In the Relief system, nothing is a crime!

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

Star JBD 19910160-1
Distance from Sol 5009LY
Constellation Carina

Relief is a brown dwarf system in the NoCoZo Volume, 5,009 light years from Sol in the Carina Rush. Life in Relief is a contest of sorts, and visitors pay a hefty sum to take part. Visitors attempt to inflict offenses on other visitors and on residents, and avoid having other visitors and residents inflict offenses on them. If they succeed in doing so up until the time they leave, they win. Visitors who lose must become residents, enslaved to the Relief system for a 100 year term. Whenever a resident is killed, they get restored from backup to resume the contest, until the end of the 100 years, when they are free to leave.

Due to the Zone's extremely libertarian philosophy, no centralized authority is able to take action against its existence. Nevertheless, the NoCoZo is a Sephirotic empire, and as such has its own way of enforcing sophont rights, in its case through careful manipulation of market forces. Those entities normally considered responsible for maintaining the NoCoZo's standards - extremely wealthy, archai-run megacorps - have marginalized this system by adding Relief-based businesses and their customers, and even anyone who transacts with them, to various interstellar blacklists. Still, Relief is widely thought to be a black sheep that just won't go away.

Even though Relief's residents only got that way because they signed a contract agreeing to the consequences, Relief remains hated as many sophonts believe that the visitors are not meaningfully consenting to what they are getting into, underestimating the risk of losing and ending up as a resident, something they will probably greatly regret. Indeed, many of Relief's residents are known to desperately want to leave. Some, though, feel that since Relief's residents ended up that way only because they went there to inflict these very same acts on others, they are getting what they deserve. It has even been speculated this was the purpose of building Relief in the first place.

Image from Steve Bowers
The five thin Banks Orbitals in this system cluster close to the brown dwarf for warmth


This system came to wide notice when a fully automated non-sentient line-layer vessel appeared at the Wormhole Nexus in 9279 and began to inflate what ended up being an 80 meter wormhole. Once the wormhole had stabilized, the five controllers of Relief passed virch invitations through the Known Net to the heads of the 20,000 largest corporations in the NoCoZo. These beings were invited to a free month of experience for themselves and ten others of their choice. Of these, over 19,000 invites remain unclaimed, but at least 400 beings did visit the habs in the first month after their opening. As word began to trickle out about the various 'delights' available at Relief, there were significant factions that popped into existence solely to seek this new group's ostracism from civilized society.

Opposition groups have not been able to contract any security firms to invade, since visitors to Relief have, after all, signed a highly stringent contract ahead of time accepting all dangers and consequences. These groups have also founded several charities that will bribe Relief to free the sophonts who they feel are undeservedly suffering the most.


The system is made up of 5 relatively narrow Banks Orbitals, each with their own different form of 'entertainment.' Each orbital is 1,000 km wide, with a diameter of 100,000 km. Each one has a zero-G hub at the center, serving as the gateway, with significant creature-comforts available at no extra charge. The hubs can hold up to a million sophonts in comfort with exercise, simulation, medical, and surface monitoring capabilities to name just a few. The habitat surfaces are over 314,000,000 sq km in area, about 61.6% of Earth's surface area, complete with their own biospheres, including lakes, rivers, forests, jungles, semi-natural weather, and so on. Beyond that there are few similarities from hab to hab.

The habitats orbit very close to the brown dwarf to get sufficient energy. Because of this, they are pulled slightly out of a perfectly circular shape, resulting in enormous tides. The local ecosystems are designed to accommodate this, but visitors and residents do need to be careful. Visitors who are killed by the environment are considered to have lost.

The first two habitats allow visitors to engage in any sexual act, but no killing.

Desire is designed along the lines of a classic bordello, though on the scale of a world. Unlike the other habs, Desire does not allow aggression to other visitors, on pain of automatically being captured as a resident, nor does it allow residents to resist visitors, on pain of getting an additional 100 year term. Instead, Desire's residents consist of visitors to Pleasure who had lost the contest there, and were sent to Desire because of being considered very attractive by the standards of their clade and gender. The hab's population varies between 100,000 and 300,000 residents at any one time and around 150,000 to 200,000 visitors. Desire is by far the most luxurious of the five hab surfaces, with significant comforts of all sorts readily available from the residents including gourmet foodstuffs, high-quality lodging, and any number of personal services. No weaponry is allowed on Desire.

