Stellata

“A tired old name for a tired old world.”

- Eric Grant, captain of the OECSS Fearless Horizon, in the final moments of the Stellata evacuation.

The Border Ring is dotted with ghost towns – mining stations where the resources dried up and the Merchants Guild pulled out, abandoned outposts that had served their purpose and were left to the elements, and failed settlements where the environments proved too hostile or too costly to be worth operating in. Stellata is a little different. Once a thriving colony world orbiting an Earth-like sun, Stellata saw intensive settlement during the first wave of human exploration. Its indigenous Ghost Children, though showing evidence of over twenty thousand years of history, had only primitive industry – their most sophisticated manufacturing was done by small groups of artisans using steam power. This made it relatively easy for the humans to move in and assimilate them as a ready workforce. There was some initial conflict with the more warlike clans, but with a little nudging from the UW Navy, this unrest was quickly stamped out. Then the Merchants Guild moved in to exploit Stellata’s abundant resources, setting up factory farms and mining operations as well as water harvesting rigs on the planet’s vast freshwater seas, and gas mining from the gaseous planets elsewhere in the star system. Large cities sprang up all over the planet, and within the first fifty years of colonization, Stellata was a shining jewel of the Border Ring, eclipsing even Azure in terms of population and trade – some even speculated that Stellata would become the new hub of the Border Ring economy, despite its less favourable location compared to Azure.

All of that changed quickly and without warning. In the 53rd year after colonization, Stellata’s star sent out a massive storm of solar flares, larger than have ever been recorded in the Core Worlds. Stellata’s entire power grid was destroyed overnight – every single piece of electrical equipment was completely wrecked. Thousands died during the event, caught in crashing vehicles or trapped on powerless space stations or ships. The OEC sent a relief fleet as soon as the flare activity subsided, but it quickly became apparent to both the OEC and the Merchants Guild that the destruction was too widespread. Stellata would have to start over, almost from scratch. What was worse, according to OEC scientists, was that this event was going to happen again. Although they initially blamed the gas mining operations, which had been dumping millions of tons of hazardous waste into the sun every year, it soon became clear from interviews with the indigenous anthromals that this kind of devastating solar flare activity had happened regularly throughout their history. This was why they had an ancient, intricate civilization but had not yet developed electricity.

Faced with the prospect of entirely rebuilding Stellata’s technology base every few decades, the Merchants Guild decided to pull out. A massive airlift was organized to evacuate all Merchants Guild employees and anyone else who wanted to leave. Most did so, but many stayed, particularly those who had been born on Stellata and felt a strong connection to their home. The OEC also left a contingent of scientists behind to study the solar phenomena, with appropriate precautions.

Stellata is now a planet of vast, empty cities; silent, rusting machinery; and abandoned vehicles. Its infrastructure is slowly crumbling, with vegetation and animals reclaiming urban and industrial areas. Most indigenous Ghost Children returned to their villages, and many of the remaining humans went with them. Others stayed in the cities, occupying a small fraction of the once-grand settlements, scavenging from office towers and factories and trading for electronics with the occasional visiting ship. A number of offworlders have come to Stellata seeking a quieter life, or to hide from trouble elsewhere. A small few are post-apocalypse aficionados for whom the scavenger survivalist lifestyle is quite attractive. The OEC science outpost sits high on a mountaintop, out of reach of the casual visitor, and the scientists rarely mingle with the rest of the population except to trade for food and local luxuries.

Pirates, smugglers, and other criminals have been known to use Stellata’s abandoned cities as hideouts. Outlaw slave traders sometimes raid settlements, although these raids can be as dangerous for the slavers as for their quarry – a sword or a crossbow can kill just as well as a plasma pistol.

Although the Merchants Guild has officially erased Stellata from its ledger, some less reputable companies still operate on-planet, strictly off the books. They have reactivated formerly derelict infrastructure and plan to run for as long as possible, until the next solar flare (or a pirate attack) shuts them down. Until then, they have free reign to operate without worrying about taxes or regulations.