Bonfire System, The
Image from Steve Bowers
Ember, a dry terrestrial world in this system

Bonfire - Data Panel

SYSTEM OVERVIEWGovernment: Transapient-arbitrated cyberdemocracy.
Population: 2 billion modosophonts (82% vec, 15% neb), est. 50,000 S1 transapients
STELLOGRAPHYPrimary: Bonfire
Stellar Type: M4V
Distance from Sol 1381 ly
Constellation: Scutum
Right ascension: 18h50m58.50s
Declination: -09°46'27.0
Bonfire is a Middle Regions star system that is a member of the Mutual Progress Association. It was developed by a private group in 7833, but has since been subsumed by later settlers. The planets are occupied by a variety of independent polities that rarely bother each other, with system defense, inter-polity relations, and diplomacy with the MPA provided by a chartered civil service company. The MPA has a resident S2 governor in this system.

Bonfire is 3.6x Sol's apparent diameter from the surface of the world Ember, and appears (to human eyes) as a large, white disk the same color as an incandescent bulb's filament. It is a fairly old and calm red dwarf, rarely given to sprawling star spots or flares. The star is only lightly developed. A collection of "Brooklyn Beam Emitters" are scattered across its surface to provide beamriding links on demand, and there is a star-skimming (0.005AU) solar collection belt that beams power to various industrial facilities throughout the system. Bonfire does have a small number of Vulcan asteroids inside the orbit of the first planet, Coal. They are currently lightly developed except as a vacation spot and hosts to a couple of S2 A-brains thriving in the high energy environment.

Image from Steve Bowers
Bonfire, a small main sequence red dwarf


Planet 1Coal
Semi-Major Axis: 0.049AU, 8.6-day orbit
Mass: 0.7x Earth
Density: 6.2g/cc
Radius: 0.78x Earth
Coal is a ferrinian planet that has a history similar to Mercury: its crust and mantle were mostly blown off by a large impact early in its history, leaving a planet that is mostly nickel-iron core. Average temperatures are milder than Mercury, owing to illumination only about twice that of Earth, but the tidally-locked planet sees wide temperature extremes between its permanent day and night sides. The biont habitats (holding approximately 300,000 nearbaseline humans) are located along the twilight meridian to exploit the temperature differences, or on the night side to exploit the sparse volatiles that have accumulated there. Vec mining operations dominate the dayside, and are performed under the shelter of solar arrays that cover that hemisphere. Orbital elevators reach through Coal's stellar L1 and L2 points, providing elevator access to the day and night sides, respectively, while powerful mass drivers sling processed metals directly to customers around the solar system.

Image from Steve Bowers
Coal, a tidally-locked ferrinian world with Lagrange space elevators


Planet 2Ember
Semi-Major Axis: 0.07AU, 14.8-day orbit
Type: HyperXeric Gaian.
Mass: 0.75 Earth
Density: 5.5g/cc
Radius: 0.9 Earth
Gravity: 0.9 gees
Day Length: 98.4 hours
Ember is a HyperXeric Gaian world that has escaped a tidal lock with Bonfire thanks to interactions with Coal and Smoke. Instead, it has a long, slow day, fitting a harmonic 4 rotations into each of its short years. The world basks under a star that appears almost 4 times as wide as Sol does on Terra, and - contrary to some modosophont expectations - burns white, as white as a 3100K incandescent filament. Stargazers should beware of extended viewing because, though Bonfire appears tolerably bright to human eyes in visible wavelengths, its infrared output can be blinding. Bonfire also has low output of higher frequency, ozone-forming UV-C, but it has plenty of UV-A and some UV-B to burn human skin and dazzle eyes. Ember lacks a moon but Coal appears 40% as wide as Luna at closest approach while Smoke appears a third as wide as Luna at closest approach. Coal, but not Smoke, shows phases during its passage.

Bonfire and Ember are both fairly old, 6 billion years. This has aided Ember's habitability because Bonfire is well past its flaring and severe sunspot age and is now a quite-docile main sequence red dwarf. On the other hand, Ember is less massive than Earth, so its long life has allowed its core to cool considerably and leave it with a planetary magnetic field only 3% as strong as Earth's. This led to a steady erosion of its atmosphere. This depletion was useful: Ember was a lifeless eo-To'ul'hese-type world billions of years ago. By the time Terragen explorers arrived, Ember's atmosphere had cooled and thinned appreciably, making it an easy terraforming target. The near-cessation of plate tectonics has not been a problem because Ember receives 12% more illumination than Earth (including infrared), so the ongoing depletion of atmospheric carbon dioxide is useful in keeping temperatures low. The negligible tilt has produced large ice caps and dry northern and southern supercontinents that also moderate temperatures. While subduction and other tectonic activities are limited, Ember does have a couple of large super-volcanoes over mantle hot spots. The planet receives a little tidal flexing from its two neighbors and Bonfire, which accumulates in those hot spots.

