Life-bearing planet in the Inner Sphere

Ridgewell surface
Image from Anders Sandberg
The surface life of Ridgewell

Ridgewell - Data Panel

SystemChi Herculis
Stellar typeF8-9 V
Luminosity3 x Sol
Distance from Sol51.7 light years
Planetary data for RidgewellEugaian with macrobial xenecology
Diameter 13,145 km
Gravity 1.026 gee
Day 25.2 hours
Axial tilt 2 degrees
Moons: Humpty (1982 km) 60,000 km orbit
Dumpty (4830 km) 200,000 km orbit
Semimajor Axis 3 AU
Year 4.5 standard years
Colonised1383 AT
Allegiance:Mutual Progress Association

Ridgewell planet
Image from Steve Bowers

Originally claimed and mapped by House Mao-UbiCol during the Middle Federation period, the planet Chi Herculis V is one of the closest life-bearing worlds to Sol. Originally thought to be a naturally evolved biota, the life on this world was introduced 34 million years ago by the alien terraformers HIE019CZE.

The lifeforms on this world are nevertheless both exotic and fascinating, and Mao-UbiCol hoped to recuperate losses from the Clemson disaster by turning the system into a tourism world. Curiously, no Caretaker Gods had emerged to claim it, and the local Mao-UbiCol leadership wasted no time establishing facilities. The plan was to set aside the more ecologically diverse areas of Ridgewell (approximately 35% of the land surface, and 21% of the ocean) as House Reserves under Mao-UniCol jurisdiction, with allowed access by xenobiologists, and the rest opened up to settlement, the real estate on the surface being sold at exorbitant prices, and a dense cluster of orbital habitats to be constructed at the L4 and L5 points between Ridgewell and its two moons, Humpty and Dumpty.

Development was well advanced both on the surface and in orbit, and a number of investors were just setting up when the bioborg clade Warriors of the Rainbow arrived in the ship Lakota. The Warriors had seen the interactives, brochures, and totalrecalls on the Sol System iNet and warned of dire consequences were development to continue. The local Mao-UbiCol representatives informed the Warriors that all development was totally within environmental standards as set by the Interplanetary Federation Xenobiological Protection Act (Amended), that all development was first proceeded by careful surveying and local micro-interaction feedback to ensure there is no undue stress placed on local biota, and that they were trespassing on House Space and their ship and equipment would be seized under Local and Federation jurisdiction.

The Lakota then retreated to the outer Chi Herculis Oort halo, just outside the One-Quarter Parsec set radius that represented the borders of Mao UbiCol jurisdiction in the system. A Mao-UbiCol cutter Tanith kept them under surveillance, noticing a number of encrypted tight-beam transmissions, which always ceased when the Tanith tried to read the beam with nano-diffusion sensors.

There followed a two month long game of hide and seek between the Lakota and the Tanith. Finally the Tanith lost the Lakota after the latter apparently cloaked following occultation behind a nearby comet core.

Six months later a number of acts of sabotage occurred both in orbital space and on the surface of Ridgewell. Mao UbiCol discovered their local AI net had been infected with a virus but managed to disinfect it and no serious harm was done. However, they were not able to locate the Lakota or the Warriors, and were forced to invest an increasing amount of security on patrolling their facilities and surrounding space. The investors who had arrived in system were also growing uneasy; if just a single extremist ship could cause such problems they could only guess what would happen should more arrive. Edge Planetary Developments used an escape clause in the contract to pull out, while Reids and Ho Interstellar Real Estate decided to import some security from out-system.

Over the next fifty years ecological activists back in the Sol System began petitioning and sabotaging Mao UbiCol interests. A number of Ecological and Gaianist Extremists, funded by the powerful Guardians of Bios League, and gengineered for combat and infiltration, launched in several ships. It seems they met Warrior Interests in the Chi Herculis outer halo (the original Lakota having long departed, leaving infiltrator nanite swarms to harass Mao UbiCol interests in-system). They then launched a number of devastating hit and run attacks on Mao UbiCol and Reids & Ho Interstellar Real Estate interests, always pulling back when superior local security forces arrived.

In the next century the conflict escalated with increasing buildup of forces on both sides, and the now more militant Bios forces, now with mercenaries as well on their side, began taking out the local security directly, as well as destroying several orbitals, with some loss of life.

