Before the Fall, when Earth was still transhumanity’s home and central point, those stations within Earth orbit held primacy. Their close proximity to the home planet gave them extreme importance, not to mention unrivaled access to resources and personnel. Of particular significance are those habitats located at the five Lagrange points, where gravitational and centripetal forces from the Earth and Luna “cancel out,” allowing them to remain in a stationary position as they rotate with both bodies, with little or no need for station-keeping or attitude adjustments. Literally thousands of satellites, stations, habitats, factories, and bases existed in these fixed points in space, and most of them flourished. Still others thrived in the Earth-Sun Lagrange points. Together these were transhumanity’s gateway to the solar system.
The Fall From On High
Unfortunately, their proximity, wealth, and importance made these locations an obvious target once the TITANs came online and began their attacks. Many of the near-Earth stations were overwhelmed in the months of fighting, succumbing to the TITANs’ electronic attacks. Some were abandoned before they could be overrun, and a few were even destroyed to keep them from enemy hands. Almost all of the others were inundated with refugees and infugees, stretching their life support capacities to their limits. Sadly, a few of these were also destroyed, torn apart as conflicts erupted, whether between desperate refugees and equally desperate locals or sparked by nationalistic and ideological grudges carried up from Earth. Those who could fed further out in the solar system, but this was not always an option.
After the Fall, when the TITANs vanished and the dust settled, the situation had clearly changed. Earth orbit was no longer prime territory. With the Earth abandoned and off-limits, the stations in Earth orbit were no longer on the doorstep of our core world—now they were on the edge of human space, beside a planet dead and gone. Economic conditions immediately worsened. Receiving supplies was far more difficult, and shipping to other locations more expensive. Proximity to Earth was now a detriment, as these habitats were still considered to be in the danger zone. Hypercorps relocated and thousands fed the region, whether they wished to distance themselves from threats or simply because they could no longer stand to look down upon the dead Earth and the horrors it whispered back at them. Almost overnight, the orbitals transformed from prosperous to impoverished.
The new flotilla of killsats and drones orbiting the Earth—the interdiction cordon—created another set of challenges. These machines were merciless in destroying anything that strayed too close, putting those who ventured to LEO stations, and sometimes even the LEO habitats themselves, at risk. Though a few stations had moved to higher orbits, at great expense, many others simply had to be abandoned, as they were too close to the barricade or even within it. The destruction of the Fall also presented difficulties. So many satellites, stations, ships, and platforms had been damaged or wrecked, that Earth orbit was now littered with space debris. Maneuvering ships here, especially in LEO or MEO, became a death-defying affair. Remaining stations and habitats were forced to remain vigilant and alert for potentially catastrophic space junk collisions.
Aboard the surviving stations, with so many refugees jobless and penniless, incidents of crime and violence increased sharply. Unemployment was rampant to the point where competition for new jobs was fierce and sometimes deadly. Food became scarce as ecological systems could not keep up with demand and nanofabbers were overtaxed, stolen, or hidden away. Catastrophes occurred as environmental systems failed or became septic and toxic. Overcrowding and lingering antagonisms turned many habitats into powder kegs, periodically erupting with riots and violence. Corruption reached staggering heights and the influence of gangs and criminal outfits soared. Combined, these factors devastated the orbital community, transforming it from a thriving region to a wasteland of derelicts, husks, and hovels. Once a glittering jewel of high-end destinations and prosperous businesses, the orbital zones around Earth were now a land of detritus, scum, and bare-bones survival.
In the decade since, this situation has begun to change for the better, but the region remains blighted and tarnished. As a growing number of hypercorps and individuals begin to embrace the idea of reclaiming Earth, interest has slowly rekindled in the forsaken homeworld and its immediate surroundings. The orbital habitats have begun to be restored and to see renewed traffic and commerce. Many feel this is only a prelude to reclaiming the Earth itself, but if so it is a welcome step by those who call this region home.
