The tale of the Tendril system is representative of Verge experience as a whole. It has a hopeful beginning, a tragedy of war and abandonment, struggle, and success. As always, the troubles of yesterday cast a heavy shadow over the future.
Scout vessels from the StarMech Collective explored Tendril in 2315, just three years after the end of the First Galactic War, during a period of interstellar expansion known as the Interbellum. For StarMech, exploring the Verge was a logical avenue for later expansion. StarMech representatives never guessed that finding a life-bearing world so far from established borders would attract attention from so many, and lead to the formation of the diverse Verge that now exists.
On the contrary, StarMech documents reveal that the Collec-tive’s long-term plan was to annex the distant star within 50 years. But as explorers and colonists-some independent and
some citizens of other nations-emigrated to the Verge frontier, that abjective became more complicated. StarMech military ves¬sels were too few and far too dispersed to patrol Tendril or to keep others from exploring neighboring systems. The StarMech plan for the region suffered another blow when Drions explored and claimed the Aegis system and an idyllic habitable planet in
2316. The precedent was now set,- the Verge would be probed and exploited by all of the stellar nations. Of course, the harsh¬est blow to StarMech development goals in Tendril was the out¬break of the Second Galactic War.
Meanwhile, the first years of colonizing Tendril were difficult ones. The star’s intense radiation was a nuisance under the best of conditions. During solar flares, the radiation spikes scrambled electronics and damaged sensitive equipment. During the 13- day high-rad cycle, interplanetary communication is almost impossible.
StarMech’s first goal was to lay claim to the only body ca-pable of supporting human life: the moon Alaundril orbiting Sperous. With no one to oppose them, StarMech colonists had only one challenge-adapting their robots and technology to the high radiation. They had mixed success. The boom-town city of Babel proved the most industrious and profitable, and eventu-ally became recognized as the moon’s capital. In addition, StarMech made rapid claims to many of the most promising as-teroids in the Cyra Belt. Many of the independent miners who arrived agreed to work for the most lucrative contract around- mining for StarMech and shipping the metals to the refineries of Alaundril.
StarMech’s decision to contract out the mining work in the Tendril system turned out to be a good move. The independents paid a fee for mining rights to an asteroid. Then they had a choice of selling minerals back to StarMech corporations or paying StarMech a gross percentage and selling to anyone. The best part of the deal was that StarMech avoided any risk. If a mining group failed to generate a profit, or even disappeared entirely, StarMech lost nothing. Mining conditions were danger¬ous,- the intense radiation of Tendril scorches even the distant asteroid belt.
To attract additional workers, StarMech built Darkhold, an emergency medical and supply station within the Cyra Belt it-self. StarMech profited by selling supplies to mining crews that came unprepared or needed resupply. Within a few years, Darkhold became home to numerous entertainment facilities and social establishments catering to the StarMech taste for diversioa The contractors of Darkhold had discovered a lucrative business of serving the recreational needs of the Cyra Belt’s miners, who often had money to spend. The station’s purpose was quickly changed. As an indignant Hatire moralist said, it became a little den of sin and crime. During a Bum, many a lonely and bored mining crew came to Darkhold carrying riches. They enjoyed themselves immensely,- the lucky ones re¬turned to their mining with their accounts emptied. The unlucky found themselves in debt.
Partially as a result of the change in the way things evolved at Darkhold, StarMech built a second station millions of kilometers from the Cyra Belt. The morbidly named Nova Station a larger and more advanced facility was completed in 2335. Set in orbit over Atlas, the station contained the first drivespace communication relay in the Verge. Neva was originally planned as nothing more than a research and communication center for StarMech, but like Darkhold it found itself serving as a port of call for ships desperate for supplies.
Although Nova was designed for radiation resistance, even its shielded systems aren’t completely immune. The solar radiation during a Bum plays havoc with the station’s sensitive and advanced electrical systems, and communications aboard the new station fail just as they do elsewhere. The station’s drivesats continue to receive messages from faraway stars, but Nova can’t relay them anywhere in the system. During a Bum, communications in the Tendril system are dependent on courier vessels.
Just to keep it operational, Nova station follows one of the highest maintenance cycles of any StarMech station. Without frequent repair, the station quickly becomes inoperable. During solar flares, the communication relays aboard Nova are often permanently damaged. Only the frequent arrivals of supply vessels from StarMech keep the space station operational.
For years, StarMech sent bulk cargo ships to pick up the valuable ores collected in the system and drop off much-needed supplies and replacement parts. It was a profitable arrangement far the new colonists and local workers, but when war broke out in 234B, StarMech concentrated on its own borders. Tendril and its complicated radiation problems were suddenly forgotten.
