Venus

Venus is Earth’s closest neighbor and the planet most like it in terms of size and geology. It is a rugged world of volcanic mountains, canyons, high plateaus, and sweeping volcanic planes crisscrossed by river-like magma channels. Much of the surface is basaltic rock. The climate of Venus is one of the most inhospitable in the solar system. Perhaps only the hideous radiation of the inner Jovian moons presents a more difficult challenge to transhuman colonization. The Venusian atmosphere is a superheated maelstrom of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid, with an atmospheric pressure at its surface equivalent to that five kilometers below the surface of Earth’s oceans. Venus also lacks more than trace amounts of hydrogen, meaning that water must be imported in the form of iceteroids from the outer system.
Nonetheless, transhumanity has come to Venus, and with it, debate over how to make use of the planet. Venus has no permanently inhabited surface settlements other than a few equipment and supply caches used by planetside researchers. Despite difficulties, transhumanity has found survival strategies that work here. The most surprising of these are the aerostats, lighter-than-carbon dioxide habitats that float in the thick Venusian atmosphere. Aside from a few independents or ones loyal to the Planetary Consortium, these aerostats are the base of the new Morningstar Constellation power bloc. Notable for their research labs, nanofab design houses, software studios, and luxury resorts, the Constellation’s aerostats are increasing at odds with Planetary Consortium and Lunar-Lagrange Alliance interests.
On some aerostats, areas populated only by indentured synthmorphs are open to the Venusian atmosphere. Some 5,000,000 transhumans live in aerostat habitats and another 10,000 on the surface. Roughly 350,000 transhumans live in habitats orbiting Venus. Though the Planetary Consortium is considering the launch of a Venusian terraforming project, this plan is actively opposed by the Morningstar Constellation. The Constellation’s aerostats see the terraforming proposals—which include massive cometary bombardment or building a planet-sized sun shade to cool the atmosphere—as not only unworkable but disruptive to their lives and profits.

Sidebar: Venusian Rumours

[Incoming Message. Source: Anonymous]
[Public Key Decryption Complete]
We need you to investigate some odd rumors circulating about activity on the Venusian surface. According to reports, an Omnicorp research team went missing about a week ago. Unlike many Venus surface teams, these weren’t teleoperated bots but actual synthmorph-sleeved researchers operating away from the safety of an aerostat’s tether—which is suspicious behavior itself. Search parties have turned up no sign of the missing morphs, but scuttlebutt says they ran into signs of recent TITAN activity that have them freaked out. I haven’t found any evidence to back this up, yet—it could just be some misinformation to keep people from digging around part of the surface. I’ve heard that some security corps have some quantum data caches buried away down there. Looking into this may require getting a hold of some heat and pressure resistant synthetic morphs.



Venus is simultaneously the most alien and the most Earth-like of the inner system worlds. Its gravity is 90% that of Earth—far closer to Earth gravity than any other inhabited world. At an altitude of 52 to 58 kilometers, the air pressure and temperature are also very close to that of Earth, making this region of Venus far more Earth-like than anyplace on Mars before the beginning of the current Martian terraforming effort.
Today, more than 5 million inhabitants live in 20 cities floating in the Venusian atmosphere. Known as aerostats, these cities are large and comfortable settlements kept aloft by the air inside them. Though the carbon dioxide atmosphere that surrounds them is unbreathable, residents of these aerostats need only don an air mask or hold their breath and they can walk out on an external balcony and feel the warm Venusian air on their face.
Venus rotates exceptionally slowly, with its day lasting 243 Earth days; slightly longer than its year. However, the winds in its upper atmosphere circle the world once every four days and most of the time the aerostats move with the winds. The habitability of Venus’s upper atmosphere is a vivid contrast to the planet’s surface, which is by far the least inviting location in the inner system—even the surface of Mercury when the sun is directly overhead is considerably more hospitable. Venusian surface temperatures are comparable to Mercury’s day, and the Venusian surface is also crushed under pressures much like those at the bottom of Earth’s deepest seas.
Venus is also the most recently independent world in the solar system. Four years ago, a planetary referendum voted Venus out of the Planetary Consortium and resulted in the formation of a new government known as the Morningstar Constellation. Within a year, Venus became the fastest growing economy in the inner system. It is currently undergoing an ambitious terraforming effort that will retain its dense atmosphere, but will provide the upper atmosphere with water vapor and breathable levels of oxygen. In less than a century, Venus will become an exotic world where many dozens of huge aerostats float in an atmosphere that is also home to a thriving aerial ecosystem. Though this atmosphere will remain primarily carbon dioxide and thus poisonous to unadapted biomorphs, with the correct augmentation, biomorphs will be able to breathe it as easily as they could the air of Earth.

The Venusian Surface

The surface of Venus is one of the least hospitable places in the entire solar system. Temperatures approach 500 C and the pressure is almost 100 times that of Earth’s atmosphere. Lead is perpetually molten in this environment and the temperatures are sufficient to weaken most conventional alloys. Sulfuric acid clouds block the vast majority of visible light and the various complex chemicals in the lower atmosphere limit visibility to a maximum of a few kilometers and often significantly less. Strangest of all, the atmosphere is sufficiently dense at the surface that light is refracted so that it appears that anyone on the surface is standing in a large bowl, with the horizon rising up on all sides.
Biomorphs and pods cannot survive the Venusian surface. Even conventional synthmorphs, normally quite durable, fail in less than a minute. As a result, all robot drones and synthmorphs used on the Venusian surface are made from quartz and various high-temperature alloys. Rather than using any form of refrigeration to attempt to cool the interior of these morphs, all of them are designed to operate at peak efficiency in the native Venusian environment. This means, however, that no standard morph capable of surviving and operating on the Venusian surface can operate at more normal temperatures or pressures.
There are currently almost 10,000 synthmorphs and bots operating on the Venusian surface. The majority work in one of four large mining facilities, with a smattering assigned to surface research stations. In mining camps, specially-designed shells collect and perform initial refining on various ores that are then transported to one of the aerostats. Lucifer and Octavia perform most of the mining, but any aerostat can do so. To help them remain in one place despite the fierce Venusian winds, aerostats lower high strength, high temperature cables to the surface.
Surface-adapted morphs and tools are lowered down, while loads of partially refined ore are carried up into the aerostats, where they are fully refined and processed into goods.

Surface Workers

Around 90% of the shells working on the Venusian surface are teleoperated. Most are not even equipped with cortical stacks, as they are controlled by pilots located in the aerostats. The communications link is established by a redundant scheme relying on both a wired connection to the surface and a backup neutrino farcaster. These signals go to base stations on the Venusian surface that then broadcast microwave signals to the individual shells.
Most such shells are simply remote controlled rather than jammed to circumvent any problems with light-speed delays. When fine control is necessary, however, a pilot can jump in and jam a shell directly, with the experience indistinguishable from actually being present on the surface. However, a host of technical problems or even severe storms can disrupt communications with the bot. Because of the inherent dangers of this environment, communications with aerostats are lost at least once every few weeks. More serious problems, like tethers ripping or a simultaneous failure of both farcaster and wired communication links, occur at least once every month or two. In these situations, AIs are given instructions to run the bots autonomously, or workers sleeved in cortical stack-equipped synthmorphs are called in. This is also the procedure for mining operations taking place with no aerostat tethered overhead. Neutrino communication links are still relied on when possible, but these devices are prone to failure as they must be carefully shielded from the external temperature and pressure. The vast majority of teleoperators and surface workers are indentured servant infugees selling their labor to acquire a morph. Infomorph teleoperation pilots can earn enough to purchase a cheap synthmorph in approximately six months or eventually save up for a slightly better morph like a basic pod or a splicer. Workers who are willing to risk their egos directly on the surface earn more generous pay, however, and after a year of work most can afford mid-range morphs like an augmented splicer or even an exalt. Of course, the downside to working on the surface is the risk that the individual may be killed or, worse, might be trapped in a damaged morph for days, weeks, or even longer. Problems like earthquakes, rock slides, and catastrophic equipment failures are not common, but they do occasionally occur. Some synthmorphs have been lost and never recovered, with no one knowing if the ego inside is still alive. Anyone who has served substantial time sleeved in a surface morph is considered simultaneously brave, impressive, and somewhat foolhardy by other Venusians.
A few independent prospectors and researchers, not indentured to any mining concerns or other hypercorps, occasionally sleeve into surface-adapted morphs to explore the Venusian landscape. This is especially true if they seek to avoid transmissions that might give away valuable finds or clues to their activities.

