The Reach is a collection of 9 habitats called the Pearls, floating in orbit at varying distances around a red dwarf star. The entire system is ancient, so ancient that some of these Pearls may have been made when the star was young, using technology far older than humanity. The habitats are built on technology that surpasses anything the Spiral Confederacy has (perhaps TL 18), but the people living in the system are TL 12 wannabes, using the tech for defence and energy but completely clueless to its full potential.
The system is defended by some kind of ancient technology that has proven invincible to all modern starfleets – even the Spiral Confederacy’s famed navay has been unable to penetrate these defenses, and has lost several capital ships with all hands in past raids. These defences are the reason The Reach remains beyond Confederacy control, and are a closely guarded secret within the Reach.
All nine pearls are coated with solar panels, that are under constant repair, but the main source of energy for all pearls is a complex web of sub-space energy systems, probably connected to the Red Dwarf and possibly a cause of its rapid collapse (which has occurred over hundreds of thousands rather than millions of years). Control of a Pearl is determined by those who control the sub-space system or those who bargain with them, which typically means gaining control of the small group of engineers who know how to operate it. The pirates of The Reach are in thrall to the engineer guild, and the engineers are ruthless in their attempts to control access to this technology.
The nine Pearls have different sizes and purposes, but effectively each is entirely self-sustaining, except Pearls 8 and 9, which are too small and function primarily as a research base (Pearl 9) and a military coordination centre (Pearl 8) for system defence. The engineer guild operates across all the Pearls, but outside of this guild each Pearl has its own organisation and structure. Each Pearl has its own navy and army, and contributes a small number of starships to system defence and border patrols at any one time. Key points about each Pearl are listed below.
- Pearl 1: A small Pearl that specialises in chemical industries. Run by a small clique of technocrats and riddled with high-tech automated defence systems. Largely excluded from internecine squabbles, and provides a wide range of pharmaceutical and especially recreational drugs to the other Pearls, who then smuggle them out of the system
- Pearl 2: A very large, sprawling and run-down industrial zone, run by a hereditary family renowned for their cruelty and backwardness. They maintain a large internal army, large numbers of slave workers, and a ruthless internal militia devoted to controlling the populace. Pearl 2 is the only Pearl where gun ownership is heavily controlled and speech limited, as the leadership tries to ensure it controls its slaves and the large strata of “free” workers who live and work in semi-technical positions. It has a narrow stratum of craftspeople and engineers, but would be a completely dysfunctional society anywhere but in a pirate community.
- Pearl 3: An asteroid mining and farming community that possesses a large and mobile fleet of sub-stellar vessels, and uses them to aggressively defend and expand mining territory in the huge outer and inner asteroid belts of the system. It also refines fuel from the system’s three gas giants, and maintains some legitimate trading links directly with the Confederacy, although technology on the Pearl is not sufficient for it to do much more than export raw materials. Pearl 3 is a large, low-population density habitat with a lot of open space, storage and disused industrial sectors, run by a council elected by those rich enough to own concessions on the distant asteroids.
- Pearl 4: A small and densely-populated habitat that makes its living through the slave trade, and is the centre of the slave trade in The Reach. The free population on Pearl 4 are largely managers and slave-drivers, and slave ownership is ubiquitous. This Pearl is ruled by an elected council, with membership restricted to the scions of the seven slave-owning families in the Pearl. These families own sleek, fast interstellar raiding ships that are used for regular slave raids outside of The Reach. There is a large class of geneticists and breeders on Pearl 4, because breeding slaves is an important part of the business model. Relations between Pearls 4 and 2 are good, because Pearl 2’s cruel industrial practices make it a major customer.
- Pearl 5: A medium-sized habitat run by a single corporate oligarchy, Pearl 5 is a major trader in interstellar foodstuffs and also the main owner of concessions on The Gardens. As the major supplier of food in-system, Pearl 5 has corrupt and sinister relations with all other habitats, and uses these relations to ensure its survival despite its small fleet. Pearl 5 is a rich, well-run and clean habitat with limited internal troubles, its residents often looked down on as rich and soft.
