This is one of the two winning entries from Freelance Traveller Contest 2008-02. It was posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2008, and reprinted in this form in the September/October 2016 issue.
Zeimbo A63695A-D 304
The view of this world—and specifically the human habitat—from space
gives it its most common nickname, Gray Worm.
There is no lore recorded about where the official name came from. It was given by the crew of the initial colonization missions, recorded in Solomani archives, and given as the planetary name during recontact.
A Port (Build starships/Jump Drives), Diameter 9,500km, Very thin
atmosphere (breathing/pressure apparatus required), 60% Hydrographic, 3
Billion population, Feudal Technocracy, Extreme law (No weapons), TL D
4 Gas Giants
Zeimbo is just off the end of a major Jump 1 main, at jump 3 from last populated system in the main. There are three uninhabitated systems at jump 2. One of these is extremely dangerous: a triple system with a white dwarf in tight orbit and a 3 solar mass black hole at 7 AUs. Another of these generally uninhabited systems has an automatic fuel refinery and fuel dump with 25000 dtons capacity.
Next closest are a pair of low population very poor systems at jump 3. There are another three low population systems at jump 4 and four more at jump 5. One of the systems at jump 5 is interdicted because of a developing alien society, and appears to contain high technology artifacts of ancient or pre-ancient creation. The current society may not be descendants of the original technology creators but are defended by it. They are definitely fully sentient but have a social organization built around their limited breeding season. Technology is Neolithic and pre-agricultural. Several members of this species have been brought to Zeimbo and are protected research projects living in special isolation areas.
Zeimbo’s relative isolation from other populated systems has encouraged a great deal of societal self-reliance; as a result, trade flowing through the world is noticeably lower than might be expected. The system government does, however, accept major Imperial subsidies to maintain three general-purpose 40kdton J3 ships, running two of them at any given time on a six-month loop covering the populated neighboring systems, including the interdiction station, the fuel dump, and the system at the end of the main. These ships have bays for internal transport of up to one 500-dton plus two 200-dton ships and these bays can generally be leased at a reduced rate.
Author/Designer’s note: I have done a lot more ship designs than worlds but for frontier(ish) worlds, traffic is important and for a rich, high-tech, A-port,semi-isolated world like Zeimbo, the interstellar traffic structure matters a great deal.
The ships also carry a company of planetary marines seconded to Imperial subsector command (with Imperial officers as cadre). The majority of this force are convicts or social removals from Zeimbo due to weapons violations. Some have had brain surgery or psychological treatments to adapt them to service.
The system was colonized by a fairly well-equipped (at TL10) group early in the long night, and the current population and infrastructure to support them has grown primarily from that base. Of principally Solomani descent, they maintain several Terran languages, English, French and Arabic but are essentially uninvolved in Imperial politics.
The planet is in a geological phase where the majority of land mass is gathered into a megacontinent centered on the equator.
The very thin atmosphere means that daily living and agriculture must be in a pressurized environment, but rather than multiple round domes, most life and activity exists in a linear complex running worm-like about 4000 miles along the spine of the continent. Fifteen miles wide, 2 miles high with structural barriers and anchors about every 20 miles, this megastructure is one of the finest examples of high TL10 technology in the Imperium. With more than 200 thousand-story skyscraper complexes on the anchor barriers, the inhabitants are actually space-rich.
Internal pressures are kept high enough so that upper floors, at the top of the arches, are at about .9 bar, 12.5 PSI.
Agriculture, including hydroponics and biotechnologic synthetics, is more than sufficient for local needs. Claims have been made that current capacity is sufficient to support more than twice the current population, although food exports for sale in the form of prepared rations and emergency blocks is less than 400 dtons per year. It is also believed that government maintains several years’ supply of emergency food reserves.
Agriculture is conducted under nearly natural light on roughly 50,000
square miles under the arches, with large areas using land for multiple
purposes. Most habitat towers also have fruit and ornamental gardens.
The original colony had a corps of agricultural biotechnologists which
has grown to several large development departments in the planet’s
technology schools, and recognized as a branch of the government. By
contrast, neither animal agriculture nor medical biotechnology have the
same level of recognition in the social order, though neither lags in
tech level relative to the general planetary technology.
Food customs are not meat-centered, but neither is there a strong vegetarian ethic. Synthetic ‘meat’ products, similar in taste and nutrition to the original animal products, are widely served.
Power generation is via a number of fusion plants, located in subsurface tunnel complexes. Exact areas, products and production are not secret but are not easily available information either.
