COUNTER/Weight 41: A Splintered Branch, A Ringing Bell Pt. 1

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Episode description[edit | edit source]

It has been four and a half years since the Chime confronted Rigor on the planet of September, an event that has been dismissed as insignificant, yet simultaneously has served as a key catalyst for immense change in the Golden Branch star sector. Living symbols of unity become increasingly erratic and violent. Empowered operatives, both public and hidden, take action against the most corrupt forces in the sector. Noble leaders threaten their own democracies through charm alone. And in the face of increased stress, daring radicals find themselves struggling to keep their revolutions afloat. And now... a familiar voice, a knock on the door, a reminder that there are threats greater still than tomorrow.

This week on COUNTER/Weight: A Splintered Branch, A Ringing Bell Pt. 1

Even a watched pot boils eventually...

Opening[edit | edit source]

Counterweight hangs in the center of the Golden Branch star sector, a forked path where the Perseus and Sagittarius arms of the Milky Way come together. Because of its location, life on this planet of billions brims with energy, and an exchange of cultures has led to an exchange of technologies. Automated robots valet vehicles; starships launch in the distance at regular intervals; holographic pop idols perform for holographic crowds. Giant humanoid mechs aid in tasks civil, commercial, and military, and sometimes you look up to them and think, “We could have made them look like anything, but we made them look like us.”

It has been four and a half busy years since the September Incident, that fateful day when the first Divine, Rigour, stood in full view of the Golden Branch, its mere appearance a new sort of violence. But before it could wound the sector, it was cast away, halted by heroism, locked behind sacrifice. The Chime, a group of cast-offs as diverse as the Golden Branch itself, stood ground while others quaked, and the threat of Rigour was stopped.

In the long shadow of the September Incident, though, things have changed. Maps have been redrawn. Old enemies have become friends, and new powers have emerged. Chief among these has been the Principality of Kesh, whose Rapid Evening intelligence and special operations unit has been surreptitiously influencing the sector for decades, policing dangerous technologies and operating history-changing experiments. Now the secretive monarchy has gone public. A mistake like Rigour could not be allowed to happen again. The future of every culture depended on it.

And so, under the leadership of Addax Dawn, the Principality of Kesh has opened communications with every major faction operating in the sector. And the Evening’s demands were stated plainly. The expansive and skirmish-prone borders of the sector’s superpowers would be reduced, with no faction allowed to claim control of space they couldn’t demonstrably protect. No one would be permitted to use assets retrieved from the verboten body of Rigour, and to prevent this, Kesh would oversee scientific and industrial operations on September and Ionias, and would become a third-party in sector-wide disputes. The nation claimed no land that wasn’t already theirs, but it also made clear that it had assets everywhere, assets like the mysterious agent Mako Trig, who hunts down any party foolish or arrogant enough to research Rigour tech.

And so the Kesh Accord was signed, and the sector changed forever. The new laws led to the decline of old powers, and so the Autonomous Diaspora and the Orion Conglomerate receded into themselves, but in some ways, this was a blessing, since each desperately needed to attend to their own internal strife.

With the Diaspora’s historical foe vanquished, their political rivals diminished, and their leaders reaffirmed, Grace and her servants should have secured their place in the sector, but a real sense of danger remained. The Kesh Accord returned the planets of Garden and Sage to their pseudo-historical owner, the Golden Demarchy, led by Apostolos, and without her pastoral capital, Grace permanently made a new home on the strange, alien world of Sigilia. Sensing that they had failed in their duty, protecting Grace, and in warning of the threats of September and Rigour both, the Candidate Kobus of Loyalty resigned, an act unheard of in recent Diasporan history. And perhaps it is because they no longer have Kobus’ calming voice in their ears, or perhaps it is due to their presence on Sigilia, or perhaps it is due to something else altogether, but Grace and Vicuna have become increasingly erratic in recent months, launching unannounced and devastating raids on the holdings of the Diaspora’s enemies: the Demarchy to the north, and the most rebellious elements of the Righteous Vanguard, to the south.