Earth-Orbit Society and Culture
Earth orbit is littered with stations, both operational and nonfunctional. Easily three million transhumans live here, spread between hundreds of different habitats. These might range from cramped and archaic tin can stations left over from early space programs to crowded O’Neill cylinders and toruses to monolithic orbital factories. Even more than the Jovian and Saturnian systems, the Earth-Lunar system is crowded with activity and ships. Travel between habitats is far easier here, and sometimes even quicker and more economical than egocasting. In fact, the amount of traffic here makes clandestine ship movements and operations easier to hide and camouflage, a fact sometimes useful to Firewall sentinels who need to stealth an approach or entrance. Likewise, the amount of derelict habitats and floating space debris offers ample opportunities for covering your tracks.
Solarchive Search: Orbital Terminology
LEO: Low Earth Orbit. Between 150 and 2,000 kilometers above sea level. Currently, the lower end of this range is restricted territory, defended by an interdiction cordon of killsats between 300 and 350 kilometers up that will shoot down anything attempting to move past them in either direction.
MEO: Medium Earth Orbit. Between 2,000 and 35,786 kilometers above sea level.
GEO: Geosynchronous Orbit. 35,786 kilometers above sea level and close to the equatorial plane, matching Earth’s sidereal rotation period. Objects in geosynchronous orbit (with no inclination) appear to be in a fixed position from the ground.
HEO: High Earth Orbit. Above 35,786 kilometers above sea level.
Close to Home
Despite the exodus from Earth, the orbital habitats still have the sense of being a part of transhumanity’s “home,” and this is something they will never forget or not cling to, as if it gives them more authority and legitimacy. In fact, many orbitals and Lunars feel snubbed that the rest of transhumanity has turned its back on this area and does not do more to support or elevate transhuman civilization here. This also provides fuel for the budding reclaimer movement here, along with the proximity to Earth.
On the other hand, this nearness to the threat posed by the TITANs, reinforced by the dangerous interdiction cordon, along with the constant visual reminder overhead of the home that transhumanity was forced to leave, serves as a harsh lesson that transhumanity still faces problems that it might not overcome. To many, this area is simply too dark and bleak to tolerate for long. Psychosurgery for depression and similar ailments is more common here than anywhere else in the system.
Scavengers and Explorers
To some, the proximity to the relics of the Fall is exciting, whether they are thrill-seekers who like to flirt with danger or profiteers who see an opportunity. The scavenger and explorer cultures are both strong in Earth orbit, with easy access to so many ruined stations. Scavengers can be found everywhere, whether they operate as loners, in small groups, or as full-on financed operations. Aside from raiding derelict habitats for lost knowledge, stored infomorphs, or other valuables, many operate full-time as space junk herders, sifting and sorting through the cast-off junk and lost parts floating in orbit. Explorers are just as common, often idle hyperelites who enjoy the aesthetics of mapping out old abandoned stations and digging through the detritus of the past. Some socialite explorers go so far as to organize ad hoc social events in dead stations, where party-goers can dance the night away in zero-g, or find other ways of passing the time.
Both exploring and scavenging are dangerous propositions, of course. Aside from the threat of running into dormant TITAN machines, there is the very real possibility of triggering some ancient security system or warbot, or running across unfriendly rival scavengers or criminal operations, not to mention the standard hazards of space exploration.
One major defining characteristic of the Earth-orbit (and also Lunar) habitats—often in stark contrast to the rest of the system—is the adherence to old Earth-based cultural identities. Not only were many of these stations founded by specific nations, but many were created or occupied by specific ethnic or cultural groups. Many of these colonies have struggled to retain their unique cultural identities, even in the wake of the Fall—or perhaps because of it. Whereas transhumanity elsewhere has shed many of these old cultural trappings—possibly as a byproduct of technologies like the mesh, resleeving, and instant translation cutting down old cultural barriers and insular traditions—in Earth orbit and on Luna they are embraced and protected. Detractors claim that this illustrates the region’s backwardness and conservatism, saying they will never fully appreciate transhumanity’s potential as long as they cling to such antiquated notions of place and structure and culture. Others, however, enjoy the cultural focus of each habitat and even joke that Earth may be barricaded and almost unlivable but at least the stations surrounding it maintain the same traditions of insularity and distrust and ethnic/tribal tensions that caused so much trouble on Earth itself.
