Harlem High

Stanford Torus -one of the first Cis-Lunar Bracelet Band habitats

Harlem High
Image from Steve Bowers
The Earth can be seen in the background of this long-range shot of Harlem High

"Harlem High" was one of the first Cis-Lunar Bracelet Band habitats. Physically, it was almost an archetypical habitat: 12 kilometres in diameter, 1.5km wide and 300m thick. It was initially populated with 2 million expatriates from the North American northeastern seaboard arcologies, particularly those close to Manhattan and who refused to join the "wild gamble" of the F.H.L. Guardia's flight to New Brooklyn.

The habitat did, however, support the New Brooklyn mission in order to bootstrap its fledgling orbital economy. Harlem High residents were skeptical of the destructive uploading facility provided to the starship project by an anonymous transapient (who is suspected of trading upload technology for passage). After the Great Expulsion many transapients revealed the fact of their existence, although often few details were forthcoming. However they were more than happy to design and grow the starship, a contract that proved lucrative in an era of extreme poverty. When the Guardia launched in 626, Harlem High found its finances dwindling and other shipbuilding operations were uninterested in the relatively high costs of Harlem's expertise. Harlem High limped along for a while producing evacuation and transport ships for GAIA and other cis-lunar polities, but was simply not competitive.

On the other hand, the large, disciplined zero-G/vacuum workforce from the Guardia project easily maintained the habitat's systems, avoiding the mistakes and negligence that brought down so many Bracelet stations. Harlem High's culture embraced the vacuum, freefall, and discipline of living in space. The government studiously acquired replacement materials for its almost-closed recycling systems at the expense of luxuries. It also strategically invested in acquiring improved infrastructure technology from Lunar colonies - the Bracelet habitats were astonishingly backwards, though this anachrotech was a deliberate defensive feature against the Technocalypse-like threats. These technological acquisitions were enormous productivity enhancements and enabled the station to move into profitable industries, like manufacturing computronium that was not hopelessly obsolete. The careful review and implementation of the acquired technologies also prevented habitat-endangering crashes of the sort that destroyed a couple of Pacific Artisan habitats in the Band.

This latter investment took an unexpected but profitable turn in the early 700s. Harlem High's other businesses had access to inexpensive computronium and naturally branched into computer services like virch worlds. The under-utilized but irreplaceable, coveted destructive uploading facility leftover from the Guardia; large computer facilities; and ongoing demise of failing Bracelet habitats came together in an obvious plan for Harlem High's government: host uploads in virch paradises. The result did not quite compete with UpperBlossom's cryonic suspension business, which tended to target "excess population." Instead, Harlem High aimed at the desperate, depressed populations of the band who sought to flee cruel ril — and had enough wealth for the destructive uploading process.

This "virch paradise" operation was not a trivial effort involving off-the-shelf technologies. The Technocalypse had not only devastated the cis-lunar technology base, its damage to information systems had been devastating to uploads and virch worlds. Accordingly, Harlem High's virch business thus took many precautions. For example, it only accepted customers from among its trust network in the Bracelet Band habitats and lunar colonies, a network with common protocols for cleanliness against plagues, nanotech, and malware. Prior to uploading, customers were quarantined and examined thoroughly in off-station habitats ready to sterilize occupants with gamma rays and neutron radiation. (Analogous treatments were available for non-upload infomorphs interested in settling the protected virch worlds.) The transapient upload system was resistant to most modosophont threats other than brute force, but was still carefully protected. New uploads went through a quarantine and scan procedure, too. The computronium produced for uploads used non-standard hardware architecture that was both optimized for brain emulation and completely alien to most malware and outside AIs. The resulting "brain jar" upload servers were independent of the conventional computronium used for hosting virch worlds, requiring the brain jars to interface remotely rather than existing in the same data space as the less-protected virches. In case of severe virch infiltration that required disconnection, each "brain jar" hosted a small virtual garden to avoid sensory deprivation of the upload. And the virch computronium was carefully, physically isolated from other station systems like communications and factory spaces, which were seen as more exposed to threats. This process was largely successful; no brain jar (or, indeed, Harlem High itself) was ever damaged and the only virch paradise problems proved to be glitches caused by occupants' modifications.

The plan was such a success that Harlem High found itself over-subscribed, and eventually its virch paradises became classic slow worlds. The habitat made this a selling point, though: residents of the Dark Ages appreciated seeing the tedious, terrible years pass by faster than ril. Of course, this in turn meant Harlem High's best customers / residents began leaving after the foundation of the First Federation. The Federation itself wasn't the trigger because to contemporaries the early Federation was a minimalist entity that had little impact on anyone's lives. Rather, the positive conditions that engendered the First Federation led to the dispersion of the uploads through Solsys, even to interstellar destinations where rental bodies and virch worlds awaited.

At it peak Harlem High was home to 40% of the uploads in Solsys. Its zealous protection of its transapient-designed facility gave it an unparalleled edge over any competitors. (The few other transapients in the system that maintained their own facilities were disinclined to offer their services to the population at large.) A few tried, most notably the Jovian bubblehab InnerOcean, though this was destroyed in the Great Shedding.

As its primary industry of centuries wound down, Harlem High used its wealth and station mass to form an interstellar expedition in 1230AT. This "expedition" bought shares in the Trip (61 Cygni) colony and launched a convoy of cryostasis beamriders on the SolSys-Trip beam link. About half of the remaining population joined the convoy, while the remainder dispersed into the thriving Federation by other means. The unused mass of the station hulk was sold for salvage to cis-lunar habitats in 1233 AT.

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Development Notes
Text by Mike Miller
Initially published on 05 May 2016.