Starcorp 1: Escape from Sol
Chapter 1: The New Order
The year was 2118 when World War III began and ended. In a depressed future, the whole of Earth became engulfed in a conflict to determine who would prevail at the expense of others. The war was the result of many factors, overpopulation, scarcity of natural resources, cultural strife, religious strife, ethnic strife and a global economic crisis. It soon became obvious to all that the militarily dominant nation would endure the hard times to come far better than the others. Acquiring this advantage and preventing others from doing so became equally compelling motivations for armed conflict.
There were no borders or natural boundaries to restrict the arena of this conflict. High-tech, fast moving, airmobile, armies raced around the globe in a titanic struggle to destroy each other. The ultimate-goal was world domination. To this effort, the industrialized nations expended the whole of their cutting-edge machinery of war in little more than ten weeks. They targeted and destroyed each other's weapons systems, bases, and armies with a vengeance. The fear of retaliatory strikes enabled the major cities of the world to escape much of the effects of these engagements, and the cities no military significance. Military forces had no reason to hazard the extensive cutting-edge air and space defense systems of the enemy.
Using non-nuclear weapons, the complete destruction a heavily armed city could only be done through a concentrated barrage from space. To do this, the low orbit directed energy defenses of the cities would have to be destroyed first. For the whole of the war there was no will to carry out such an attack. This was mostly predicated on the sudden and sustained disruption in global communications and transportation. The loss of these capabilities made it virtually impossible for the industrialized sectors of the world to produce replacement weapons systems during the conflict. The war's onslaught of destruction upon all quarters of the globe brought industry to a standstill. The weapons in hand comprised the entirety of the utensils of war that all nations possessed. The civilian sectors of the world were reduced to spectators underfoot of a contest between combatting war machines.
The large population centers of Earth also benefited from the fact that a significant portion of the fighting took place in the distant space around the planet. The space around Earth had become a battlefield. From there all land-based forces and systems could be targeted and destroyed with little fear of retaliation from anything coming from below. To be a combatant, you had to have a space force. Victory was dependent upon controlling the heavens. Subsequently, the outer orbit of Earth became a cauldron of war. Daily, the skies twinkled from hundreds of nuclear explosions as armadas of spacefighters battled for control of this ultimate high ground. Despite these engagements, very little radiation from these space-born battles filtered into Earth's atmosphere. The bulk of it skirted around the planet along its radiation belt.
The warring nations, of their own accord, abstained from using nuclear weapons within Earth's atmosphere. Two factors induced this: the poisonous effect of the radiation, which was a threat to all sides, and rail-guns. Space-planes fixed with electromagnetic launchers were capable of propelling high-density metal projectiles deep into the atmosphere at astronomical speeds. The resulting airburst explosions created by these projectiles produced a high degree of devastation without the radioactive fallout. This effect negated the need for the use of nuclear weapons within the atmosphere. It also freed the warring powers to act with unchecked aggression. Nearly a billion-people died during Earth's global war. Starvation, disease and a near collapse of the medical industry took another two billion plus lives in the year that followed.
In the immediate aftermath of the full-scale fighting, much of Earth was a scarred and desolate landscape. The open space between the populated centers endured the brunt of the war's devastating effects. Large, fast-moving, mechanized, armies maneuvered about and engaged one another in these thinly inhabited areas. Bridges, highways, railroads, communication and power lines were destroyed in their wakes. Space-based weapons actively targeted these connections as well. It was not uncommon for the destruction caused by one of these airburst explosions to level an area twenty miles in diameter, and better than a thousand of them were detonated over the course of the war. More than five-thousand small municipalities, adjacent to the blast zones, were incinerated in the aftermath of these detonations. This bombardment of Earth from space lofted massive amounts of dust and debris into the stratosphere. Around the globe, thousands of firestorms emitted even more smoke and soot into the upper atmosphere. The effect of this plunged the temperature of the Earth downward. A man-made winter engulfed the planet for nearly three years. The farms that remained in service in the aftermath of this event were quickly overrun by displaced and starving survivors of the war. Farming out of doors became a near obsolete practice. Survival for the bulk of the remaining nine billion human inhabitants became a daily chore, and the extended countryside about the cities did little to aid them in this effort.
