These are turbulent times on Ataraxia. The newly-formed Council of Six and the recently-elected Territorial Sheriff represent Freefall's latest attempt at government, but the rest of the moon has descended into civil war. The withdrawal of Federal troops and Dexldyne security forces from the planet surface before anyone could legitimately claim the title of Magistrate of Ataraxia left a power vacuum on Ataraxia. All across the surface of the little moon, armed factions of locals as well as offworld mercenary groups and corporate "security" units are vying to claim the resources of Ataraxia and carve them up into defensible turfs. This means that the traditionally self-governed Freefall territory, with its trading post, open spaceport, and valuable mining operations is surrounded by hopeful would-be conquerors who might just see Freefall as the most tempting piece of turf on the moon. Will the Council of Six and the Sheriff be able to defend Freefall's borders from the factional chaos that is engulfing the rest of Ataraxia, or will the territory become the turf of some would-be warlord or fanatical faction?
Stories of the bloody and mysterious events on Border Orbit Space Station 0G76885 and its subsequent abandonment have spread across the ‘Verse to reach even the remote Border Moons. Official Cortex reports speak of a shadowy terrorist bomb plot carried out with the collusion of known criminal elements, but the grim Rimside rumor that this destruction was actually a vicious, long-range Reaver attack has sent a collective shudder down the spines of the residents of Freefall. Known to spaceship crews as “ZeroGee,” this space station was an important refueling stop along the transport route from Ataraxia to Persephone and was well outside the usual range of Reaver activity. If this violence was the work of a large and ambitious Reaver raiding party, Ataraxia would be in the Reavers’ direct path as they return to their usual hunting grounds. Reavers or no Reavers, however, with ZeroGee temporarily inoperative, transport ships leaving Ataraxia will need to take on additional fuel before lifting off. Offworld shipping and local fuel prices have both risen as a result, but there are also rumors that a new high-speed cargo cruiser link will soon be running directly out of Freefall to Persephone.
For supporters of the Alliance, the most ominous news of all is the Federal decision to withdraw the Alliance Cruiser Vargo from patrol service in the quadrant. The Alliance’s official position on ZeroGee is that the station was damaged not by so-called “Reavers” at all, but by a terrorist bomb attack that triggered a panic onboard that led to abandonment of the station and subsequent looting by illegal salvage operators. In order to ease anti-Alliance tensions, therefore, the controversial Vargo has been recalled and a policy of “Border-Based Management” is being instituted. Henceforth, the Alliance presence on Ataraxia will be supported by the Orbital Planetary Defense Platform (OPDeP) Basilisk. Among residents of the Border Moons in the quadrant, this move is generally perceived to be yet another example of the Alliance’s “cut and run” attitude towards protection of settlers from the unpredictable threat of Reaver attack.
Despite these drawbacks, the mining trade on Ataraxia continues to boom. Dexeldyne, along with many other smaller extraction operations, continue to hold title to their mines and work their claims. As local wealth increases, the Alliance is anxious to see a recovering Ataraxia begin to take responsibility for its own affairs under the Border-Based Management initiative. The Federal outpost at Freefall has been tasked with organizing local elections for municipal offices with an eye towards reestablishing the old trade tariffs and tax collection once carried out under the authority of the Magistrate of Ataraxia. These funds will be used to finance a new Magistracy and rebuild an effective Ataraxian Defense Force. The Alliance is particularly eager that the next Magistrate be a successful Border Moon businessperson with a strong working knowledge of local conditions; to that end, it has been decided that the title and privileges of Magistrate of Ataraxia itself will be sold to the highest bidder at the annual Freefall trade auction.
With the promise of more jobs, more money, a greater need for mercenaries to protect mines from Reavers and bandits, and the high-stakes game of reestablishing government on Ataraxia, settlers from all over the Rim are flocking to Freefall to try and strike it rich. There will be lots of action this year, along with more opportunities for beginning players to jump into the game right away and make some cashy money. With the pending restoration of the Magistracy, there will be a new area in play on the field that is outside of the jurisdiction of both the Feds and the Freefall sheriff.
Much has changed on Ataraxia since the Alliance stun-bombed the entire Freefall area a year ago and indiscriminately incapacitated hundreds of Alliance citizens. Anti-Alliance newsfeed reports of "The Freefall Atrocity" blanketed the Cortex as these victims recovered and began to tell their stories. The subsequent military investigation precipitated a fierce debate within the Federal district command about the continued need for a troop presence on the ground in Freefall.
Furthermore, the Alliance courts have ruled that the Magistrate's mineral lease holdings on Ataraxia are forfeit and that the Alliance therefore no longer needs to exercise stewardship over his former leaseholds; this means that all mineral rights on Ataraxia have been released for reissue, except for those holdings already acquired by Dexeldyne Industries.
It is now legal for any small prospector or independent mining operation to stake a claim to any of the unclaimed smaller mineheads scattered around the Freefall area and set up to mine any mineral EXCEPT ataraxite, which is still illegal to own or trade. Not surprisingly, this has triggered a "gold rush" into the town of Freefall, as local miners as well as off-worlders flock in to stake claims and try to strike it rich. With all the mercenaries, bandits, cult zealots, and other unsavory types also attracted by the promise of easy pickin’s, the trick will be DEFENDING a claim once it is staked. But, hey, the Wheel keeps turnin’, dong ma?