Sidebar: Politics and Raw Materials

One of the major issues the Venusian population is wrestling with is self-sufficiency. The Venusian surface is the only source of metals and other heavy elements on Venus. Importing these raw materials from off-world is expensive. Also, distrust between the Morningstar Constellation and the Planetary Consortium, and the fear that there could someday be serious tensions between the two, inspires some Venusians to become as self-sufficient as possible, at least for all major raw materials. In addition, there is widespread support for the idea that each aerostat should be an independent part of the Morningstar Constellation. As a result, most of the raw materials required by the aerostats and the growing Venusian population are now extracted from either the dense atmosphere or the surface. This means that surface mining is likely to increase over the next decade.
For anyone wanting to disrupt the Morningstar Constellation’s stability and economy, these surface mines are an obvious target.

Sidebar: Evaluation of Venusian Exsurgents

[Incoming Message.]
[Source: Anonymous]
[Public Key Decryption Complete]
As requested, our evaluation of the potential for TITAN or Exsurgent threats on the Venusian surface remains inconclusive. Research confirms the possibility that TITAN machinery and/or exsurgent xenomorphs could survive on the surface for extended periods. Continued analysis of surface scans and other research shows no confirmed signs of any such activity, though there are numerous anomalies that remain uninvestigated. Given the increase in mind operations and general surface explorations, however, the possibility of disturbing something that has remained so far dormant continues to be a risk.
Of particular concern to our analysts is the accident at the northern Ishtar Terra mining station seven months ago. A survey of the available data reveals several factors regarding the incident that seem suspicious and that are unlikely to be due to worker sabotage or other transhuman involvement.
Further investigation is warranted, but hypercorp security countermeasures make such efforts a challenge.
If anything is down there, we better find it—before it fnds us first.

Surface Anomalies

Because it is mysterious, deadly, and exceedingly difficult to visit, the vast majority of the surface of Venus is unmapped except for orbital radar scans. Venus is the only terrestrial planet that has not been extensively scanned and mapped by many thousands of small low-altitude automated probes and whose surface is not constantly monitored by thousands of high-resolution orbital cameras. Instead, the Venusian surface remains mysterious and regularly surprises miners, prospectors, and researchers with various dangers, including everything from unstable terrain to small lakes of molten metal. The obfuscation of the surface has also spawned hundreds of legends and rumors of hidden dangers there, and the frequency with which workers and bots are lost there only makes these threats seem more credible. There are persistent stories of exsurgent activity on the Venusian surface, and a few people claim that one or more TITANs are secretly waiting in that hellish environment, plotting the final demise of transhumanity. Most Venusians, however, consider these claims to be utter nonsense and roll their eyes at anyone ranting about the TITAN menace that will one day rise up from this world’s cloud-wrapped depths.

Sidebar: Possible Evidence of Alien Visitation

To: Internal Security
from: Mining Control
We have an emerging situation on hand that requires information management, memetic controls, personnel evaluations, and a potential armed response. One of our miners (profile) is claiming to have discovered an alien artifact on the Venusian surface and is spreading the information counter to protocols.
The incident occurred three days ago, when the miner was teleoperating a surface bot and searching for traces of titanium in a deep crevasse near our Southern Ishtar Aphrodite station (approximate coordinates).
The overhanging rock caused erratic interference with the pilot’s communication link, so the recordings of the incident are ambiguous and sub-par. The miner claims to have broken into a clearly undisturbed portion of the crevasse and found some sort of alien-looking artifact. Unfortunately, the miner lost contact with the shell seconds afterwards due to a minor earthquake. It was reported lost, and subsequent attempts to investigate the area have been thwarted by severe atmospheric conditions and seismic activity.
Whatever it was that he found, it bears further investigation. Word of the incident is spreading among the other staff, however, spurring rumors of alien contact and an internal cover up. If we don’t act quickly, this could severely disrupt current mining operations in the area and possibly spread out

The Upper Atmosphere

Most aerostats foat at an altitude between 52 and 55 kilometers above the Venusian surface. Here, the air pressure is between 50% and 85% that of Earth’s surface. The average temperature is between 12 and 40 C at the equator and 5 degrees cooler at a latitude of 45-60 degrees due to the circulation patterns of the Venusian atmosphere. These same circulation patterns also mean that the atmosphere is unsuitable for aerostats above 70 degrees latitude. The extreme temperature differences between cloud tops and surface there produce polar vortices resembling huge permanent hurricanes that would cause any aerostat to experience frequent and severe turbulence. These polar air patterns also result in upwellings of hot air from the surface that bring polar temperatures at 55 kilometers to almost 40 C, with lower altitudes being even hotter. Fortunately, wind patterns away from the poles are constant and predictable, despite the occasional disruption caused by storms.
The height at which aerostats foat is in the middle of the Venusian cloud layer. The exact characteristics of these clouds at this altitude depend upon whether they are in daylight or not. During the Venusian day, various photochemical reactions render the dense clouds relatively opaque, cutting off more than half of the light from the sun. Visibility at this altitude is between 2 and 10 kilometers. The clouds are yellowish in color and the distinctive swirling yellows, whites, and ochres of these cloudscapes are familiar across the solar system. During the night, the clouds are far more transparent, and with good lights, visibility is several times greater than it is during the day.

The Morningstar Constellation

The Morningstar Constellation is the solar system’s newest major political entity. Only four years ago, Venus was under the control of the Planetary Consortium. However, an unprecedented referendum proposed by a group of Venusians intent on independence was signed by 4% of the Venusian population.
Under the laws of the Planetary Consortium, the population of Venus was then allowed to vote on their independence. The majority of the inhabitants of Venus’s aerostats and orbital stations voted for their world to become an independent state. The resulting Morningstar Constellation is allied with the Planetary Consortium, but is a fully separate political entity with its own goals.
Most of the leaders of the Planetary Consortium are somewhat dismissive of the Morningstar Constellation, believing that Venus will ask to re-enter the Consortium within the next five years. Others, however, are now realizing that Venus is likely to remain independent and that they must learn to adapt to this world’s freedom. Most of the leadership of the Planetary Consortium is willing to learn to work with the new Venusian government, but a few of the more conservative members are considering ways to bring Venus back under their jurisdiction.

