Star Noir: Xìngyùn

Overview

Xìngyùn (Fortune) was a Chinese mining colony, built to take advantage of an enormous precious metals deposit. It earned its independence from Earth-side China during the Market Revolution, which otherwise saw the Communist rulers suppress the Capitalist reformers.

Xìngyùn still relies on the export of precious metals, and is the primary source of specie used in interstellar trade.

Cosmography

Luyten 726-8 is binary star system consisting of two red dwarfs that orbit each other every 26.5 standard years. The pair is located 8.7 light years from Earth, 5.1 light years from Moultrie, 10.4 from Ascension, and 10.2 from Tzcheenucoatl.

Xìngyùn orbits Luyten 726-8A at a distance of 0.02 AU once every 71 hours. Even though Luyten 726-8A and Luyten 726-8B are about the same size, locals refer to Luyten 726-8A as “Big Red” (Dà hóngsè) and Luyten 726-8B as “Little Red” (Yīdiǎn hóng).

Xìngyùn is tidally locked to Big Red, which means that about 40% of the planet is in constant sunlight, and another 40% of the planet is in constant darkness. The 20% that wobbles in and out of sunlight is the most pleasant to humans, and is referred to as the twilight region. That wobble fakes a day-like cycle equal to Xìngyùn’s orbital period (71 hours), though the sun rises and sets in the same direction.

To humans, Xìngyùn’s most significant feature is Golden Crater (Huángjīn kēng), located on north side of the leading edge of the planet, unevenly straddling the twilight region. The crater was formed when Xìngyùn was struck by a meteor large enough to lift the planet’s heavy precious metals from the Xìngyùn’s core, and the strike was recent enough that the metals have yet to sink back.

Also worth mentioning is the Black Lake (Hēi hú), a giant artificial lake located south of Golden Crater on the equator. Black Lake was created by damming a river that ran from the day side to the night, and is home to the anchor of the planet’s lone space elevator.

Roughly 3/4ths of Xìngyùn’s surface is covered by water.

General Climate

There are two things that influence Xìngyùn’s weather: its deep oceans, and the tidal lock. The ocean on the night side might be covered in ice, but is still deep enough that warm water from the day side flows underneath it. This current, along with volcanism on the ocean’s floor, is enough to keep the night side’s ocean from freezing solid.

The day side is protected from excess heating by clouds. Big Red beats down on the oceans until clouds form, which then reflect sunlight, cooling the water under the clouds and bringing rain, starting the cycle over again.

The twilight region is characterized by a persistent wind that blows from day side to night. A calm hour is a rare hour; it’s usually windy or rainy in the twilight region, and often both.

Finally, Big Red is a flare star. Its brightness is variable, and can flare up to 75 times its brightness. These events last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

Xìngyùn’s magnetosphere is strong enough to deflect lesser flares, but Xìngyùn’s worst human disaster was a big flare a hundred years ago. As a result, most Xìngyùnese homes contain a safe haven and storage for two years worth of food. The safe haven is to survive the flare, and the food is to survive rebuilding of the infrastructure.

Major Settlements

Roughly three million people call Xìngyùn home. Most of that population resides at (or very near) one of the following locations:

Black Port (Hēi kǒu) is located on the shores of Black Lake, and services the space elevator’s anchor. It’s the center of interstellar commerce on Xìngyùn, and the planet’s resort community. It’s not the only settlement on Black Lake. The shore is also home to the planet’s agriculture. The locals call them “farms,” but they’re really prefabricated modules housing Earth crops in hydroponic gardens and lit by grow lights.

Crater City (Dànkēng) is Xìngyùn’s most populous city, located where the terminator crosses the Golden Crater, roughly 2000 km from Black Port. Despite the importance of mining to the planet’s economy, Crater City still has the feel of a frontier town. To the Xìngyùnese, the place is too cold, too windy, and too dirty. The miners (mostly men and young, single women) work there, but they keep their families in Black Port.

Xìngyùn Station is located in a stationary orbit over Black Port, at an altitude of 71,300 km, almost twice the height of Earth’s. Xìngyùn’s is higher because it has to orbit the planet every three standard days instead of once a day.

Government

Xìngyùn is a democratic republic with three official branches of government, plus the Board of Trustees. The branches are: a prime minister, a parliament, and the president of the court. The Board of Trustees runs the Xìngyùn Mining Company, and is appointed by the government.

