The Shenzhou Colonists
Sometimes even the best prepared expedition encounters problems for which its members have no answer and which threaten to overwhelm them.
- Stewart Cowley, SpaceWreck: Ghost Ships and Derelicts of Space, Hamlyn Publishing Group, 2479AD
While the motivations behind the Exodus from Earth-That-Was were pragmatic, the motivations for settlers to expand from the Central Planets towards the Rim often proved more complicated.
Some would-be colonists felt the inexorable need to explore new frontiers. Others were motivated by economic concerns. Ideology, on the other hand, proved to be a decisive factor for generations of settlers who lit out from planets like Bernadette, Sihnon, and Londinium.
One such group, made up of academics and freethinkers, had a very specific ideological intention. They wished to push out as far into the Black as they could go, free from the influences of the Core, and build a settlement based on libertarian socialistic principles, referred to as inclusive democracy by Earth-That-Was philosophers such as Takis Fotopoulos.
The settlement would be governed on the following principles:
- Direct Democracy – the settlement would be governed by the will of its members.
- Economic Democracy – the members of the settlement would contribute work and share in the reward.
- Pacifism – the settlers would choose to remain neutral in every sense of the word.
- Exclusivity – in order to satisfy the first three principles, the settler’s leaders had to be very particular in who they allowed to join their expedition.
The colonists received permission to settle on Shenzhou, a small world newly opened up by the terraforming consortium, in 2458. The hand-picked members of the expedition sank all their money into the needed colony tech – genseed, farming equipment, prefab housing units, etc. – and the ships needed to take them to their destinations, including a few Munroe Wagons and converted short-range scows. They referred to their expedition as the Caravan, and set out on their journey to Shenzhou.
Their best laid plans, however, were foiled by events well outside of their control. Simply put, the terraforming of Shenzhou didn’t take. The colonists arrived to find a frozen blackrock with a poisonous atmosphere.
With no choice but to turn back, the colony found itself homeless and destitute.
Blame was immediately laid on the terraforming consortium. However, the colonists had sunk their life savings into their expedition, and had little hard currency left over to seek legal recourse. The terraforming consortium offered the would-be colonists a monetary settlement, which many took as a way of getting on with their lives.
Some of the colonists eventually reintegrated themselves into society, finding new homes and jobs, but for some, all their money and identity were tied up in a poisonous blackrock, and so with nothing left to start over with they chose to wander the Verse, hopping from world to world, staying planetside until they had overstayed their welcome, and then packing their belongings onto what remained of the disintegrating colonial caravan and moving on.
Those that attempted to sue found themselves in an unwinnable situation due to the enormous court costs and years of arbitration and eventually gave up. However, the most ideologically driven of the colonists chose to view their misadventure as a sign that their principles could rise above their hardships.
They chose to stick together as a colony without a home, maintaining their Caravan. They reorganized, electing from amongst themselves an Elder who presided over a council of caravan ship captains.
They supported themselves by opening up the cargo holds of their colony ships for trade. Bartering for food and fuel, the itinerant Shenzhou began to turn to less savoury sources of funding, in the process blackening their reputation as traveling grifters and petty thieves.
Most of the grandchildren of the original colonial expedition were born Vesselside, out in the Black, and were never issued Social Control Numbers. Some Shenzhou wear this official statelessness as a badge of pride, a callback to the exclusionary mission of their forebears.
The Shenzhou remained neutral during the Unification War, so as not to attract undue Alliance attention.
3rd and 4th generation colonists have adopted the planet Shenzhou as a symbol. They feel that the uncomprimising nature of the planet, which refused to conform to terraforming, represents them well, so most adults have a tattoo of the planet somewhere on their bodies.