The Politics of Terraforming

The Venusian independence movement began as a conflict over terraforming plans. The Planetary Consortium’s plan for Venus was very simple: transform it into a near duplicate of Earth. Their scheme involved introducing large amounts of hydrogen (carried to Venus in the form of diverted comets and deep space ice asteroids) into the atmosphere, combined with a gigantic microscopically-thin orbital sunshade to block out light and cool the planet. The goal was to transform Venus into a world with a habitable surface within 300 years—less if advances in technology permitted it.
Some terraformers instead supported a more ambitious and risky plan that involved using several dozen large antimatter explosions to blast large amounts of the atmosphere into space. The most optimistic timeline suggested Venus might become habitable in 200 years, though most researchers believed that process would take almost 400. The end result, however, would be a world almost identical to Earth, except that almost 80% of the world would be covered in shallow seas. The Planetary Consortium’s terraforming team almost exclusively consisted of scientists and engineers who worked on Earth for several decades before the Fall. They were all at least partially motivated by their longing for Earth and their dreams of recreating it.
These Consortium scientists applied very little consideration to the growing population of the Venusian aerostats, though their plans did call for a few large aerostats to help monitor and work on the terraforming effort. Among the aerostat population, however, opposition to these terraforming plans was growing by the day. Too many of these residents had fallen in love with the exotic beauty of Venus and its cloud cities. Though the Consortium terraforming process involved the creation of a limited Venusian cloud ecosystem, ultimately the plan called for this cloud life to die off as the dense air thinned and the world became more Earth-like. This was unacceptable to those who loved the clouds.
Individuals interested in these ideas began to communicate and formed a bold alternative to the Planetary Consortium’s terraforming plans. Known as the Aerial Terraforming Initiative (ATI), their plan consisted of the creation of a complex cloud-based ecosystem that retained Venus’s dense atmosphere, while simultaneously increasing oxygen levels to the point that the upper atmosphere, where the aerostats floated, would be 18% oxygen. Circulation patterns combined with the increasing pressure and temperatures would insure that the composition of the lower atmosphere would remain essentially unchanged. Venus would remain a cloud-wrapped world with a dense atmosphere and a brutally hot surface, but the upper atmosphere would become home to both many dozens of aerostats and a wealth of unique animal and plant life. In effect, they hoped to create an enduring cloud-based ecosystem that was as diverse and vibrant as Earth’s biosphere had once been. Various bioengineers looked forward to creating flying morphs that could truly be at home in the Venusian clouds.
The timeline of the ATI involved the upper (habitable) portion of the Venusian atmosphere reaching 10% oxygen within 60 years and 18% in 90. This was a much shorter and far more realistic timeline, and it quickly drew popular support. The sheer grandeur of the Venusian environment and the prospect of living in the midst of a thriving aerial ecosystem further encouraged many aesthetically-minded Venusians. Combined with the prospect of making an already safe and comfortable environment even more habitable, this plan was embraced by the inhabitants of the aerostats.

The Constellation Forms

The Venusian terraforming and bioengineering research groups behind the ATI submitted a detailed proposal outlining the process to the Planetary Consortium, noting the advantages over the current terraforming plans. After relatively brief consideration, the leading terraformers of the Planetary Consortium almost unanimously rejected it. Their primary reason was the fact that the ATI would only allow for a maximum Venusian population of 200 million, while a fully terraformed Venus could easily hold more than 10 times that number of transhumans. In addition, the terraformers were concerned because aerial terraforming had never been performed before. They considered the ATI to be a wasteful frivolity that would deny valuable living space to future inhabitants of the solar system.
At this point, the Venusian terraformers grew both angry and even more determined. When the Planetary Consortium rejected it, the researchers who supported the ATI were approached by a small group of Venusian radicals who had been agitating for Venusian independence for the past two years. These radicals convinced the terraformers to join forces. Previously, the small Venusian independence movement had attracted little attention. However, the ATI plan was very popular and support for both it and the independence movement began to grow. Slightly more than four years ago, supporters of Venusian independence delivered a petition signed by 4% of the Venusian population to the local Planetary Consortium representative, requesting that the issue of independence be put to a vote. Six months later, after extensive campaigns by both sides, 57% of the Venusian populace voted for independence and the Morningstar Constellation was born.
While the majority of the Venusian aerostats joined the Constellation, not all did. Two of the twenty aerostats remain allied with the Planetary Consortium, while two others remain independent. A smaller, but still significant, percentage of habitats orbiting Venus have also joined the Constellation.

The Precepts of the New Government

In addition to the ATI, the other cornerstone of the independence movement that gave rise to the vote that created the Morningstar Constellation was a firm belief that each habitat should be a truly independent political entity. A large number of Venusian immigrants had grown up in Europe before the Fall, and part of the inspiration for the new government was the old EU government. Except for rights guaranteed by the Morningstar constitution and immediate actions taken to preserve the life and safety of the populace, the inhabitants of every Constellation aerostat can vote on all major decisions affecting their aerostat, while their elected representatives handled more minor issues as well as taking care of administrative tasks. While a similar confederated structure is also in place within the Planetary Consortium, there is much less transparency. In practice, the hypercorps wield enormous influence and power—a situation the Venusians disdain. A central body representing the interests of each floating city-state resolves disputes and handles issues that affect Venus as a whole. While hypercorps naturally play an important role in the Venusian economy, their political power is greatly limited compared to the power they enjoyed under the Planetary Consortium. This has led the Morningstar Constellation to be labeled as a more progressive, left-leaning alternative to the cyberdemocratic Planetary Consortium and the more conservative Lunar-Lagrange Alliance.
Most of the members of the Venusian independence movement were also strong advocates of increasing morphological freedom, access to nanotechnology, freedom of expression and information, and government transparency. As a result, these policies became a vital part of the new Morningstar government.

Expanded Freedoms

Most of the founders of the Venusian independence movement were particularly dissatisfied with the fact that on worlds and habitats controlled by either the Planetary Consortium or individual hypercorps, individual freedoms ended when they conflicted with anything that the government or the hypercorps claimed was either a matter of “corporate policy” or “security-related issues.” All too often, these two phrases were invoked to eliminate dissent and to cover up governmental indiscretions. To prevent such problems from occurring on Venus, the authors of the Morningstar constitution did their best to make certain that the government of Venus would be far more open and responsive than the Planetary Consortium. None of the Constellation habitats impose mesh filters or engage in heavy-handed censorship or surveillance.

Morphological Freedom

While morphological freedom is guaranteed by the Planetary Consortium, easy access to various augmentations is not. To remedy this problem, the new Venusian government supports universal healthcare and makes healing vats with the capability to manufacture any safe and peaceful augmentation freely available to anyone with access to the raw materials and templates needed. Uplifts suffer less discrimination and legal restriction within the Constellation, and mercurial morphs and services are more accessible. This has led to an influx in Venus’smercurial population, particularly neo-avians.
Not all is perfect, however. Indentured service is still in practice within the Constellation, and the clanking masses are still omnipresent and suffering from some bias and discrimination. These impoverished synthmorphs are privileged, however, in that many aerostats offer external open-air areas that are considered prime real estate due to their view, but which are populated primarily by people sleeved in robotic shells and a smaller number of biomorphs adapted to breathing the Venusian atmosphere for short periods.

Transparency

Security sensor and spime feeds within Constellation habitats are largely accessible via the public mesh, inviting a stronger participatory panopticon. In addition, all government meetings are recorded live and made available to any Venusian who cares to watch them. Events directly relating to threats to habitat security can be kept secret, but only for a maximum of six months. At the end of this time, complete and unedited records of even the most secret meetings must be made public. The result is a government that is somewhat less efficient but far more open than the Planetary Consortium. It is, however, far more organized and bureaucratic than the free-form anarchy found in much of the outer system.