For Firewall sentinels, navigating unfamiliar cultural groups can be tricky and dangerous. Some gangs and crime groups especially make use of customs, lingo, and esoteric knowledge that an outsider will simply be unaware of, limiting the possibilities of infiltration. These obstacles can be surmounted with advanced study, skillware, and psychosurgery, but this is best left to agents with training in cultural mimicry.
Infugees and Clanking Masses
To this day, the habitats in the Earth-Lunar system retain the highest number of infomorph refugees as well as the largest percentage of impoverished synthmorphs and indentures. The method of handling infugees varies drastically by station, ranging from incorporating them fully in local culture and society (though the Lunar-Lagrange Alliance officially does not consider infomorphs as citizens or grant them full rights or representation) to enslaving them to locking them away in isolated simulspaces or dead storage. The clanking masses are overwhelmingly indentured to the hypercorp or station authorities that resleeved them. While many of them have been put to work, especially constructing new habitats to ease overcrowding, many remain idle and essentially unemployed with no prospects. These synthetics face widespread discrimination, sometimes institutionalized (in habitats where synthmorphs are given less rights). Many orbital and Lunar citizens unfairly blame these refugees for their cramped conditions and general economic plight.
It is worth noting that many refugee groups, having been uprooted from Earth and thrust into an entirely different type of existence, simply settled down wherever they ended up. Rather than embracing the full opportunities offered by transhuman society, some of these have in fact isolated themselves and become even more insular, partly due to suffering from combined culture and future shock. Bioconservative ideals are often rampant among these groups, despite many being sleeved in synthmorphs.
Orbitals vs. Lunars
Though orbital culture and Lunar society are almost identical, and in fact are jointly represented by the Lunar-Lagrange Alliance, there are some notable differences. Orbitals tend to view Lunars as a bit more privileged, simply because they have more resources and opportunities, are safer from the TITAN threats on Earth, are supported by the Lunar banks, and could more easily expand and accommodate their refugee populations. Lunars, on the other hand, tend to view Orbitals as a bit loose on the hinges, especially those who engage in scavving or ruin exploration.
Sidebar: The Junkyard
Ever since humans first took to the stars, we’ve been littering outer space. The space around Earth is cluttered with old rocket stages, spare parts, broken shuttle pieces, human waste, broken satellites, and other debris. Many old satellites were in fact maneuvered into a so-called grave-yard orbit, making room for their replacements.
While the orbit of many pieces of space junk decayed until they re-entered and burnt up in the atmosphere, thousands of others continued to rotate the Earth, posing a threat to spacecraft and stations. As transhumanity colonized Earth orbit, the amount of junk we tossed out only increased. If a ship broke down and couldn’t be repaired, it was often easier to ditch it in low orbit than to attempt re-entry. The same was true with bulky boosters—once past the atmosphere they could be abandoned to drift with the other castoffs, while the shuttles and cruisers and probes shot off into deep space unencumbered.
By the time of the Fall, we had a thick layer of space junk all around the planet. Some say it was like we were envious of Saturn’s rings, so we built our own. During the Fall, of course, these rings simply grew thicker. Ships were shot down, stations were destroyed, and their remnants went on to endanger others in the vicinity. When the Earth was placed under interdiction, and the constellation of killsats and sensor arrays put in place in LEO, a new policy was born among orbital denizens. Rather than abandon debris in a higher orbit, where it risked sparking a collision, it is now considered proper space etiquette to dump your debris at the bottom rung of LEO, just above the barricade. This area is largely avoided anyway, being a little too close for comfort to the weapon platforms, and the junk won’t endanger anything as its orbit decays.