Pleasure is geared to the darker side of sexuality. Pleasure tends to have between 200,000 and 300,000 residents, with around 100,000 visitors. Pleasure has one 50,000 inhabitant city with more than adequate food and lodging, though not on the same quality scale as those found in Desire. Any non-lethal weapon is allowed, though Pleasure's residents may use lethal force in self-defense.

The remaining three habitats allow any act whatsoever, including killing. These three have no organized facilities for food or lodging. Sustenance can be brought in or grown, harvested, or hunted within the habs.

Respite allows no ranged weapons. There are about 1,000,000 residents and 500,000 visitors at any one time. There are currently two strong points within Respite where the residents have organized themselves into effective self-defense forces. These strong points historically have appeared and then worn away by the influx of visitors and their gear. One of these strong points is closing in on the record for existence, having been in place and effective in its own defense for the last 4 or so 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. This is considered an exciting opportunity for local odds makers.

Peace allows any personal weapon. This is the most populated hab, with about 5,000,000 residents and 1,000,000 visitors at a time. Peace has many gatherings of several thousand residents scattered in hard-to-reach areas (including cave complexes) and many much smaller bands of about 20 roaming from what cover they can find to the next.

Hope is geared more to the hunt than the kill - with 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. Hope is the least populous of all the habs, with about 50,000 inhabitants, and a hard limit of 20,000 visitors at any one time. The hub is often quite crowded with sophonts waiting their turn to access the surface. There are no known communities on Hope, perhaps due to its much smaller population density and radically different focus.

Visitors and Residents

Each potential visitor is offered a flat rate per day, which varies between visitors, but is typically quite high. Prices are set by alife salesvots which appear to be in near constant communication with the home system via the wormhole. These salesvots refuse to deal with anyone other than the particular sophont interested in travel to Relief, except for financial counseling firms working on behalf of the potential visitor. How the prices are determined appears to be fairly chaotic. This may be at least partially caused by the secrecy in which the salesvots hold their client's information. In the few instances where a salesvot was virch-disassociated and data was recovered, no client's identifying information could be determined.

For an additional charge, a visitor can take home with them recordings of their actions. Heavily encrypted formats are available but cost more. Persistent rumors abound that the controllers may also sell this footage to those who know the visitors, or blackmail visitors and former residents with it.

Visitors who 'win' by not ending up as residents do not pay until after they decide to leave. A few visitors have been known to stay an extraordinary amount of time, and cover the cost of doing so by hiring themselves out to other visitors as guides. In cases where the visitor cannot or will not pay for their time in Relief, one of two things will happen.

The first possibility is that the visitor is forced to stay as a resident. This is especially likely if the sophont may be either a skilled target or a target others might pay to visit. The other possibility is that the visitor in question is permanently branded across a visible area with the Relief System corporate logo and released along with a detailed recording of their actions while in Relief. This appears to be considered free advertising by the controlling intellects, and definitely encourages other visitors to pay.

Residents are allowed to fight back, and in some cases have captured significant weaponry over the years. However, there are no consistent weapon standards, and so the ammunition for any given weapon tends to be irreplaceable. The hab controllers seem to have no problems allowing beings to bring weaponry appropriate to the hab to pass to the residents, but trying to instruct them is forbidden. These encounters between visitors who wish the residents well and the angry, scared, trigger-happy, and sometimes very skilled residents are often replayed in the hubs of the habs, to raucous amusement.

Each resident has had affixed to some major portion of their anatomy (for example, on necks for humanoids, or power systems for vecs) a colored patch roughly the size of a human palm. This patch changes in coloration the longer the resident has avoided being killed, and clearly represents the experience and skill of the resident in that they've survived their hellish environment for a significant period of time. Tags start out violet, through the full classical seven rainbow colors to red, which are understandably quite rare. Some very rare residents, less than one in several thousand, have a gold border around their color tagging, indicating an unusual length of survival and degree of skill, and hence somewhat of a greater challenge.

AI Oversight

Each hab is controlled by an S2 transapient, and the entire system was designed by a mysterious, non-communicative S3 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 orbital 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 under construction.
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Development Notes
Text by ProxCenBound
From an original by John B; rewritten 28 March 2018
Initially published on 08 October 2002.