Like Smoke, Ember is dry world of salt flats, sand ergs, and rocky deserts. The world's long-gone wet era created powerful erosive forces and vast sand stone beds. In the last couple of billion years, though, its thinning, desiccated atmosphere eroded those into the vast ergs that attracted the current residents. The dune seas are punctuated by plateaus, buttes, and mountains of hard rock that have survived billions of years of erosion.

Ember has very little surface water other than its icecaps and meltwater runoff from them, which form some short rivers and small lakes in arctic regions. The rest has accumulated close to its major mountains that have some orographic precipitation. The alpine meadows and scrub forests on those mountains are treasured retreats for occupants. In addition, the terraforming process deliberately created large aquifers in strategic areas of the planet.

A variety of hardy, salt- and UV-tolerant plants, lichens, and microbes sustain the world's oxygen levels against geological sequestration, and tend to be the tips of food chains that stretch down to the aquifers. This desert ecosystem is not innovative, having borrowed stock lifeforms engineered for other HyperXeric worlds around terragen space. The shortage of atmospheric CO2 has led plants to be engineered with nearly closed-cycle respiration, preserving CO2 for its improved CAM-style photosynthesis. They also have symbiotic root bacteria that produce CO2 from carbon in the soil, such as carbonates.

The long days and relatively flat terrain produce predictable eastward winds across most of the planet. Wind patterns become more complicated past the arctic and antarctic circles because of the cold poles and their moisture. Dust and sand storms are very common near the equator simply due to the large amount of sand, dry salt, fine silt, and steady winds, but katabatic winds of cold air falling off the icecaps also stir turbulent storms. Dust devils are also common near the poles when the descending cold air traps warm surface area below it. Daytime peak temperatures (some hours past noon) are uncomfortably high for terrestrial life, often exceeding 70C near the equator, while the long nights and lack of thermal mass cause temperatures to plummet below freezing. Sheltering below ground is a common survival strategy for plants and animals alike.

The planet is settled by a number of neb, tweak, and rianth groups that embrace its harsh conditions. There are small villages and towns, usually inside or atop mountains and buttes, but the majority of the population is nomadic and sometimes hermits. Few are prims. This is a very high tech desert world where nomad groups are well-equipped with portable forges, thicksuits, and various vehicles that suit their preferences.

The prevailing winds and powerful thermals are friendly to solar-augmented gliders and wingpacks. Meanwhile, the ergs favor legged animals and vehicles - some as large as houses on long, dune-conquering legs. Sail-powered land yachts thrive in the flat lands. Some residents have indulged in whimsies, leading to the ongoing "Skypirate" culture-hobby. An elevated maglev train network provides more practical transport. This has major tracks circling the equator, perimeter of the icecaps, and 90-degree meridians, plus branches to permanent communities.

The capital city of Roraima is located on the equator in and on a tepuy, which juts like a rusty brown iceberg from the surrounding white salt flats. The planet's primary spaceport occupies part of the flat top of this mountain, while artificial caves and terraces dot its flanks. The interior has been honeycombed with diamondoid-reinforced tunnels and chambers that the 25,000 residents make into homes, businesses, and public spaces. In its lower levels the city has some water-filled reservoirs that act as thermal masses to battle daytime heat and provide some of the rare swimming areas on the planet. Roraima's tepuy is at the southern end of a chain of spectacularly wind-sculpted tepuys, buttes, and mesas that run to the northeast and host about 10,000 more residents in smaller communities. The surrounding salt flats are popular with land yacht users, who brightly decorate their vehicles. Traffic ranging from one-person racers to big cargo barges weave around the rocks like colorful butterflies.

Access to Ember is eased by a Lagrange skyhook, Sirocco, which has a docking facility and ballast asteroid in a halo orbit around the Bonfire-Ember L1 point. The low end of Sirocco is platform about 150 kilometers above Ember, and has both landing platforms and residential areas. Ember's slow spin moves the surface at about 350 kilometers per hour relative to the skyhook, so reaching it is a modest exercise for even chemical rocketry. Descent is simply a case of dropping free from a platform. An unpowered vehicle will reach a peak speed of about 1400m/s before encountering significant aerodynamic drag. While many spaceports host magnetic catapults to boost spacecraft toward Sirocco, a common means of accessing it are Sirocco's smart grapples: these powered cables drop into the atmosphere to pick up compatible flying vehicles on request, and are able to pick up cargo and vehicles off the back of eastbound equatorial maglev trains.

Ember has a biogeocomputing substrate in its bedrocks. This serve as some slow public computronium, but primarily hosts an S2 entity ("Rocky" to eir friends) who oversees Ember's defense, inter-polity relations, and environmental management as an administrator for the system government.


