Antarctica (Antarctic Free States)

Antarctic Free States (small)
Image from Ryan B
Flag of the Antarctic Conclave. The symbology represented peaceful living, anarchic liberty and environmentalist ideologies

Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent of Old Earth's, located at the planet's south pole. Due to its distance, Antarctica was not discovered until the Industrial Age, and because of its cold climate, contained no human settlements for the next few centuries, aside from a few research outposts. During the Information Age, Antarctica was colonized by a number of nations, and went on to develop a thriving culture of its own, eventually forming the polity known as the Antarctic Free States.

First Steps Towards Colonisation

Throughout the 2040's c.e, resource and land scarcity were fast becoming pressing issues. With the expiration of the Antarctic Treaty in 2048 fast approaching, political tensions were high with many heated public debates on whether or not the treaty should be renewed, renegotiated or scrapped entirely. The issue was compounded by the myriad of competing interests including historical claimants, new economic powers and environmentalist politics. Towards the end of the decade, the threat of minor military engagements seemed likely as some nations (primarily China and the USA) began preparations for mining. Then-US president Bernard Domodo (2044 - 2052), working from a strong internationalist platform, proposed and fought vigorously to ensure a new Antarctic Accord was signed by all relevant parties. The Accord allowed for resource extraction in Antarctica under strict environmental conditions to offset any damage. Likewise colonisation efforts were permissible on 10% of the landmass, so long as said colonies minimised their environmental footprint. Finally, to deal with territory disputes and to protect against a land-grab strict quotas on resources and colonists were created. The Accord would be overseen by an international organisation made up of concerned parties: the United Nations Organisation for Regulating Colonisation of Antarctica (UNORCA).

In the latter half of the information Age the terms of the agreement were (for the most part) stuck to, with only a very few disputes. Petrochemicals, minerals and other natural goods were extracted by a plethora of mines built alongside experimental habitats. These habs served several purposes: housing the mine workers, establishing local industry, and as an experimental platform for closed-ecosystem design. Chinese efforts were particularly strong in this area, with three habs built as sister efforts to the Gobi Colonisation project.

Rise of Antarctic Culture

By the dawn of the 22nd century c.e, the population of Antarctica had reached 100,000. Twenty colonisation sites were present, operated by the USA, Russia, China, India, Greater South Africa and the European Federation. This was an important point for the peoples of Antarctica, by now there were many second (and some third) generation inhabitants. Along with the increasing number of breakthroughs in ecosystem design, automation and genetic engineering the Antarctic population began to grow considerably and along with it: the local economy. The strict environmental regulations set by the Accords forced the colonies to grow upwards rather than outwards. Some of the first true arcologies appeared on Antarctica in this century; single-building cities a kilometer or more high, shaped like pyramids and ziggurats to cope with the Katabatic winds. By 2150, an indigenous culture was fast-forming on the continent; resources were still being mined for distribution by sponsor nations, which quickly became a great source of political tension. Increasingly the colonists began to think of themselves as "Antarctican", rather than citizens of their founding nations. This was compounded by the adoption of various cold-adaptive genemods and other tech that would serve to distance the peoples of the south pole to others in the warming world.

The mid-22nd century saw the rise of Antarctic literature (also known as "Antarcticana"); some of the best known examples of early Antarcticana include epics such as Sun Lingyu's "Cold Desert" (2164) and Adil Khan's "United" (2167). Although popular amongst those living on the continent, Antarctic literature was not well-received by foreign critics, who dismissed as "comically arrogant", claiming that it "painted all outsiders as bitter racists", while presenting a highly romanticized Antarctica where people of all ethnicities come to live in peace (which was not necessarily true). This idealized version of Antarctica was also featured in much of the native music, and in 2169, an unofficial "Antarctic Anthem" was selected by the inhabitants of the First Chilean colony ("Untarnished Land"), and an unofficial flag was selected just a few months later.

In the early 2170's, as Antarctic pride was taking the continent by storm, Norbert O'Malley, a resident of Unangmiyok, was inspired by L. L. Zamenhof's attempt at establishing a universal language three centuries earlier (Esperanto), and set to work creating a so-called "Antarctic language". This language (known as Antar) incorporated most elements from languages already spoken in Antarctica (mostly English, Swahili, Hindi and Mandarin), but also some from ancient Greek (which O'Malley believed to be the "language of the greats"). The constructed language saw great success, and was popularized by a number of artists who incorporated it into their works - notably the internationally renowned musician Upen Babu (a.k.a "Bastard of the South"), dark comedic virch playwright Beatrice Abar, and speculative fiction writer Victor Flanders.

In the latter years of the 22nd century political and social tensions in Antarctica were rising to worrying levels. In 2176 the increasing continental surveillance net (ostensibly for environmental science but mostly backed for security reasons) discovered not one but three "hidden colonies". In reality these were little more than half buried domiciles for less than a hundred backyarder families. These groups were comprised of native Antarcticans and immigrants that wanted out from the old nations of Earth but were unable to afford passage off world. The incident, whilst minor, sparked off an intense political scandal. UNORCA acted to evict the backyarders from the continent, prosecuted the Antarcticans and vowed to step up security. The various accord signatories decried the backyarders as ecological vandals, flouting international law with unlicensed colony efforts. These proclamations were met with fierce hostility from many of the Antarctic colonies. Political rallies calling for less UNORCA control (some even going so far as to demand full independence) flared up across the continent. In two cases riots were started with reports of dozens left harmed or dead.

