Today I’ll be heading out into the void, to visit the asteroid belt that once comprised the core world of the pre-Collapse empire. While much of the planet fell into what became Seraos or spread out into the Amrita belt, some rubble no doubt dispersed into space and perhaps collided with the other planets or ended on long-period orbits that may eventually bring some of it back as deadly orbit-crossing projectiles. What’s left is well worth exploring, however.
There are a handful of asteroids whose orbits keep them within a relatively modest distance of the Gate Hub of Seraos; these constitute the primary inhabited section of the Amrita belt, with other inhabited spaces that wander out of easy reach for years at a time being considered part of the Fringe. Only a bit over half a million souls live in the dark expanse, primarily comprised of humans, infused, and phalanx.
Amrita was, before the Collapse, an earth-aligned world, home to the advanced alien wonders of the Progenitors. The sudden destruction of the world left a certain inclination toward unquiet rest in the souls of those who died there, and as such the belt has a high incidence rate of incorporeal undead. It also remains disconnected from the elemental system, and some suspect the belt may have become aligned to another plane entirely – the ethereal and the plane of shadow are popular ideas among scholars. This latter would also explain the relative frequency of taur attacks, as their ships are powered by a connection to Shadow rather than aetherite and their most frequent appearances are amid the asteroids of the Fringe.
More typical forms of commerce break down here; with aetherite being fairly common – the remnants of a world are laced with veins of the stuff, after all – while the other necessities of life are fairly scarce, barter is a far more common situation to encounter. In a way, the Amrita belt is a good place to explore alternative economies to the capitalism that’s eating the Hierarchy from the inside, or the blandly idealistic communalism of the erahthi. An asteroid home to nothing but phalanx networked with a psychic web could have something resembling a reputation economy, and most are likely to get by best on a variant of socialism where important resources are rigorously held in the common trust, and attempts to hoard them are likely to see the hoarder introduced to an airlock without a protective suit.
Among the forms of structures to be found are active colonies – both the major settlements that orbit near the Gate Hub and the smaller ones of the Fringe, most of the latter being mining colonies delving for aetherite to trade for supplies – abandoned ones that ran dry, literal ghost colonies where the inhabitants were left to die when they ran short on something vital, and ruined fragments of the Progenitor cities. Few colonies last for long, with some being abandoned the moment the aetherite supply dips too low to be profitable any longer. Those that don’t become havens for the living dead often become colonies of phalanx, surviving on what aetherite they can eke out of the mines while any organic life withers away around them. Even with the taur around, these phalanx colonies may well gradually become the most alien places in the system.
The setting also provides us with a wonderful excuse for those ridiculous space opera clusters of asteroids that we see in things like Star Wars – the aetheric currents in the system exert a mild telekinetic effect on everything caught in them, and eddies in the aether will collect asteroids and debris in clusters and whirlpools. Beyond this, much of space is much emptier – still, it is a debris field from a disaster that struck only a few thousand years ago, an eyeblink in cosmological time scales, and so the relatively high density of the Amrita belt can be excused. Most of the debris is too small to be visible, but it all remains a significant danger to aetherships moving at speed.
Pirates also play a threatening role – preying on cargo vessels and the like moving between colonies and the Gate Hub – but they’re one of the least terrifying threats in the void. Incorporeal undead can simply slip through the hulls of most aetherships and start causing havoc, alien lifeforms such as mi-go slip through the emptiness, and the occasional deeply lost elemental from Seraos can be encountered – air elementals being seen as a coveted source of breathable atmosphere if they can be captured safely.
Perhaps more alarming are the kytons – dwellers from Shadow who harvest raw materials and living crews alike for their inscrutable plans, their attacks blamed on the taur by those who know nothing of the chained fiends. The taur themselves only attack occasionally, making no concerted effort to terrorize or conquer the belt – perhaps one of the luckiest things the inhabitants of the region don’t know to be thankful for.
Next time, I’ll touch on the locations of interest in this rocky void. Be sure to check back!