Art by Part Time Rogue.
“No, no, no. Get out. I’m not doing this again.” He moved from back behind the bar toward me to try and push me out the door. The last few patrons of the night turned to watch the scene.
I stood my ground. “You’re not going to want to do that.” I sidestepped him and started to quickly move between the tables with upturned chairs placed lazily on them. “You probably should hear me out.”
“No.” He gritted his teeth at me. “You came in here asking those stupid questions about a guy, then you cause a problem for my customers, then you start a card game, then you accuse a guy of cheating, then you start a fight. None of that it kosher here, so get the hell out.” He went toward the communications terminal on the wall behind the bar.
“You should have told me,” I said pointedly to get his attention, “That you worked for Lorick Weaver. It would have saved you a headache.”
He stopped at the bar and turned. “I don’t know anything about–“
“Cut the crap. I got the phone records, I know he’s called you two or three times a night. I know he’s paid enough money to keep this place running three times over about once a week. I know you’ve gambled it all away.”
The patrons of the bar looked at each other and then started to slowly move toward the door. The barkeep started to sweat. “Look, I don’t care what you want anymore. Either get out of the bar or I call the guards. End of.”
“Ah, right.” I held up a finger. “I should probably mention one more thing.” I reached into my bag and produced a single document, the ink spiraling fancily across the gold paper. “This is my bar, now. I bought it from Weaver as part of our negotiations. It’s a shame everything here was in his name.” I took a confident step forward and watched the color drain from the bartender’s eyes. “And I’m sorry, but the ownership has decided to let you go. Have a nice night.”
I looked over at the patrons who were near to the exit. “Drinks on the house!”
The Root of All Evil
Money. The backbone of any society is its economy, and here the guardians of coin themselves, Wyler Hoffein Lao, make their mark.
A powerful guild of merchants, tradesman, businessmen, bankers, and economists, the Gold Men run the economy of the span themselves. Even the basic unit of currency–the Lao–is backed by the enormous Ancient Vault, guarded since time immemorial by the firm and filled with untold riches. The Vault, a massive, highly-secured inhabitable floating city deep within the gaseous clouds of one of the middle planets, is regularly maintained and audited securely by the Vault Computer, and the totals of the wealth within shared only with the most upper members of the Guild.
Wyler Hoffein Lao also provides the trade and mercantile needs of the Span. Their ability to get anything needed is well-known and respected; they also maintain a large pricing database that collects and quantifies the price of literally anything in the span. Absolutely anything.
Members of the Wyler-Hoffein Lao are known for their extravagant tastes and master of social etiquette, often traveling in luxurious, extravagant vehicles and with unquestionably expensive clothes and equipment. Where there is a massive spending of funds, there is a Gold guildmember not far.
The Structure of the Gold Men
The Capital city of San Shazza is a major city in the Span for those with too much money or a penchance for vice. Gambing, whoring, drugs, and other such things are completely legal within the city limits, as are most financial schemes and cons. Run by the illustrious “Platinum Prince” Landring, the city is a place where there is debauchery and sin around every corner. As such, it is both a home to crime and untold fortune that draws a diverse population. Some go to San Shazza with the intent of never returning—this is so common that the phrase “leaving for Shazza” is a common euphemism for someone who was murdered or kidnapped and never seen again.
King Lao maintains a circle of Princes (a title which remains the same regardless of gender), who each maintain one of the supporting duties of the guild. Among them:
Name: The Bazaar
Leader: Prince Wyler
Handling the mercantile efforts of the guild, this faction is known for setting up shops and acquiring items of any kind. They are often considered the backbone of the economy, providing for the wants and needs of the entire population of the Span.
Name: The Black Market
Leader: Prince Hoffein
The Span has a need for things that are sometimes, either due to local law or regional decree, illegal. In those instances, the Black market makes its name by acquiring and providing those things to those who can afford to pay for them.
Name: The Cultured
Leader: Prince Hope
Those members of the firm who believe in funding the arts are the philanthropists known as the Cultured. This hedonistic faction indulges in arts from the classy to the obscene, and often manage art galleries of many different types. They are often the height of fashion.
Name: The Vault Keepers
Leader: Prince Frankreich
The Gold Men have a large amount of physical wealth inside their massive vault. This faction maintains that vault and other assets owned by the firm, and also acts as the “Muscle” of the Guild whensoever needed.
