Memes: Venusian Sovereignty
Main Stations: Octavia
The system’s newest political bloc, the Morningstar Constellation is an alliance of aerostat habitats floating in Venus’s upper atmosphere. Formed after a recent series of joint vetoes from the major aerostats against hypercorp governance initiatives intended to limit aerostat self-governance, the Constellation’s joint political statement and agenda are still being discussed. While the Planetary Consortium views the formation of this new power bloc with bemused resentment, the Barsoomians on Mars and the outer system autonomists view the Venusians as free-thinking reformists rather than anti-hypercorp radicals. The population reportedly enjoys great liberties in morph and enhancement technologies together with freedom of expression of social and political ideas. The population of Octavia has emerged as the Constellation’s designated voice.
The Morningstar Constellation is the solar system’s newest major political entity. Only four years ago, Venus was under the control of the Planetary Consortium. However, an unprecedented referendum proposed by a group of Venusians intent on independence was signed by 4% of the Venusian population.
Under the laws of the Planetary Consortium, the population of Venus was then allowed to vote on their independence. The majority of the inhabitants of Venus’s aerostats and orbital stations voted for their world to become an independent state. The resulting Morningstar Constellation is allied with the Planetary Consortium, but is a fully separate political entity with its own goals.
Most of the leaders of the Planetary Consortium are somewhat dismissive of the Morningstar Constellation, believing that Venus will ask to re-enter the Consortium within the next five years. Others, however, are now realizing that Venus is likely to remain independent and that they must learn to adapt to this world’s freedom. Most of the leadership of the Planetary Consortium is willing to learn to work with the new Venusian government, but a few of the more conservative members are considering ways to bring Venus back under their jurisdiction.
The Politics of Terraforming
The Venusian independence movement began as a conflict over terraforming plans. The Planetary Consortium’s plan for Venus was very simple: transform it into a near duplicate of Earth. Their scheme involved introducing large amounts of hydrogen (carried to Venus in the form of diverted comets and deep space ice asteroids) into the atmosphere, combined with a gigantic microscopically-thin orbital sunshade to block out light and cool the planet. The goal was to transform Venus into a world with a habitable surface within 300 years—less if advances in technology permitted it.
Some terraformers instead supported a more ambitious and risky plan that involved using several dozen large antimatter explosions to blast large amounts of the atmosphere into space. The most optimistic timeline suggested Venus might become habitable in 200 years, though most researchers believed that process would take almost 400. The end result, however, would be a world almost identical to Earth, except that almost 80% of the world would be covered in shallow seas. The Planetary Consortium’s terraforming team almost exclusively consisted of scientists and engineers who worked on Earth for several decades before the Fall. They were all at least partially motivated by their longing for Earth and their dreams of recreating it.
These Consortium scientists applied very little consideration to the growing population of the Venusian aerostats, though their plans did call for a few large aerostats to help monitor and work on the terraforming effort. Among the aerostat population, however, opposition to these terraforming plans was growing by the day. Too many of these residents had fallen in love with the exotic beauty of Venus and its cloud cities. Though the Consortium terraforming process involved the creation of a limited Venusian cloud ecosystem, ultimately the plan called for this cloud life to die off as the dense air thinned and the world became more Earth-like. This was unacceptable to those who loved the clouds.
Individuals interested in these ideas began to communicate and formed a bold alternative to the Planetary Consortium’s terraforming plans. Known as the Aerial Terraforming Initiative (ATI), their plan consisted of the creation of a complex cloud-based ecosystem that retained Venus’s dense atmosphere, while simultaneously increasing oxygen levels to the point that the upper atmosphere, where the aerostats floated, would be 18% oxygen. Circulation patterns combined with the increasing pressure and temperatures would insure that the composition of the lower atmosphere would remain essentially unchanged. Venus would remain a cloud-wrapped world with a dense atmosphere and a brutally hot surface, but the upper atmosphere would become home to both many dozens of aerostats and a wealth of unique animal and plant life. In effect, they hoped to create an enduring cloud-based ecosystem that was as diverse and vibrant as Earth’s biosphere had once been. Various bioengineers looked forward to creating flying morphs that could truly be at home in the Venusian clouds.
The timeline of the ATI involved the upper (habitable) portion of the Venusian atmosphere reaching 10% oxygen within 60 years and 18% in 90. This was a much shorter and far more realistic timeline, and it quickly drew popular support. The sheer grandeur of the Venusian environment and the prospect of living in the midst of a thriving aerial ecosystem further encouraged many aesthetically-minded Venusians. Combined with the prospect of making an already safe and comfortable environment even more habitable, this plan was embraced by the inhabitants of the aerostats.