Sidebar: The Real Power

To: Butch Lee
from: Red Rover
It’s certainly cute how the Morningstar radicals think they've managed to break free from the influence of the hypercorps and their elite undying masters, but let’s face reality, shall we? Do you really think the cannibalistic cabal of influential liches who have their claws sunk into every tangible thing of value in the inner system would allow a valuable asset like Venus to slip out of their control? Try again. The Venusians can’t escape hypercorp influence, they've simply forced some of the capitalists to choose sides on some notable issues. The upper classes have never been a homogeneous group, of course; throughout history they've always had their internal clashes and conflicting agendas. This is simply another manifestation, where the parasites who have the most to gain from aerial terraforming have gained the upper hand on their competitors who would reap more benefits from a full planetary transformation. More to the point, what we’re likely seeing is a massive chess ploy between rival oligarchs, manipulating current events with their massive wealth and web of influences to position themselves better for some conflict they see playing out decades or centuries in the future. The undying rich play for keeps, and they have the patience, lifespan, and capabilities to plot out actions and skirmishes many, many years in advance.
So the question isn’t just who’s pulling the Constellation’s strings, but whose interests are they really serving?

The New Venusian Economy

Many of the changes created by the new Venusian government moved Venus closer to having a new economy rather than the transitional economy found on the worlds ruled by the Planetary Consortium. Currently, the Venusian economy can best be described as halfway between the two. Unlike worlds ruled by the Planetary Consortium, any small personal items, except weapons and items that use or include dangerous components like antimatter or dangerously radioactive materials, can be freely manufactured by anyone with access to the appropriate templates and raw materials.
Under the rules of the Morningstar Constellation, gaining access to all augmentations except weapons is exceedingly easy, as is access to high tech personal items like vacsuits made of smart materials. These rules, however, only apply to augmentations and to personal items up to small size. This limitation is enforced quite easily as the only full-function cornucopia machines (CMs) that are publicly available are desktop units, which can only create small devices. Other than their size, the only restrictions placed on these units is that they are incapable of creating any lethal weapons more dangerous than knives or pellet guns, nor can they produce dangerous chemicals like nerve gas or explosives. These CMs can be personally owned, and public desktop CMs are also freely available to all citizens and visitors. Anyone with the correct templates and sufficient raw material can create any small items they want, aside from these noted restrictions.
Just like in the Planetary Consortium, however, larger items must be purchased with money. This limitation exists to reduce access to dangerous technologies. The aerostats are relatively fragile structures and people freely manufacturing large powered items could accidentally damage their aerostat. The only large CMs available on Venus are identical to those used on worlds controlled by the Planetary Consortium. This setup places Venus in the unique position of being criticized by the Planetary Consortium for being too radical in its freedoms, while simultaneously being criticized by the inhabitants of the outer system for being overly conservative and little different from the Planetary Consortium.

Intellectual Property

One arena where the Constellation differs radically—and sometimes heatedly—from the Consortium is the matter of intellectual property. The Constellation offers far fewer and more limited protections when it comes to copyrights, trademarks, patents, and similar IP protections, and has embraced the technological changes that allow most any good, digital or physical, to be easily copied. As a result, IP protections are limited to a matter of years rather than decades and rights are only granted to the original work, not to remixes, mashups, modifcations, or other derivatives. Rather than focusing on scarcity and anti-piracy measures to make money, many Venusian businesses accept copying and piracy as part of the new paradigm and instead seek to profit from services that can’t be copied, such as immediacy (direct delivery upon release), personalization (fit the individual consumer’s needs), and support services. The prestige and authenticity of name-brand producers is also emphasized, guaranteeing quality and secure goods over untrustworthy replicates. More obviously, almost everything is coupled with advertising, making Venus one of the most advert and spam-ridden environments in the system.
This different approach to IP is not easily swallowed by many of the inner system and Consortium hypercorps. The Constellation initially suffered slightly from the refusal of some hypercorps to do business without more substantial protections, but the market opportunities left by these abdications were quickly seized upon by more adventurous corps. To this day, however, IP issues remain a major diplomatic and trade stumbling block between the Constellation and the Consortium.

Tourism

Tourism remains a cornerstone of the Venusian economy. The aerostats offer experiences of the most beautiful and visually compelling populated environments in the inner system. Almost all aerostats offer various resort and vacation services, particularly to the wealthy hyper-elites. Several are devoted purely to providing any get-away experience desired, from sports to gambling to performances to erotic entertainment and other private and discretionary services. Large entourages of socialites and inner system glitterati often fock here for extended soirées, and various resort aerostats are home to established inner system award ceremonies, conferences, and similar large gatherings. Many hypercorps and rich dynasties from the Planetary Consortium, in fact, maintain private retreats on Constellation aerostats.

The Star Council

In addition to having a constitution that guarantees a significant set of freedoms, each Constellation habitat has the right to form its own government and pass its own laws. The only limitation is that these laws cannot limit any of the rights guaranteed by the Morningstar constitution.
While each habitat operates as a de facto independent city-state, each also sends one representative for every 100,000 inhabitants to a governing body known as the Star Council that meets on Octavia. The Star Council maintains and guarantees the Constellation currency, helps regulate the planetary economy, handles all off-world diplomacy, oversees the aerial terraforming effort, and works to settle disputes between aerostats. Star Council members serve two-year terms and are elected by the entire populace of their aerostat. The current leader of the Star Council is Arisa. She and Halis Sapien, the charismatic mayor of Octavia, were the two leaders of the original Venusian independence movement. Arisa has proven quite adept at weaving together the various interests of the aerostats despite their strong independent streaks and forging common goals. Memetic campaigns launched by various hypercorp and Consortium interests to undermine her authority and competence have failed in the wake of her ability to rally support from various Star Council representatives, not to mention get results.

Goals and Plans

Since the new government took control of Venus, it has been actively encouraging immigration from all across the solar system. Ads promoting Morningstar citizenship emphasize the exotic wonders of the environment, the safety of the aerostats, Venus’s growing prosperity, and the freedoms offered by the new government. Currently, Venus is experiencing moderate immigration from both Luna and Mars. The number of immigrants from the outer system is far smaller, with most being a mixture of researchers interested in Venus and the terraforming effort and wealthy individuals interested in living in a floating city. Also, more than 30,000 infomorph refugees currently indentured to the Planetary Consortium have petitioned to have their indentures purchased by the Morningstar Constellation.
The Morningstar Constellation is also working on expanding trade. The one limitation on the current terraforming effort is that it involves raising the percentage of water vapor in the upper Venusian atmosphere from its current negligible level to at least 2%. Accomplishing this goal requires importing large numbers of comets or ice asteroids and acquiring the necessary amount of ice requires a favorable balance of trade, especially with the outer system. Maintaining the current influx of ice boulders and asteroids is essential to completing the terraforming effort on the current timeline.
The Morningstar Constellation’s political goals are somewhat more complex. The Star Council has close ties with the Planetary Consortium, but the members are also determined to maintain Venusian independence. Shortly after the Constellation formed, representatives from theAutonomist Alliance made overtures to the new Venusian government in the hopes that they would find an ally in the inner system. A series of meetings was held on the independent orbital habitat of Gerlach, but talks swiftly broke down over issues of economics and relations with the Planetary Consortium. While the autonomists and Constellation leaders agree that the Planetary Consortium and the hypercorps have too much power and that they unfairly limit the autonomy of their citizens, Constellation leaders were unwilling to take a more aggressive stance with the Consortium in accordance with autonomist positions. The autonomists also found the Venusians’ unwillingness to spur their economic transition more rapidly and some of the limitations the Constellation placed on personal freedoms to be intolerable.
In vivid contrast, many of the leaders of the Morningstar Constellation have friends and allies among the more progressive members of the Planetary Consortium and see themselves far more as reformers than as the vanguard of a coming inner system revolution. In addition, many influential members of the Constellation are deeply disturbed by the free availability of dangerous weapons and the lack of governmental order found in much of the outer system. In truth, the Star Council is no more interested in seeing Venus become closely tied to the outer system than they are in seeing it become a puppet of the Planetary Consortium. As a result, the outer system autonomists view the Constellation as slightly more reasonable and easy to deal with than the Planetary Consortium, but also recognize that deep ideological differences remain and they are unlikely to maintain a close alliance. The Morningstar government finds itself in the unusual position of effectively being the reformist branch of the Planetary Consortium and of not being fully trusted by the other inner system governments or the autonomists of the outer system.