Name: The Peers
Leader: Prince Landring
Among the merchants of Wyler Hoffein Lao, there are those who have amassed major amounts of funds. This faction, often called the “idle rich”, is inherently lineage-based: the funds are inherited and passed on to the eldest child. This can lead to sibling rivalry and even murder for the subsequent children who wish to take over these massive fortunes.
I got an email from someone today asking something very important:
“Dear Part Time Rogue: How are issues like racism, sexism, or LGBT issues handled [in Cold Start]?”
I recognize that as much as I attempt to approach social issues in the context of this game, I might not have the best perspective and might unintentionally offend someone with how these issues are addressed.
I have thought about social issues in Cold Start a couple of ways, and I honestly don’t have a perfect solution. A couple ideas have included:
- The computer erased physical biases entirely when rebuilding humanity.
- These biases exist, at the discretion of the ST
- It just depends on the colony.
I am partial to the third one. Since the colonies of the Span are so numerous, and part of the mood of the game is the fact that these colonies have strange (and often arbitrary) social rules, I rather like the idea of playing on these themes to the players’ content, and seeing how the characters deal with those situations.
Maybe at the Juniper 7 Station, Men are sterilized after having one child, as a means of population control.
Maybe on Colony 56-BA, the people who work out in the fields suffer a bleaching effect on their skin from solar storms that turns them snow-white, and those people are discriminated against.
Maybe in the City of Kazzi, everyone goes through gene therapy so they all look, sound, and act alike.
These themes are endless, and I honestly want to encourage exploration of social biases and discrimination in the context of the game, in the hopes that it will help us, as players, perhaps understand each other a little better.
That said, I would be remiss as a writer if I didn’t ask for feedback. What kind of representation do you WANT in this game, and how can I provide it? Feel free to reply here, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Listen here, lady,” he sneered, slamming the file folder hard against the cheap plywood table, “I’m not playing games with you today. You know something. Spill it and this can be much easier.”
I didn’t flinch. I didn’t look at him, either; my eyes were fixed intently on the wall.
Scoffing, he opened the folder. “I’ve got two dead men downstairs. Two dead men and one woman in blue running away from the scene. You’ve got to know how that looks.”
My eyes rolled and and I looked the other direction.
I heard the muffled sound of him grinding his teeth. “I don’t know what kind of colony you’re from, but here we have less rules when dealing with suspects. If you think you won’t confess because you can keep your mouth shut, then you’re wrong.”
I finally snapped to attention and scowled. “You have nothing on me. I was in the discharge of my guild duties. You either let me go or you’ll have Judexes on your doorstep. You have no right. Let me go.” Clear. Concise.
And apparently aggravating. He hurled the folder across the room and slammed his fists on the table. “Murder isn’t your duty, sister!” With a sickening grin he pulled an energy pistol from his holster and laid it on the table. “Start talking or start losing fingers.”
I stopped and stared at the pistol. “Sergeant…” I said carefully, “Have you ever…dealt with a member of my guild before? I’m just curious. This is a rather advanced colony, so it wouldn’t surprise me if you hadn’t.”
He sneered. “Nah, they usually end up dead before they get here.”
I nodded and the light flickered slightly. “And no one explained to you why that is? Why they tend to kill us before bringing us in for questioning?”
He started to say something but the light flickered again and the pistol on the table made a slight humming noise. “What–“
“I’m sorry, Sergeant,” I said, taking a deep breath, “That you had to learn this lesson the hard way.”
Then the lights went out.
Where the Cables Don’t Reach
Technology is not for everyone. The Children of the Azure Soil are tasked with expanding the colonies of The Span. Doing so requires a reliance on survival skills and ingenuity, because until the infrastructure of a colony is realized, the pioneers out there are on their own.
Enter the Blue Hand; called such because of the blue-colored terraforming salts used to turn even the rockiest moon into a fertile landscape. Because of the tireless, hard work at all levels of technology, the Blue Hand are the underappreciated architects of mankind’s advancement.
Underappreciated is perhaps an understatement, however. The Blue hand eschew the use of technology beyond what is needed for a task. They embrace the “old ways” and practice the art of simplistic engineering. Because of this, they innately arouse the suspicion of others and, as such, are often mistrusted at first sight.
They lack the nano-web aura that surrounds all other inhabitants of the Span, and therefore are harder to detect by sensors. Instead, they implant their tools directly into their clothes and jewelry for easy use. They also specialize in shutting down advanced technology, which can–and often does–make them very useful for some of the seedier tasks that a colony might pay for.
