The Wayward - A Terraforming Company
This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2008 and reprinted in the March/April 2017 issue.
The Wayward are a human group of families who go from place to place in a fleet of vessels. They are specialists in orbital construction, terraforming, and trade. All the Wayward are members of one of about fifty families (with a few “adoptees” on occasion), and are ruled by a group of family elders, selected from among the descendants of the original families. The Elders select the executive committee from among them, and one person is selected to be the committee chair. The Chair appoints the executives of the various governing administrative branches, who hire the senior staff of those branches.
The Wayward population is approximately 350,000 people, traveling in three separate major fleets, which generally operate as independent entities. They stick mostly to Imperial or Solomani worlds. The fleet currently in the Domain of Deneb has a population of about 100,000 sophonts and around 1.5 Million tons of shipping, including their largest single ship, The Dolomé, at 900,000 tons. Most other vessels weigh in at 10,000 tons or under.
The Wayward’s recent business model centers around large, multi-year (or multi-decade) projects that requires a great deal of their specialized skilled labor. They bring in their sizable fleet and set up shop, proceeding on a combination of jobs typically including terraforming while simultaneously building an orbital starport and other in-space facilities. The Dolomé itself acts as fabrication facility and home to the workers and their families, while the other vessels in the fleet act as either belters (providing water and raw materials from planetoids and asteroids), traders (bringing the materials in-system), or brokers (ensuring a steady supply of material purchased in nearby systems). Special missions are sent out to anticipate and secure future projects.
The process of terraforming a planet usually consists of bringing in several different types of asteroids from the system’s belt and dropping them on the planet; icy asteroids or comets to add water and atmosphere, rocky asteroids to alter the rotational period and correct any problematic axial tilt (or lack thereof) so that proper rotational speed is reached and appropriate seasonal effects occur on the planet surface. Later, the planet might be seeded with genetically engineered carbon-producing lichen, or heat-absorbing black molds that warm the surface ice, altering the atmosphere through a combination of convection, heat trapping, and internal heating over a period of months and years. Even later a balanced combination of imported or genetically engineered flora and fauna is designed and seeded. This is dangerous, violent, oddly subtle long-term work, and the Wayward have built up the expertise and skilled labor force to be good at it.
The simultaneous construction of orbital facilities also usually involves bringing asteroids to orbit, either to hollow out for raw materials or to become the orbital station itself, if sufficiently large. Either way, careful shepherding of a multi-kiloton “sheep” is required, as well as careful engineering and experience working in the vacuum of space.
The original wayfarers were a Vilani sleep-ship sublight speed colony, sent out so long ago their origins are lost in the depths of time. Tradition has it that the world selected for the original 50 families proved to be uninhabitable when they reached it. A long term terraforming project was undertaken (one which lacked the skills and resources needed), leaving the vast majority of the colonists still in cold sleep. Over the hundreds of year required then to terraform the planet, orbital asteroids were brought in, facilities constructed, and slowly colonists were woken up to inhabit those facilities. Many of the original colonists never made it out of cold sleep, however, the equipment never having been designed for such a long period of operation.
The families were still working on their terraforming project, understaffed and without proper equipment for the job, when a Vilani colonist ship arrived via the newly invented jump drive. The original colonists found they had lost the rights to the world they had labored over for so long, but the new arrivals were prepared to share—as senior partners. Although many of the Wayward decided to colonize as originally planned, most decided to venture onward and negotiated a deal to purchase the colony ship the new colonists had arrived in.
Since then, legend has it, the Wayward have crisscrossed known space, leaving terraformed planets in their wake for colonists to settle. Their fees are not as high as one might expect; typical conditions include a share of the planet’s output (GWP) for a given number of years after viability is reached. The Wayward have a long view of such things and are (now) wealthy enough as a group to “front” the work of many projects where there will be an obvious revenue stream down the road.
Traders and ship crews: There are many opportunities for driving a ship, buying supplies and returning to the site of construction. Enormous quantities of raw and finished materials are needed for a project, and between projects there is a need to continue to make profitable runs to minimize “down time”. Sometimes outgoing ships will also be used to carry agents and brokers to other systems, or to take ‘sales’ people on longer range missions.
Of course, there are also the many ship crews of all the support vessels, construction and tug vessels, and The Dolomé herself. In all, the vast majority of Wayward people have the skills to fill some valuable role in an active starship, even children.
Brokers and Agents: When a Wayward project comes into a region it tends to make certain resources scarcer. Brokers and agents are sent ahead to establish relationships with suppliers in systems near the location of the project and acquire contracts for supplies. This benefits both parties; the Wayward builders do not pay premium prices and the suppliers are able to ramp up their production in anticipation of demand. Often the agents of the Wayward are also able to make good deals with the advance knowledge they have, and they will always be looking for speculative cargos that can be shipped in Wayward vessels making outbound (otherwise empty) cargo runs.