Image from Steve Bowers
Smoke has a World River around its equator, on average around 400km wide
Planet 3Smoke
Semi-Major Axis: 0.105AU, 27-day orbit
Mass: 0.7x Earth
Density: 4.5g/cc
Radius: 1.08x Earth
Day Length: 24 hours
More details below
Smoke was a large, wet version of Mars that has been terraformed into a HyperXeric Gaian planet. Its atmosphere is thick with carbon dioxide (for a human-habitable planet) and an ocean have been imported. Despite the effort put into terraforming Smoke (including ending tidal locking to produce a 24-hour day), it is only lightly inhabited by a few million humans and provolves. Smoke and Coal help maintain Ember's day length against tidal locking with Bonfire.

Like Ember, Smoke is an old world that has seen its continental drift halt, its magnetic field falter, and old oceans and atmosphere disappear into space. Terraforming addressed most of this conventionally with imported nitrogen and water, and oxygen cracked from planetary rocks. The acceleration of its spin from 27 days to 24 hours is causing the planet to become gradually more oblate, which is leading to significant seismic activity and creation of rift valleys where the thick crust fractures.

The rift valleys are still nascent, allowing the world's geography to be instead dominated by the artificial World River. This ocean covers 4% of Smoke's surface and runs almost perfectly around the equator. Much like the artificial continents of New Earth, it was excavated by vast von Neumann swarms who sculpted the equator into a deep, regular canal 500 kilometers wide. The World River is not just regularly shaped, it is lined with cut stone and has numerous current-modifying features on its floor and walls to damp tidal flow because Bonfire's tidal effects are 92 times greater than Luna on Earth. Even so, bays and branch canals typically see tidal variations at the extremes of those experienced by Earth, and large whirlpools often develop along the edge of flow-damping weirs. Maintenance of the World River's lining and preventing flow modification from silting is an ongoing project of "mucker bots," bots controlled by the planetary mind ranging in size from synsects to larger than whales.

Tides and earthquakes aside, the World River was built as a durable, scenic element of the planet. The cliff walls that tower as much as three kilometers above the river (where it cut old mountain ranges) are made of giant, interlocking blocks of artificial sapphiroid and quartz produced during the excavation, typically slightly sloped for stability. Above water, the walls are molded with enormous bas reliefs, statues, and gardened terraces for the inhabitants. The water retains heat better than the surrounding land, so fogs rise with clockwork regularity at dawn and rains fall in the afternoon as the humidified air begins to cool. Carved branch canals from the north and south walls of the World River recover precipitation from surrounding lands and support transport to the agricultural areas along them. Because of the depth of the World River, the land beyond its cliffs is effectively a plateau and the branch canals require numerous locks and dams to reach the river, all of which are exercises in advanced engineering: crystalline diamond dams, rotary boat lifts, flo-stone morphing locks, and so on. There are gardened islands in the World River, too, reinforced like the cliff walls to resist tidal erosion and provide scenic real estate in the center of the river.

The population is concentrated in New Venice, an arcology of 4 million people built into a tall stretch of cliffs and nearby islands on the World River. While New Venice does have canals at its base, it is more distinctive for complicated, gardened terraces and buildings carved in its soaring cliffs, not to mention several dramatic flights of locks that descend through the city from surrounding plateau country. The other million residents of the planet live scattered in individual homes and small villages along the World River or in the agricultural areas around it.

Beyond the forest- and prairie-covered tropics, which are actually subtropical in temperature, Smoke desiccates to a world of cool salt flats, cold rocky deserts, weathering mountains, and finally the large ice caps. Some briny, frigid seas survive around the perimeter of the ice caps. There are several volcanic regions akin to the Tharsis Bulge of Mars where hot spots have developed under the motionless crust. The two volcanic regions within 25 degrees of the equator have developed belts of forest and plains due to orographic rain caught on their flanks, but develop glaciers and finally arid deserts toward their peaks. The third hot spot is centered at 62 degrees north and thus cold from its foothills to its peaks, with little moisture but glaciers.

Smoke has a BGC "world mind," and S2 entity that answers to "Tharsis." Tharsis seems preoccupied with regulating the World River and rarely deals with residents directly, instead preferring to use a clade Darwin entity resident in New Venice as a representative.


Planet 4Cinder
Semi-Major Axis: 0.175AU, 58-day orbit
Type: LithicGelidian.
Mass: 0.01x Earth
Density: 3.1g/cc
Cinder is a mix of rock and ice akin to Callisto. Like the Galilean moon, it only underwent limited differentiation. The surface has been massively modified by the excavation of ice for Smoke's terraforming. This stripped kilometers off Cinder and left a crust of rock and other non-volatile tailings over the remaining ice-rock mantle. Today, Cinder has large, mothballed volatile mining facilities and a small population of caretaker vecs.

