A Stroke of State

11 05 2012

Today marks five years since the first post in Orbital Shipyards, a not-insignificant anniversary! To celebrate the fifth birthday of Orbital Shipyards, presented here is a full-length short story set in the OS universe, featuring many familar characters – and some new ones as well.

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts, opinions and feelings regarding the colonisation of Fram.


A Stroke of State

An Orbital Shipyards Story

Dave Blades

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The Dictatorship of the Colonist

19 02 2010

It was Gina from Alpha-2 who organised the discussion of Fram’s political landscape at the +150 Conference. She argued passionately and articulately. She noted that the system of governance in place was that which had been used aboard the Quoqasi during the voyage from Sol.

“That was a totally different situation,” Gina spoke. “We lived in a closed system with crop failure as the greatest threat. Such a system should not be maintained in perpetuity, or by default.”

She was, of course, speaking disingenuously; there were much greater threats posed by the interstellar voyage, although the worst of those would have affected all the colony pods equally. But her point was well, if grimly, received.

The Colonies were governed by a centrist socialism. Communism in its less malign form had been an appropriate governmental model during the early colonisation efforts in the Solar System, in situations where there was little economic growth and correspondingly little private property. Everything – crawlers, KOVTARs, elevator cables, fusion plants, hydroponic domes – belonged to the Colony and was shared by each of the colonists. Labour was likewise undertaken for the benefit of all rather than the individual.

This was not some imposed ideological position, but rather the natural result of settling on another planet in another star system, carried by a starship with limited payload and thus limited stores and equipment. Our situation imposed constraints upon our governmental model, rather than our governmental model be made to fit a preconceived ideology.

The system against which Gina agitated was one of collective, representative leadership, organised in councils – soviets – of successive authority and responsibility. Each of the four Colonies was governed by a local soviet of five members, who were elected by the members of that Colony. These five members selected a member of that Colony to represent the Colony in the upper soviet. The upper soviet governed the four Colonies in an executive though not legislative or judicial sense. Finally, there was the position of supreme soviet, held by a single person who was directly elected by all the colonists of the four Colonies. The supreme soviet could only vote in situations where the upper soviet was deadlocked.

“It is a flawed system,” Gina spoke from the podium. “Deeply flawed. It functions as it currently does only through the vested interests of each of us in the continued stability of our colonisation of Fram.”

That “vested interest” was not some tenuous or abstract concept, came the reply from the floor: quite to the contrary, it was a fundamentally inculcated structure which conditioned the agency of each and every colonist. But the implications of Gina’s words were not lost.

Gina’s concern was one which had remained unspoken since the collapse of Alpha-2’s life-support loop – that the colonists of Alpha-2 were becoming, slowly and silently, disenfranchised. Alpha-2 lacked a speciality because of the trauma of its complete relocation, and because its infrastructure was made so much the poorer by the evacuation of its colony pod. It had been dependent upon the other Colonies in a way that none of the others had been, and as a result had contributed less to the colonisation effort. The vote of their representative in the upper soviet had become subtly marginalised.

“Because, in the end, support or opposition in the upper soviet comes from the support or opposition of its members. Individuals. What we are discussing here is the concentration of too much political power into too few hands.”

Here could be inferred Gina’s fear of the disempowerment of her Colony. Alpha-2 would need the support of two other colonies to affect legislative change in the upper soviet, or the support of one other colony and that of the tie-breaking supreme soviet. The election of candidates with dim views of Alpha-2 would threaten this delicate balance, and there were no checks or balances to the growing resentment of Alpha-2 among the other colonies.

Hers was a legitimate concern, which could not be dismissed as simple paranoia. Gina’s apprehension spoke to the need to effect changes in our government structure, changes which better reflected life on Fram rather than life on the Quoqasi. Debate began immediately, and drew more attention than the other workshops on the closing day of the Conference.

A number of reforms were proposed. Most of these proposals affected the supreme soviet: one suggestion was to impose a rotating membership upon the position of supreme soviet; another suggestion was to fill supreme and upper soviets randomly from a pool of eligible, candidate colonists; still another suggestion was to set fixed terms to each seat, and limitations on the number of terms a candidate could sit. Some anarchists even suggested that the upper and supreme soviets be abolished, that even these bodies represented the concentration of too much power.

Most of the supporters of this latter position were from Alpha-2, and the prompt, almost casual rejection of their proposal seemed to justify Gina’s concerns.

These were all imperfect solutions. None of these proposals addressed the fundamental issue of the dispersal of political power, and many actually diminished the agency of the citizen. Imposing limits on individual power was not of itself collective leadership. The problem, noted one commentator, was that Fram’s population was both too small and too large: too small to effectively implement a constitutional democracy, too large to ignore the politics and rely upon a loose meritocracy.

In the silence between rejection and counter-proposal, someone muttered that what we were doing now was as good as politics could get.

“What do you mean?” asked Gina, encouraged.

A tall, thin man from Alpha-4 stood up reluctantly. “I mean this Conference. Everyone meeting together like this, every so often, to discuss what comes next.”

The idea was seized upon. It was discussed, debated, developed. Word spread quickly, and experts from all fields dropped in from other workshops to contribute. And suddenly (or, at least, it seemed to those of us there), we were drafting language for a constitution.