The Constellation Forms
The Venusian terraforming and bioengineering research groups behind the ATI submitted a detailed proposal outlining the process to the Planetary Consortium, noting the advantages over the current terraforming plans. After relatively brief consideration, the leading terraformers of the Planetary Consortium almost unanimously rejected it. Their primary reason was the fact that the ATI would only allow for a maximum Venusian population of 200 million, while a fully terraformed Venus could easily hold more than 10 times that number of transhumans. In addition, the terraformers were concerned because aerial terraforming had never been performed before. They considered the ATI to be a wasteful frivolity that would deny valuable living space to future inhabitants of the solar system.
At this point, the Venusian terraformers grew both angry and even more determined. When the Planetary Consortium rejected it, the researchers who supported the ATI were approached by a small group of Venusian radicals who had been agitating for Venusian independence for the past two years. These radicals convinced the terraformers to join forces. Previously, the small Venusian independence movement had attracted little attention. However, the ATI plan was very popular and support for both it and the independence movement began to grow. Slightly more than four years ago, supporters of Venusian independence delivered a petition signed by 4% of the Venusian population to the local Planetary Consortium representative, requesting that the issue of independence be put to a vote. Six months later, after extensive campaigns by both sides, 57% of the Venusian populace voted for independence and the Morningstar Constellation was born.
While the majority of the Venusian aerostats joined the Constellation, not all did. Two of the twenty aerostats remain allied with the Planetary Consortium, while two others remain independent. A smaller, but still significant, percentage of habitats orbiting Venus have also joined the Constellation.
The Precepts of the New Government
In addition to the ATI, the other cornerstone of the independence movement that gave rise to the vote that created the Morningstar Constellation was a firm belief that each habitat should be a truly independent political entity. A large number of Venusian immigrants had grown up in Europe before the Fall, and part of the inspiration for the new government was the old EU government. Except for rights guaranteed by the Morningstar constitution and immediate actions taken to preserve the life and safety of the populace, the inhabitants of every Constellation aerostat can vote on all major decisions affecting their aerostat, while their elected representatives handled more minor issues as well as taking care of administrative tasks. While a similar confederated structure is also in place within the Planetary Consortium, there is much less transparency. In practice, the hypercorps wield enormous influence and power—a situation the Venusians disdain. A central body representing the interests of each floating city-state resolves disputes and handles issues that affect Venus as a whole. While hypercorps naturally play an important role in the Venusian economy, their political power is greatly limited compared to the power they enjoyed under the Planetary Consortium. This has led the Morningstar Constellation to be labeled as a more progressive, left-leaning alternative to the cyberdemocratic Planetary Consortium and the more conservative Lunar-Lagrange Alliance.
Most of the members of the Venusian independence movement were also strong advocates of increasing morphological freedom, access to nanotechnology, freedom of expression and information, and government transparency. As a result, these policies became a vital part of the new Morningstar government.
Most of the founders of the Venusian independence movement were particularly dissatisfied with the fact that on worlds and habitats controlled by either the Planetary Consortium or individual hypercorps, individual freedoms ended when they conflicted with anything that the government or the hypercorps claimed was either a matter of “corporate policy” or “security-related issues.” All too often, these two phrases were invoked to eliminate dissent and to cover up governmental indiscretions. To prevent such problems from occurring on Venus, the authors of the Morningstar constitution did their best to make certain that the government of Venus would be far more open and responsive than the Planetary Consortium. None of the Constellation habitats impose mesh filters or engage in heavy-handed censorship or surveillance.
While morphological freedom is guaranteed by the Planetary Consortium, easy access to various augmentations is not. To remedy this problem, the new Venusian government supports universal healthcare and makes healing vats with the capability to manufacture any safe and peaceful augmentation freely available to anyone with access to the raw materials and templates needed. Uplifts suffer less discrimination and legal restriction within the Constellation, and mercurial morphs and services are more accessible. This has led to an influx in Venus’s mercurial population, particularly neo-avians.
Not all is perfect, however. Indentured service is still in practice within the Constellation, and the clanking masses are still omnipresent and suffering from some bias and discrimination. These impoverished synthmorphs are privileged, however, in that many aerostats offer external open-air areas that are considered prime real estate due to their view, but which are populated primarily by people sleeved in robotic shells and a smaller number of biomorphs adapted to breathing the Venusian atmosphere for short periods.