The modosophont vecs have a rich and varied industry, culture, and economy that is similar to vec-dominated worlds across Terragen space, from the MPA to Metasoft. Previously, Cinder was girded by dense mass driver streams of water, ammonia, and other volatiles being flung to Smoke for that world's terraforming, streams that were fed by Von Neumann bot swarms mining, processing, and loading continents' worth of materials. Most of the subsapient bot swarms are now quiescent or even recycled, but their vec tenders remain active in ultratech urban districts.

A small percentage of the population remains engaged in mining operations, which support the modest light element needs of the star system's ultratech industry, but most are involved in the world's leisure economy. A similar percentage of hobbyist vecs have taken up the habit of ice sculpting, but on a giant scale. The under-employed vecs entertain themselves with gigantic ice carving contests, apparently awarding themselves points for how much shock and dismay they can create in local modosophont media with their "art." That the vecs were using their spare time to etch the planet's surface was first noted in 9451AT when a passing ship spotted a 100-kilometer long line-carving of a rude symbol on Cinder's equator. Since then, the vecs will spend years or decades carving icy wonders (e.g., the 9890AT 1:1 recreation of Paris, France as it appeared in 1 AT), thus "rehabilitating" their work with local modosophonts, and then deliberately produce something outrageously crude. For example, the rude symbol gained an appropriately aligned counterpart in 9762AT. The 10405AT "Wuppist Forest" is the record-holding piece of 'outrage carving.' It consists of flawlessly-carved statues of local politicians and celebrities 100 to 1000 meters tall in the middle of an elaborate Wuppist ceremony. The Wuppist Forest garnered a record number of 'points' because it outraged locals to the point they hired warlawyers. While "Wuppist Forest" looks like a normal, multi-party Wuppist act to most modosophonts, it apparently offensively lampoons several tenets of local ideologies.


Image from Steve Bowers
Ash and Vibhuti
Planet 5Ash
Semi-Major Axis: 0.35AU, 165-day orbit
Mass: 0.3x Earth
Density: 3.2g/cc
Moons: 1, Vibhuti
Ash is a Europan type world. Larger than Cinder, it retained enough heat from its formation and radioactive decay to fully differentiate. As a result, it has a brilliant water ice crust, subsurface oceans, rocky mantle, and a metallic core. Its higher gravity and greater distance made it less suitable for Smoke's terraforming than Cinder. When first explored, it was a lifeless world with only isolated pockets of liquid water maintained by the small amount of tidal energy from its 1000-kilometer moon Vibhuti and a trickle of heat from the small planet's core. In 7655AT, a transapient acquired the world and unleashed Von Neumann construction teams to spread a mass of computronium (and supporting conversion reactors) equivalent to an M-brain across the bottom of the icy crust. The waste heat has since transformed Ash into a water world with only a thin (1 to 10km) ice crust, riven by numerous vents. The artificial ocean has been populated with an Europan-style artificial ecology powered by heat from the computational clusters and artificial mineral plumes. The modosophont population is limited to underwater human tweaks and vecs involved in minor maintenance operations. Most of the population is either subsophont animals or S1 to S2 transapients living in the virch worlds of the computational clusters.

The moon Vibhuti hosts a small shipyard that does not accept modosophont traffic; only ships carrying transapient visitors are permitted to approach. Here the ships appear to undergo repairs and other servicing. Debris shields are rebuilt and, for ships with reaction engines, reaction mass and fuel supplied.


Image from Rhea 47
Planet 6Pogonip
Semi-Major Axis: 5AU
Type: Cryojovian.
Mass: 15x Earth
Density: 1.3g/cc
Moons: 11
Pogonip is anomalously far from Bonfire compared to the other worlds of the system. It is a blue, Neptune-like ice giant. Based on the diffuse belt of icy asteroids between Ash and Pogonip, the dense Kuiper belt (Buran), the inner planets of Bonfire, and Pogonip's odd collection of moons (some retrograde and at high inclinations), it has been concluded that Bonfire's planetary system started in a more widely spread configuration. Momentum exchange between the planets and once-dense asteroid belt between Ash and Pogonip caused the inner planets to drop into a denser configuration while Pogonip moved outwards. This scattered some of the Buran objects and established the modern inner border of Buran.

Today, Pogonip is little used. It has a few bubble habitats established by private individuals. Some of Cinder's ice mining vecs retired to Pogonip's moons, and have since spawned the vec haloist population of Buran.


Kuiper BeltBuran
Distance from Bonfire: 11 to 35AU
Buran is a fairly dense Kuiper belt of icy dwarf planets and smaller objects. It has a quiet vec haloist culture that has spread to the major bodies, some of which also host human settlers in frosthives.
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Development Notes
Text by Mike Miller
Initially published on 25 January 2018.