|Breaker with Pneumatic Drill. Concept art by Oliver Zavala|
“…Around 2218AD Mankind spread to the stars. They called it “A New Age of Exploration”. The Global Conglomerate of Earth had begun the scientific exploration of space in earnest. Resources on Earth were facing complete depletion and massive polluted zones had forced overcrowding. Food shortages, deplorable living conditions, and the violent suppression of worker’s rights had been sparking riots for decades. Earth was in its twilight and the corporate heads could no longer maintain their wealth and supremacy. Humanity needed room to expand and new resources to consume, and the corporations needed new markets to exploit. The first concerted colonization of space was set to begin.
Skip ahead to 2277AD. That’s when we saw “The Great Colonization”. The colonization of space over the next fifty years created genuine excitement planet-wide. It was common for fit and hopeful youths to volunteer for the colony ships and be trained as miners, farmers, builders, and security troopers as needed. Many saw these dangerous, but better paid, opportunities as a way to save their people back home from crushing poverty. Hired under contract, they traveled to far off worlds and built the earliest colony domes to sustain resource harvesting until initial terra-forming had begun.
2277AD is also around when we saw “The Rise of the Star Cults”. People had lost faith in the old religions and felt the answers missing in their lives could be found out amongst the stars. These new religions were not readily accepted, prejudice was commonplace, and religious persecution was on the rise. Adherents of the star cults signed up for the colony ships in droves. Those pilgrims in good standing who could accumulate enough wealth from their flock could even purchase steading rights outside the domes as long as they could pay a quarterly tithe to the Conglomerate. Life outside the domes was hard and unforgiving. Many died. But it afforded a level of freedom to those who sought it.
“The New Corporate Supremacy” as it was dubbed was around 2303AD. This is when the Interplanetary Conglomerate made a trade agreement that brought most of the colonies under one banner, the Incorporated Worlds. That’s when they made our lives of Contracted Service mandatory unless we could buy our way out of our contracts. That’s when folks really fostered dreams of life on the run. You know it’s bad when people feel like anywhere is better than where they are right now, and they’d rather be hunted down than stay. You’d think there’d be plenty of places to hide on these newly colonized worlds, but most of them are only partially terra-formed. Without a breather and a source of food, you might last a week or two on your own if you’re lucky. But I digress…
The initial waves of expansion had bolstered the power of the corporations and their wealth had reached new levels of luxurious extravagance. Wherever Steader society thrived due to abundant resources, the corporations stepped in quickly and took control. Many of the Incorporated Worlds had developed verdant agridomes, massive mining colonies and other resource harvesting facilities. Building industry was the next logical step. Most of the commodities produced were made available to the settlers who produced them for outrageously inflated prices. The corporations did this, they said, because they had to offset the costs of shipping products off world to their other holdings. From time to time they’d switch it up and blame it on increased labor costs, but we all knew that was a farce. Every credit of our wages pays for the food, barracks assignments, healthcare, and transportation costs, all rudimentarily provided by the corporations we work for. We are all indentured servants held in place by a system where working our way to freedom is a deliberately impossible goal.
As far as I can see, throughout the Incorporated Worlds nothing comes easy for the Contracted Workers or the Pilgrim Steaders, but Security Forces, Contract Enforcers, and of course the Executives and Magistrates live quite well. It’s very rare to see someone rise up out of the bottom rungs of Contracted Service to higher positions. Class, upbringing, and wealth are the limiters that determine our position and we are all more likely to descend over time than to climb.
For everyone outside of the roles of corporate governance across the Incorporated Worlds you can live a meager existence from day to day in the frontier towns with some hope of getting ahead if you are wealthy enough to have bought land or live amongst the flock of someone who has, or you can work as an indentured servant under contract in the domes and live relatively assured of having your basic needs met. Moderate freedom or assured subsistence - that is the choice each person makes.
There is a third choice, one fraught with peril as it is a life on the run. Those who throw off the shackles of servitude, break their contracts, and make a break for freedom are known as Breakers. Contract Breakers are dangerous to Corporate power and are dealt with harshly. The Executives are not keen to waste a strong back, so they will typically double the length of a contract and can assess penalties to a Breaker or their extended family. Reclaimed Contract Breakers are required to pay off the expenses incurred in their hunt. In the end, first time Contract Breakers who are apprehended are forced into the longest, most dangerous, poorest paid contracts imaginable. They become little more than slaves for the duration of their new contracts. Flee a second time and get caught, and a Contract Breaker can be reasonably assured of a violent death at the hands of Enforcers. Those are just some of the risks of the 3rd choice. Exposure, Steaders, and other Breakers can all be threats to your existence. Life on the run is often dangerous and tragically short. Some manage to sustain their flight for years, but most don’t. Instead they go back to living the life of a slave or lying in a pool of their own blood.”
-Goran Anderson. Contracted Miner and Ex-Breaker under lifetime contract to FeSky.