Sidebar: Foo's News - Indentured Conflict!

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Let’s be realistic! The Planetary Consortium isn’t about to sell any indentures. Why sell a perfectly good slave to help a rival along? Many of these indentures realize that, of course, and so they’re turning to data smugglers and purchasing an illegal darkcast to Venus. The Planetary Consortium is demanding that these infugees be returned, while the infomorphs themselves are claiming asylum. So far, the Morningstar government is honoring these claims and is providing refuge. Good for them! The Consortium is treating this as an affront, which is to be expected. Just wait until they hear what some Morningstar radicals have been instigating! Namely, some Venusians are recommending that the Constellation should actively recruit data smugglers to build an “underground railroad” to help indentured individuals immigrate to Venus. The Consortium would undoubtedly treat this as a major diplomatic incident, so I don’t see it happening—but who’s to say that some enterprising radicals haven’t already started? Rumors have abounded for years of similar autonomous darkcasters who funnel infugees to the outer system, but those are ideologically-driven. Certainly some criminal networks wouldn’t mind making some cred on the side by smuggling infomorphs to ethically-ambiguous Venusian hypercorps that are more than happy to take on indentures—especially indentures who will accept weaker contracts in exchange for eventual Constellation citizenship? Now that’s progress!

Political Dissent

While the Morningstar Constellation does its best to present a uniifed front to the Planetary Consortium and the rest of the solar system, in reality, there is significant dissent on Venus. A small but vocal faction of the original independence movement had close ties with an expansionist faction on Extropia and wanted to transform Venus into a new economy world allied with the outer system. This faction lost badly during the formation of the Morningstar Constellation, and there is significant resentment among its members.

The VTP and Radicals

Some of these radicals have organized themselves under the aegis of the Venusian Transformation Party (VTP). On the surface this group works to elect members to the Star Council to steer the Constellation in a more left-wing direction, though their success has been limited. Members also organize discussion forums, lobby for greater freedoms, advocate and post essays for more radical politics, and keep lines of communication open with Extropia, Titan, and other autonomist factions. It is likely that some VTP members or supporters work in secret, holding positions in the Morningstar government where they can monitor affairs, acquire useful information, and clandestinely support the VTP’s interests. Some marginalized VTP supporters—as well various anarchists and Venusian radicals who disparage the VTP’s attempts to create change from within—engage in minor forms of sabotage such as providing intel to outer system interests, disrupting relations between the Constellation and Planetary Consortium, or even conducting data attacks and similar hostile measures to weaken the government and instigate practical and economic problems to spur civil discontent. Recently, for example, taped conversations between several Consortium hypercorp reps and a prominent Morningstar financial administrator were leaked to the public mesh, creating a scandal that damaged the formulation of a treaty that would have been quite favorable to Consortium interests.

The Solid Ground Initiative

On the other side of the political spectrum, a small but vocal minority called the Solid Ground Initiative support the original plan to transform Venus into a near duplicate of Earth. This position is largely a cover for a wider agenda which opposes Venusian independence and wants to return the planet to the Planetary Consortium. Many consider this group to be pawns or dupes of various Consortium interests, though it does have supporters who legitimately favor the Consortium’s terraforming plan and who feel the aerostats are missing opportunities by not remaining part of the Consortium, such as having a larger role in extrasolar colonization. On the other hand, the Initiative receives major support from various hypercorps who hoped to play a large role in the initial planned terraforming effort. Several minor acts of obstruction and sabotage of Aerial Terraforming Initiative projects have been attributed to Solid Ground supporters. This group has also been linked to efforts to worsen and disparage relations between the Consortium and outer system interests, likely in the hope that if the Venusian government is forced to pay significantly higher prices for iceteroids, the terraforming effort could slow down and thus turn public opinion against it.

Sidebar: Military Tensions

The developing Cold War between the Morningstar Constellation and the Planetary Consortium deserves special attention from Firewall—particularly in regards to the Venusian military escalation. Though it is only natural for the new Venusian government to seek to protect itself from outside aggression, the Planetary Consortium has taken an aggrieved stance at the slightest hint of a military build-up. While there has been some private and public fretting about large-scale weapon stockpiles and WMDs, the Consortium has threatened political and economic sanctions should the Constellation adopt any sort of sophisticated orbital defense system or defense feet. This has not stopped the Star Council from negotiating with Extropian defense companies for weapons platforms and other robotic defenses, however, and several Constellation aerostats and habitats have received substantial defensive upgrades. More worrisome, however, are accounts of an alleged “scorched Earth” policy some aerostats are rumored to have in place, to discourage any occupation attempts by the Consortium or other powers by threatened self-destruction. While this might deter a physical invasion (a Venus without aerostats is much less valuable), the potential for these destructive measures to be exploited by outside agents to catastrophic effect cannot be ignored.

The Aerostats

There are currently 19 aerostats in the Venusian clouds, with a total population of slightly more than 5 million. Two additional aerostats are currently under construction, one of which is nearing completion and is already partially inhabited. Though each aerostat is different in design and culture, there are also many similarities between them.

Design and Function

All of the aerostats are naturally mobile. Although the air at the surface is nearly motionless, in the upper Venusian atmosphere, winds typically range from 150 to 500 kph, and the cities typically move with the winds. The aerostats are also equipped with powerful ionic jets that allow them to maneuver in the atmosphere. Cities can move where they will or remain stationary during all but the most powerful winds. The ability to remain stationary is essential for lowering tethers to the surface to facilitate mining; however, severe storms sometimes force aerostats to disconnect tethers to the surface.
Whereas space habitats and cities built on airless worlds are exceedingly sturdy and contain a multitude of heavy airtight bulkheads made from hardened polymers, metallic glass, or advanced composites, on Venus, the outside atmosphere is at the same pressure as the air inside the aerostats. As a result, even airtight bulkheads can be relatively light. Interior walls are commonly composed of lightweight materials such as aerogels, diamond, and metallic foam, the latter of which also helps to preserve privacy and dampen sound.
Because breathable air is signifcantly lighter than the native Venusian atmosphere, the more air inside of an aerostat, the better it floats. For this reason, aerostat interiors are airy and open with high ceilings, typically at least three meters high in shops, dwellings, and other interior spaces, and between five and ten meters high in large public spaces. To further reduce weight and increase buoyancy, most aerostats feature numerous large and impressive open areas, particularly terraced courtyards and similar malls, galleries, and plazas. Internally, many aerostats are designed as sets of clusters, where vertical rings, squares, or hexagons of dwellings, shops, entertainment facilities, and other relatively public areas surround large plazas between 25 and 100 meters across, with ceilings at least 10 meters high and often much taller. In between these clusters are manufacturing facilities, life support, and other regions that only need to be accessed by specially trained personnel. Similarly, the uppermost floors of most aerostats are often studded with domed plazas with ceilings at least 20 meters high, as well as the occasional outdoor open-air plaza for use by synthmorphs and Venusian-adapted morphs.
These plazas are the center of an aerostat’s public life. Here, public festivals, concerts, plays, AR games, parties, and major sporting events are held. Plazas may also be rented by groups for private events. There is even a troupe of highly-modified acrobats and actors who travel between the aerostats offering exotic performances specifically designed for these plazas. The domed ceilings and walls of most plazas can also be used as part of the entertainment—they can be made perfectly transparent so that residents can see the swirling clouds outside or made opaque and used as multimedia screens displaying everything from artistic effects to views of other worlds.
While the nature of their environment forces the aerostats to rely upon resources from both the surface and off-world, each floating city contains all of the manufacturing facilities it requires to maintain all basic necessities, as well as stores of most vital materials. As a result, every aerostat has the capability to survive without aid from any of its fellows for an extended period.

