Potato (Asteroid Habitat)
This asteroid cycles between the habitable worlds of Ember and Smoke in the Bonfire system. The two planets are almost perfectly situated for cyclers, though this is not accidental. The outer planet, Smoke, was spun up as part of its terraforming process to shorten its day from 27 days to 24 hours. The process used hardware suited for adjusting its orbit, too. The small adjustment in Smoke's orbit enables cyclers following Potato's 21-day orbit to entirely avoid propulsive maneuvers to maintain their cycle, instead depending only on gravitational assists. In practice, modest corrections are needed every few years to address influence of light pressure and other planets. Bonfire is a red dwarf with a typically compact planetary system.
Asteroid habitat in the Bonfire System
|Near the poles of Potato Asteroid are dark purple Dyson forests, adapted to the local sunlight
Potato is a carbonaceous chondrite with about 22% metal content and 12% water content, the balance being minerals and organics. It is roughly an ellipsoid seven kilometers long by five kilometers in diameter, with some impact craters and a thick, smooth coat of dust and rubble giving it an appearance like its namesake. The core was surprisingly solid, a dense, friable mass of chondritic material with only several major fractures. The exterior regolith is the result of billions of years of abrasion, and is desiccated compared to the better-hydrated interior. Overall density is 3.7g/cc, giving Potato a total mass of 415 billion tons.
The asteroid has been heavily modified since its colonization. Its rotation has been halted so it effectively has one day per year. Nanite and synsect swarms have permeated the regolith to cement grains together with calcite and quartz, turning the regolith hide into something like low density sandstone. The major faults in the core have been filled and then crossed with diamondoid fibers.
The interior is about two percent filled with numerous, randomly scattered habitats. These include a pair of counter-rotating Bernal spheres each 1,000 meters in diameter and a few scattered, smaller toruses, but the majority of habitats are milli-G warrens. Communal transit tunnels link most interior habitats. The surface is mostly in its natural state, but it is pocked by several obvious docking ports leading to interior hangars, haphazardly placed radiators marking shallow habitats, small domes of residents who favor the surface, and other features common to inhabited asteroids.
There are several copses of dwarf Dyson trees covering a few percent of Potato's 115 square kilometers, mostly on the north and south poles where they are continuously illuminated from one side or another. The residents had planned to let the trees grow into a forest that covered the asteroid. They are not canopy plants despite the plan for full coverage, but are a variant of regular Dyson trees with limited vertical growth of two hundred meters. Further, when neighboring trees' roots and limbs contact they gradually merge to connect air-filled interior passages. The forestation project faced opposition from a large minority of residents when it started. When proponents began suggesting "Potato" should be renamed "Eggplant" (because of the purplish leaves of the red dwarf-adapted trees), they suffered an exodus of aesthetically displeased voters and the project was halted with only a few test sites planted. The dwarf trees at those sites have reached their full height of only 200 meters and host communities of several thousand residents per copse.
Over several years, influence of other planets does gradually cause a shift in Potato's orbit. This is primarily addressed by deployment of a vast magsail and leasing boostbeams from around the Bonfire system. Peak acceleration is merely 1/100,000th of a gravity, enough for about 10m/s per 24 hours. About 5 to 10m/s are required per 365 days to maintain the cycler's orbit.
Owing to prior periods when Potato engaged in the short-lived "Space Pirates of Bonfire" sport, it does have a number of banks of lasers and mass drivers. These are perfectly serviceable for anti-debris defense, so they're retained. In fact, they're grossly overpowered for any space debris under 50 meters in diameter. However, they amount to space-based equivalents of scorn cannons when faced with any real high tech or ultratech military vessel. During passes over Ember, Potato is known to harmlessly bombard the surface in the vicinity of any Sky Pirate activity just to watch the planet-bound pirates jump.
GOVERNANCE AND RECENT HISTORY Potato's original government was a typical multi-polity cyberdemocracy dividing and sharing Potato's real estate and resources among those interested in living on the large cycler, but in the 10500s a number of polities gradually adopted what might be called "vehement libertarianism." There had been a genuine libertarian attitude on Potato — most of the residents simply wanted to be left alone to their individual, privately owned volumes of the asteroid, social liberties, and frequent visits to two planets. Inter-polity interactions were governed by primarily by free market mechanics reminiscent of Tier 2 NoCoZo members.
However, the original libertarian ascent in Potatoan politics was quickly hijacked by Superiors in several polities. They exploited the prevailing attitudes to remove most of Potato's regulations and laws so they could effortlessly accrue mass, energy, and social credits from other residents. The lack of an Angelnet and laws, and the competitive environment led to an escalating crime rate of hacking, warlawyering, intimidation and personal assault, and property theft, all justified as protection of liberties from competing polities. Potato became, in essence, one of the worst poster children for feral free zones.
This situation was ended abruptly in 10581 when the system government intervened. Nearly a dozen of Potato's wealthiest or most politically powerful beings were shipped to Pogonip for rehabilitation while the government spent over a year sorting out property, wealth, and political claims from residents.
Potato is currently administered by a postalien To'u'lh, who answers to the Anglic moniker "Cincinnatus" and occupies a nanoborg body. (Though able to shapechange, Cincinnatus retains a To'u'lh form that appears to effortlessly endure the terrestrial environments Potato's neb-filled habitats. Eir occasional topographic excursions occur when outside Potato, where e will spread solar wings or even a solar sail in the manner of a thicksuit.) Cincinnatus was assigned by the MPA's system administrator to end disorder and elevated crime on Potato in 10583 and has required longer than anticipated to accomplish eir goals. Entrenched memes and grudges linger among the residents despite adroit use of advanced social rehabilitation techniques by Cincinnatus and eir administrative team. However, progress has been steady and Cincinnatus hopes to return eir exceptional administrative authority to Potato's cyberdemocracy with another few years.
A key element of Cincinnatus's administration has been restoring Potato's economic value in the Bonfire system. The "feral free zone" years were marked by loss of trade, tourism, and transport contracts, and the recovery period saw residents driving away potential trade partners with their bitterness and insular attitudes. However, Cincinnatus has preserved with economic stimulus plans. The polar forests now host popular milli-G resorts and Potato has been able to attract customers with low cost freight to ship between Ember and Smoke. A 5-year period of resumed participation in Space Piracy and Sky Piracy sports generated numerous positive media exposures for Potato. These successes have buoyed the public's mood and helped the social rehabilitation.
Text by Mike Miller
Initially published on 13 November 2018.