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by Pete Grey

Spokes was a close call colony. One of the last worlds colonised by the Avalar Consulate, it was the victim of political indifference, bureaucratic and local infighting, and bungling at all levels.

The world was settled by reason of politics. Nearly all of the surveys of the world found little or no compelling reason for its settlement, as it possessed few resources worthy of exploitation. The local asteroid belt had attracted a small community of belters, but aside from the starport and the huge amount of trade traffic coming from neighboring Titan, the system was virtually ignored.

But in the late 800s, a political controversy ignited between the Venues of Titan and Hepring over property and land rights within their shared cluster of worlds. A series of minor land invasions and sporadic trade wars went on for about thirty years, culminating in a colonisation attempt of Spokes by Titan. About five million colonists were planted on the barren world in 901 to stave off a takeover by Hepring. When the controversy between them petered out under increasing Consulate scrutiny, Titan failed to evacuate the colonists from their useless outpost, and instead kept up mandatory immigration, prompting a few critics to wonder if the mother world was more worried about dumping its undesirables than in legitimate landgrab.

The world was placed under a partial interdiction, with trade and contact limited to the starport environs, and then only under heavy guard. Interloping ships were prevented from approaching the main cities by their underground construction, and by patrols from the Titan Planetary Navy. People under sentence were placed under heavy surveillance, and were required to contact, at regular scheduled intervals, a "caseworker" within the colonial administration that kept track of their whereabouts. People whose sentences expired were rarely permitted to return to Titan, and were still confined to the world, except that they didn't have to put with as much intrusion, nor report to a caseworker. The world was nothing more than a glorified gulag, and that most of the Consulate's governing authorities tolerated it reflects badly upon its internal politics.

The colony recieved little support from the homeworld other than the bare minimum, which seemed to support the idea that the world was an exile camp. Dissidents of Titan's increasingly authoritarian government that failed to tone down their strident criticism found themselves serving life sentences on the world with their families and sometime their immediate circle of relations. These were later supplemented, and replaced with wholesale shipments of undesirables, criminals, indigents and the homeless. Penal labor was prohibited by the Consulate government, so these prisoners were denied what would have a useful diversion from the poverty of their new homes, which was perhaps the point.

But the nature of most of Spokes' immigrants eventually helped more than it hindered. While the practice of life sentencing eventually created a permanent population of exile descendants that had no place or home on Titan itself or any other world for that matter, the education level of their parents and subsequent waves made them more resourceful than would be expected. A strange service economy eventually emerged, with the locals exchanging whatever goods and services they could manage, in return for currency that was carefully saved and invested. While those under sentence were prohibited to keep money beyond their own upkeep, labor arrangements and sponsoring saved excess profit from their labors as well.

As this modest nest egg expanded, a number of artisan industries were fostered. First seen as a joke by Titan and other neighboring worlds, a sort of "56th century Ren Faire", these handicraft industries found markets for their wares. Traditional metalworking, textiles, foodmaking, glassblowing and carving industries were constructed, and eventually they married with high-tech processes for high quality and safety. Spokes is most famous for its intricate glass, crystal and porcelain work. Where in the ancient past Waterbury and Meissen were once names of quality, Spokes has become the modern trademark of elegance. So reputable have its wares become that the poky prison world has trade contacts as far as Aslan worlds bordering on the Rift.

The Post-Collapse controversies on Titan have little affected the world's status quo. The colonial government stopped recieving exile transports, and has been little more than an efficient yet unimaginative group of flunkies that generally stays out of the locals attempts at making money. The world still remains a stifling and somewhat paranoid place to visit, as the old security regulations have only been relaxed in minor ways.

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