By this time in Earth's history, every major city about the globe maintained a fusion power plant. Up until the start of the war nearly all smaller communities were tethered to one of these power plants. The war's destruction of these connecting power lines turned the large cities into energy oases. The bulk of earth's human inhabitants soon recognized the large population centers as locations best equipped to endure the strain that the war had put on daily life. Shortly after the start of the war, the mass migration of peoples into the world's large cities began. Out of the necessity to meet the demand of this burgeoning growth, skyscrapers were almost universally retrofitted into vertical farms. But this had a minimal effect at abating the crippling hunger that the world populace had begun to experience.
At the end of three months out from the beginning of the war, the earth's warring parties were reduced to simply defending their borders with handheld weapons and manpower. Warships, air bases, and their supporting components were all destroyed or rendered inoperative. The loss of the capability to project power made the prewar ambitions of the combatting nations irrelevant. In the end, there was no clear victor. The warring nations had simply exhausted their means to prosecute a war on an international scale.
Six months out from the end of the war, the industrialized countries of the world began to break apart from civil strife. On top of their need for natural resources, the social, political, religious, and ethnic discontents within these countries were the aggregates that fueled divisions within countries. This situation was exasperated a hundred-fold by the absence of a global economy in this post-World War III world. Over the next three years, one-hundred and forty-seven ruling governments around the world fractured into more than five-hundred independent states. Trade was virtually nonexistent. This near collapse of civilization was stopped by an asset that all the divided states of earth maintained separate connections to, the corporations in space.
Space-based corporate holdings went virtually untouched during the global war that waged on and about the earth. At the start of the war, sixteen separate corporations were actively exploring and mining planets, moons and asteroids as far away from Earth as Jupiter. The process of mining the asteroid belt was by far the largest space venture in the works. Currently, there were 1,739 humans living and working in off-world habitats.
When the global economy collapsed, the stock markets of the world became obsolete. Out of desperation to escape the famine and desolation on Earth, holders of large quantities of stock certificates began demanding residency within one of these space-based properties. The off-world exodus of the affluent had begun. This sudden growth of unproductive inhabitants in space fueled a massive need for highly skilled people for the maintenance of these habitats and their occupants. To fill this need, the asset value of individuals was given preeminence in all immigration applications that were not marked for special handling. Simply put, what a person had to offer was more valuable than any worthless monetary note issued by a defunct financial institution. Fifty highly skilled individuals were recruited for every rich earthling that went up to these corporations in space. The needs of space-based societies drove their growth, and their growth expanded their needs.
Necessity was the mechanism that drove the development of inventive new ways for expansion in space. A theoretical idea that was being incrementally tested before the war was hastily pushed forward in this post-war period. A need for rapid growth made this necessary. The ability to construct supermassive structures came to fruition nearly one-hundred years ahead of its predicted timetable. The zero gravity of space was exploited to mold massive globs of molten material into humungous containers. When they cooled, they were cut, transported to a location for assembly and constructed into spacefaring habitats that were capable of housing thousands of people. They were named starships. The ability to produce these habitats in ever greater quantities expanded as each new starship filled up. With each passing year, an ever-expanding populace began to spread out into Sol System space in starships.
A short time into this growth, space-based enterprises began to perceive themselves as independent entities. The absence of an overriding, earthbound, governing authority along with the loss of the stock markets and banks that they regulated added fuel to this independence. Shortly, these de facto corporate states began dividing in reaction to a tendency of overpopulating around a single resource. Diverging interests and a wealth of minerals throughout the solar system played a role in these divisions as well. Within the three years that followed the war the number of people in space multiplied to 30,000, with another 500,000 plus in line to follow. Space had become the new land of plenty.
