Cantilever Station was the largest wholly-artificial space stations ever constructed in the known worlds, rivaling some of the space works of the Gudersnipe Foundation. It was best known for a famous battle during the Corporate Wars. Built by the Mabach Consortium, in what would later be called the Mabach System, the station was an important hub of commerce throughout the region, and dominated trade lines stretching for thousands of light years. It later became a much-loved tourist attraction.
- 1 Construction
- 2 Battle of Cantilever Station
- 3 Later Years
- 4 Final Abandonment
- 5 Resurgence
Cantilever Station began as a simple economic necessity. The Mabach Consortium had gained total control of the planet Mabach Prime as well as the bulk of the Mabach System(only Miristead, the second planet in the system, had a civilian-controlled government). The station was first conceived as a cargo and transit hub. The corporations had always seen the economic advantage of using artificial space stations(the use of selective anti-gravity fields made moving cargo much easier) and had been building them in huge numbers.
Initially, Cantilever was conceived as another in a long time of such stations, initial plans indicated a larger scale. However, then CEO Derrick Paxton felt that Mabach needed a more dramatic show of it's wealth and capabilities. Paxton had risen to power within the Roello Sub Corp., a division of Mabach that had a long history of space station construction. He decided to give his engineers a real challenge, and declared that Catilever would be full self-sufficient with a record-breaking one hundred million full-time residents. Everyone onboard would drink filtered water, breath recycled air, and live off food grown on the station.
There were economic factors as well. With trade projected to skyrocket throughout the region, the Mabach System was staged to become the most important hub of commerce for thousands of light years. It would need to be big. Bigger than projected. Bigger than imagined.
It could not, however, house a hundred million people in anything approaching relative comfort. As Paxton's engineers soon explained to him, it was an issue of atmospheric loss. Even the best-sealed space habitats still suffer some leakage; and a space station covered in airlocks and hangers would loose a lot more. To keep enough air on hand for that many people, on a station of that size, they would need either an inexhaustible local source or constant and extremely costly imports. Thus, Cantilever was quietly scaled back to a more reasonable(but still record-shattering) ten million, with capacity for a total of twelve.
Construction began in A.Y. 4109, with am ambitious deadline of ten years to completion. This was not remotely reached, but parts of the station were fit for habitation, and by 4119 it did have 4,000 non-constructor residents.
Building very large space stations had always presented a serious challenge. The previous record holder, Station FUS-944(built in a system which had no habitable planets) had been an abject failure. Miles-long spacecraft were plenty common; so any station would need to be tens of miles long. Building such a station to the same heavy tolerances as ships would in
Battle of Cantilever Station
By A.Y 4707, Cantilever Station was in a very despicable state. Only about ten percent of the total area was still habitable, and maintaining it had become impossible. Its proximity to Mabach Prime still assured it great importance, so the Consortium was putting in significant efforts to keep the place operational.
While Cantilever's orbit was mostly stable, about once every fifty years it encountered a tricky gravitational interaction between the fifth and sixth planets. In the past this had been corrected by the station's artificial gravity, but with the huge drain on resources fighting the Coporate Wars, the Consortium had been unable to complete the necessary repairs. Without the correction, Cantilever risks colliding with Mabach Prime, an inhabited world with roughly eight billion residents (all employees of the Mabach Consortium).
Mabach Consortium was thus forced to bring the bulk of its fleet to the Mabach System to engage in a gravity tractor operation and correct the station's orbit. Along with them, they were joined by ships from Subtria, Kongo Gumi, and Mikaa Combine, which had gathered to defend the delicate operation. The newly christened KPMM saw the well-publicized event as an opportunity to strike a single, decisive blow.
KPMM Attack Force
KPMM prepared for the attack by refitting as many of their outdated and surplus warships as possible, and moving these into strategic zones where a security presence was more important than actual fighting strength. They then gathered over two thousand ships for the assault on Mabach. The plan, which would not be made public until after the war, was to attempt nothing less than the complete and utter annihilation of Mabach Prime by disrupting the gravity tractor maneuver and causing the station to fall on the planet. If the operation failed, the fleet was also armed with tens of thousands of N1.5 warheads, which would be used in an act of corporate genocide.