The prime minister is the executive, and serves at the pleasure of parliament. One is elected by that body, and can be removed through a vote of no confidence. The PM’s duties include suggesting legislation and conducting foreign policy.

Every citizen in Xìngyùn has a vote, and assigns that vote (their proxy) to another citizen. The citizens with the top 100 proxy assignments are seated in parliament; their vote power is equal to the proxy assigned to them. Note that a citizen’s proxy can be re-assigned every three standard days, so an MP’s vote total can fluctuate wildly during debate.

The president of the court is appointed by the prime minister (and approved by parliament) and serves a fixed five-standard-year term. The president oversees the operation of the judiciary, which is currently 300 judges strong, arranged in a four-level hierarchy capped by the five-member Supreme Court. The system is based on civil law, and judges operate in an inquisitorial manner. (There is a parallel bureaucracy of prosecutors, who answer to the prime minister.)

The last branch of government is the Company’s Board of Trustees.

When the Market Revolution started, the Chinese government seized control of the Company from the original stockholders. The employees on Xìngyùn refused to recognize their new Communist owners, arguing that the takeover was illegal.

The basic question was decided though force of arms, when Xìngyùn repelled a Chinese invasion. The original stockholders (those that had not been executed) were still held by the Communists, so Xìngyùn’s inhabitants established a Board of Trustees that would oversee the Company until stockholders could be found that could claim legitimate ownership, and could prove that they were free from Communist duress.

There are twelve trustees who are appointed by the government for terms of ten standard years. Mid-term replacements do not finish the original term, but instead serve their own ten-year term. Eight of the twelve trustee terms are still synchronized.

Foreign Relations

Xìngyùn’s relationships are clearly defined by its recent history. Moultrie provided arms to Xìngyùn during the Market Revolution, and negotiated the peace with China; so Xìngyùn is a staunch ally. Tzcheenucoatl is Moultrie’s ally, and Xìngyùn’s cold navy has operated with Tzcheenucoatl against the United States; so Xìngyùn is friendly with Tzcheenucoatl.

Xìngyùn is obviously hostile with China, and relations with the United States are cool.

Religion

Back in the 20th Century, when the Communists were flirting with capitalism through “market reform,” they believed that Christian ethics were one of the reasons for the success of the free markets in the West. Therefore, China subtly pushed Christianity as part of those reforms, and later extended that recommendation to Judaism as well.

Because of this influence, Xìngyùn’s population had a higher proportion of Christians and Jews before the Market Revolution. (The difference is greater now, with the ongoing persecutions in Earth-side China.) On the other side, many of Xìngyùn’s atheists left the planet as part of the Market Revolution — either because they were Communists, or because the Capitalists accused them of being so.

To summarize: 50% of the population performs some kind of Chinese ancestor worship (with Confucianism being the most popular variant); while 20% are Buddhists; 20% are Christians; 5% are Jews; and 5% are atheist.

Culture

To offworlders, Xìngyùn is monolithic and insular. 98% of the citizenry is descended from Han Chinese. 99% of the citizenry is either employed by the Company or immediately related to someone who is. An offworlder is likely neither of these things, so easily marked as “other.”

On the other hand, Xìngyùnese are unfailingly polite. Offworlders who learn Xìngyùnese manners will have their politeness returned, even though most Xìngyùnese are bigoted against offworlders in general.

Xìngyùnese wealth, coupled with a feeling of superiority, has led to the importation of offworlders to work non-mining jobs that are beneath the locals. This is relatively new development, and an outgrowth of Moultrie and Tzcheenucoatl pressure to allow immigration between the allied worlds.

Language

The official language of Xìngyùn is Standard Chinese. Most of the other Chinese dialects have been forgotten as redundant, with Cantonese being the only stubborn exception. (It’s the language of the Triads. See “Crime” below.)

Moultron English is a common second language, as it’s useful to government officials, trade representatives, and military officers. Finally, the Xìngyùnese Jews maintain a core of Hebrew speakers.

Sport

Like most of the colonies, the most recognizable Earth sports played on Xìngyùn are the one-ball sports: the Xìngyùnese play football/soccer and basketball.

The wealthiest Xìngyùnese have always played table tennis, and upwardly mobile Xìngyùnese tend to buy themselves a table as a symbol of their wealth. Low-end paddles and tables are manufactured from local hard wood, with most balls and nets are imported from petroleum-rich Moultrie. The truly wealthy import their equipment from Earth.