The following few years saw many repeats of protests and more attempts for secondary, independent colonisation of Antarctica. Crackdowns by UNORCA were, for the most part, peaceful in order to enforce the mandate of the accord. UNORCA supporters were broadly united by the desire to protect Antarctica as the common heritage of mankind and feared that new colonies would flout the strict ecological regulations. Antarcticans and backyarder groups (supported by nations and corps not part of the accord) pushed back against this claiming that UNORCA was merely the puppet of an imperialist agenda. In 2178, 130 years after the establishment of UNORCA, a mass demonstration across the continent took place. This coincided with the announcement from hundreds of groups across the world of intent to migrate to Antarctica (few had means but the announcement gave political clout). Faced with the possibility of mass violence a special session of UNORCA was called. For over a month the conference debated and in the end the protocols of UNORCA were renegotiated. Sponsor nations would have less power over their colonies and a further 10% of Antarctic lands would be opened up for colonisation by "independent groups dedicated to the care of the continent". In effect anyone could now apply to UNORCA to set up a colony in Antarctica, provided they obeyed environmental regulations and a variety of basic human rights laws.

Establishment of the Free States

For nearly forty years the new arrangement held. Nearly eighty new colony sites were approved by UNORCA; most simply small domed villages that were satellites to the larger arcologies. Some however would go onto become some of the most influential settlements of the pre-Technocalypse era; Hesperides, New South Curdistan, Elsworth and Greater Australia to name a few. But the new accord was eventually revealed as a short term solution to the underlying problem. Soon enough the arcologies and other colonies began arguing for total independence. Regulation by the most powerful nations and corps of the time, however light, was not acceptable. By this time public support for UNORCA was low world-wide, including the member nations. Whilst the Antarcticans only numbered 5 million their developing culture and social links to other nations had become popular in many places throughout the system. In 2221 UNORCA was officially dissolved. In its place the various colonies of Antarctica grouped into thirty-two "Free States". These states were all centered around a major arcology and included the various smaller colonies in those regions. The free states went on to establish the Antarctic Conclave. The Conclave was a loose organisation that would manage inter-member disputes and regulate environmental use of the continent. Beyond that, laws and customs would be completely decided by the Free States.

Later Years

In the decades following the formation of the Free States, Antarctican culture blossomed. The prevailing ideology of the continent became the exploration of the novel, rejecting much of the national and corporate culture pervading Old Earth at the time. Few of the Free States retained strong cultural ties to their founding nations and corps. Easy immigration both to and between the States encouraged a cosmopolitan living, this continental melting pot attracted many disaffected groups from across the globe such as the early vec clades and the Siberoos.

Aside from a strong emphasis on the ecological maintenance the Free States were quite different internally. Technanarchism, Vec Castism, and Constitutional Aicracy were some of the most influential political systems of the period. In particular the consensus organisation and scientific focus of technanarchsim resulted in high levels of technological development (measured per capita) originating from the continent. Neurotechnology in particular was an important export in the Antarctic economy, notably the first self-inserting DNIs were invented in the Free State of Feroheim.

One noted Free States figure was the character known only as "Ain-Shant D'ood" (2156 - 2235), a wandering vagabond claiming to be the last living "Aborigine Antarctican" (or Abtarctican), who travelled from settlement to settlement, telling locals of the "traditional" myths and legends of his people (the "Necktie Tribe"), whom he claimed inhabited the continent thousands of years in the past. Whether D'ood was insane or simply had a bizarre sense of humor is up for debate amongst historians, although he soon gained a large following - the aforementioned author Victor Flanders was known to have written a number of collections of so-called Abtarctican myth, with some assistance from D'ood himself. D'ood is regarded as having been an important nationalist symbol for the Free States, and some time after his death, 23 Galileo was declared "Necktie Day" in Antarctica, where citizens dress up as Abtarctican gods and heroes, in honor of those who (supposedly) once dwelled there.

The Nanotech Age brought both prosperity and a maturity to Antarctican culture. Immigration dropped and some Free States experienced a steady flow of young citizens leaving to settle in newer aquatic and space habs (the cost of which continually decreased throughout this age). The Conclave supervised environmental systems had restored Antartican biodiversity to levels not seen since the first discoveries of the continent.

Antarctica during the Technocalypse

At the beginning of the Sundering, the population of Antarctica was 130 million and comprised of 47 Free States. The culture was vibrant with a strong green-anarcho/bohemian political movement supported by a healthy continental economy. Unfortunately for the Antarcticans their arcologies, heavily reliant on smart infrastructure, were highly vulnerable during the Technocalypse. Twenty million Antarcticans died due to Black Rot Famine. A further 95 million perished in the malware outbreak and subsequent swarms. By the time of the Great Expulsion less than a million people still resided on the continent, mostly scraping by in the husks of the once great arcologies. Antarctican culture was all but destroyed with barely any influence lasting beyond the Dark Age.

Antarctica in the Gaiacene

Under GAIA's influence the continent has been largely returned to its natural state. Biodiversity is high and ice levels have reached those seen during the Pliocene. Long range observation of the continent reveals little trace of human presence, the common belief is that GAIA dismantled nearly all human infrastructure. Some pictures, blurred from atmospheric effects and possible interference from GAIA's angelet, seem to show a small settlement on the Vinson Massif, almost the exact site where the Conclave had its headquarters. GAIA refuses to confirm or deny if any of their children live in the area, or if they have any link to the lost Antarctic culture, although there are many conspiracy theories concerning the AI's activities here, some of which go as far as to suggest uncovered ancient cities of alien origin. It is something of an irony that this once mysterious and unexplored continent was finally charted and settled, only to once again become a source of conspiracy and intrigue.

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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss, Ryan B, Centauri5921, QuELEs
Initially published on 31 October 2016.