In addition to the KPMM ships, a secret alliance had been made with Beaver Coalition granting them exclusive mineral rights to the Mabach and surrounding star systems in exchange for participating in the attack. This remained secret even to the Mabach Consortium. The Beavers brought five hundred additional warships to the fight, though these were smaller and less well-armed than KPMM or Mabach's ships. However, as they planned to attack on an entirely unexpected axis, they felt the advantage would be theirs.
Unannounced to KPMM, Mabach was aware both of the impending attack and of the plans to disrupt the tractor operation, and prepared a powerful in-depth defense. KPMM had more ships, but Mabach's were better. They had additionally developed space mines and orbital weapons platforms, which they were able to deploy in huge numbers. While the new KPMM could bring as many as 2,000 ships to the battle, they were confident that the 750-ship strong force assembled, backed by 400 orbital platforms, 20 battle stations, and a billion mines, would be enough to hold the line.
Mabach had anticipated KPMM's attack down to the hour. The gravity tractor operation on the space station was set to last seventy-two hours, the final twelve of which were the most important. Since the dates and times for this event were public knowledge, Mabach rightfully reasoned that KPMM would launch its offensive at the beginning of that twelve-hour window. As speculated, H-hour began within minutes of the reasoned time. The first wave of ships dropped out of FTL directly into a minefield. Drop coordinates for a dozen of the battle groups had been gained through espionage, and allowed the ships to be destroyed immediately upon arrival with no chance to raise shields or warn the ships behind them.
However, KPMM had anticipated a strong defense, and had commmitted the bulk of its fleet--especially its nearly invincible capitol fleet--to a direct assault. The much larger, slower battle ships left FTL well outside Mabach's defensive rings, and despite heavy resistance, were able to push forward. At H+5 hours, KPMM ships breached the second defensive line and attached the sixth planet.
At H+6 hours, the Beaver Collective arrived, from the opposite end of the solar system. Mabach's lines were weakest here, the Beavers easily broke through and began dropping dirty bombs (containing depleted radioactive elements) on the heavily populated second planet (then on the far side of the sun from the Mabach Prime). The second planet, called Miristead, was not actually owned by the corporations, and had been an independent government before the war began, though was under de-facto corporate rule by then. Five hundred million civilians died in or the in the immediate aftermath of the assault.
With Miristead attacked, Mabach was forced to pull ships off the line for a desperate defense, which in turn allowed KPMM to break through the lines and clear a path for the assault on the tractor operation. While most of Mabach's warships were involved in this, any disruption in the operation (such as ships breaking off to fight) would lead to the destruction of Mabach Prime.
At H+11 hours the the first tractor ships were forced to break off and mount a defense. The operation was still four hours from completion, so the line only had to be held for so long. Mabach's CEO John Powers (who directed the defense) would later comment that "A mere sixty minutes stood between us and the largest mass-death in history".
Peace Keepers Arrive
At H+11 hours, with 1 hour remaining on the tractor operation, both sides' high commands detected a new group of signals dropping out of FTL. The fleet that arrived was comprised principally of Crimson Blade warships, but was accompanied by Alliance regulars, Runarins, and vessels from over a hundred Alliance member worlds. The MK'Harens also contributed six battle groups, but despite revisionist claims, none engaged directly in combat.
The Crimson Blade warships immediately took up a position between advancing KPMM forces and the tractor operations. The Alliance, meanwhile, was spread through much of the field. Along with the ships were an inordinate number of communication and control vessels, which began broadcasting stand-down orders on all frequencies. The message was simple: any corporate ship that did not immediately power down its weapons would be subject to the full force of the Alliance. While the Alliance ships themselves were not on their own a serious threat, the presence of Foundation-built super-capitols gave the words significant strength.
Despite the warnings, KPMM pressed the attack, and were able to bring a crushing blow to the tractor operation. This was only accomplished by several score KPMM destroyers and cutters making suicide runs against the Mabach cruisers pulling the station. For their effort, the Crimson Blade destroyed most of the KPMM ships. Though in the aftermath it was claimed they were merely "caught in the crossfire", over two hundred Mabach cruisers were also destroyed by the Crimson Blade. These were ships, upon the failure of the tractor operation, set out to take revenge - in defiance of the stand-down order. The directives had been very clear: their Coalition was on no one 'side', but were there to put a stop to the fighting.