Belters (Asteroid Belt Miners): Mining and mineral exploration are a key part of any terraforming or construction operation. Belters are often sent with advance parties to assess the ease of mining raw materials at the location of a potential building site (rare is the system where such materials are too scarce, although some specific minerals required may be missing). Mining experts are part of the hollowing process for asteroid-type stations; they are the engineers with the knowledge of moving asteroids into orbit (or into the planet), and, of course, the miners actually extracting useful minerals or water from the rocky and icy bodies of the system. Oftentimes belter teams are sent ahead into a system prior to the bulk of the fleet to build up stockpiles of raw materials and start the long process of moving rocks to orbit of the target system.
Orbital Construction Crew: Architects, engineers and fabricators are needed to specify, assemble and finish the stations and facilities. Often the skills of the fabricators overlap with belter skills, and as the belters’ job is generally complete prior to the completion of construction, belters will often move to fabricator teams.
Refinery Operators: Some workers operate vacuum refineries that convert raw ore from the asteroids and other bodies into useful metals, pure water, and the other stuff required for the job at hand.
Marketing: Agents are sent out all over the Imperium in reasonable range of the construction fleets, sometimes via commercial carrier, and sometimes in a Wayward owned vessel, exploring and assessing systems where it might be possible to develop a planet or build orbital facilities. These teams are made up of talented negotiators, expert mining engineers, economists, financiers, and planetologists (often more than one of these skills will be held by individuals). It is usually necessary to approach multiple interested parties to acquire financing, rights and permission for a project. For example, a planet may be eminently suitable for catastrophic terraforming (determined by a careful planetological survey, assessment of the mineralogical content of nearby belt(s), and economic factors of the local stellar neighborhood) on a grand scale, but might have a very few people on it that need to be relocated, and probably belongs to a noble of the Imperium, who must buy in. Local asteroids might be ‘claimed’ for their mineral rights and those claims would need to be purchased. If there is a government in the system, it might claim jurisdiction over the uninhabited worlds of the system. The Imperial government is biased towards developing otherwise useless worlds, however, so local governments can often be influenced to be in favor of such projects, especially if the ultimate benefits are properly presented. Marketing gets the players together and negotiates a fee (and profit shares) from all the constituents who can be approached for such a venture, hopefully balancing the costs and profit with the eventual tax levy on the inhabitants of the world that will be needed to pay for the operation.
Rarely, a patron will approach the Wayward with a proposed project. In these cases, financing has already been arranged, but the assessment of available resources and suitability of the location still needs to be done and can be a critical factor in negotiations.
Security/Intelligence: The Wayward are essentially a megacorporation, and as such are subjected to occasional corporate espionage attempts. In addition, the delicate nature of negotiations with the various parties in putting together a project will often benefit if the situation, state of mind, and background of the individuals being negotiated with can be known with confidence. The activities of competitors are another obviously important bit of knowledge. Intelligence operatives travel over the areas of likely future operations, in subsector and sector capitals, and the headquarters of competing organizations. The Wayward are not above clandestine intelligence gathering, and will use legal (but perhaps unethical) means of manipulating people and situations on rare occasions. Sabotage and similar militant activity is almost never used.
The security division is also responsible for internal policing of the Wayward vessels. Problems are relatively rare, especially considering the somewhat cramped conditions compared to most human habitats, but problems do arise, and the investigators and enforcers of the Security arm are tasked with resolving them.
Many vessels have a security officer, but they are typically cross-trained for other duties as well, such as gunnery or electronics when posted on ships or at remote locations.
There are a very few small jump capable vessels that are specifically military-grade (Patrol Cruisers, generally, and a few SDBs with jump shuttles), that are under the Security branch’s control. The Wayward avoid travel in areas of conflict, and if they do, will hire mercenary ships for defense purposes, or call on the Imperial Navy or nearby navies for assistance. The Dolomé would never knowingly jump into anything resembling a combat zone.
Other Roles: Of course, there are other roles, teachers and caretakers, food preparers, janitors, administrators, artisans and craftspeople, etc.
The Dolomé: The Wayward acquired a decommissioned dreadnought with a spherical configuration of 900,000 dtons. All the usable equipment (especially weapons) were removed by the IN, and the engines and power plants were useless after so much wear and tear. The hull itself and internal structure were in good shape, however, and the Wayward’s skills lend themselves to shipbuilding.
The refurbished ship is Jump-1; the 0.4g Maneuver Drive is not getting her anywhere in a hurry. Refueling takes weeks, depending on available shipping. More often, icy asteroids or comet bodies are brought to The Dolomé (which takes longer, but requires fewer people and hulls to accomplish). The vessel is mainly family quarters. Most of the population of this branch of the Wayward is housed in this one vessel. There are living quarters (apartments), schools, training facilities, child care, recreational areas, hydroponics (for food and atmospheric cleaning), and other facilities that make this more of a station or habitat than a starship. Of course, all the usual facilities are present too; power plants, life support facilities, sick bays, etc. There are several large (up to 2000 dton) fabrication bays, which allow the construction of station components in a pressurized (but gravity free) environment. Supporting machine shops, tool bays, and specialized manufacturing plants are placed near the assembly bays.
Decentralization is common; all power and environmental facilities are heavily decentralized to prevent the failure of one plant from causing a serious problem. Internal compartmentalization is light, favoring more usable space. Most internal walls are not bulkheads. This vessel should never see combat, although there are just a few defensive laser and sandcaster turrets.