If the debris gets too close to an element of the barricade, the killsats blast it out of the sky. Though some (especially reclaimers) argue that this “junkyard” should be cleaned up—and other space debris as well—there are others who find it useful. Not only does it provide cover to those hoping to slip past the cordon of Earth, but it also acts as a signpost of sorts, a warning sign shouting “Danger! Don’t Go Any Further!”
Some scavengers are fascinated by the junkyard itself—it’s a microcosm of our spacefaring history, and you can find parts from both pre-Fall and post-Fall ships. All sorts of interesting finds have been made, in fact, from frozen bodies to abandoned experimental technology to items that are completely inexplicable.
As many as five hundred habitats orbit the Earth at various distances. Most of these are tiny tin can habitats, cramped little metal boxes capable of holding no more than a dozen people at best. A handful are enormous Cole bubbles or O’Neill cylinders, built for hundreds of thousands to millions of occupants. The rest fall somewhere in between, their capacity depending upon their design and their original purpose. Some habitats were established as laboratories and research stations, others designed as hotels and resorts, some built as factories or shipyards, and still others meant for spaceports and trading hubs. Then of course there were the monitoring stations, scanning satellites, communications satellites, and orbital defense platforms.
A significant number of Earth-orbit habitats were vacated during the Fall, whether voluntarily or by force. The majority of those are still derelict now, though squatters have occupied some, and a handful have been restored. The rest remain potential sources of profit and danger. Though Firewall has cataloged these stations, a few deserve explicit attention, having recently raised flags with Firewall scanners.
Sidebar: Private Stations and Squatters
On one hand, you have a massive overcrowding problem in the Earth-Luna system. On the other, you have dozens, maybe hundreds, of stations sitting vacant, floating in orbit, waiting to be used again. It seems simple, yes?
Many of these derelicts are damaged, of course. Some are barely inhabitable, or would require extensive repairs to put back in operation. Others are not so pretty as they once were, but functional, having been abandoned for one reason or another during the Fall. Of course, most of those stations have no power, no heat, no water or food. So that is the first problem. But anyone who can surmount those issues can squat the habitat and claim it as their home. In some cases, these new claims are completely legal. New companies have appeared and bought old stations from surviving owners or their descendants, repairing them and renovating them and setting up corporate headquarters and research stations and outposts around Earth. In some cases these claims have been less legitimate, or at least less bureaucratic—possession is still nine-tenths of the law, and many of the empty stations have no one else to claim them, so any company or individual that inhabits them has a full right to them.
Yes, corporations. Not all squatters are poor and destitute, you know. Some are resourceful and see an opportunity. And where refugees and hypercorps have gone, so too have criminal syndicates and others.
Most of the squatters in the system are indeed impoverished and desperate. Some have been dumped in empty habitats by administrations that sought an easy solution to the overcrowding difficulties in their home habitats. Others have been resourceful enough to organize and fnd a way to get to an abandoned station and make it theirs. In some cases, they hire freehaulers or crime cartels to transport them to a derelict habitat. If they’re lucky, they’ll get there alive and without getting their gear stolen. Others cobble together a small shuttle of their own, barely sturdy enough to blast off from Luna or wherever they are and make it to their destination before the life support runs out. Not all of them make it. If they do, they cannibalize the craft to get a small power source, a tiny heat barrier, and a small nanotech assembler. They’ve got food, water, heat, and power. They can survive. Then they work on repairing their new home, restoring and sealing and re-powering room after room, building after building, until they have a decent living space again, one far bigger and better than the crammed-in hovel they came from. A few are more prepared and have more resources, so they arrive at their new home with a team of bots to clear the place out and clean it up for them. What worries Firewall the most about squatters is that they may very well be putting themselves at risk, should they unearth or somehow reactivate some TITAN-related threat. Unlike more prepared and resourceful groups, it would be very easy for squatters to fall prey to such machines, or worse, to become infected and then to spread that infection back. On the other hand, many of these old stations still have dangerous weaponry, research projects, or TITAN relics lying around—which could be devastating in the wrong hands. These same concerns apply equally to scavengers. For these reasons, Firewall scanners take an active interest in monitoring squatter and scavenger activity.