Security sensor and spime feeds within Constellation habitats are largely accessible via the public mesh, inviting a stronger participatory panopticon. In addition, all government meetings are recorded live and made available to any Venusian who cares to watch them. Events directly relating to threats to habitat security can be kept secret, but only for a maximum of six months. At the end of this time, complete and unedited records of even the most secret meetings must be made public. The result is a government that is somewhat less efficient but far more open than the Planetary Consortium. It is, however, far more organized and bureaucratic than the free-form anarchy found in much of the outer system.
Sidebar: The Real Power
To: Butch Lee
from: Red Rover
It’s certainly cute how the Morningstar radicals think they've managed to break free from the influence of the hypercorps and their elite undying masters, but let’s face reality, shall we? Do you really think the cannibalistic cabal of influential liches who have their claws sunk into every tangible thing of value in the inner system would allow a valuable asset like Venus to slip out of their control? Try again. The Venusians can’t escape hypercorp influence, they've simply forced some of the capitalists to choose sides on some notable issues. The upper classes have never been a homogeneous group, of course; throughout history they've always had their internal clashes and conflicting agendas. This is simply another manifestation, where the parasites who have the most to gain from aerial terraforming have gained the upper hand on their competitors who would reap more benefits from a full planetary transformation. More to the point, what we’re likely seeing is a massive chess ploy between rival oligarchs, manipulating current events with their massive wealth and web of influences to position themselves better for some conflict they see playing out decades or centuries in the future. The undying rich play for keeps, and they have the patience, lifespan, and capabilities to plot out actions and skirmishes many, many years in advance.
So the question isn't just who’s pulling the Constellation’s strings, but whose interests are they really serving?
The New Venusian Economy
Many of the changes created by the new Venusian government moved Venus closer to having a new economy rather than the transitional economy found on the worlds ruled by the Planetary Consortium. Currently, the Venusian economy can best be described as halfway between the two. Unlike worlds ruled by the Planetary Consortium, any small personal items, except weapons and items that use or include dangerous components like antimatter or dangerously radioactive materials, can be freely manufactured by anyone with access to the appropriate templates and raw materials.
Under the rules of the Morningstar Constellation, gaining access to all augmentations except weapons is exceedingly easy, as is access to high tech personal items like vacsuits made of smart materials. These rules, however, only apply to augmentations and to personal items up to small size. This limitation is enforced quite easily as the only full-function cornucopia machines (CMs) that are publicly available are desktop units, which can only create small devices. Other than their size, the only restrictions placed on these units is that they are incapable of creating any lethal weapons more dangerous than knives or pellet guns, nor can they produce dangerous chemicals like nerve gas or explosives. These CMs can be personally owned, and public desktop CMs are also freely available to all citizens and visitors. Anyone with the correct templates and sufficient raw material can create any small items they want, aside from these noted restrictions.
Just like in the Planetary Consortium, however, larger items must be purchased with money. This limitation exists to reduce access to dangerous technologies. The aerostats are relatively fragile structures and people freely manufacturing large powered items could accidentally damage their aerostat. The only large CMs available on Venus are identical to those used on worlds controlled by the Planetary Consortium. This setup places Venus in the unique position of being criticized by the Planetary Consortium for being too radical in its freedoms, while simultaneously being criticized by the inhabitants of the outer system for being overly conservative and little different from the Planetary Consortium.
One arena where the Constellation differs radically—and sometimes heatedly—from the Consortium is the matter of intellectual property. The Constellation offers far fewer and more limited protections when it comes to copyrights, trademarks, patents, and similar IP protections, and has embraced the technological changes that allow most any good, digital or physical, to be easily copied. As a result, IP protections are limited to a matter of years rather than decades and rights are only granted to the original work, not to remixes, mashups, modifications, or other derivatives. Rather than focusing on scarcity and anti-piracy measures to make money, many Venusian businesses accept copying and piracy as part of the new paradigm and instead seek to profit from services that can’t be copied, such as immediacy (direct delivery upon release), personalization (fit the individual consumer’s needs), and support services. The prestige and authenticity of name-brand producers is also emphasized, guaranteeing quality and secure goods over untrustworthy replicates. More obviously, almost everything is coupled with advertising, making Venus one of the most advert and spam-ridden environments in the system.
This different approach to IP is not easily swallowed by many of the inner system and Consortium hypercorps. The Constellation initially suffered slightly from the refusal of some hypercorps to do business without more substantial protections, but the market opportunities left by these abdications were quickly seized upon by more adventurous corps. To this day, however, IP issues remain a major diplomatic and trade stumbling block between the Constellation and the Consortium.