Aerostats

Other Aerostats

The other 15 inhabited aerostats vary in culture, form, and purpose. One of the major freedoms granted by the Morningstar Constellation is the right of every aerostat to govern its internal affairs. While all of the Constellation aerostats must grant their citizens the rights guaranteed by the Morningstar Constitution, beyond those, the aerostats are free to create their own forms of government and their own rules governing their internal economy. After years of rule by the Planetary Consortium, the Venusian aerostats have suddenly become a vast political and economic laboratory. While most Constellation aerostats are similar to Octavia, with a democratically-elected government and a mixture of reputation and monetary economy, many other options can also be found on Venus. For example, the government of Machu Picchu is randomly rotated between competent citizens, with anyone opting in having a chance to become one of the aerostat’s managers. The habitat of Selenis is a nanosocialist experiment, with all resources held in common by its citizens. Beyond those necessities required to maintain a comfortable existence, any citizen of Selenis may take as much of the remaining resources as they want, if they can convince enough other citizens to agree to their proposed use. The greater the amount of resources needed, the greater the number of citizens who must agree. Shukra, run by a congress half-elected and half-appointed by local hypercorps, is notable as one of the system’s hot spots for nanofab and software design, home to dozens of up-and-coming programming studios as well as gaming companies producing some of the most popular virtual worlds. In fact, some refer to it as “Silicon Cloud.”
Etemenanki is notable as the primary aerostat still holding allegiance to the Planetary Consortium (the other being Omnicorp’s Deep Reach), and is built in a reverse ziggurat style, with the outer edge of each tier featuring transparent outer walls and floors. Tall spires rising from the top serve as private resorts for several prominent hyperelite dynasties.

Secret Aerostats

According to Firewall’s data analysts, there is defnitely one, and likely two, unregistered and presumably criminal aerostats in the Venusian atmosphere. Hiding such locations in the depths of the Venusian clouds is relatively simple. At and below 45 kilometers in altitude, dense sulfuric acid clouds block most of the light, and the periodic lightning discharges between the clouds combined with the density of the atmosphere and the relatively high temperatures makes most long-distance sensors almost useless. Like other equally secret bases throughout the solar system, most personnel presumably enter and leave these bases via egocasting. A careful analysis of Venusian records indicates that the initial raw materials for the station or stations came from automated orbital materials shipments that were reported as lost and which were presumed to have crashed on the Venusian surface. Additional raw materials were likely obtained from surface mining operations performed at the secret base. The rate of automated freight carriers that are lost or have temporary problems indicates that the station or stations also still transfer goods to and from them using hacked or hijacked freight carriers.

Orbital Stations

Venusian orbit is the meeting place between the Morningstar Constellation and the Planetary Consortium. Currently 350,000 transhumans live in orbit around Venus. Most of these stations are part of the Morningstar Constellation, but slightly more than 100,000 of the transhumans living in Venus orbit are still citizens of the Planetary Consortium. These orbital stations are home to a number of advanced research labs as well as the offices and production facilities for hundreds of hypercorps.

Other Venusian Orbital Stations

Because Venus is far less populous than Luna or Mars, and any potentially dangerous tech that escapes from an orbiting research station is almost certain to fall to the surface, where the extreme temperatures and pressures will destroy it, many hypercorps belonging to or allied with the Planetary Consortium are far more willing to conduct somewhat dangerous research here. While all such agreements were re-negotiated after the formation of the Morningstar Constellation, most of these research station bases are still being used by the same hypercorps, for the same purposes as before. Since laws governing many technologies are slightly more liberal under Venus’s new government, other hypercorps are applying for permission to construct new stations in Venusian orbit.

Venusian Transportation

The aerostats both drift in the winds and move using their own ionic jets. Aerostats are only stationary when tethered to the surface. These floating cities are on average between 100 and 10,000 kilometers apart. Every aerostat has a small dock for orbital landers. Almost all transport between the surface and the aerostats uses elevators moving on heavy and exceptionally durable cables stretching between the bottom of one of the aerostats and the mining bases below them. The 55-kilometer journey up or down one of these cables requires approximately two hours. In emergencies, heavily armored and shielded metallic hydrogen rockets can make the same journey in less than 20 minutes. However, all of these rockets must be stored on the aerostats, since long-term storage of metallic hydrogen on the Venusian surface is impossible.
There are three common forms of travel between the aerostats. The fastest method of transport on Venus is jet aircraft, which consist of everything from small and often luxurious private jets to large jets carrying cargo and passengers. Traveling at speeds between 800 and 2,500 kph, passengers can travel between distant aerostats in no more than a few hours.
Since the direction of Venusian wind currents varies by altitude, more exotic travel options are possible. Several small transport companies have constructed airships—dirigibles that travel at speeds between 100 and 300 kph by combining their engines with favorable winds. These fusion-powered electric airships are between 60 and 250 meters long and carry up to 40 tons of cargo. They are an exceptionally economical method of transport for cargo and passengers who are not in a hurry. Most airships are fully automated vessels that carry raw materials from mining aerostats to the other habitats. More recently, however, the transport company Venus Flies has begun offering luxury passenger airship service. These journeys take between a few hours and four or five days and every passenger is guaranteed a small but luxurious cabin and high quality meals. Airship travel is becoming an increasingly popular way to take a vacation and many Venusians who have both the time and money to indulge themselves have taken a Venus Flies passenger airship journey.
The most whimsical method of Venusian transport is also the slowest: balloons. Because breathable air is considerably lighter than the Venusian atmosphere, creating balloons that can safely fly on Venus is exceptionally easy. The Venusian air currents are also relatively well-mapped and stable, so it is possible find favorable winds simply by going up or down two or three kilometers. Designed to operate at altitudes of between 51 and 59 kilometers, the typical Venusian balloon is a sphere 25 meters in diameter capable of carrying up to 10 passengers with minimal luggage. These balloons ascend and descend by heating and cooling the breathable air inside the balloon. Large sections of the balloon are left transparent to allow the passengers an excellent view of the colorful atmosphere. These balloons are also fitted with airlocks and an exterior observation platform, where passengers wearing vacuum suits or air masks can experience the quiet of the Venusian atmosphere far from any settlement. All of these balloons are also fitted with small emergency engines designed to help keep them aloft and propel them at speeds of up to 100 kph. They typically move at speeds between 50 and 100 kph, however, simply by moving with the winds available at different altitudes. These balloons are too lightly built to be particularly luxurious, but are very popular with both tourists and the wealthy. They are also occasionally used as locations for secret meetings for which the participants would prefer to remain completely unobserved.