THE LONG SILENCE
For the first few years of the war, the colonists of the Tendril system enjoyed certain advantages compared to other Vergers. News filtered in from the Stellar Bing of the growing conflict. Nova Station received communiques from parts of Old Space about the mutant uprising on Tau Ceti and the escalating conflict hack home. Out on the frontier it seemed safer. Tendril was one of the better defended Verge systems, and the local situation hadn’t yet grown desperate enough to encourage raiders and pirates.
The first indication of a real problem came in January 2351. StarMech vessels were scheduled to arrive at the start of the month, as they had once every three months, carrying new colonists, new soldiers, new tools, and new parts for the station. But the scheduled ships failed to appear. At first, the colonists didn’t worry too much; in wartime, some ships would inevitably be intercepted or lost in combat. Nova Station’s technician’s simply replaced the damaged components from spares and sent an inquiry to StarMech questioning the delay. They were told that | a conflict within the Stellar Bing had delayed the ship, but that the next supply ship would be on time.
After another five months, time ran out. The quarterly Bum ravaged Nova Station’s systems, burning through backups and short-circuiting repair mechanisms. With almost all of its drivesats damaged beyond repair, the drivesat communication relay was offline. All contact outside the system was lost-not only with StarMech, but also with Aegis and Hammer’s Star. StarMech’s additional supply ships never made it. At the same time, Babel’s population barely managed to throw together larger and larger greenhouses in time to feed its hungry. The Nova Station administrators and the Alaundril colonists were confronted with some difficult decisions. They tried to keep things running smoothly, but they weren’t used to operating without outside help.
By methodical scavenging, the station comm technicians brought the drivespace comm relay back online in 2367. The news flooded in that the Tau Ceti incident had precipitated a full-scale galactic war. StarMech authorities back in Old Space admitted with regret that the stellar nation could no longer afford to send resources so far away. And then the voices from the Stellar Ring stopped. No more messages arrived from StarMech or any of the stellar nations. In 2375, the Kendai communica¬tion relay, set at the edge of the Stellar Bing, was destroyed. The Long Silence began in earnest.
The sense of isolation fell over the system. In the new atmosphere, divisions grew between Darkhold, Alaundril, and Nova Station. They slowly but steadily pursued separate paths. While all the settlements publicly proclaimed their loyalty to the StarMech Collective, each one privately concentrated on its own survival.
Darkhold furthered its reputation as the local rough-and- tumble port where anything and everything was available for a price. While it retained some repair facilities, Darkhold slowly sold off most of its technological devices to Nova Station-in exchange for additional alcohol, virtual reality gear, generators, and other leisure items. In the middle of the Cyra Belt, Darkhold remained a pleasant place to lose a fortune.
For Babel and the rest of Alaundril, survival also meant catering to the miners. The outpost began expanding its industrial bass so it could trade in a wider variety of goods and services. Babel’s shipyards, already able to repair most spacecraft, quickly gained the capacity to construct system spacecraft for miners, patrol ships, and independent traders. Other facilities were built to provide basic electronic components for the radiation-bathed system. After a decade, Babel’s technological base became strong enough to create the sophisticated replacement parts required by Nova Station.
Nova Station, its interstellar voice restored but limited to the Verge, was a communications relay for both Tendril and the adjacent star systems. Contact with the Aegis and Hammer’s Star systems became regular, and Tendril became one of the dominant powers of the region. Nova also served as a major port of call for all craft traveling in the coreward half of Verge space. Since ships lacking space-to-ground capabilities couldn’t land on Babel, Nova Station provided a spaceborne shipyard, easing the completion of repairs.
It wasn’t until 2405 that a StarMech naval vessel finally made its way to Tendril. While the Tendril colonies scavenged to survive and began trading with some of their friendlier neighbors, the SMS Augustine arrived. But it didn’t deliver what anyone expected. The Augustine was a research vessel commanded by Robert Harrison. The Augustine had begun the long journey from Kendai once it became dear that the war’s end lay far beyond the horizon. Oddly, Harrison’s cruiser didn’t carry many supplies, as most Alaundrins had hoped when they saw the Old Space vessel make starrise. Instead Harrison promised technical knowledge and the expertise necessary to turn the system around. Tendril, Harrison said, must become in-dependent. And even though the Augustine was a research vessel, it represented the strongest military force in the system. For the next four decades, Harrison ruled the system from aboard his driveship and from his offices on Nova Station.