Since the bulk of Alliance Federal Task Force 7 was lost to a savage Reaver attack and a scandal resulted from the corrupt behavior of certain Alliance Terraforming Commission representatives, the Federal peacekeeping mission on Ataraxia has largely been abandoned. A token Federal presence remains, but the operation of the mines has been entirely outsourced to the independent contractor Dexeldyne Industries. Dexeldyne is infamous among professional terraformers and mine operators for their rumored ties to the criminal underworld as well as their heavy-handed use of convict and slave labor, but the organization also has a strong reputation for getting the job done if the customer is not too fussy about such things as collateral damage and body counts.
The revocation of the Magistracy’s leasehold on Ataraxia in Federal court and the subsequent collapse of the Ataraxian Civil Authority, coupled with a weakening of the Alliance’s will to provide peacekeepers, has created a power vacuum in Freefall Camp. The Ataraxian Volunteer Militia, or the Browncoat Resistance, or possibly other armed groups, may attempt to put themselves forward as the rightful leaders of the community. Which one, if any, will prevail remains to be determined. The Followers of the True Path, with their secretive ways and supposed supernatural powers, are also a force to be reckoned with in the area.
Reaver raids have become less frequent, but no less savage. With little hope of Alliance aid or protection, transport and salvage vessels operate at their own risk. The lure of the profits to be made from transporting titanium ore and other less legitimate resources off world, however, is bound to draw ships back to Ataraxia.
Attracted by all the activity in the area, Reavers have attacked and destroyed the small independent port of Freefall on the planet Ataraxia. The Magistrate of Ataraxia has disappeared, and it is widely rumored (but currently unconfirmed) that he was among the casualties. Survivors of the carnage at Freefall have formed a refugee camp on the outskirts of the nearest habitable area, a fortress colony maintained by a militant religious cult calling itself the Followers of the True Path. Reaver depredations in the area continue, and illegal mining operations are rumored to continue as well. With the Magistrate missing, his army and police forces in tatters and his leasehold on Ataraxia in limbo, Alliance Task Force 7 is attempting to maintain order in the camp while organizing the construction and defense of a New Freefall settlement.
The Magistrate’s leasehold on the Border Moon Ataraxia has been suspended pending his indictment by the Alliance Terraforming Authority on charges of illegal mining and trafficking of the rare gemstone ataraxite. Since he has not yet been convicted of any crime, the Magistrate insists that this suspension constitutes a gross violation of his contract rights under Interplanetary Commerce Law and has vowed to resist any attempts by the Alliance to forcibly seize his property. To this end, he has allied himself with his former foes, the Browncoat Resistance, and offered forgiveness of indenture to any miner who will join the struggle. Together, they are waging a low-intensity guerrilla campaign against the various Alliance forces sent to occupy Ataraxia’s key strategic areas.
An Alliance peace-keeping force has been dispatched to Ataraxia to quell the lawlessness. As part of this force, Alliance Federal Task Group 7 has been assigned the unenviable mission of pacifying the notorious port town of Freefall and its environs. From previous missions in the sector, AFTG-7 is well aware that the area around Freefall is a seething hotbed of mercenary thugs, petty thieves, smuggling space-trash, and unreformed Independent guerrillas.
Freefall itself remains a neutral open port, since it was never part of the Magistrate’s leasehold on the planet and its legal status is therefore not in question. The townsfolk are suspicious, however, that the nearby Federal Task Group is actively looking for an excuse to declare martial law and usurp local control “for the protection of Alliance citizens.”
After the defeat of the Independents, the Alliance had a huge number of captured Browncoats on their hands. Most of these POWs had all their personal assets confiscated as reparations, and were compelled to do a stint in a "Resocialization Center" before they were released. After release, these "redeemed" but penniless Browncoats tended to seek employment as indentured workers on the Border Moons so they could get as far away from the Core as possible.
The Magistrate of Ataraxia, a small moon with a harsh climate but rich veins of precious minerals, offered terms of indenturement that seemed almost too good to be true to these Browncoats, if they would only sign on as miners. He lied. Once they arrived, the Browncoats who signed on found working conditions to be more dangerous than slave labor. After all, slaves are valuable property, while many Border World Alliance loyalists believed that "Them 'Innypenets' shoulda been burned offa every world spinnin'." Even worse, the Alliance was turning a blind eye to the Magistrate's abuses. Fewer Browncoats meant less trouble, as far as the local Feds were concerned.
This was a miscalculation on the Alliance's part. After a particularly fatal and totally avoidable mine collapse, the indentured miners had had enough. Working with certain disreputable spaceship crews who frequent Ataraxia's virtually lawless port city, Freefall, these desperate former soldiers of the Independence re-armed themselves and seized the moon's mineheads. They claim that they are holding the mines hostage until working conditions are improved to promised levels; in reality, they continue to work the mines and sell the ore to smugglers who make huge profits shipping it off-world. Most of these smugglers are Browncoats themselves, so they are particularly delighted to aid in the liberation of Ataraxia's natural resources.
The Magistrate of Ataraxia's mercenary force has not proved heavy enough to retake the mineheads from these veteran troops, and so he has called for Alliance help in crushing what he calls this "violent miners' strike." The townsfolk of Freefall have refused to join a side in this struggle, preferring instead to stay neutral and profit from the brisk smuggling trade.