In the Relief system, there are effectively no crimes if you can pay!

Image from Morgan Heacock
The wild, dangerous interior of the Hope habitat in the Relief system offers many opportunities for concealment and ambush.

A brown dwarf system in the NoCoZo Volume, Relief is an extreme example of the zone's free trade philosophy.

This system came to wide notice when a fully automated non-sentient line-layer vessel appeared at the Wormhole Nexus in 9879 and began to inflate what ended as a smallish (under 100 meters) wormhole. Once the wormhole had stabilized, the five controllers passed virch invitations through the known net to the heads of the 19,683 largest corporations in the NoCoZo. These beings were invited to a month of free experience for themselves and/or ten other of their choice. Of these, somewhere over 18,000 of these virch invites remain unclaimed, but at least 395 beings did visit the habs in the first month after their opening. As word began to trickle out of the various 'delights' available at Relief, there were significant factions that popped into existence solely to seek this new groups' ostracism from the civilized societies.

However, the Relief system was capable of paying the various fines, graft, attachments, charges, tariffs, dues, sweeteners, excises, bills, kickbacks, tolls, garnishments, levees, taxes, bribes, and other penalties applied against it, and remains in full function today. At last estimate by the Ken Ferjik Institute of Transportation Studies, the ~80m wormhole continues in near-constant physical use as hundreds of thousands of beings pass through monthly.

There are 5 major rotating habitat cylinders, and several much smaller habs, each with their own different form of entertainment.

Desire and Pleasure are two habs where no sexual act with an inhabitant can be considered a crime (Visitors, as described below, are different). Desire is more along the lines of a classic bordello, if on the scale of a world, whereas Pleasure is geared to more the noir, the darker side of sexuality. Desire is the second smallest hab population, containing between 100,000 and 300,000 inhabitants at any one time and around 150,000 to 200,000 visitors, again varying wildly. Pleasure tends to have between 200,000 and 300,000 inhabitants, with around 100,000 visitors. Desire is by far the most luxurious of the five hab surfaces, with significant 'creature comforts' readily available from the inhabitants including gourmet foodstuffs, high-quality lodging, and any number of personal services. Only non-powered personal weaponry is allowed on Desire. Pleasure has one smallish (~50,000 inhabitant) city with more than adequate food and lodging, if not in the same quality scale as those found in Desire, but any non-lethal ranged weapon is allowed, as well as non-powered personal weapons.

Respite, Peace, and Hope are habs where no physically violent act on/with an inhabitant can be considered a crime. Respite allows no ranged weapons, Peace allows any personal weapon, and Hope is geared more to the hunt than the kill - twisting many-level urban mazes, lush jungles, high grass prairies, deep plunging cave complexes, and so on, with a ban on any weapon that is effective beyond 100 meters. There are no organized facilities for food or lodging, although there are gruel and water stations spaced every kilometer which always work for visitors and work sporadically for inhabitants. Additional sustenance can be grown, harvested, or hunted within the habs.

There are currently two strong points within Respite where the inhabitants have organized themselves into effective self-defense forces. These strong points historically have appeared and eventually have been worn away by the influx of visitors and their gear. One of these strong points is closing on the record for existence, having been in place and effective in its own defense for the last 4 or so standard years. (Several of the guides seem to be taking this as a direct challenge, and are planning a guide-only assault in the near future. Local odds makers are looking at this upcoming event and drooling!) There are several small (<5,000) gatherings of beings on Peace scattered in hard-to-reach areas (including several cave complexes) and many much smaller (<20) bands roaming from what cover they can find to the next. There are no known similar gatherings on Hope, perhaps due to its much smaller population density and radically different focus. Also, the gruel stations on Hope always work, regardless if an inhabitant or a visitor use them.

Peace is the most populous of the habs, containing approximately 10,000,000 inhabitants and generally a million or less visitors. Respite is next, containing approximately a million inhabitants and roughly half that number of visitors. Hope is the least populous of all the habs, bearing between 50 and 100 thousand inhabitants, with a hard limit of 19, 683 visitors on the surface at any one time. The hub is unrestricted, however, and is often quite crowded with sentients waiting their turn to access the surface.

Note that the controllers seem to have no problems allowing beings to bring weaponry appropriate to the hab to pass to the inhabitants, but do object (terminally) to those trying to instruct them. These encounters between those who wish the inhabitants well and the scared, trigger-happy and very skilled inhabitants are often replayed in the hubs of the habs, to often raucous amusement...

Each of these 5 major habs are built along a similar line, with an inner zero-G hub serving as the entryway to the hab with significant creature-comforts available at no extra charge, and a large flattened-donut shaped biosphere surrounding it. Each hub is capable of holding roughly a million sentients in comfort with exercise, simulation, medical, and surface monitoring capabilities to name just a few. The habitat surfaces are roughly a third of a billion square kilometers in area, complete with lakes, rivers, forests, jungles, semi-natural weather, and so on. Beyond that there are few similarities from hab to hab. There are no links between the two portions that are physically accessible save via flight. Part of the access fee is for a flight device of some kind (all set to be unusable to anyone with the chromatic mark); another is for full safety monitoring. This monitoring is not an angelnet, but rather a sophisticated emergency response capability with the ability to recover the majority of neural or other standard knowledge storage assuming the storage area remains intact (additional memory storage standards can be added for a very nominal fee). If the sentient wishes, recordings of their actions can be sent back with them as well, often in heavily encrypted formats. Persistent rumors abound that the controllers may also sell this footage to certain corporations that sponsor their personnel's 'vacations' to Relief. Yes, the inhabitants are allowed to fight back on the war worlds and Pleasure, and have captured significant weaponry over the years, but as there are no true weapon standards, the ammunition for any given weapon tends to be irreplaceable. This is obviously less of a problem on Respite due to the large numbers of Second Toposophic - High Transapientsnon-powered melee weapons available.

