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Mortal Coil

by Pete Grey

The Quarantine erected by the Domain of Deneb in 1131 against the AI Virus threat had a double edge. While it created an impetus of proactive defense against a deadly enemy, it also threatened the Domain with economic stagnation.

The original Quarantine Protocols were written in the heat of the crisis, and the drafters went overboard in stipulating its stringency and strictness, creating regulations that no nation could, much less would, be able to abide by. Licensing and inspection regulations were so narrowly defined that international trade would be curtailed severely, to the detriment of local economies. Unfortunately, popular opinion in the nascent Regency would not allow for a relaxation of regulations, even when it became clear the cost would be economic inflation, the loss of currency exchange, smuggling and severe economic hardship. And other nations, insulated from Virus by distance, were threatening unilateral actions of their own.

With the Regency's own economy still reeling from the Civil War and the Collapse, Norris and his advisors made two decisions that staved off these problems to a certain degree. Firstly the Regency adopted a policy of allowing other signatories to both the Protocols and Spinward Accords to define the extent and merit of their own Quarantine efforts, and only threatened sanction against states that were negligent or abusive of Viral protection measures, or violated the spirit of the Accords. Secondly, the Regency set aside a de facto free trade zone in Five Sisters Subsector. Already "airgapped" from the bulk of the Regency by a zone of territory unprotected by the Quarantine, the Sisters would be like a canoe sailed into a lagoon under the watchful eye of the main ship, allowing outsiders to freely trade with its inhabitants without violating its security and safety.

The Sisters had other strategic advantages as well. It lay at the convergence point between the Marches, Trojan Reach, Foreven and Beyond Sectors. It was close both established trading partners, and new untapped markets. It wasn't to far form the "Hub" of Lunion Subsector, and therefore the bulk of mainstream Regency society. And the antebellum trade routes that led into the Regency converged like a funnel on to the nearest branch of the Spinward Main, in Five Sisters.

It also lay in close proximity to a J-2 route that was originated by Barrchai Technium just before the Civil War. The route ran from Emape/Five Sisters, through the the Avalar Consulate in Foreven Sector, and branched off in two directions: one through the Union of Meizirn and the Corellian League in Beyond Sector, and running down through Vanguard Reaches from the Duchy of Treyln to the Murians; the other ran from the Marrekesh Trade League down the trailing side of Beyond, to the Florian border, through the Federation of Garrone, and down through the Aslan Hierate into Riftspan Reaches and Touchstone. BT had already heavily invested money and effort to build infrastructure, trade contacts and logistical sources along much of the route, and the Regency pressed this network to the hilt (recompensating BT nicely ).

BT advertising called this route the "Gold Road." Among those who both benefited and lost from this trade route, a different name came into use. They called it the Mortal Coil.

The root of the Mortal Coil traderoute is Regency territory in Five Sisters/Spinward Marches Subsector. Five Sisters was primarily a military possession in the Antebellum days. Despite being at the farthest spinward extent of the Spinward Main, and composed of some rather rich worlds, development was prevented by the Imperium's feud with the Zhodani. What colonies that did develop were mostly in support of the local 208th fleet and its ancillary facilities. The transience of military families, and the subsectors physical seperation from the rest of the Imperium gave it a remote feel, a kind of passing dreamland where the darkest human emotions that were normally bottled up could be given free play.

Alongside strict military spit-and-polish was a freewheeling anarchy, a kind of larger than life intoxication that expanded upon the usual roughness of frontier life and blew it up into ridiculous portions. Even as remote as it was, it attracted the Marches weekend malcontents; those wealthy or well-off who harbored either a disatifaction with mainstream society for various reasons, or were just empty thrill seekers looking for a playground. These people were supplemented by real malcontents, especially survivalists, runaways and various cranks. In addition to local military personnel and the unusual nature of their assignments, and the stress this created, the subsector was a volatile mix of people skirting the borders of accepted norms.

After the Collapse, the "weekenders" started becoming permanent residents of the Sisters. The first ones were members of various ecological groups who moved into untouched garden worlds such as Galadriel and Prince Edward. But the main group were a mixture of sober investors and wild economic adventurers that began to move here in the late 1130s to take advantage of the subsectors relaxed Quarantine enforcement. These people were speculators, market managers, finance professionals, would be robber barons, oppurtunists, scoundrels and just plain scum. The resulting mixture of all of these groups, and both the tawdriness and glittering wealth of the new "Gold Road" created a region of Imperial Space like no other in its history.

The base of this frenetic activity was the trade moving through the subsector between the Regency and the Spinward Hinters. Most of the Regency-bound trade, because of technological and industrial imbalance, was mostly raw materials from distant parts of the Hinters, dumped into vast collection yards on Mirriam and Iderati for loading into sleek and efficient safeside bulk carriers. Meanwhile, outbound ships loaded mostly with Regency manufactured goods departed for Beyond and Foreven. The lopsided nature of this trade, and the vast amounts of mineral wealth passing through Five Sisters, and the tawdry local speculation and dirty dealings surrounding that wealth, earned the subsector the name "the Rand" (after the infamous Witswatersrand in South Africa.)

It was a fitting appellation. The subsector was full of men and women whose fortunes rose and fell on the flow of materials and money, much of it pilfered, that filled its docks. It had an elite of self-made nouveau rich who had climbed up through shady dealings and ruthlessness, often over the bodies, both figuritavely and literally, of their former business partners. It was lawless, to the point that the Regency military was of no use. It was, as one writer put it, "Las Vegas, the wild frontier, Disneyland and Hell all concentrated into one easily digestible wafer, whose effect was full and the same no matter how small a portion you broke off for yourself and others."

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