With the gravity tractor operation interrupted, Cantilever Station was left on a collision course with Mabach Prime. Some ships broke off to attempt rescue of civilians, others attacked KPMM ships in retribution, and some even turned their weapons directly on the Crimson Blade. The blade fought off any attackers and began broadcasting clearance orders, even using their super-capitols as "tacklers" to knock ornery ships out of the way.
At H+13 hours, the Bladers completed clearing a swath of the battlefield in time for the arrival of a WorldCraft Terraforming ship. Larger than the station itself, the ship set a tractor beam and towed Cantilever into the outer solar system. The station was set on a fast, eccentric orbit, ensuring it would not again become a danger to the inhabited inner planets.
The battle at Cantilever lasted for 76 hours and ended with a full-scale planetary invasion of Mabach Prime. The senior leadership of the Consortium managed to escape shortly after the station was taken under tow, having kept a small force of reserve ships planet side exactly for this purpose. This allowed the war to continue for another two years, while Mabach Prime was eventually subjugated fully by the Gudersnipe Foundation.
Cantilever had never been fully evacuated, and in fact had about 400,000 residents onboard during the hasty move. It was visited by ships from the subsequent relief fleets, and Foundation-supplied experts managed to get most of the major systems back up and running. The remaining inhabitants established a free and democratic government, and Cantilever was declared a sovereign state.
The new orbit, however, coupled with battle damage, had made the station much more difficult to maintain. Within a year of the end of the corporate wars, the population dropped by half. As trade resumed, the inhabitants were eager to resume their place as a central hub, but soon discovered it was not to be. Most trade was still going through the inner solar system. Cantilever's role as a trade hub was supplanted by smaller, more efficient space stations that operated based on rotating crews from the planets as opposed to full-time residents. Additionally, containerization (which had been rare among the mega-corps but was standard for the Foundation) made the use of space docks less important.
By the end of the 7th century, Cantilever had become a sort of space-slum. It had only 15,000 residents, and while it did function as a port of call, very little trade came through it. Most of the remaining occupants made a living salvaging pieces of the station for resale. By A.Y. 4804, most of the remaining air and water had been expended. Though attempts existed to recycle, the station had too many holes in it. The cost of importing gases was simply too high for the cash-strapped civilization.
A Thousand for A Thousand
About a thousand die-hard survivors remained to celebrate the station's 700th's birthday in 4809, who swore on that day they would keep the station occupied until it was a thousand. The remaining population began a campaign, turning from commerce to soliciting donations. They fixed up a small section of the station, tightened the seals, and brought in independent power generation. Cantilever was now 99.% abandoned, and all original systems had failed.
But, with the slogan "A thousand for a thousand!", the newly-formed non-profit organization was able to keep the lights on. The station became a sort of commune, always maintaining a population of around 1,000 full-time residents. Near the end of the 8th century, tourism began to blossom, which brought enough revenue to temporarily re-pressurize unused parts of the station. There was talk of a major revival, of a major over-haul to bring Cantilever back to its former glory, but it was never economically feasible.
Still, the Thousand for a Thousand program did remain, and there were indeed 1,000 full-time residents when the station turned 1,000 years old in 5109. The population did drop off after that, though tourism still brought in enough revenue to maintain a smaller population. By 5200 the station still had about a hundred people living onboard, though many split their time between the station and the inner solar system.
Eventually, maintaining the hastily-built "station within a station" became too costly, and the final 52 permanent residents were forced to move into a semi-derelict spaceship permanently docked at the station, in A.Y. 5113. This number further dwindled down to 36, and finally 20 in 5130. The spacecraft had been modified such that it could largely support them indefinitely, and revenue from tourism still provided for the tiny cooperative. However, they were now wholly reliant on consumables shipped in from the inner solar system, and maintained only a small demonstration garden and water reclamation system. The station itself was now entirely uninhabitable, and tourists had to don space suits in order to enter it.
In 5135, the sole remaining inhabitants were 14 members of the Arturo Family, who filed suit against illegal salvage operations on the space station. When the authorities failed to respond in a timely enough manner, they attempted to chase them off themselves, and 12 members of the family were killed. Thirteen-year-old Ray Arturo, and his infant sister Sasha were found sixteen days later in the family's starship-home. Though in good health and with ample food, the pair were described as "distraught". They were taken off the station, and for the first time since its completion, it was now fully abandoned.