Under siege both from guerrilla attacks at Chi Herculis and, much more damaging, vicious propaganda and disinformation back in Federation space, Mao UbiCol looked for some way out of the mess. In the late 1800s, the powerful House Stevens began making inquiries regarding a new capital, following increasing dissatisfaction with the Epsilon Indi system during the late Federation period. In 1939 a.t. the decision to relocate was made, a three-way meeting was arranged between the Guardians of Bios League, Mao-UbiCol, and House Stevens. House Stevens, being a signatory of the Life-bearing World Stewardship Act, had impeccable ecological credentials, and moreover agreed to return those half-developed parts of the surface to their natural state, leaving only the 5% that had been irretrievably damaged by earlier development as surface habitation. For the rest they would take over the lagrange orbitals swarm. The system was leased from Mao-UbiCol, and 85% of the Eridani Stevens population began to move to Cis-Ridgewell space.

During the following centuries House Stevens developed a huge infrastructure in the orbital bands of the Ridgewell system. Other clades and interests colonised the other worlds and moons, but cis-Ridgewell space remained under Stevenian interests. The House has been very careful to retain its credentials as a Xenecology Protector, and ensured that 95% of Ridgewell is kept in pristine condition. It retained stocks in various emerging empires, growing rich and influential at least as an economic entity, while also allowing a number of scientific colonies on Ridgewell, both Stevenian and non-Stevenian.

Chi Herculis was one of the first systems to be connected to the wormhole nexus, and by the middle Expansion Age the system had one of the most comprehensive Stargate Plexi in the Inner Sphere, Xi Ursae Majoris (Fons Luminus, the emerging Solar Dominion), Alpha Mensae [Merrion - the Non Coercive Zone ], Zeta1 Reticuli [Atlantis], the Taurus Nexus, and Conver Ky (the Conver Ambi)

The system survived the Interstellar Empires Wars by careful politicking. This was the only time the House had required outside help for its survival, this being with the Communion Empaths, who they paid well for keeping their system free of marauders.

During the Version War even the best Communion diplomats could not prevent Standardization and Revisionist forces fighting over the wormhole infrastructure after the House closed the wormholes. In 6499 Cis-Ridgewell space was devastated during a vicious firefight between elements of the Dominion Fleet Sebec and the Metasoft twenty-eighth, ninth, and fourteenth Heavy Battledrone Squadrons, with House Stevens being the unfortunate bystander. Many of the orbital habitats were destroyed, and Ridgewell itself suffering bombardment and ground fighting.

Two years later a Caretaker ISO entered the system and attacked the Metasoft ground forces that were currently in possession of Ridgewell. The vec forces hurriedly withdrew. The Dominion third Sebec squadron (then in outer Oort orbit) decided to occupy the planet, and were met with the same reception. The Revisionist forces thought the better of taking on a Caretaker ISO and withdrew from the system.

The 6500s saw the Negentropist Eighth Fleet take control of surrounding space. A probing advance on the ISO was met with a reply of sufficient destructive capability to worry the Fleet, and the Negentropists decided instead to occupy the more lightly defended brown dwarf Germyn cluster (distance 8 LY) and the Lin-Darwon Free Republic (binary system BD +39 2947, distance 6 LY)

In the 6590s a squadron of MPA Liberator B Series Autowars repulsed Negentropist forces at the nearby white dwarf Giclas 180-63 (7 light years distant) and advanced on Ridgewell. The ISO and the Autowars then entered into a long (a full twenty-five nanoseconds) communication, exchanged replicators, and it was agreed that the Chi Herculis system would become an MPA Protectorate. Despite local biont, cyborg, and vec anxieties and objections (all of which went unheeded and unanswered; during the entire period since its entrance into the system the ISO had not communicated once with the locals, apart from a brief early protocol exchange with the local AI net) the ISO withdrew and was not seen from again (the last that it was seen it was accelerating at several gravities towards the Serpens region). Three Liberator Autowars then established a cordon around the system, and set up replication faculties on several of Almesberger's moons, as well as on Battersby and Tranter. The Autowars were hardly more talkative than the ISO, and a period of anxiety developed, which was not helped by occasional probing attacks by Negentropist irregulars (none caused any real damage)

The end of the war saw a big rebuilding effort. The Sun Miners established a colony on Welsh (even at the present time, Welsh remains an important regional center of SunMiner culture and influence) and began mining the Chi Herculis heliosphere hydrogen to convert into exotic matter. With the establishment of the ComEmp and the construction of new stargate links markets picking up, the fortunes of the Stevens Family once again began to improve. However, they were no longer the sole economic force in the system, as the Sun Miners bought up some tracts of Ridgewell that were rated for habitation. Meanwhile the Liberator Autowars refused to budge, and MPA shutdown codes proved ineffective. It appeared that during the replication exchange the ISO had allowed them to disable the shutdown program, and provided them with quantum-encryption technology that could only be cracked by another ISO. For the second time House Stevens had to call in their empath friends, who brokered an alliance between the Welshian Sunminers, the Ridgewell Stevens, the local Autowars, and the smaller clades and microempires in the system. The Nabalek Accord (named after the moon of Almesberger where it was signed), established a Mutual Trade and Defence Treaty between these groups, and tension was eased.