The refit was done at a GTL10 level, but some important components have been replaced over the years, so power plants, life support, computers, and some other components are at GTL11 or GTL12. Life support, in particular, is an unusual installation. Hydroponics allow the production of foodstuffs and conversion of CO2 to O2. Neither the food production nor CO2 conversion is ample for full life support or feeding the population, but every effort is made to decrease the need for importing food or using energy to clean the air. Similarly, solar panels cover the otherwise unused space on the exterior, hanging plants are a feature of every apartment, water is used very carefully and conservatively, and air is always scavenged from airlocks and pressurized bays.
When jumping, the large fabrication bays on The Dolomé are occupied by non-jump capable vessels that make up the refining, mining and refueling fleet. Some of these are simple mining/skimming vessels, but there are several spaceships with refineries built-in that can convert the raw ores to usable materials. All materials mined that can reasonably and efficiently be utilized are put to use. Subcraft that can enter atmosphere are fairly rare; the Wayward are not planet dwellers, and proximity to worlds with liquid water is unusual, most of the resources needed are extracted from airless worlds.
Portable Foundries/refineries: The Wayward have developed vacuum refining to a high level of technology. They possess machinery capable of breaking down a rocky asteroid into its useful raw materials quickly and efficiently, with high specialized boring, smelting, and cracking equipment. They consider these trade secrets.
Members of the Wayward are from a relatively unified culture. They tend to be insular and suspicious of outsiders, but are also good negotiators who tend to arrive at a reasonably fair deal with their suppliers and customers. They are dramatically intolerant if they believe they are being gouged or cheated.
Since the vast majority of this population lives and works in space, the culture of vacuum safety is ingrained in all Wayward at an early age. In an emergency, every member of the Wayward generally knows instinctively what to do to maximize the chance of the most people surviving, even a the cost of individual lives. Within the group there is a degree of trust and reliance that is almost binding, which makes the contrast with outsiders even more noticeable.
There is little crime on any scale, and that is usually interpersonal in nature (i.e., crimes of passion) and not the kind of crimes against society that are more common elsewhere, such as embezzling, negligence, and theft. There is a great deal of somewhat hostile protesting, but the level of hostility only rarely involves physical violence. Wayward are not of a homogenous opinion about issues, but they are of a unified opinion about safety and trust among one another.
When dealing with those not of the Wayward, deals may not be as scrupulous. Although the majority of dealings are definitely fair, there may be clauses or interpretations that would leave non-Wayward with less of a deal than they might have been led to expect. The deal will almost always be technically to the letter of the law or the letter of the agreement, but may in some sneaky way twist the words of the agreement to bring about a result less desirable for the customer or vendor and more desirable for the Wayward.
Within the Wayward there is a significant class system based on the family one belongs to. Those who have “married up” may see an increase in status, but not to that of the family married into. Families also tend to take and keep the same class of job, so families of belters and ore processors (the lowest class) only rarely send children to the ship crew class (the upper tier). The distinction between these classes is not nearly as much as historical class distinctions in most of human history. The discrimination an administrative family might feel when among miners would be just as strong as the feeling a miner would have among ship crews, but they are still all of single group and will work together well. There is a movement to reduce barriers between the worker groups as well, and this movement is gaining momentum over successive generations.
Note also that there is not one class that is the “ruling class”. Since the families each send a representative, and families tend towards specific vocations, all the vocations are represented in the ruling council and have a say in the governance of the Wayward.
Individuals take pride in their family, their vocation, and their vessel in that order. Families generally have two to four children, and children are raised with their cousins in extended family groups. Education happens in ship-wide schools on larger vessels, or in small group sessions at “home” in smaller ships and groups. Education is standardized in both cases. Since nuclear family units tend to be assigned to different vessels or places in three or four year increments, a child raised in the context of a mining community might be transferred to one of the larger habitats before reaching maturity. In this way all Wayward children are exposed to both he centralized part of the Wayward culture and the distributed smaller groups. This has the effect of a strong cultural identity in all Wayward adults.
The Wayward are obviously a high technology culture for the Imperium, and the children’s education takes advantage of this. Primary education is undertaken from age 3 to age 16 (standard) at which point many children are apprenticed to a vocation for hands on training. Other children are given from four to ten more years of academic education, either in specialized “boarding schools” (that are generally all aboard one of the “mother” ships) or in an Imperial university. Historically there are very few children who enter ‘unproductive’ vocations like artists or philosophers. There is an emphasis on being a productive member of society, with a tremendous pressure on filling a “required” role such as ship’s engineer, miner, or merchant of some sort. Those few who manage to hold onto their “softer” vocational desires are steered into roles such as teachers or craftspeople whose product might be salable.
The result of all this is a strongly bonded, somewhat homogenous culture of technologically adept individuals. Skills are specialized and carefully honed, and anti-authority behavior is rooted out mercilessly. It makes for a successful, if somewhat plain, population base. This is somewhat necessary for the survival of the lifestyle. A certain percentage of the population must be influenced to pursue these more functional careers in the society in order for the society to continue.