The salvagers who had killed the Arturo family were brought to justice by the Alliance, but the case raised an important question about the ownership of the station. It had originally belonged to the now long-dissolved Mabach Consortium, whose assets had been seized by the Alliance or sold to the Foundation. However, in the aftermath of the Corporate Wars, Cantilever had been declared a sovereign state. An old copy of Cantilever's constitution was found, and studied by legal experts. Then, in a very shocking turn of events, the Foundation applied a contractor's lien on the station, claiming (correctly) that they had never been paid for moving it over four centuries earlier. As the Foundation had the strongest claim, their legal team was given final say on how the station's constitution would be interpreted. According to their experts, the station was, quote "the collectively-owned property of all citizens of the state of Cantilever", meaning, in turn, it now belonged to Ray and Sasha Arturo.
Ray, then 15 and living in foster-care was shocked by the declaration. As he was not yet a legal adult, the station was placed in trust, but this did not stop negotiations for its sale. As legitimate salvage it was worth quite a lot; there was also interest in developing it as a tourist attraction. Ray said in his memoirs, on the one hand, he felt his family was part of an important legacy, and did not wish to end it. On the other, he felt bad that he had been separated from his sister, and was very unhappy in the foster care system.
Laytami Gudersnipe made a very rare public appearance. He announced that anyone wishing to purchase the station would be required to pay the lien. As this was several orders of magnitude more than the place could be worth, this ended all speculation from interested parties. Laytami then made a rather sizable charitable donation to the Arturo family, enough for Ray to become emancipated, become his sister's legal guardian, and to pay for top-flight care and educations for both of them. Ray was quite clear the initial donation had been made freely, and the money came with no strings attached.
At the age of 22, Ray finished university with a degree in business management (earned at a school owned by the Foundation). At this time, he entered into talks with the Gudersnipe Foundation over resolving ownership of the station. As the case was being followed all across the known worlds, what happened next was quite surprising.
Arturo sold Cantilever to the Foundation for an undisclosed sum. The Foundation, in return, granted Ray Arturo a 99-year lease on the property, quote "to be extended indefinitely so long as a descendant of the Arturo Family lives as a resident on the station".
Station Outside a Station
The following year, Arturo entered into a partnership with the Gudersnipe Foundation to re-develop Cantilever as a tourist destination and living-history museum. Because the costs to repair any portion of the station were simply too high, a brand new ring was constructed around the outside edge. This was effectively an all-new space station, though anchored to the old one. It operated as a destination resort, bringing in tourism as well as trade.
Sections of the old station were then painstakingly restored, allowing for further recreation space and operating as a museum. Ray Arturo oversaw the whole operation, and while much of the profit did go to the Foundation, he always said he was "happy to be at home". Sasha Arturo only occasionally returned to the station and never lived there, but her daughter became Ray's successor, and the Arturos became a wealthy and well-known dynasty throughout the verse. Ray lived long enough to see the addition of a GATE interface, which allowed travel to the station from off-world, further greatly expanding its tourism capabilities.
In 5203, Lina Arturo, the daughter of Sasha Arturo, founded Space-Farer Incorporated, which offered "space cruises" to the discerning individual. Using Cantilever as home-port, tourists could board a cruise ship for a exotic journey into the inner solar system. Initially the cruise ships were owned by third-part companies, but the offerings were in high enough demand for Space-Farer to purchase its own fleet.
While "space cruises" were a commonplace if fairly niche-industry, Space-Farer offered its customers a very unique experience. Trading on the romanticism and 'danger' of space exploration, it created packages catering towards the type of passengers who really wanted to see things. Tours stayed at sub-light speeds, and the captains were given a high degree of freedom with regards to charting courses. The Mabach System was large and quite dynamic; tours could visit frozen moons, massive gas giants, and even comets. Eventually, one of the moons of Mabach 9 was terraformed, and this became another major destination.
It was especially valuable for off-world guests. For the right price, a tourist could depart from a GATE-interface on the flat world of Sun's Beacon, and be transported instantly to an exotic space station. They could then board a starcraft and be whisked off to a tiny forest-moon, and walk amongst massive trees while watching the planet set. All this, and still be home for dinner.