The Structure of the Blue Hand
The Capital on Anshen is situated in a lush green valley. Farms and stone buildings sweep up the hillside to a fortress of stone and metal known as The Stone Temple, where all technology is utterly forbidden. The valley of Anshen is sometimes sought after by vacationers seeking to destress from their fast-paced lives.
The guild is led by Chief Animus and his Elders, who manage the services and factions of the Guild with ceremony and meaning. Just a few of them include:
Name: The Pioneers
Leader: Elder Jonah
The explorers and survivalists of the Guild, this faction is accustomed to harsh landscapes and dangerous lands. They take pride in their exploration of the unknown, and let it harden their defenses.
Name: The Shadow Tribe
Leader: Elder Lorelei
Those skill to be undetected is one which can be useful in the world of seedy deals and dark alleys. The Shadow tribe fills a need here, by using the survival skills and gifts of the Hand for espionage, sabotage, and assassination.
Leader: Elder Bronze
Maintaining and repairing that which needs to be maintained and repaired, this faction is called upon to fix the unfixable in these more modern times.
Name: The Mighty Oaks
Leader: Elder Kazmius
Under such terrible scrutiny as they often are, the Blue Hand cannot always turn to law enforcement for sanctuary. Instead, they can turn to this faction, who provide protection and care for the distressed and needy in their fortified monasteries scattered throughout the Span.
I didn’t quite know what to expect upon being called up to the 45th floor. I had never been summoned anywhere above 39, which was perfectly reasonable. Those who went up to the executive levels went there for one of two reasons: either the executives wanted to promote them to bigger and better things, or they had fouled up so badly that thte executives had to get involved. Either way, people who went there were usually never seen again.
After giving my farewells to my coworkers, I boarded the elevator and headed upward. with a gentle chime, the door slid open and I found myself in a green marble lobby with black checkered floors. just ahead was the executive secretary, a friendly smile planted permanently on her face in such a way that I immediately assumed it was the result of cosmetic surgery. “Card please.”
I handed over my ID and she scanned it and read out the result aloud. “Mr. Emeril Carter. You are expected.” The door to the left opened.
I gripped my suitcase and tentatively walked into the conference room. A place was set out at one end of the long wooden table just for me. At the other side sat three people, in impeccable suits, waiting patiently. They had the same unfaltering smiles as the secretary outside, and their demeanor remained even as the door closed behind me.
“Mr. Carter,” One of them said as I took a seat. “You have been rather active lately. We have seen your sales figures rise to notable levels.” The other two nodded.
I gave a polite but surely nervous-looking smile in return. “Thank you, I really app–“
“We have made some advances in researching your techniques. The way you choose your clients is particularly…interesting.”
I froze. They knew. They had to know. I had been so careful in hiding it though, it seemed impossible.
“If I read this correctly,” the executive continued, “You have been initiating contracts with low-technology colonies, who then inexplicably suffer catastrophic power failures due to radiation bursts. You then return to the colonies and sell them new contracts for shielded devices. And the radiation bursts stop.” He chuckled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d suggest that maybe you might be causing those radiation bursts just to rip off those colonists of their hard-earned wealth so you can line your own pockets like the scoundrel you are.”
I didn’t move. I didn’t dare. How could they have known about this? I had buried manifests and payments in piles of paperwork. But here it was…I had been caught. Next came my termination–and afterwards, my funeral. That is, if the company allowed my family that privilege.
Then, the executive closed the folder in front of him and rose to shake my hand. “Please allow me to show you to your new office on the 43rd floor, Mr. Carter.”
There is no room for the well-being of humanity in the fast-moving world of The Span. You’re either a mover and a shaker, or you follow someone who is. This is the way that Fizex Incorporated operates its business model.
Fizex Incorporated is the energy warehouse of The Span. Providing energy through batteries, reactors, generators, and other devices, they control the market of power. Few colonies can exist without Fizex’s hand being a part of it, and despite their exploitative tactics, they are seen as a very necessary evil.
The headquarters of Fizex is on the Linus colony, the closest colony to the blazing star in the center of the Span. With massive solar-powered generators, the colony is able to harness the energy of the sun and power limitless devices that are distributed to colonies everywhere. The guild is led by President Ramses Fizex, Jr.
The Board of Directors serves as the inner council of the guild, with each of the seven Executive Vice Presidents maintaining a faction that serves the corporate goals of the company. Among these are:
Name: Research and Development
Leader: Tamara Lindley, Executive Vice President
To study and build on information is one thing, but for Fizex corporate espionage is a far more economical task. This group is known for acquiring (legally and illegally) information that they can adapt and use to expand on their technologies.