The ‘great worm’ structure has a fork, about 200 miles from the coast line, and the main space port is located in the Y of this fork. Strictly speaking, it is not an Imperial starport—no cession for extraterritoriality has been made, and the construction, maintenance, and operating costs are paid from the Zeimbo government budget, but the Imperial Starport Authority operates the port in accordance with Imperial Standards. The port can construct ships up to 40,000 dtons but for the last couple of centuries it has been operating in “maintenance” mode, constructing slowly two or three at a time, 1000 to 4000 dton jump 3 ships, to more-or-less standard patterns. These are constructed at TLs ranging TL10 to TL13, with many systems being maintainable as low as TL8. The highport does not have any construction or repair facilities, but a large collection of repair and maintenance craft capable of work on the largest of Imperial ships is available on call (at least in theory). Manufacturing of repair and construction craft is one of the planet’s exports with several hundred dtons typically loaded on each loop of the subsidized trade ships. A significant majority of these are constructed at relatively low tech levels; the local design groups maintain templates and train engineers to TL 8 and above. The economics of this appear to be irrational but the technocratic social order honors and rewards skills for “retro” TL.
In addition to the main surface complex, many areas of the city have large complexes of tunneling running out many miles from the main structures. Many of these are poorly mapped, and not tracked in the planetary databases.
There are two major transportation systems: a double loop of subsurface ‘express’ trains that go the entire length (an 8000-mile-plus loop) of the complex, and local/regional elevated monorail or maglev loops, generally suspended from segment structural members, that cover one or two segments (and offer transfer points with the subsurface system, though not themselves going underground). With tens of millions population in each set of barrier towers, most traffic is actually in the local loops.
The system has never been invaded, nor been involved in a war. This and the sometimes fragile nature of their artificial habitats supports the logic of the extremely high law level; essentially all weapons are forbidden. The government is functionally divided into seven bureaus (Space Technology, Biotechnology and Food, Structures and Tunnels, Power and Life Support, Mining and Surface Resources, Consumer Goods, Communications and Entertainment Delivery, and Transport), and citizens are sworn to a particular bureau, but those who show intelligence and skill are rewarded, and those who additionally show the ability to learn and work across the domains of more than a single bureau are also rewarded and generally achieve rank within the system. Political dominance of the government by a particular bureau has varied throughout history, but the realization that all bureaus have essential roles has generally kept them generally cooperative, and even those groups excluded from government, such as medical practitioners, military and law enforcement, and artists and entertainer (content providers), are able to do well economically.
Local history has included over 20 major disasters related to technology dependence and segment structural failures or damage, each with death tolls of over 5 million. These have included two meteor impacts, half a dozen multisection arch failures and three fusion station failures. Another three were essentially political failures in infrastructure investment which resulted in starvation and medical problems, and were of decades-long duration (including recovery). There is one volcanically active region near the main habitat line; it was responsible for one disaster and is now under active engineering management, providing power for a dozen segments.
The system had a number of contacts with Imperium prior to its incorporation as a member. Several of the poor worlds on the Zeimbo trade loop are considered client worlds by Imperium, though their respective local governments may not agree.
Membership in the Imperium strengthened the Space Technology bureau of the local government, and enabled the upgrading of the ship yards to fully support TL 13 construction and larger capacity. Being in a fairly safe region, the Imperial Naval presence is limited to a small maintenance and fueling reserve force.
The scout service has a base, slightly larger than average because of the need to support high-jump ships. Much of the time the scouts will have a jump 4 or jump 5 cruiser in system, and they maintain a courier support ship, but not regular runs. The system is not on the X-boat net, and does not see regular courier traffic from other systems.
The original population of about 100,000 has slowly grown to the current level of about 3,000,000, with immigration contributing very little to that growth.
Possible Adventure Seeds
This should not by any means be considered an exhaustive list of possibilities.
Violating Zeimbo’s weapons laws is considered a serious crime. Offenders are often sentenced to serve in the Zeimbo planetary marines, seconded to Imperial Subsector command. Those who are not believed able to adjust may be subjected to intense psychological treatment, and in some cases, brain surgery may be considered an option. (Referees might want to make this known to characters before they decide to smuggle weapons in.)
With its technocratic focus, for hundreds of years the planetary government has sponsored “Investigations”, a cross between scholarships and research grants given to several hundred students and researchers each year to travel off-world for up to a dozen years and collect or study technology. Some of these missions, consisting of multiple members, may verge on industrial spying; some distance up the nearby main are a couple of high technology worlds that forbid such groups visitation visas.
Habitat Containment Breach
There are no local life forms, and most areas with life support are in use and monitored. There is always the risk of contamination or escapes near a spaceport, however.
There is a geothermal power station complex near the volcanically-active region of the continent; like much of the rest of Zeimbo’s infrastructure, it suffers from occasional underfunding and undermaintenance. A major tremor or eruption could kill power in several segments, and send molten rock through the complex—or worse, into the subsurface tunnels of nearby segments.