Grinder’s Switch – Voyage to McMurdo
"We're here, y'all! Wherever here is, anyway..."
ComStar Adept Evans chuckled as he unbuckled from his jump seat, amused at the Switcher accent in his own voice. He had been traveling with this trading crew for far too long. But it was his assignment to follow this ship on its run through the Far Rim, helping to further ComStar's understanding of this forlorn part of the galaxy.
"Hey, yer finally startin' ta talk normal!" The Switcher captain laughed and slapped him on the back. "If'n y'all head aft, y'all kin get in with the first load as it goes out. This here's one of our reg'lar stops; we bring in food'n equipment, they give us metals in return. We been supportin' each other like this fer...hell, I don't know if there was even a Star League when we got started on this run. There ain't no station here, so we gotta go dirtside; y'all might wanta put on some warmer clothes first, though."
The Adept looked at the captain. "Warmer clothes? Why? Is it winter here?"
The Captain grinned. "Nope. It's actually the hot end of spring. Not that it makes much difference. Y'all just have ta see fer yerself."
If this is what spring here feels like, the Adept thought, I can only imagine what winter is like. He moved back into the shelter of the Mule's cargo bay door. It had to be below zero celsius out there, with an ungodly wind chill. The Switchers, who were shuffling pallets of cargo onto trucks, didn't seem as bothered; Grinder's Switch wasn't a particularly warm world either. But still, it was nowhere near this cold, except in the worst winters.
He caught his breath, pulled his borrowed parka tighter, and leaned back out for another look. The dropship sat on the cleared pad of a simple spaceport. Surrounding the edge of the field were low, blocky buildings interspersed with larger hangars and domes. There was no snow falling, just remobilized dry powder blowing in ghostly strands across the tarmac. It looked well-established, not quite the primitive world he had expected.
He observed the people who came aboard, ruggedly built men with thick multilayered clothes, facial hair and perpetually wind-reddened complexions. Their demeanor didn't seem much warmer than the weather outside, until the tallyman broke into a grin while his men began aiding the Switcher crew in the exchange of cargo. The tallyman clearly knew this Switcher captain, by the way they laughed and hugged. But then, maybe that was just a local custom.
"I brought a friend along," the captain broke in after the greetings. "This here is Adept Evans from ComStar. They been helpin' us get Grinder's Switch back on her feet; he came along ta learn more about who we deal with out here."
The tallyman looked at the Adept for a long moment, his icy blue eyes assessing him. He seemed amused at the young man's discomfort in the cold. For his part, Adept Evans couldn't help noticing the laser weapons that this tallyman and many of his men carried. Finally he extended his hand and grinned through his beard. His accent was different from the Switchers, stronger, deeper and more robust...almost a brogue.
"Aye, a new face! Welcome ta McMurdo, laddie!"
McMurdo is located one jump to spinward from Grinder's Switch, and is one of the main trading worlds in the Far Rim. Like Grinder's Switch, its colonization predates the Star League, and it became isolated after the Star League's fall. The intervening centuries have mostly been spent wondering what the hell the original colonists were thinking when they settled here, since McMurdo is just too bloody cold and too well defended for most enemies to bother with.
The McMurdo system itself is relatively unremarkable. A simple yellow dwarf, much like Sol, serves as the system primary. A Neptune-sized gas giant shepherds a thick outer asteroid belt, while a barren rocky world orbits in closer to the primary, roughly between where Mercury and Venus orbit around Sol. In the outer part of the habitable zone lies a cold Terran planet with two moons, one significantly larger than the other. This world, also called McMurdo, is the base for the system's human population.
McMurdo is a bleak world even by the most forgiving standards. With terrain ranging from tundra and taiga, to rocky mountain peaks poking through glacial plains of ice. Summers might break 70 fahrenheit on a "hot" day, and in the worst winters, much of the planet is uninhabitable outside the cities. What saves McMurdo from becoming a simple ball of ice is its unbalanced pair of moons. The strong tidal action that these two satellites generate keeps the oceans stirred, and drives a very active volcanic and tectonic system.
McMurdo is home to an uncertain number of people, since population centers are often cut off from each other by the weather; many are the local stories about entire settlements that have vanished in the blizzards, sometimes to be refound later, other times not. But the total number of people is certainly less than that of Grinder's Switch, perhaps even as little as a tenth of that number.
McMurdites tend to be stocky and ruggedly built, with ruddy complexions. They tend to wear long hair, and most men have beards. Multiple layers of clothing are the norm, and McMurdites seem, at least to outsiders, to have an almost supernatural resistance to cold and other hardships. Their original cultural background is uncertain, but they have evolved an almost Scottish or Irish brogue accent to their speech.
The McMurdo government is an odd sort of oligarchy, with some elements of representation. A council of influential citizens, such as wealthy merchants, heads of important families or interest groups, and so on, appoints and advises the planetary governor, who serves a term of uncertain length. The nominal term is five years, but council arguments can be very mercurial and often result in early replacements. This political instability is one of the main reasons that McMurdo has not grown much beyond its simple mining colony roots.
McMurdite cities are built partially underground, with the surface domes and blockhouses connected below by extensive networks of rooms and tunnels. A typical building has two exits, one above ground and one below; the above ground floors are basically just entrances, and most of the inhabited space is below ground, with heat, ventilation and other functions powered by networks of fusion reactors. This measure serves both as protection from the infernal cold, and incidentally as an excellent urban defense system.
The evolution of technology on McMurdo has been rather unique, and dictated largely by the environment. Technology is largely in the 3025 era, but with unique local adaptations. McMurdite tech may not be terribly advanced, but the people of McMurdo do have a firm grasp on how to use what they have. For example, equipment with a lot of moving parts, such as ICE engines or autocannons, tends to freeze up easily here, so such devices are built with internal heaters to keep them warm. Even so, fusion power and energy weapons are heavily favored over more tempramental complex machinery.
As far as industry goes, McMurdo has rich mines both on and offworld; these mines, and the mills and factories they supply, are the reason for life on McMurdo. Farming is mostly hydroponic and rather bland, so outside food products are always welcome in trade for McMurdo's ores and metals; McMurdo is one place where the spice trade, dating back to ancient Terra, has never died out.
The McMurdo Militia is a small defensive force, composed mostly of infantry raised from local populations. The York Long Rifle is the standard infantry weapon; it is a classic piece of McMurdite adaptation. It functions like a typical military-grade laser rifle, but is extraordinarily rugged and has an oversized power pack. This feeds a small heating element, keeping the weapon warm and functional in even the worst cold. The militia has only one company of Mechs and one wing of aerospace fighters, all simple machines from the 3025 era, but does have plenty of vehicles (mostly fusion-powered tracked units) and artillery in its bunkers. Only one jumpship calls McMurdo home, an old Merchant that goes back and forth to Grinder's Switch regularly.