Tourism remains a cornerstone of the Venusian economy. The aerostats offer experiences of the most beautiful and visually compelling populated environments in the inner system. Almost all aerostats offer various resort and vacation services, particularly to the wealthy hyper-elites. Several are devoted purely to providing any get-away experience desired, from sports to gambling to performances to erotic entertainment and other private and discretionary services. Large entourages of socialites and inner system glitterati often flock here for extended soirées, and various resort aerostats are home to established inner system award ceremonies, conferences, and similar large gatherings. Many hypercorps and rich dynasties from the Planetary Consortium, in fact, maintain private retreats on Constellation aerostats.
The Star Council
In addition to having a constitution that guarantees a significant set of freedoms, each Constellation habitat has the right to form its own government and pass its own laws. The only limitation is that these laws cannot limit any of the rights guaranteed by the Morningstar constitution.
While each habitat operates as a de facto independent city-state, each also sends one representative for every 100,000 inhabitants to a governing body known as the Star Council that meets on Octavia. The Star Council maintains and guarantees the Constellation currency, helps regulate the planetary economy, handles all off-world diplomacy, oversees the aerial terraforming effort, and works to settle disputes between aerostats. Star Council members serve two-year terms and are elected by the entire populace of their aerostat. The current leader of the Star Council is Arisa. She and Halis Sapien, the charismatic mayor of Octavia, were the two leaders of the original Venusian independence movement. Arisa has proven quite adept at weaving together the various interests of the aerostats despite their strong independent streaks and forging common goals. Memetic campaigns launched by various hypercorp and Consortium interests to undermine her authority and competence have failed in the wake of her ability to rally support from various Star Council representatives, not to mention get results.
Goals and Plans
Since the new government took control of Venus, it has been actively encouraging immigration from all across the solar system. Ads promoting Morningstar citizenship emphasize the exotic wonders of the environment, the safety of the aerostats, Venus’s growing prosperity, and the freedoms offered by the new government. Currently, Venus is experiencing moderate immigration from both Luna and Mars. The number of immigrants from the outer system is far smaller, with most being a mixture of researchers interested in Venus and the terraforming effort and wealthy individuals interested in living in a floating city. Also, more than 30,000 infomorph refugees currently indentured to the Planetary Consortium have petitioned to have their indentures purchased by the Morningstar Constellation.
The Morningstar Constellation is also working on expanding trade. The one limitation on the current terraforming effort is that it involves raising the percentage of water vapor in the upper Venusian atmosphere from its current negligible level to at least 2%. Accomplishing this goal requires importing large numbers of comets or ice asteroids and acquiring the necessary amount of ice requires a favorable balance of trade, especially with the outer system. Maintaining the current influx of ice boulders and asteroids is essential to completing the terraforming effort on the current timeline.
The Morningstar Constellation’s political goals are somewhat more complex. The Star Council has close ties with the Planetary Consortium, but the members are also determined to maintain Venusian independence. Shortly after the Constellation formed, representatives from the Autonomist Alliancemade overtures to the new Venusian government in the hopes that they would find an ally in the inner system. A series of meetings was held on the independent orbital habitat of Gerlach, but talks swiftly broke down over issues of economics and relations with the Planetary Consortium. While the autonomists and Constellation leaders agree that the Planetary Consortium and the hypercorps have too much power and that they unfairly limit the autonomy of their citizens, Constellation leaders were unwilling to take a more aggressive stance with the Consortium in accordance with autonomist positions. The autonomists also found the Venusians’ unwillingness to spur their economic transition more rapidly and some of the limitations the Constellation placed on personal freedoms to be intolerable.
In vivid contrast, many of the leaders of the Morningstar Constellation have friends and allies among the more progressive members of the Planetary Consortium and see themselves far more as reformers than as the vanguard of a coming inner system revolution. In addition, many influential members of the Constellation are deeply disturbed by the free availability of dangerous weapons and the lack of governmental order found in much of the outer system. In truth, the Star Council is no more interested in seeing Venus become closely tied to the outer system than they are in seeing it become a puppet of the Planetary Consortium. As a result, the outer system autonomists view the Constellation as slightly more reasonable and easy to deal with than the Planetary Consortium, but also recognize that deep ideological differences remain and they are unlikely to maintain a close alliance. The Morningstar government finds itself in the unusual position of effectively being the reformist branch of the Planetary Consortium and of not being fully trusted by the other inner system governments or the autonomists of the outer system.
Sidebar: Foo's News - Indentured Conflict!