The Conference would be the basis of our government. At regular intervals, a similar conference would be held; while the Colony was young, this interval would remain one hundred and fifty Earth days. These Congresses would be attended by a Central Committee of some two hundred members – fifty representatives from each Colony, nominated by whatever method that Colony chose – who would confer on any issue that fell outside the jurisdiction of a single Colony.

The +150 Conference, thus, became the First Congress.

“But think of the Texas crisis!” Gina implored. “We mustn’t assume that all decisions will wait for a scheduled Congress.”

Replacing the upper and supreme soviets was the Presidium, a body of sixteen full and eight candidate members. The Presidium directed the government between the Congresses of the Central Committee. Only full members could vote; candidate members acted as the tie-break, voting only when the votes of full members were deadlocked. Each Colony elected four full and two candidate members. The Presidium met only in plenums in the period between Congresses.

Despite comments made in jest – “revolution in one solar system!” or “dictatorship of the colonist!” – the authors consulted widely, and the draft was quickly composed. The constitution went to general referendum a week after the conclusion of the Congress, and passed in a landslide with an eighty-four percent majority.

Of 3974 persons, 3338 voted in favour of the new constitution.

Birth of a Settlement

10 06 2007

Colony Pod

"…The colony pods were designed to be completely modular upon deployment. Once the kilometre-long vessels had blazed through the atmosphere and settled upon the surface, their structural options opened up exponentially. Specific modules, such as meteorological and aerospace laboratories, were elevated and stacked up in the higher sections of the pod, while geo-survey stations were constructed at the end of unfurled carbon-fibre road tiles, away from the thunderous activity within the colony pod-cum-settlement and all that entailed in its expansion."


It took fifteen minutes for the crawler to travel the half dozen kilometers from the new Alpha-2 site to Alpha-1. It would have taken twice that time if not for the carbon arterial which connected the two sites. Gina took some small pleasure in those fifteen minutes, a pleasure that went beyond simple convenience – it was pride, she realized, pride in those highways, the first of the projects entirely manufactured on Fram’s surface, from materials mined from Fram itself.

The Alpha-2 site was so far the only colony entirely connected by the carbon ribbons. Alpha-2 had been connected to every other colony through sheer necessity: it had been the first, simply because it made the relocation effort, already immense, that much easier and more efficient.

As the crawler drew closer to Alpha-1, though, Gina saw the progress made connecting that site to the others – perfectly straight lines fanned out from beneath the colony’s courtyard, tracing black parabolic arcs over the horizon toward the deep-core mining site, the launch facility, and toward the elevator ground station. Vehicles moved across these, she noticed, diminished by the distance.

The crawler fell into the deeper of the shadows cast by the superstructure of Alpha-1, cast by the nearer and brighter of the twin stars. Gina saw towers silhouetted in the brown light; atop the weather and radar stations she saw dishes, made of fine mesh, rotating. Although the modular components which had spread over the upper surface of the colony pod were entirely prefabricated, they impressed her no less than did the carbon highway upon on which the crawler’s caterpillar tracks now grinded.

These rectilinear shapes stretched far into the sky, like skyscrapers did in the magnificent cities on Earth. Where those buildings had been rooted to the surface of Earth, these component towers were based atop an immense slab itself almost half the height of the skyscrapers back Home. A kilometer in length, the colony pods, the foundation of these growing cities, were a hundred meters tall once embedded in the duricrust of Fram.

Gina also felt a pang of regret, and envy. The relocation of Alpha-2 had meant leaving the colony pod, borne across the light years by the Quoqasi, at the original site. It had simply been impossible to move, once it fell from orbit and grounded itself. It had been a near-impossible feat of logistics and raw payload capacity to relocate the fusion plant, and all the prefabricated components which kept the colonists of Alpha-2 alive. The immense size of the colony pod was the central feature of the other colonies – indeed, it was also a foundation for all subsequent expansion. By comparison, the collection of buildings and domes – separated by regolith-washed carbon sheets – which made up Alpha-2 looked ramshackle, primitive, like a clutch of Mongol yurts.

Forever more the inhabitants of Alpha-2 would be at a disadvantage. Already they’d slipped far behind the others in development, and relied heavily on the other sites for consumables, resources, even maintenance. The other sites had begun to develop their specialties – Alpha-1 the embryonic space program and solar fields; Alpha-3 the manufacturing powerhouse of the four colonies; and Alpha-4, responsible for both the deep-core and open-cut mines. There were projections circling in the soviets of the mid-term economic decline of Alpha-2, including social projections placing the citizens of Alpha-2 in a nightmarish second-class.

Each time Gina, representative of the Alpha-2 soviet, visited another of the colonies, she felt the regret of the one poor decision made by her contemporaries which had precipitated this situation. But for now there was nothing that could be done – everyone was struggling, everyone was on rations, everyone was tired, and everyone was doubtful of the future.

She saw workers, clad in e-suits, erecting more equipment atop one of the domes which studded that part of Alpha-1 immediately above the vehicle park. The colony had become the seat of the upper soviet, that which nominally governed the entire colonization effort on Fram. The capital was growing, exponentially, while Gina’s own fell further and further behind…