These habitats all have a permanent population of indigenous modosophonts who are created artificially to maintain certain population levels. None of these modos have the power of flight. Each hab has concealed within its baseplane facilities which clone, mutate, evolve, grow, educate and release modosophonts of many different types, including bioborgs, vecs, tweaks, heteromorphs, rianths, and so on. These facilities are automatically controled by each hab's middle transapient caretaker brain, distributed throughout the baseplane.

Each of these caretakers and their habs were designed by a mysterious, non-communicative S>3 Jupiter node also orbiting the brown dwarf. There is no known point of origin for this silent entity, except that certain surface features appear to be similar in construction to Jupiter nodes found in the oldest section of the Sophic League. This device is currently in the process of generating a 6th large habitat from the orbital detritus and from starlifted matter, as well as relativistic freighters carrying high-density matter from unknown source(s). None of the Relief habitats' controllers respond to questions regarding either the Jupiter brain or the hab in construction.

The engineered beings all are designed to fit the genre of the hab. It is common to find advanced self-healing capabilities designed into the sophonts wandering in Pleasure, and inhabitants of great physical beauty in Desire, for instance. Each also has permanently affixed to some major portion of their anatomy (necks for humanoids, power systems for vecs, and so on) a colored patch roughly the size of a human palm. This patch changes in coloration as the baseline ages, and clearly represents the experience and skill of the baseline in that they've survived their hellish environment for a significant period of time. Tags start out violet, through the full ROY G BIV spectrum to red, which are understandably quite rare. Some rare (<0.1%) inhabitants on Respite, Peace, and Hope have a gold border around their color tagging, indicating an unusual degree of knowledge, and hence somewhat of a greater challenge. Note that there are no equivalents known to exist on Desire or Pleasure.

Each baseline is given very basic training (with the exception of the gold-rimmed ones, as mentioned above), including knowledge of verbal (not written) Old Anglic, basic tactics on the war worlds, and advanced sensuality on Desire. The inhabitants of Respite and Peace may not even know that they're being hunted when released into the hab! (All inhabitants of Hope are aware of their fate on release into the hab.) Pleasure inhabitants may or may not have significant sensuality training as well, as both situations are commonly expected in local scenarios. It is also extremely common to find these baselines to be sexually capable but infertile.

Note that there are some few (<500 per habitat) visitors who pay the fees for admittance and barter with local reps for extended stays, gaining the additional credits from other visitors who request a guide knowledgeable in the local settings. There are rumors that the usage fees for guides in their second year of residency drops dramatically, but these fees are still steep enough to require the guides to work nearly full-time to pay for their presence in-system.

The fees are flat rate for any given being per period of time, and set to be quite high on a case-by-case basis. These fees are set by some few hundred alife salesbeings which appear to be in near constant communication with the home system via the wormhole. These alife salesbeings refuse to deal with anyone other than the sentient interested in travel to Relief, but will communicate with groups if the sentient in question needs financial counselling while bargaining. How the prices are determined appears to be fairly chaotic. This may be at least partially caused by the secrecy in which the salesbeings hold their client's information. In the few instances where a salesbeing was virch-disassociated and data was recovered, no client's identifying information was determined. Indeed, in each case, the disassociating entity rapidly was dissipated as well by a peculiar virch-goo that has managed to remain unanalyzed to date.

Warning to any sentients interested in visiting habitats in the Relief system

There are literally no crimes possible in the Relief habs for those willing to pay the surcharges! This includes the destruction of other visitors, either accidentally or otherwise! In one case, an extremely wealthy bioborg (since revealed to be a puppet for an unrevealed high-singularity power) managed to pay a large enough fee to crack the main environment enclosure on Hope. This obviously caused a mass die-off and the closing of the hab for two standard months while it was rebuilt and restocked. It is suspected that this was done to secure a gambling victory by that bioborg/puppet in some undisclosed wager regarding number of sentients individually slain. The fee it paid is undisclosed, but it is known from public justice proceedings in the NoCoZo that the bioborg has taken full legal and accounting responsibility for all suits brought against the Relief system for that action.

In the cases of customers who refuse to, or are unable to, pay the fees imposed by the controller AIs, the Relief system has used the following three options:

  • The customer in question becomes part of the inhabitant stock. This is especially likely if the sentient may be either a skilled target or a target others might pay to visit. The classic example is the MusiSoft executive who took the opportunity to destroy a vessel containing several board members of rival corporation SoftMusik. This particular sentient has been the single target of several SoftMusik corporate challenges in the years since, and is re-cloned with a full backup installed for each.
  • The sentient in question is DNA branded across a vital area (again, necks for humanoids, power conversion units for vecs, and so on) with the Relief system corporate logo and released back to the nexus complete with a detailed recording of their actions while on whichever habs they attended. This appears to be considered free advertising by the controlling intellects, and definitely encourages other sentients to pay.
  • The sentient in question's sponsoring corporation may offer a large sum, usually 150%+ of the fine requested, to retain the corpus of certain key individuals. However, there are at least two corporations whose personnel are now warned on entering the Relief system that this is no longer an option for them due to excessive previous use of this option.

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Text by John B

Initially published on 04 November 2008.