- Pearl 6: A major trading house, engaging in all manner of trade and smuggling throughout the Sector, Pearl 6 is a small but active and intense community of smugglers and merchants. It is ruled by an unelected council, that replaces its members by internal consent. The wealthy and powerful members of Pearl 6 society engage in complex powerplays to gain access to this council, and to place members on it. Pearl 6 has a rich tradition of assassination and overthrows connected with this council.
- Pearl 7: The other major trading house, locked in intense competition with Pearl 6 for smuggling routes, interstellar markets, and intra-stellar profits. Pearl 7 is larger than Pearl 6 and hosts some construction and repair industries as well as smuggling. It is also overcrowded, as some parts of the habitat have fallen into disrepair and await Pearl 7’s return to the ascendancy before they can be brought back into use. Pearl 7 maintains a large army and navy, and is the biggest power in The Reach in normal times due to its combination of military power, wealth and external contacts. Pearl 7 also hosts the main outlander residence areas, though these exist in smaller scales on all the Pearls. Pearl 7 is run by an elite council elected by a small group of rich business owners and military leaders.
- Pearl 8: the system defence base is permanently occupied by a small staff drawn from all 7 of the inner pearls, with the staff living there for a year on a rotating basis and all Pearls contributing a small tithe of ships to the ongoing system defence activities of the base. By common accord squabbles between Pearls are not allowed to be continued on the Base, and there are protocols for all conflicts to end if Pearl 8 declares an emergency defence.
- Pearl 9: A small research base, staffed on a voluntary basis, located far out beyond the outer asteroid belt and devoted to trying to understand the strange history of The Reach.
- Asteroid bases and mines: There are mining communities on asteroids and in the atmosphere of the gas giants, some large enough to have semi-permanent residents. These bases are nominally under the control of a specific Pearl, but don’t always act according to orders from their home base. They are usually excluded from inter-habitat squabbles but are sometimes raided. They are rough, poor places of hard work and tough lives.
- The Gardens: Sometime in the past a large number of wrecked spaceships – presumed destroyed by system defence weapons – were gathered into one spot within the habitable zone of the star. These ships include the wreckage of an Ocean class Confederacy ship, and numerous smaller vessels. Field generators were repaired and installed, and an atmosphere inserted, and now the Gardens act as a kind of weird network of forests and farms that are farmed by workers from Pearls 2, 3, 5 and 7. As new ships are destroyed they are added to the wreckage, which is now some hundreds of kilometres long and tens of kilometres high, and slowly forming into its own planetoid. Soil imported from other planets is dumped here, water imported from ice, and plants from around the Sector are grown in its controlled spaces. This is a long-term project to make The Reach more sustainable, since the only way it can be brought under control is through a blockade. Most of the Pearls have their own gardens as well, but this project is intended to provide a large, secure alternative food supply not under the control of any one Pearl.
The characters will arrive on Pearl 7.
Pearl 7 is a large, slightly ragged-look ovoid habitat, perhaps 100 kms long and 30 kms in diameter. It spins slowly about its narrow axis, so that one long side of the habitat will be facing towards the red dwarf for about 2-3 weeks. It also spins slowly on the long axis, ensuring that all parts of the habitat face the sun. It has a small number of outrigger habitats, the largest being a 4km x 3 km rectangle, and the smallest a several-hundred metre long refuelling and docking base for small fighter craft. One end of the habitat is in a state of decay, the outer walls appearing crumbled and damaged with parts of the super-structure visible through the skin of the pearl. Pearl 7 has a large and thriving community of outlanders near the docks, and appears likely to have some kind of arrangement with the Confederacy that gives at least a modicum of safety to Confederacy residents who don’t do anything extravagantly stupid when they arrive in-system.
No one is genuinely safe in The Reach, though, and anyone traveling here would be well to remember that despite the warm entreaties of Pearl 7’s hoteliers, maitre d’s and merchants…