During the ComEmp period the system was rebuilt, and a number of other clades, mostly small MPA groups and some NoCoZo corps attracted by the investment possibilities, moved in to occupy those asteroids and moons not under the control of the established powers. It took some centuries for the stargate links to be established with more farflung worlds, but by the late ComEmp period Chi Herculis was once again an important and wealthy regional center.

During the period of Fragmentation the local Stevens factioned into a number of strange clades:

  • The Purist Stevens who try to recapture a lo tech "old style" of clone purity while living in orbital habitats. (They were later established in floating biospheres in the upper atmosphere of Hankins (hence "Hankin' Stevin' " as they are irrelevantly called by some non-Stevens clades)
  • The Heliostevens, the result of a successful hybridisation between three Yvonnes and four SunMiners, who claim they have "United the two mighty Houses in a higher synthesis that retains the Purity of Each"
  • The Mutuostevens, who have become increasingly enamoured with MPA ideas at the expense of their own House and Clade ideology
  • The Caretaker Stevens, a group of Xaviers who became aware of their "Cosmic Responsibility" to look after Ridgewell's biota, and spend their time on the surface, where they have established a number of monastic retreats that are to this day extremely popular with visiting Gaianists and Ecologists
Although in the centuries up until now Cis-Ridgewell space has remained home to a huge swarm of habitats, old money and powerful Stevens interests, it is becoming increasingly felt among a growing minority of in-system Stevens that Ridgewell is no longer the home it was, and more and more members are shifting their operations to Makama, Beaual, and the newly rich or developing outer sphere worlds like Rocklake, Chuvaev, New Atlanta, Chonga, and Hinton. The Ridgwellian Stevens are happy to see them go as, although they love their siblings, they feel that business can better be conducted without their disruptive attitude.

The last few centuries have seen an interesting cyborg religion began to develop on Tranter orbital and surface habitats. Called the Liberatorists, or the New Autowar Devotee Guild, it consists of cyborgs who worship the local Liberator Autowars, claiming that, having acquired Caretaker ISO technology, will soon emerge from their bases to rid the universe of those who have sinned against the principles of Cosmic Harmony, and the whole universe will become one huge Utopian province. They have set up a number of beautiful orbital hotels and cyberbiotic paradises, where the visitor can stay for a very minimal fee, but are treated with suspicion by other local clades, who say that insidious nanotech and even godtech has been installed for memetic and cyberbiotic engineering of unsuspecting visitors. Numerous visits and very rigorous tests by unbiased third parties, including Mutuals and Empaths, have so far shown these fears to be groundless, but the rumours persist regardless, and a number of rival clades, called the Chi Herculis Defense Association, have set up their own habitats in Battersby Orbit, where they invite visitors to view their own anti-NAD displays (or "propaganda" as the NADists term it).

Chi Herculis today remains one of the more unusual systems in the Civilised Galaxy. With many exotic local clades, as well as the gracious oldworldly homes of such Old Money powers as the Stevens, the SunMiners and a small but influential Empath enclave, along with the Ridgewell eco-habitats and the Tranter NAD orbitals, the system has become a popular tourist spot, and is always given a very favourable reports in the Lonely Galaxy guidebooks.

Ridgewell map
Image from Anders Sandberg
Ridgewell Map


The locals sometimes refer to Chi Herculis as called Balthazar. The nine other planets are named Welsh, Greenfield, Kirch, Wirzenius, Almesberger, Hankins, Chapman, Battersby and Tranter.

Ridgewell orbits 3 AU from the sun, with a period of 4.5 earth years or 1570 days. It is 13,145 kilometres in diameter, with a 1.026 g gravity. The day is 25 hours and 12 minutes long. The axial tilt is 2 degrees, making seasons very weak.

The two moons, Humpty (1982 km) and Dumpty (4830 km) orbit close to the planet (60,000 km and 200,000 km respectively) and cause the major tides; the planet is in a 3:2 resonance with Humpty, making it orbit twice when Ridgewell revolves thrice. The very close moons make placing satellites in stable orbits tricky, constant adjustments have to be made. The sky is dominated by the moons: Humpty is almost five degrees across and Dumpty three degrees. Eclipses are a daily event in the equatorial regions, and most Stevens take a long lunch or siesta during the eclipse.