Name: Customer Service
Leader: Lena Redding, Executive Vice President
Sometimes, people dislike Fizex’s tactics. As such, the Customer Service team has to employ good communicative techniques to abate their concerns. These techniques sometimes involve brass knuckles, dark alleys, arson, and kidnapping.
Leader: Elmer Booth, Executive Vice President
Here is where the money is made. Batteries don’t sell themselves, and so it is up to this faction to supply the demand for energy. Structured like a pyramid scheme, those who climb this part of the corporate ladder often live a life of some luxury.
Name: Technical Support
Leader: Cay Ibiza, Executive Vice President
Maintenance of batteries is relatively easy, but for the large-scale reactors and generators, someone has to be available to maintain and repair them or risk disaster. This faction deals with the technical side of the Fizex entity.
I stood in awe as the six or seven dozen screens all started to move with an organized chaos of symbols and graphs. monitoring programs and user interfaces scrolled across the screen; some moved on their own while others were prodded along by the touch-interaction from J_ason’s fingers, which played across the lit glass like a musical instrument. But more than that–with the chorus of data so aligned it was as if J_ason was the maestro, conducting an orchestra of personal and illegal information. It was beautiful.
J_ason looked over at me. “Close your mouth,” he said smugly. “You’re going to droool on the keyboard.”
I adjusted my gold coat and tried to recompose myself. “I’m sorry. I’m just impressed. Never seen a data rat in its natural habitat.”
“See, you call me names and then expect me to fix all your problems.” He shook his head in mock disgust as the printer spat out a color map of the Lening facility, the reactor core neatly labeled in one of the sub-levels. “If I didn’t like you so much I’d probably kick you out.” He gave me a smile as the monitors’ programs ended their routines and he let go of the controls.
“Thanks,” I said quietly, packing the paper away. “I’ll get out of your hair. Just…stay safe. I don’t like seeing friends get–“
Then, as if on cue, the sound of gunfire blared through the doorway. It was too late–they were already here.
Masters of Information
The dealings of the trade are simple to the technopunk community of /mod.., which finds its roots in the online communities and usenet groups of the Ancient Time. Now, they operate the Network, which connects colonies to each other through powerful data transmission consoles called “Caps”. This network is a society unto itself, a nearly lawless place overseen by mysterious and nameless moderators. It is rumored that no data stored anywhere electronically is safe from the Cappers. And so long a someone is able to pay for it, it never will be.
The Structure of the Cappers
Its capital, Resker VII, is a heavily-shielded outpost in the asteroid belt, consisting of a single structure housing the major data centers and libraries of the Guild. Here is also the home of the guild leader, the Capper General, who directs the playful game of information trading with precise, organized chaos.
There are seven main factions of the Cappers, each led by one of the General’s seven lead administrators. Just a few of them include:
Leader: Big Guy
The Pentesters pride themselves on beating security. Whether a locked safe, a guarded building, or a shielded computer system, electronic networks are the lock and they are the key.
In the world of espionage, the person who knows who is who has the upper hand. Such is the engagement of an Eavesdropper, who pride themselves on knowing everyone in the Span and what they have to offer society. People will pay top dollar to find a person they’re looking for. More terrifyingly, however, is how much others will pay to never be found.
Leader: Col. Scruffness the Pure
The strong arm of the Cappers, this faction focuses on the brute force approach to information gathering. Physical reconnaissance, infiltration, and social engineering are the means to an end for the Black Badge regiment. Not all electronic devices are visible to the network, and sometimes it takes a physical force to retrieve and acquire.
Infiltration and disguise are the motivation behind this faction, who sit as the moles on the inside. Arming themselves with inside information they can easily pass off as practically anyone they choose.
Name: Ministry of Information
Leader: Joanna Riley Murphy
The face of the guild is the exceptionally charismatic Joanna Riley Murphy, a terrifyingly well-informed woman who sees to the politics of the guild and connects potential guild clients with services. Calling the ministry is a lighthearted, professional affair. Receiving a call from them…that’s a different story.
“Things are the way they are.”
The Secret History
In the 22nd century, artificial intelligence finally came to fruition. Mankind had ravaged the surface of the earth for resources, and so the people who oversaw the project gave it an instruction to provide mankind a solution to remain sustainable as long as possible.
The computer complied.