In the aftermath of World War III, the nations of Earth were in no condition to govern, police, or tax space-based enterprises. And as time went on, the earth transitioned from the parent to the dependent. The medical and famine crisis that spanned Earth's globe was beyond the resources of the governments of Earth to adequately address. By the end of the first three years, counting from the close of the war, the aid from space was just beginning to be felt around the globe. By the end of ten years, this aid was a lifeline that all the inhabitants of Earth were dependent upon. At this time, space-based societies were housing, feeding, and clothing a population greater than a quarter of a million. This growth was partially driven by an insatiable demand from Earth for more aid. Space-based factories were producing half of all machinery that the earthbound governments were using to repair, rebuild, and expand the infrastructures of their states. Mars was being transformed into a farming planet at a rapid pace. Robotically managed greenhouses had been laid out across one-fiftieth of its surface. All other viable areas of the planet were being developed to serve the same purpose. In the ten years out from the Third World War, space-based corporations transitioned into the dominant power in the Solar System.
Over the next forty years, this transition of power and authority continued to grow for the corporate nation states in space. The Spacers, as they were called, used this clout to influence the governments of Earth away from war and towards constructive pursuits. On infrequent occasions, this clout came in the form of surgical strikes from space. The space-based corporations were slow to initiate force to deter the formation of authoritarian regimes on Earth, but they were not indisposed to its use. From their position above the planet, they infrequently targeted and assassinated leaders that were militantly anti-republic. Within fifty years out from World War III, this level of influence was no longer needed. The threat of withholding food, medicine, and manufactured goods was all that was needed to influence the internal mechanics of earthbound governments.
This tampering with the operations of states on Earth was seldom appreciated by their governing officials, but it was always respected. Over the first fifty years out from the World War III, the governing bodies of Earth grew increasingly wary of losing the favor of space-based corporations. This distress was the result of their failure to reconstitute much of their past industrial might. Distrust and animosity between the independent states of Earth were the primary cause for this failing. Their hostility towards each other, and their unending territorial squabbles, kept commerce between them in disarray. The return of a global economy was a dream for the future. Aid from space was the lifeline that none of the earthbound states could afford to lose.
During this same period, much of the human population on Earth grew to hate their space-based overlords. One factor, far more so than any other, was responsible for this: population control. The corporations in space tied the quantity of aid they provided to the strength of a state's population control program. To support these programs, the corporations in space produced the chemical contraceptive that was being widely used on Earth to block pregnancies. In many places, this was being dispensed over the objections and often without the knowledge of the populace. This mass medicating was being dispensed primarily in severely depressed areas. For reasons of politics, the heads of these earthbound governments attributed these tactics to pressure from the Spacers. To a degree this was true but not to the extent that they were being accused. More so than anyone else, the governing authorities within the megacities appreciated the need to shrink the population as quickly as possible. Secretly, they welcomed the medication from space that stemmed the growth of their populace. Publicly they condemned it. To lessen riots and radical acts directed at the local governments, the space-based corporations endured this misrepresentation of the facts.
By the end of the first fifty years out from the war, the original sixteen space based corporations had grown and divided into fifty-seven. Their combined populations totaled 3.2 million inhabitants. The vast-majority of their numbers were recruited from Earth. These space-based corporations established the Bank of Sol forty years earlier to facilitate commerce between themselves and for the aid they provided to the nation-states of Earth. Because of their new distinction as self-governing spacefaring enterprises, and to differentiate themselves from earthbound businesses, they changed their designation from corporation to star-corporation. They also dispensed with names that identified them as property of Earth. In its stead, they attached unique alpha-numeric identifiers to themselves. The first one to five letters became known as their identifying ticker symbol. The numbers immediately behind that identified the star-system of its incorporation. Zero-one was the identifier for the Sol System. The alphabet characters behind this represented the calendar associated with the incorporation date. The date of the star-corporation's assimilation was affixed behind that in the order of year, month and day.