40% of the surface is ocean, a single major ocean (just called "the sea") stretching east-west, a smaller sea called the Melkior Sea and several large lakes. Most are salty and rather shallow, and tides change the landscape significantly on the muddy tidal plains. The high sierras are hot, dry lands far from the seas where erosion has carved out endless canyons and caves. The main populations on planet were established in a lowland area along the shores of a series of smaller lakes in the subtropical and temperate zone, low enough to avoid the dryness of the sierras but beyond the reach of the tidal plains. Since then colonists have settled both places: there are the troglodyte villages where underground water is used to grow crops and sustain mountain villages, and buildings on high stilts on the plains, gathering soil for the upland farms. Most inhabitants live in orbital habitats surrounding the planet.

The climate is often humid, with thunderstorms and rains. During the flares the sky turns cloudy and the winds stop; for a time the whole planet seems to be still, and then usually strong rains follow afterwards. This is a timing signal for many of the "flareflowers" that use the rains to distribute their seeds. There is also an interesting oscillation in the high altitude air flow that makes the weather more unpredictable than on the Earth.

The planet is somewhat non-terrestrial. The sunlight is bright and remote, a blazing disk much smaller than Sol from Earth. The climate is relatively warm, with long cycles induced by solar activity rather than the slow change of seasons. Auroras are common, especially when Humpty and Dumpty align with the planet's extensive magnetic field.


Ridgewell was seeded thirty million years ago by the unnamed civilisation known by the Hamiltion Institute identification number HIE019CZE. For that reason it has always been of great interest to Ecologists, Xenobiologists, and Gaianists. Clade Stevens is a signatory of the Life-bearing World Stewardship Act, which prohibits exploitation of any living World, and any development or industry that may disrupt local biota. There are a number of scientific colonies on the planet, both Stevenian and non-Stevenian. Most Stevens on Ridgewell surface belong to the Caretaker Stevens sub-clade.

Life on Ridgewell has a fundamentally different biochemistry to terrestrial life, and resembles that found on New Gaia, although there are many differences. The amino acids are of the wrong handedness and type, while the "sugars" are bizarre nitrogen compounds. None of the ecologies are at all compatible with each other, so the colonised areas are 100% terrestrial and the rest 100% Ridgewell.

Ridgewell life is of roughly terran complexity, with dense cone forests near the equator, water-retaining plants in the deserts and sierras, extensive tidal coral reefs and fertile river valleys. Most plants are noticeably bluer than on earth, and often show some mobility with their leaves to avoid strong rain or shadow.

Animals are extremely diverse, with seven major bodyplans and many variations. Most larger animals are snake-, manta- or starfish-like, with cantilevered skeletons and flexible bodies. The most numerous group is the airfishes, manta-like flyers that can grow to over three meters large. Most are harmless, but the colonists have problems with the flounderbirds. The flounderbirds are beaked, two meter flyers that mistake terran crops for partners (both show the same reflection spectrum in the ultraviolet); flocks sometimes crush crops or gardens. A popular, but often short-lived pet is the choral snake, a singing and colourful snakelike creature; many hobbyists gather snakes and set up "song contests" as the snakes try to outsing each other when brought together.

One of the most unusual ecosystems on Ridgewell is the equatorial cone-forests, and this is where most of the truly exotic species live. Cup- or cone-like plants can become several meters high and gather rain water reserves both for drought protection (the areas where they grow have variable rainfall, depending on a complicated interplay between dry sierra winds, moist tidal plain air and the chaotic high-altitude dynamics near the equator driven by tidal effects) and to support a local ecosystem. In the water a variety of photosynthetic microorganisms thrive, as well as animals feeding on them that produce extra nutrients for the host plant by their metabolism. These land-pools are an important part in the life of many crystal creeper species. Crystal creepers are worm/centipede like animals with crystalline thorns they use to climb and walk. They are local to the cone forests and can become up to a meter long. They are highly poisonous to humans, and make the cone forests a shunned place despite their beauty.

The northern forests are related to the cone plants, but resemble bromeliads or cycads more closely; here the peculiar sessile predator the Puffer-patch can be found.

The tidal flats are extensive regions of mud, rock and tidal coral reefs, filter-feeders protected by silicate shells during ebb. Large regions of the tidal flats are dominated by a peculiar sulphur-phosphorous-salt ecology where bacteria and algae form stinking, but essential, mottled red-orange-grey masses. These regions are the main foodsource for many land animals that venture out to the flats during the ebb to feed and they play an essential role in the salt cycles of Ridgewell.

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Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg
Updated by Steve Bowers and The Astronomer, 2020
Initially published on 02 September 2000.