The commands from Nova Station and Atlas signaled an important change in leadership. They also drove another wedge between the StarMech authority, the miners, and the colonists of Alaundril.
For decades, the scientists on board the Augustine had been surveying and investigating the rocky surface of Atlas; many living in the system thought their time would be better spent helping to improve living conditions. In 2445, 40 years after the ship’s arrival, the Augustine crew made a momentous discovery on Atlas: an alien artifact hidden deep within the crust of the planet.
The pyramid-shaped device was coated in black metal and magnetite, and it radiated a shimmering field of energy when-ever exposed to a power source. The scientific team, led by Dr. Elizabeth Danwin, tried a battery of tests,- during every probe the pyramid generated a force field that deflected laser and mass pistol attacks directed at it The more energy that was pumped into the generator, the stronger the protective shield that surrounded it. Somehow, word of the discovery leaked. In the wake of the disclosure, Governor Harrison revealed that his primary mission since arriving in the Tendril system involved investigating alien sites on Atlas.
The scientists kept testing the pyramid, but the alien technology inside the shield generator defied all attempts to learn the secrets of its operation. The researchers couldn’t even look inside the pyramid with ultrasound or radar sensors. Their only success came when they found an alien power converter with similarities to the first artifact. By 244B, Dr. Danwin had tested the pyramid as much as possible with the tools she had at hand. She needed a larger power source—a mass reactor-and she got one. Later that year, she obtained approval to install the pyramid on board the Augustine.
On November 23, 2448, at precisely 14:22:36, the alien shield generator was successfully activated, as it had been dozens of times before. For the next hour, patrol craft launched mock assaults on the Augustine to probe the strength of its newly installed alien shield generator. At 15:29:42, Nova Station stopped receiving telemetry from the Augustine. At 15:30:07, a massive energy wave smashed into Nova Station, damaging its in-system communication and life support centers. Three patrol craft and a few merchant vessels were lost in the energy wave; wreckage of the craft was later found and salvaged by miners.
Parts of the Augustine were found in a large crater on Atlas, but most of the spacecraft had disintegrated. The fate of the alien device itself remains a mystery, though some scientists believe it survived the energy wave. Others believe that it was destroyed. Both Dr. Danwin and Governor Harrison, who had gone aboard the Augustine to observe the test, died in the explosion.
A NEW SYSTEM
With the old StarMech order removed by the destruction of the Augustine, local business interests quickly became dominant. The corporate leaders of Alaundril demonstrated their decisiveness by commissioning seven new frigates, enough to more than replace those that were lost. A dozen well-armed frigates soon patrolled the system,- this small navy kept it safe from most raids. Alaundril’s leaders also donated replacement parts to Nova Station. In exchange for this generosity, the Alaundril executives gained the right to hand-pick the captains and crews of the system’s naval vessels.
Harrison’s death left a power vacuum and set the stage on Alaundril for a new government with system-wide implications, The Augustine incident, coupled with a growing dislike of Nova Station’s leadership, returned power to Sperous’s moon. A decade passed as Babel’s corporate leaders vied for control of Alaundril. Scott Williamson, the 27-year-old CEO of Ion Productions Incorporated, won popular support with many of the colonists. Finally, the captains and military officers he once championed brought him into power. A small conflict erupted when Harrison’s hand-picked successor, Governor Thomas Conraith of Nova Station, tried to take control, but the situation was quickly resolved. Conraith has not been seen since.
Scott Williamson quickly changed Tendril’s government. First, he established large conglomerates from sets of competing businesses. More important, Williamson changed the Alaundrins’ expectations. No longer could the governors and commanders of Nova Station issue decrees to the people of Alaundril. Indeed, now the reverse was true. The station and the military vessels of the Tendril system answered to the civilian government on Alaundril. Business leaders worked with one another for the common defense of the star system, writing rules to govern trade, and creating a small bureaucracy to handle Alaundrin internal affairs peacefully.
The most important-sounding decree of the new government was a proclamation of loyalty to the StarMech Collective, but it was purely a formality. It mimicked the statements that previ-ous leaders had made ever since the Long Silence began. Many citizens of the system were the children and grandchildren of StarMech colonists, and the Collective’s fun-loving, hard-working culture still dominated the citizens. In short, the proclamation made the citizens of Alaundril happy and preserved a sense of continuity. The slow trickle of information that the occasional refugee ship brought from the Stellar Ring described ongoing desolation, loss, and continued war. No one ever expected the stellar nations of Old Space to return.