qualified soldiers), eight were killed and nine were wounded. Of the sixty-one slaves who were present at the facility, fifty-five survived, six died and five were wounded. But all fourteen slavers were killed, including those who made the mistake of surrendering. One of the raiders was far more skilled with computers than an assault rifle, and through their efforts the computer systems were drained of all data. Included in the haul was information about the slavers’ network – names of people who bought and sold the slaves. They also found shipping manifests, receipts from previous sales and future shipment schedules.
In their zeal to punish the slavers, none survived the assault to be interrogated. But the information obtained from their computer system was more than enough, so the raid was officially considered a success. Using the information obtained during the attack, Van Amsbridge and her raiders spent the next sixteen months conducting more raids and destroying additional slaver facilities. On two separate raids they timed their attacks to capture the transport ships the slavers used to move their human stock from planet to planet. These additional resources were a welcome boon to the freedom fighters, as were the handful of recruits they added to their dwindling combatants. By the end of the sixteen months the local slaver ring had more or less been smashed. The survivors and new recruits from among the freed slaves came to realize that if they were to take the fight to other sub-sectors, they would need more training, more arms, more ships, but most importantly, more people. Only one constant remained throughout the first year and a half of operations: no slaver was ever left alive.
Initially the attacks were only reported by local news agencies, which attributed the attacks to pirates, rival gangs, or even a small war between rival corporations. Little mention was made in the news of the true nature of the facilities. And, for the most part, everything required to hold humans in captivity could be explained away in some way or the other that did not cause the news organizations to label the locations as slave bases. But, as word spread of the attacks, accusations and denials started flying between “concerned citizens” and the authorities. The leadership of the ASL deployed agents of their own to find out what was happening and eventually it was determined that these raids were not the work of rival corporations, gangs or pirates. They were the result of armed individuals who had only one goal in mind – the freeing of slaves the killing of anyone found who engaged in the slave trade.
A secret meeting of the ASL council was called. Only those in the highest circles of trust were invited and notified of the meeting place. And one other person outside the leadership was invited – Countess Van Amsbridge. When confronted with the evidence painstakingly gathered by the agents of the ASL council, Van Amsbridge defiantly took credit for each raid. She railed against her accusers in a fiery speech, equating their inactions to complicity with the slavers. With her righteousness burning in her eyes she invited the leadership to join her in her crusade for freedom. To refuse to join her would be aiding and abetting her enemies, but more importantly, it would condemn untold millions of innocent people to a miserable life of slavery and eventual death in bondage.
There were those in the council who were appalled by her brazenness, and they feared that the entire movement would be tarnished by the actions of one madwoman. Hundreds of years of effort and toil to peacefully eliminate the slave trade would be tossed out. A shouting match ensued between the pacifists, who thought only peaceful means could win the day, and Van Amsbridge, who demanded the council do more to support her and her raiders. Unrepentant, she stormed out of the meeting vowing to continue her struggle on her own. Those who were just as vehemently opposed to her actions demanded the rest of the council denounce her actions immediately. When the rest of the council refused to acquiesce to a second set of “non-negotiable” demands, the pacifists also left the meeting.
The cooler and more pragmatic members remained and discussed the situation. Like Van Amsbridge, they wanted to eliminate slavery in all its horrible forms. But they also understood that the violence could turn planetary authorities against them, and worse, it might even rise to the level of the Moot and cause Imperial interests to become involved. Eventually the remaining members came to a decision and they reconvened two weeks later and Van Amsbridge was invited to present her case again – this time, without the pacifists in attendance. Realizing she may have let her emotions get the better of her, Van Amsbridge stated her case with less anger and more logic. After listening to her argument the council made her a counter-offer. Van Amsbridge would publicly take full responsibility for the raids. She and her followers would be cast out of the ASL and could never again claim to be fighting on behalf of the ASL or be in any way, shape or form thought of being associated with the ASL. In exchange, the council leadership would form a ‘shadow council’, or a council within the council. They would covertly funnel intelligence on slaver activity and provide the raiders with ships, money and whatever other resources they felt appropriate. In addition to the offer of aid, the shadow council demanded that Van Ambridge’s raiders be properly trained in military tactics and covert operations. Their future operations could never be traced back to the ASL. A bargain was struck and the covert arm of the ASL was born.
The full leadership council of the ASL formally and very publicly distanced itself from the violent actions of “rogue members whose activities did not reflect those of the ASL or its leadership”. They expressed regret over the violence of a handful of its membership, who in no way represented the peaceful and law abiding efforts that the ASL had been working on across the Imperium. While these unauthorized actions regrettably resulted in the loss of life, the council was unwilling to completely condemn the raiders for freeing people from the vile abomination of slavery.