In a strange twist of fate, Oricon has become Grace’s greatest friend in the sector. Though the two powers have a long and violent history of conflict, for these ancient civilizations, painful but familiar history is preferable to an unknown future. Especially when Oricon itself is in upheaval.

After the September Incident, the distant leadership of the Orion Conglomerate, deep in the far reaches of the Sagittarius arm, woke to the crisis of continuity in their holdings in the Golden Branch sector. In order to counter the rise of the Minerva Strategic Alliance, Oricon re-equipped the old Expeditionary Group with the resources and authority necessary to bring the sector to heel, and to attempt to address the many systemic abuses and failings therein. The voice and mind of this new regulatory body is Chief Emergency Executive Orth Godlove, veteran of two wars and survivor of the September Incident. It is up to Executive Godlove to get the sector’s holdings into order, because, from distant Earth, the question has been raised: Why not cut and run? Why not leave Minerva’s rogue Steiger sisters to their own devices? Let the sector devour them. After all, the blockade taxes any support that Oricon sends, anyway.

The blockade in question is operated by the growing navy of the Free States of Kalliope. While the Chime battled Rigour on September, Admiral Hudson Thorne was leading the Yersinia and the Odomas fleet into the southern reaches of the Golden Branch sector, and in time, the planets of Kalliope, Ionias, Gemm, Slighter and Kaffe were loosened from their ersatz affiliation through effective, if unusual, diplomatic efforts, including the application of military pressure and simple good timing. Now, the Free States of Kalliope have risen in power. While other factions are organized around formal hierarchies or informally centered around ultra-powerful hegemons, the Free States offer an alternative: a loose association of planets that offer their member citizens trade rights, migration access, and military protection, but ask little from them. Freedom is the watchword. But Jillian Red finds herself worrying that without further unification, the Free States may fracture and fall. In this moment of instability, the Free States look towards the Golden Demarchy for guidance.

This new democratic power, situated in Apostolos and now led by Apokine Cassander Timaeus Berenice of the dethroned imperial house of Pelagios, has also risen in power in the time since September. Its aspirant message of utopian representation and multicultural civilization has spread far and wide. Having reclaimed a number of worlds that were historically owned by Apostolos, Cassander has become a hero to the people—and a reminder of the empire’s old glory. If left unchecked, Cassander’s reign may be an end to the Demarchy and a return to the imperial ways of the past. And yet another jewel in Cass’ unworn crown is the city in the north, the so-called Megalopolis on Torru, built hand-in-hand with the Principality of Kesh, in hopes that the sector’s populace may finally leave behind the blooded wasteland metropolis of Counterweight.

But for some, Counterweight and its satellite paradise Weight cannot be left so easily. As originally designed by Executive Ibex, the Righteous Vanguard was meant to take over the Autonomous Diaspora and to unify the Golden Branch sector in order to better the quality of life for its most marginalized and oppressed inhabitants. But when Rigour was defeated, the Vanguard lost much of its momentum, and Ibex vanished into the shadows, leaving the Vanguard to its new leader, the revolutionary Aria Joie. With reduced resources but redoubled passion, the Vanguard has re-focused its efforts on securing Counterweight and Weight for the masses. But for many, including political rivals the Diaspora and Oricon, the Righteous Vanguard is nothing but a trendy political party. It is not a sovereign power on its own, and certainly not a voice for anyone except its regal regent. If Representative Joie cannot secure Weight soon, and if she cannot resist the whispers of Righteousness, then the people of Counterweight may finally give up hope altogether. It just wouldn’t be a wise investment.

And so it is in this context, with these crises already boiling, that another danger emerges: a knock on the door, and the sudden realization that perhaps, the lock isn’t as sturdy as you might have hoped. It has been four and a half busy years since the September Incident. And it is finally time for the Golden Branch to determine its future.

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