General Law

Xìngyùn inherited much from its motherland, including its attitudes towards what should be legal and illegal. Any deviation from those attitudes has been driven either by the differences on this world, or the influence of the Moultrons.

One of the things that the Xìngyùnese have adopted from Moultrie is a militia system, which resulted in the relaxing of gun laws on Xìngyùn. The Xìngyùnese can own semi-automatic weapons, and carry them outside city limits. Many Xìngyùnese have some experience with automatic and heavy weapons, but these are kept at the militia’s armory.

The Xìngyùnese also have a frontier settlement’s attitude about drugs: one might not have time to reach a doctor, so unless a drug is addictive, ownership is legal.

Finally, there’s not much legal limit to the technology one can have access to. As a practical matter, however, only the Company can afford the good stuff.

Property Law

The tricky part to living on Xìngyùn is that the Company owns the entire planet. A resident can own a house, but rents the plot of land that it’s sitting on. It’s not a problem right now, as there’s a lot of land, and rents are negligible.

Don’t be fooled, though: if the Company finds gold under a house, the owner is moving.

Industry

Xìngyùn is known for its precious metal mines. Besides the gold and silver used as interstellar specie, the Company exports rhodium, platinum, palladium, osmium, rhenium, ruthenium, and tellurium.

Xìngyùn is not just mining. The Company found that it was cheaper to manufacture some things on site, so the planet also has the wherewithal to (mostly) maintain the mines. Hydroponic modules surround Black Port, and Crater City hosts a factory that builds the heavy equipment for the mines and the lighter stuff to maintain the hydroponic modules.

Xìngyùn would love to be able to draw solar power, but the weather prevents that. Instead, power is provided by nuclear reactors imported from Moultrie. (Incidentally, these are the same reactors used in Moultrie-built starships.)

A service economy exists, but is not strong enough to assert itself against the company. Independent business-men and -women organize in social clubs (Tongs) that are sometimes (deliberately) confused with criminal Triads by the police.

Currency

Officially, Xìngyùn operates on Company scrip. Gold and silver are (again, officially) restricted to use as export currency. In reality, there’s too much silver to export, so the excess finds its way into the hands of the public.

Medical Issues

Humans weren’t built to live on Xìngyùn. The red sunlight and long days don’t agree with bodies meant to live under white light and 24-hour days, and Xìngyùnese commonly fight light-related disorders. This commonly manifests as depression, with the usual symptoms: insomnia, anxiety, irritability, decreased appetite, weight gain or loss, social withdrawal, and decreased sex drive.

Everyone on Xìngyùn suffers from the Red Light Blues at some point in their lives.

Crime

Not surprisingly, Xìngyùn’s crime is related to the psychological issues produced by living on Xìngyùn. In Crater City, this manifests as public drunkenness, mutual assault, gambling, and prostitution. In Black Port, it’s public drunkenness and domestic assault.

Murder is not unheard of, especially if kitchen knives, picks, or shovels are close at hand.

Organized crime on Xìngyùn is fairly well developed: not only do the Triads run gambling dens and whorehouses, but they embezzle factory time from the Company, providing goods for Xìngyùn’s under-served domestic markets. The Triads would love to smuggle goods from off-world, but find it hard to compete with legitimate stacks of gold.

Local Flora and Fauna

Xìngyùn’s life is made of the same molecules as Earth’s, but the amino acids and sugars are of the opposite chirality. That is, the molecules are arranged in a mirrored fashion from Earth’s, and are therefore unusable by Earth biology (and vice versa). Were the local amino acids the same chirality, 95% of them would be the same as Earth’s.

Xìngyùn’s flora are wide and varied, but are distinguished by two features. The first is Black Chlorophyll: it’s not really chlorophyll, but it serves the same purpose with a different color to capture the red-and-infrared sunlight.

The second is the ability to survive a flare. Burning a native plant down will usually not kill it; most will regrow from their roots. Those that don’t will generally grow large between flares and spread their seeds during a flare.

Xìngyùn’s fauna is similarly adapted to their environment. The larger animals are shelled, or burrowing, or both. Exoskeleton-wearing insect-like creatures are ubiquitous, and vexatious to humans. For example, the local versions of mosquitos drink human blood, even though it will eventually kill through malnutrition. Humans are still tasty to the bug.

On the bright side, Xìngyùnese are essentially immune to the local microscopic creatures. Again, they’re not smart enough to avoid humans, but starve trying to infect them.

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