The Rotovator Project

One of the Morningstar Constellation’s newest projects is the construction of an unusual orbital launch system. Because Venus rotates so slowly, conventional space elevators are impossible, since they must be constructed in a geosynchronous orbit. To make Venus a center for commerce and tourism, the current government wishes to make getting to and from orbit as easy and as inexpensive as possible. To accomplish this, they are using an idea that is more than a century old, but which never needed to be used before. Instead of a space elevator, they are constructing a rotovator—a spinning cable 12,000 kilometers long with a center orbiting 6,058 kilometers above the surface. This cable spins one and a half revolutions for every orbit, but it spins in the opposite direction of its orbit. Three times in each of its four-hour orbits, one of the ends of this cable swings down into the Venusian atmosphere slightly above the altitude of the aerostats. The cable’s orbit and rotation cancel each other so that the velocity of the cable’s tip when it reaches the clouds 58 kilometers above Venus’s surface is only 30 kph, allowing the rotovator to smoothly and safely collect and deliver cargo and passengers from one of the three transport platforms floating in the upper Venusian atmosphere. The rotovator is currently under construction. A pair of massive nanofabricators located on the central asteroid that forms the rotovator’s hub produce 10 kilometers of high-strength cable every day. At the current rate of progress, the rotovator should be completed and ready for operation within one Venusian year. The luxury resorts on Aphrodite Prime are already accepting reservations for the week-long festival they will hold to celebrate the rotovator’s completion.

Sidebar: Ghost Zeppelin

Transcript excerpted from interview with Twek Bofung, rescued from a survival balloon after 18 days adrift
Interviewer: What was the name of your ship again?
Bofung: It was the Trump Card, registered to Venus Flies. I was the Head Concierge, in charge of passenger comfort and relations.
Interviewer: That dirigible was reported missing over two weeks ago.
Bofung: I know, I was on it!
Interviewer: Tell us what happened.
Bofung: We were en route to Parvarti when we picked up a weak distress signal. We were actually ahead of schedule, so the Captain decided to investigate. It was coming from another zeppelin.
Interviewer: Do you know the name of this craft?
Bofung: No, that was the weird thing. It wasn’t broadcasting ID info, and sensor scans couldn’t pinpoint enough identifying features to nail down the registration. There was some worry that they were a smuggler ship, intentionally stripped of ID. Our engineer thought they may have been configured for stealth operations.
Interviewer: But the captain approached anyway?
Bofung: Well, they were broadcasting an automated distress, no one was responding, and they were definitely losing altitude and drifting towards the storm boundary. So we latched onto it, and the Captain took two others to investi- gate. They didn’t come back.
Interviewer: How long were they gone for?
Bofung: We lost contact about 2 hours in. They hadn’t found anyone, but something was spooking them. They wouldn’t tell us what. I almost got the impression that they didn’t want to come back. They told us not to open the airlock again without explicit consent from all three of them. We were debating what to do about it when … when the bloodshed started.
Interviewer: Bloodshed?
Bofung: There were screams from the passenger lounge. One of the guests had found a body. It was so mutilated, at first we couldn’t tell who it was. There was blood everywhere. So much blood. It wasn’t until Tito slipped on the face—the peeled-off face—that we realized it was the Captain.
Interviewer: Wasn’t he on the other ship?
Bofung: We thought so. The airlock hadn’t been open—at least, that we could tell. The sensors in the passenger lounge didn’t have anything to show either. We didn’t have much time to figure this out, because one by one, the others started disappearing or turning up dead too.
Interviewer: Everyone?
Bofung: I—I don’t know. Naaz and I, we decided not to stay. We were too scared. We went for the emergency balloons. One minute she was next to me … then … then she was gone.

Living on Venus

Aside from its progressive culture, its allegiance to aerial aesthetics, and its spirit of socio-political experimentation, life on Venus is markedly different from other worlds and habitats in several key ways.

Isolation and Independence

Each aerostat is an island unto itself, with its own distinct culture—much like remote habitats in space. Despite being linked with a contiguous mesh, and the inevitable cross-fertilization of memes and cultural trends via various media channels, many Venusians rarely stray from their home aerostats and take pride in their floating city’s particular identity. This spirit of independence is in fact infused throughout Venusian culture, even among the Constellation habitats, who cooperate in key ways but otherwise seek to walk their own unique and independent paths. This has led to a bit of friendly rivalry between some aerostats, though this is just as often expressed in terms of racing towards new research breakthroughs or unveiling new public artworks rather than traditional competitive modes like sports or media production.

Venusian Wealth

Like on Mars, living space on Venus is relatively inexpensive—creating more does not involve enlarging a rotating habitat or digging caverns into the rock of some moon or asteroid. Instead, all someone needs to do is build more relatively lightweight, air-tight rooms. As a result, the emphasis on possessing large dwellings and on having restaurants, private clubs, and other facilities that are patronized by the wealthy and powerful be especially spacious is largely absent on Venus. Instead, the primary focus of Venusian luxury is possessing large goods. Because every kilogram of furnishings must be imported from off-world or mined on Venus’s hellish surface, the common Venusian aesthetic is focused on owning elegant, lightweight, and highly functional art, furniture, appliances, and equipment. The rich, however, have the luxury of owning goods that are larger or more abundant. Hyper-elite Venusians who wish to show of their wealth do so by owning and displaying imported statues and other large relics of Earth or hand-made post-Fall copies of these same relics.

Venusian Poverty

Like most of the inner system, the Venusian poor primarily consist of infomorph refugees and poor transhumans forced to inhabit case synthmorphs. The infomorphs here typically work dull and repetitive jobs that were performed by high end AGIs before the Fall, just like everywhere else. On Venus, these jobs include mining, monitoring ore processing equipment and other industrial machinery, and checking the interiors and exteriors of the aerostats for flaws and damage that hasn't shown up on their embedded sensors. The clanking masses, meanwhile, work the typical labor and service-sector jobs, particularly aerostat construction and repair, mining ops, transportation services, and terraforming. Many of these poor synthmorphs live in sections of habitats that are open to the Venusian atmosphere and lack all amenities other than electricity, data access, and lighting. However, the same air that the biomorphs and pods breathe also serves to keep the aerostats aloft, and aerostats require considerably fewer materials to create than any vacuum habitat. On Venus, the length of time an indenture must work in order to purchase a cheap pod or biomorph and a place to live is typically less than a year.

Sidebar: Venusian Holidays

One of the universal Venusian holidays is Fall Day: a day honoring Earth and those who permanently died during the Fall, held on April 26th, on the old Earth calendar. This is the day that the UN officially decided to begin the evacuation of Earth. During Fall Day, people from each aerostat gather early on in the plazas, which each project a high resolution video or augmented reality environment of an impressive and memorable location that once existed on Earth. After viewing these scenes, people spend time with the friends and families. More recently, residents also gather for Morningstar Day, the day that Venus officially became and independent world. On Morningstar Day, residents assemble in the upper plazas, the ceiling is made transparent, and the residents watch vast fireworks displays. Morningstar Day is a joyous and somewhat debauched holiday, with celebrants enjoying various intoxicants. Since the Venusian atmosphere rotates relatively slowly and aerostats that remain tethered to the surface rotate even slower, for some aerostats Morningstar Day occurs during the Venusian day. Technicians have created specially colored fireworks that are visible even in the dim Venusian daylight. However, most Constellation aerostats make an effort to be on the planet’s night side during Morningstar Day so they can have the best possible view of their fireworks display.