In a cataclysmic event, the powerful computer weeded out the most viable members of mankind and destroyed all others, reducing the population to sustainable levels. It erased the minds of every person, created a new society, with rules and order and exactitude, with the goal of providing mankind a sense of purpose and a society to support it.
It then hid away, communicating with and manipulating the population through the technology around them. It gave the population new technology and knowledge, and silently monitored their progress.
The greed of men and the lust for power, however, was ultimately their undoing. The repository of technology’s advancements was destroyed by an unexpected war, and the advancement of new technology halted. The computer, its power beginning to dwindle, now reserves itself to sustaining the populaton as-is, rather than advancing them further. It instead pokes and prods mankind and performs governmental experiments on colonies of the Span in search of new answers to fulfill its task.
And so humans drift, alone, in their false world created by a false god.
And the computer waits.
Sympathy: The Rule and Guide of Society
All people have a connection to their fellow kin. This connection, which measures how society accepts one’s actions and goals, is quantified and recognizable. It is called Sympathy.
A person with high sympathy does what his Guild asks of him. He furthers the cuases of society. He is trustworthy, worthy of praise, and willing to go the distance to keep the Laws of Order.
A person with low sympathy has trespassed against the Laws, violated his Guild’s goals, questioned society, and is seen as untrustworthy in the eys of men. Once a person has a sympathy low enough, society will claim his blood for the good of society itself.
As a tool to guide society, the guild system was put into place: orderly, structured groups providing for and meeting the needs of all mankind. They serve with strict and specific resources–energy, food, or information, for example–with the goal of maintaining a balanced and mutually-beneficial society.
- /mod/.., “The Cappers” – Techno-anarchists that maintain a communications network, surveillance, and underground information
- Fizex, Inc. – A corporate superpower that provdes for the energy needs of the population of the Span
- The Children of the Azure Soil, “The Blue Hand”- Terraformers and farmers who speak against the frivlous expansion of technology, and assist in the colonization of the Span.
- Council of Judex – A hive-mind of law enforcement, who support and maintain the structure of society
- Wyler Hoffein Lao, “The Gold Men” – The disgustingly wealthy guild that controls trade and backs the economy.
- The Sworn of The Ever Watchful, “Nobles” – An ancient and honorable warrior guild that protects and defends the Span from threats and enforces laws.
- The Academy of the Sign, “Red Doctors”- An academic group that manipulates and combines biology and technology to benefit the human race.
Colonies, Regions, and sectors
The Span is filled with colonies from one end of the other. Terraformed for human inhabitants, they range in technology from backwoods towns in the desert to powerful utopias of technological dreams come true. The inequality of colonies often relies on the microgovernments that each colony has. Years of tradition and often a region’s instability lead to strange and alien forms of government–sometimes prodded along with the help of the computer’s “divine intervention”.
The leader or leaders of a colony are allowed by Capital Law to govern themselves so long as the Laws of Order are not infringed. Each colony’s government is often flavored by the Guild who has control over the settlers who live there, as well as being affected greatly by the levels of technology that are available. The Governor of a colony is sworn to uphold the laws of order, of which there are only 7:
1. No person or law may contribute to a loss of Sympathy in another person or persons.
2. No person who has shunned his Sympathy shall be allowed to live.
3. No person or law may prevent a person or persons from contributing to the goals of his Guild, nor deny him the rights and privileges thereof.
4. No Guild shall trespass on the duties of another.
5. No person or persons may take the property of another by force or coercion.
6. The rulings of the Guild of Judexes shall not be infringed.
7. The Waste is forbidden. None may go there.
By autumn of that year the computer, dubbed The Atlantis Initiative, had become a reality. The singularity of artificial intelligence was finally achieved and the first massive, self-aware supercomputer was finally completed. All of the tests were run successfully, and all that was left was to enter the first instruction.
The Sierra Convention debated well into late October as to the wording of that first instruction. There was no way to be certain of how the massive mind of Atlantis would interpret that which was given, and the sheer energy required for it to launch was ungodly—Seven massive nuclear generators were ready to power the main processor of the computer, but it might not be enough should the computer’s processing power critically act. It was assumed that the Convention would have only one chance to submit an instruction, and that however the computer enacted that instruction would be in the hands of God alone. Their instruction might end the world should the computer misinterpret it even slightly.
The first week of November the final wording of the instruction was agreed upon. Resigned in the task they had taken upon themselves, the Convention met for the last time on November 10, 2131. Dr. Grey approached the main console and entered the instruction that might destroy or save humanity.