Even before the council had made its announcement, Van Amsbridge had set about liquidating her own personal assets and disappearing from public view. She knew that once the formal announcements had been made (both hers and the council’s), her life expectancy would be zero if she remained on her estates. In one last fiery speech she extolled the virtues of her freedom fighters and promised that they would never stop so long as one slaver was alive. She boldly predicted that others within and outside of the Imperium would rally to her cause and bring the fight against the slavers to every sector, every system and every planet. Freedom knew no boundaries and freedom for all people was what she represented! That was the last time she ever appeared in public, aside from the occasional recorded broadcast from some secret unknown base that claimed victory over slaver operation somewhere within the Imperium.
Over the next century, as the public-face of the ASL spread throughout the Imperium, covert operational groups were formed in every sector and in many subsectors. The ASL leadership continues to officially disavow any knowledge of or support for groups that use force against slave organizations. Knowledge of the groups, their operations and personnel is a tightly-controlled secret within the ASL and remains known only to the shadow council and a handful of other members. Sympathetic members of the Imperial armed forces and civil bureaucracy sometimes turn a blind eye towards anti-slavery operations though officially they do not interfere with legal commerce between members of the Imperium. But it is not unheard of for a slave ship to be boarded and some of the “passengers” to make requests for assistance which the authorities feel obliged to provide. Slavers have come to see this, too, as another cost of doing business.
In an odd twist of fate, it was the rise of the Solomani ideas of oppressing all non-Solomani, and most especially non-humans, which caused a schism within the ASL. Within the Solomani sphere, the ASL groups began to slowly change their views on what was “acceptable” treatment for those they did not consider being true Solomani. At first the Council tried to work within the boundaries of the group in order to bring its Solomani members back into the fold. All races, they said, deserve to be treated equally. Over the next decade it became more and more apparent that the changes happening within the sphere had fundamentally changed the views of the local membership. It was in 900, four decades before the Imperium would act to forcibly re-integrate the sphere into the Imperium, that the ASL formally cut off all activities within the sphere and publicly renounced support for the Solomani membership. The shadow council was directed to begin the daunting task of building a new network of contacts and bases within the sphere in order to continue the work of the ASL.
The public face of the ASL council is located in the Imperial capital system to be close to the seat of power and influence. Each sector has its own leadership council, and, where possible, each subsector has its own group. This helps in two ways – the first being that it allows coordination of activities and a common message across the Imperium. The second being that it allows each sub-group a reasonably short time delay related to control and communication. Agents of the shadow council also sometimes have formal responsibilities within the public arm of the ASL, but often their jobs require them to disappear for long periods. These agents interface between the public and covert arm of the ASL and pass information between the two groups. Most agents also have their own sources of intelligence and informants that provide them with information on slaver movements, locations and sales.
The covert groups operate independently at the sector level. While the local leadership and shadow council agents provide information, funding and public identification/condemnation of potential targets, all decisions requiring armed intervention are exclusively made by the local covert commander. The ships and equipment available to each group varies widely, and is primarily based upon locally-sourced resources. Most ships are 200-400 ton range, with a few larger ones available for raids that might require them. Whenever possible ships owned and operated by slavers are added to the fleet, or sold to provide additional funding.
Each sector’s forces vary, anywhere from a few hundred personnel to nearly a thousand. Ground units are organized along military lines down to the squad/fire team level. There are multiple facilities that provide basing and support for the covert forces. Ground troops are usually equipped to a TL12 standard with combat armor and gauss rifles. Heavy weapons squads sometimes carry laser rifles, grenade launchers and portable tac missiles, though generally heavier weapons are not used unless absolutely necessary. In addition to small arms, groups have access to wide variety of surface and orbital vehicles as well. Most raids are conducted in civilian vehicles that are able to blend in with the local traffic so they do not draw undue attention. Depending on the particular circumstances, these vehicles may be brought in from off-planet or sourced locally.
Free traders, far traders and subsidized liners and merchants make up the bulk of most sectors’ “freedom fleets”. As these are very commonly encountered throughout space, they draw less attention and are less likely to be seen as a threat.
ASL for Traveller Settings
ASL adventures can be easily incorporate into your existing Traveller campaigns. Player characters can work either with the ASL in freeing slaves, as part of the security forces protecting the slavers, or they can be tossed into the middle of the ongoing covert war between the two sides.