Sidebar: Black Market Opportunities

To: Etcher
from: The Russian < verification failure>
You asked about jobs on Venus. Yeah, there’s no shortage of black-market career opportunities. With all of the political back-and-forth on Venus, there’s a lack of attention paid to everyday concerns like public safety and law enforcement. Despite the liberal attitudes here, there is still a disparity between the rich and poor and enough regulated goods to create a demand for illicit markets. This makes Venus a hotbed of criminal activity. Currently, a number of syndicates are waging a low-intensity confict over control of the poorest habitats, not to mention the lucrative cut to be had off the tourists. While Venus may be a premier stop in the inner system, it still produces very little on its own, so there is a booming business in illegal substances. All of the ongoing political intrigue also means there is plenty of money to be had in secrets, whether you’re blackmailing socialites for their indiscretions, trading insider corporate info, or selling Constellation secrets to the Consortium.
Control of Venus’s underworld is still very much up in the air, with elements of both the Night Cartel and Nine Lives taking the majority of the stake. Pax Familae is a major player, too, of course, though she seems to intentionally limit her operations here, perhaps because it’s a bit too close to home (her private habitat, Ambelina, is in Venusian orbit). It’s worth noting that a number of independents gained prominence by supporting Morningstar’s bid for separation a few years ago and have used this influence to carve out their own domains. Foremost among these is Blackvein, an uplifted raven who rose in the Night Cartel ranks before selling out his bosses and going solo. He deals in a wide variety of illicit activities but is probably the foremost information broker and blackmailer on Venus right now. He operates out of Parvarti, where he occupies a heavily fortified residential tower. Due to existing inner system prejudices, Blackvein will often pose as a synthmorph that he controls via puppet sock.
So if you’re willing to take a side, there’s work to be had, but be careful. The situation is still up for grabs and you can’t be sure whoever wins isn't gonna be too happy with anyone who played for the losing team.

Attractions

Two relatively small but important sources of income for Venus are tourism and sales of XP. As what is arguably the most unusual inhabited world in the solar system, many people are willing to pay to either experience this exotic environment directly or to upload XP from those who have the means to do so. Balloon rides are popular, as are explorations of the depths of the Venusian atmosphere. Heavily reinforced vessels can travel as low as 30 kilometers above the surface. Renting a surface morph is also popular, though all but the most daring tourists teleoperate the shell from the safety of one of the aerostats. In addition, there are a few utterly unique attractions available on Venus.

Cloud Diving

Venus offers one of the most spectacular sports in the entire solar system—cloud diving. Divers take suborbital transports to an altitude of 80 kilometers and don both a vacsuit and a parachute. The cloud diver then jumps out of the transport and falls through the atmosphere. What happens next depends upon the wishes of the diver.
For the less daring cloud divers, Octaviahas constructed a large floating mesh net three kilometers from the aerostat. Supported by gas bags at its corners, the net is a square 500 meters on a side. Cloud divers need merely slow themselves to a velocity of 25 kph using a parachute and they can safely land in this net and radio a transport in Octavia to come and pick them up. Software included in every cloud diving suit and parachute allows the suit to automatically steer the parachute so that the diver reliably lands in the net.
More daring cloud divers often wish to experience the deeper portions of the Venusian atmosphere. The suits used for cloud diving remain safe up to an altitude of 35 kilometers. The vast majority of cloud divers make certain to end their dives at an altitude of 40 kilometers, where the air pressure is three and a half times that of Earth and the temperature is almost 140 C. Octavia also maintains another cloud-diving net at an altitude of 40 kilometers. Alternately, exceedingly wealthy cloud divers can instead opt for the thrill of having an aircraft deploy a net behind it and catch them in mid-air.
The most daring cloud divers do not use parachutes. They instead rely upon specially designed wingsuits—vacsuits with flexible panels between the legs and between the arms and legs. These suits slow the diver considerably less than a parachute, but also provide them with significantly greater maneuverability. In the air pressure found at the altitude of the aerostats, it is impossible to reach a safe landing velocity using a wingsuit, but at an altitude of 40 kilometers, the higher air pressure slows a diver using a wingsuit, reducing their velocity to a safe 25 kph.
Wealthy individuals from across the solar system compete in periodic cloud diving competitions, which are major media events on Venus. Likewise, XP clips made by skilled cloud divers are exceptionally popular. Cloud diving is also featured in a number of murder mystery novels and dramas, since only minor sabotage is needed to turn a cloud dive into a fatal plummet where both the person and their cortical stack are completely destroyed. In actuality, disabling the various monitoring systems in such a way that a cloud diver would actually think that a damaged suit and parachute was safe to use is exceptionally difficult. There have been more than a dozen attempts to kill someone using a sabotaged cloud diving suit in the last four years. Only one was successful; all of the others were discovered before the individual made
the dive.

Aerial Fantasies

A recent fad among the ultra-wealthy has been to travel to Aphrodite Prime, rent Venus glider morphs adapted to the huge Aphrodite Aviary, and act out exotic augmented reality entertainments. In the most common of these AR games, the participants act as the crew of fantastic flying sailing ships flled with air pirates and the heroic naval officers who hunt them. XP of these adventures are also very popular. The revenues from the rental of the Aphrodite Aviary help fund further bioengineering. Several design firms on Aphrodite Prime have gained considerable fame by designing and building the flying ships used in these AR games.

Venusian Life Forms

Venus is home to a small amount of native life. In the clouds between 48 and 60 kilometers above the surface are small clusters of foating Venusian proto-bacteria. Preliminary evidence has revealed that these life forms are related to both Earth and Martian life. These protobacteria provide further support for the theory that more than three billion years ago, both Earth and Venus were seeded with life when meteor and cometary impacts on Mars carried rocks bearing primitive Martian bacteria into space and a few of these rocks landed on both Earth and Venus.
This native Venusian life is now merely an interesting laboratory curiosity and a source for useful genetic diversity. It simply does not compare to the large and complex Venusian ecology that is currently being created in the laboratories of Gerlach, Cythera, and Aphrodite Prime.
The current goal of the Morningstar Constellation is to create a rich and diverse aerial ecology to go along with their plans to give the Venusian upper atmosphere substantial oxygen content and a small but noticeable amount of water vapor. Air plankton, the genehackers’ first major success, has already been released into the wild. Based on plankton from Earthly oceans and incorporating some genetic material from the native Venusian protobacteria, small clouds of air plankton can now be found over much of Venus. Nourished by sunlight and the various compounds in the Venusian atmosphere, these organisms keep themselves aloft by storing oxygen in small bladders. These organisms also release oxygen into the air, aiding the Aerial Terraforming Initiative and providing food for larger and more complex Venusian life forms. The air plankton depends upon water vapor to survive and so grows more rapidly as the work on Frostfire station gradually increases the amount of water vapor in the upper atmosphere.
Within the past three years, genehackers have produced several more complex life-forms that are similarly adapted for life in the Venusian clouds. Because oxygen levels are still extremely low and are unlikely to rise significantly for several decades, all of these creatures are photosynthetic. The most abundant are jelly-floats, fimsy balloon-like jellyfsh creatures that consist of oxygen gas bags up to a meter across, below which hang slender tendrils they use to feed on the larger forms of air plankton. Jelly-floats are just now being seeded within air plankton populations, so it is too early gauge their success. Even larger and more active are the delicate flying octopi, which obtain their lift from gas bags up to 3 meters across and use jets of compressed Venusian air to propel themselves at speeds of up to 20 kph. These creatures are designed to feed on the jelly-floats and, when released, will be the top predators of the Venusian ecosystem. Genehackers have also created other more active creatures, including muscular fliers like the predatory cloud mantas. These active life-forms require an oxygen atmosphere, however, and so can only be found in the terraforming menagerie on Aphrodite Prime.

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