The star-corporations, or starcorp as they soon dubbed themselves, concluded that a true free market society cannot be a sovereign state. To be a true free market society the state itself had to be subject to market forces. It was successfully argued that sovereign states would always have members within a ruling class working to keep the internal dynamics configured to their advantage. Within a democracy, this would be done by misleading the masses into voting against their own best interest. It was thought that the unscrupulously greedy would likely see this as little more than an expense on a ledger measured against profits in another column. Subsequently, working classes demanding more from the state would always be met with some degree of resistance from members of a ruling class that was motivated to give less. Blatantly spoken, a slave labor force is better than a paid labor force from the perspective of the ruling class, and for workers who live in a mart rather than a bazaar it is possible for there to be little difference between the two.
Within democracies this dichotomy played out with a ruling class opposing incremental changes that moved away from the market and a working class fighting for non-market force solutions to their health, education and welfare needs. This kind of social and political strife was the very thing that the starcorps did not want within their space-born habitats. The starcorps resolved this problem by creating a system that they hoped would oblige both sides of this divide to be equally vested in the health and happiness of the other, inherent stock shares for all. Because starcorps were regarded as business entities that could be merged, bought, sold and were subject to dissolutions, hostile takeovers and selloffs during bankruptcies, they had no inherent right to exist. Choices and preferences, in place of supply and demand, was harnessed to facilitate social, political, constitutional and fiscal evolution within the starcorps. This dynamic was employed to force the ruling and working classes to pander to each other's wants and needs. As shareholders, the financial health of the starcorp was integral to the wellbeing of the masses, and because workers were free to sell their shares and move into the starcorp of their choice, the health and happiness of the masses was a priority of the rich and powerful. For starcorps building a better state than then their competitor was the free market that they existed within.
For the most part, starcorps were owned by the workers. On average, seventy percent of starcorps' public market profits was divided evenly among its populace. The remainder was portioned into the dividends for all starcorp shareholders. In theory, the percentage deal to the workers could be any ratio, but starcorps had to make the percentage attractive enough to lure workers to it. Inhabitant shareholders were allocated their dividends and pay with living expenses and starcorp taxes removed. Non-inhabitant shareholders were allocated their dividends with just the taxes removed.
Along with the goods that starcorps produced for the external market, its members had a license to invest their shares into internal market enterprises. These were business ventures that serviced the people who lived in, visited or passed through a starcorp. These were invariably in the service and entertainment industries, and the businesses that supported and supplied them.
Shareholders also had the option of leveraging into existence a subsidiary external market enterprise. These business ventures required investors to assume a significant portion of the financial risk in exchange for a matching percentage of the profits. Because of the extent of their investment and risk, these shareholders were often given a controlling hand over the venture. These ventures were contractual and invariably had a time limit. When the contract expired starcorps had the option of extending it, buying out the investors and absorbing the entirety of the enterprise, or selling its shares.
Starcorps' Board of Directors numbered between fifteen to twenty-five individuals on average. They earned their seats on the board through the accumulation of proxies. The strength of a Director was determined by the combined weight of shares he or she commanded. The Directors wrote starcorp laws. In all votes, the side with the greatest weight of shares behind it won. Directors also had the task of planning the overall objective of the starcorp and hiring the operational heads to make it happen. Starcorps' Judiciary and Chief Law Enforcement Agency were elected into office by a simple majority vote of the Board of Directors. Their authorities were governed by a constitution that was implemented and amended by a majority vote of the populace.
The greatest political clout within starcorps belonged to the populace. They had the power to sell their shares and leave. Starcorps were dependent upon their inhabitants to generate its profits. Possessing workers that were more skilled, talented, and productive than their competitors was the goal of every starcorp. In pursuit of this end, starcorps felt obliged to make life within their domain as attractive as possible for its inhabitants. The alternative to this was to not only lose the workers they had but fail to attract more to replace them if, and when necessary.
In the latter half of the twenty-second century, starcorps become boomtowns on a course towards boundless growth. They are the paragons of wealth and power of this time and havens of peace and prosperity. During this same period, planet Earth is a deforested living world, crammed with human life, impoverished by want, disease and strife, and paved over with several dozen high-tech super metropolises that are struggling to survive. 2177 is the year that the pendulum of power begins to swing the other way.