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Let’s be realistic! The Planetary Consortium isn't about to sell any indentures. Why sell a perfectly good slave to help a rival along? Many of these indentures realize that, of course, and so they’re turning to data smugglers and purchasing an illegal darkcast to Venus. The Planetary Consortium is demanding that these infugees be returned, while the infomorphs themselves are claiming asylum. So far, the Morningstar government is honoring these claims and is providing refuge. Good for them! The Consortium is treating this as an affront, which is to be expected. Just wait until they hear what some Morningstar radicals have been instigating! Namely, some Venusians are recommending that the Constellation should actively recruit data smugglers to build an “underground railroad” to help indentured individuals immigrate to Venus. The Consortium would undoubtedly treat this as a major diplomatic incident, so I don’t see it happening—but who’s to say that some enterprising radicals haven’t already started? Rumors have abounded for years of similar autonomous darkcasters who funnel infugees to the outer system, but those are ideologically-driven. Certainly some criminal networks wouldn't mind making some cred on the side by smuggling infomorphs to ethically-ambiguous Venusian hypercorps that are more than happy to take on indentures—especially indentures who will accept weaker contracts in exchange for eventual Constellation citizenship? Now that’s progress!
While the Morningstar Constellation does its best to present a unified front to the Planetary Consortium and the rest of the solar system, in reality, there is significant dissent on Venus. A small but vocal faction of the original independence movement had close ties with an expansionist faction on Extropia and wanted to transform Venus into a new economy world allied with the outer system. This faction lost badly during the formation of the Morningstar Constellation, and there is significant resentment among its members.
The VTP and Radicals
Some of these radicals have organized themselves under the aegis of the Venusian Transformation Party (VTP). On the surface this group works to elect members to the Star Council to steer the Constellation in a more left-wing direction, though their success has been limited. Members also organize discussion forums, lobby for greater freedoms, advocate and post essays for more radical politics, and keep lines of communication open with Extropia, Titan, and other autonomist factions. It is likely that some VTP members or supporters work in secret, holding positions in the Morningstar government where they can monitor affairs, acquire useful information, and clandestinely support the VTP's interests. Some marginalized VTP supporters—as well various anarchists and Venusian radicals who disparage the VTP's attempts to create change from within—engage in minor forms of sabotage such as providing intel to outer system interests, disrupting relations between the Constellation and Planetary Consortium, or even conducting data attacks and similar hostile measures to weaken the government and instigate practical and economic problems to spur civil discontent. Recently, for example, taped conversations between several Consortium hypercorp reps and a prominent Morningstar financial administrator were leaked to the public mesh, creating a scandal that damaged the formulation of a treaty that would have been quite favorable to Consortium interests.
The Solid Ground Initiative
On the other side of the political spectrum, a small but vocal minority called the Solid Ground Initiative support the original plan to transform Venus into a near duplicate of Earth. This position is largely a cover for a wider agenda which opposes Venusian independence and wants to return the planet to the Planetary Consortium. Many consider this group to be pawns or dupes of various Consortium interests, though it does have supporters who legitimately favor the Consortium’s terraforming plan and who feel the aerostats are missing opportunities by not remaining part of the Consortium, such as having a larger role in extrasolar colonization. On the other hand, the Initiative receives major support from various hypercorps who hoped to play a large role in the initial planned terraforming effort. Several minor acts of obstruction and sabotage of Aerial Terraforming Initiative projects have been attributed to Solid Ground supporters. This group has also been linked to efforts to worsen and disparage relations between the Consortium and outer system interests, likely in the hope that if the Venusian government is forced to pay significantly higher prices for iceteroids, the terraforming effort could slow down and thus turn public opinion against it.
Sidebar: Military Tensions
The developing Cold War between the Morningstar Constellation and the Planetary Consortium deserves special attention from Firewall—particularly in regards to the Venusian military escalation. Though it is only natural for the new Venusian government to seek to protect itself from outside aggression, the Planetary Consortium has taken an aggrieved stance at the slightest hint of a military build-up. While there has been some private and public fretting about large-scale weapon stockpiles and WMDs, the Consortium has threatened political and economic sanctions should the Constellation adopt any sort of sophisticated orbital defense system or defense feet. This has not stopped the Star Council from negotiating with Extropian defense companies for weapons platforms and other robotic defenses, however, and several Constellation aerostats and habitats have received substantial defensive upgrades. More worrisome, however, are accounts of an alleged “scorched Earth” policy some aerostats are rumored to have in place, to discourage any occupation attempts by the Consortium or other powers by threatened self-destruction. While this might deter a physical invasion (a Venus without aerostats is much less valuable), the potential for these destructive measures to be exploited by outside agents to catastrophic effect cannot be ignored.