SOME NOTES ON FREECLOUD

Introduction

Although technically under the control of the UFP due to its location in the Thread, Freecloud held (before the drawdown) a unique status vis a vis the Federation: autonomous, militarily neutral, culturally pluralistic, politically anarchist/libertarian, financially independent. Freecloud has always maintained a determinedly “anything goes” policy with regard to its citizens and an “anti-entanglement” policy with regard to its neighbors and its parent organization. Not isolationist — no planet ever welcomed strangers, outsiders and newcomers (and their money) more avidly than Freecloud — but aloof from the wars, treaties and machinations of the great empires.

This fiercely-maintained independence has always been recognized, in turn, by Klingons, Romulans and Federation alike, each of whom quickly came to see the practical value in an authentically “neutral location” where business, diplomacy and espionage could be freely undertaken without risking war or running afoul of treaties.

But Freecloud is only one planet, and Freecs have always known that their independence, amid the ongoing conflicts of three powerful and not always merciful neighbors, is both precious and precarious. The only civic obligation required (or for that matter permitted) by the notoriously brief (five-sentence) Constitution of 2201 is universal service in the Freecloud Defense Network, generally known on Freecloud as “the Watchdog“ (or just “the Dog”). On turning 16, all able-bodied citizens owe the Watchdog three years of their lives, after which, for the next forty years, they remain on active reserve duty, serving three days out of every thirty. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 serve in the Youth Corps, and Freecs beyond the age of 55 can technically be recalled to service at any time, though in practice this provision has never been tested.

The fact of the matter is that Klingons, Romulans and Federation alike — along with passing bands of pirates, cyberthieves, and the occasional irritable swarm of Gorns — have been reluctant to test the prowess of the Watchdog, which though small has been per capita, at every point in its history, the best-equipped, best-trained, most advanced military outfit in the region. The point-oh-five percent commission charged on every transaction by Freecloud’s cryptobanks, and the resolve of Freecs to remain free, sees to that.

Freeclouders, unsurprisingly, pay no taxes of any kind, and they want for nothing, but they live simply and, outside of certain districts of Stardust City, avoid luxury and lavish displays of wealth. Most of Freecloud’s population of a hundred and twenty million live outside the cities, in rural or semi-rural “cohabs” (or just “habs”) of up to a hundred individuals. These large units are flexible in membership — Freecs, always, come and go as they please — and are not based on kinship or economic ties but on affinity, ties which Freecs have found to be every bit as intense and powerful as those of family or class but infinitley more flexible. Some habs are run along traditional cooperative or communal lines, but most, like Freecloud as a whole, are ongoing experiments in political, social and interpersonal organization, and by the time they die average Freeclouders may have lived in as many as a dozen or more cohabs.

Though kinship is not entirely disregarded on Freecloud, “the family” is viewed as an outmoded social unit tending to diminish, rather than increase, individual liberty. Until they enter the Youth Corps children tend to live with one or both of their biological parents — and their current “habbies”, but after that they are expected (and ready) to find their own paths through the world.

Planetography

The rain-shadow cast by the ring of high mountains means that most of the vast lowland interior of Panterra is arid or semi-arid. The supercontinent was initially settled along its coasts, which range in climate from temperate at the tropics to frozen at the poles to uncomfortably hot and wet at the equator, but overall the climate of Freecloud is considerably warmer than earth’s, and vegetation is lush.

Freecloud’s land-mass/ocean configuration gives it unique climate/tidal properties. Its oceanic currents are so powerful and produce such powerful mega-hurricanes that much of the opposite-side Panpontine Ocean is non-navigable except by submarine, not that there’s really any reason to go there.

Stardust City

The built environment of Stardust City spreads along the coast north and south of the Strait, up the slopes of the two rock massifs, North Mt. Bewlay and South Mt. Bewlay (the Bewlay Brothers), between which the inlet flows, and then in along the north and south shores of the Perfume Sea. Physically spectacular setting, covered in snow and ice ninety percent of the 700 (Earth)-day year, except during the Southern Hemisphere “winter”, when for about 90 days Stardust City is hot, humid and subject to powerful monsoons.

Stardust City is by far the largest city on Freecloud and home to most of the planet’s urbanites (most of the other 120-million Freeclouders live outside the cities). On a world that values individuality and independence, Dusties (“hive-dwellers”) are viewed with a certain disparaging condescension by other Freeclouders, while Dusties themselves see the choice to live in constant proximity to off-worlders more expressive of a truly independent streak.

The postcard image of Stardust City — not at all inaccurate, as far as it goes — is of a wintry city of frozen canals, snow and ice frosting the roofs of its characteristic pink-stucco buildings like sugar on cookies, autosleighs gliding along snow-packed streets, jagged icy mountains rising north and south. At night in the heart of “Old Stardust City” there is torchlight, food stands selling hot snacks on ice-bridges across the canals, and the bars specialize in heated beverages. When the first cold southern winds of spring begin to blow, they bring moisture that is rich in tiny bioluminescent organisms, frosting the old pink houses with radiant ice that glows a soft greenish-blue.

The heart of Old Stardust City and the thousand intrigues that it spawns and nurtures is the Grand Hotel and Casino Doradus. Of the people sitting, on any given evening, under the awnings of its grand diamondwood terraces overlooking the Perfume Sea, wrapped in furs and warm lap rugs, by the flickering braziers, it has been estimated that fully one- third are, have been, or are about to become spies, and the other two-thirds are the people they’re spying on: secret couriers, queens in exile, freedom fighters/terrorists (all in your POV, right?), radical thinkers, crime lords, fugitives from justice (or from injustice), revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries. The hotel’s famous Snowdolphin Bar, with its specialty “Geyser” cocktail and mulled Roman ales, is often the first stop for new arrivals on Freecloud, who come not just to soak up the fraught atmosphere of intrigue but also because the Snowdolphin is a clearinghouse for rumor, gossip and cold, hard information. In the game of spies that is endlessly played on Freecloud, the Doradus is center square.

Freecloud law enforcement

But what about all these rogue Romulans and Klingon freelancers and ex-dictators you have running around here? the visitor will ask. What keeps them in line? Strangely enough, the Freeclouder replies, visitors to Freecloud tend to behave themselves. And if they don’t, the Freeclouder adds darkly and cryptically, we have ways of sorting them.

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