Messina is a small, dense planet orbiting a small star. Scientists believe the planet was formed when a dense radioactive planetary body collided with a much larger ice giant, perturbing its orbit and sending it closer to its sun. Most of the ice melted, causing cataclysmic flooding, and then evaporated, but a tiny remnant of the ice giant now orbits Messina as its Moon, Cryos. The denser material formed the core of the planet’s northern hemisphere, and gave rise to Messina’s unusual orbital mechanics.
Unlike Earth, Messina has a highly tilted rotational axis that almost lies in its orbital plane, so its denser North Pole points towards the sun and rotation of the planet does not produce a clear alternation of night and day except in a relatively narrow equatorial band, the planet’s Goldilocks Zone. Throughout the course of a Messinian year, the rotational axis completes a 360-degree turn, so its northern hemisphere always faces the sun and the planet lacks discernible seasons. The sunny North Pole is prohibitively hot, accessible only to Mechs (robots) and to the AI’s Military Units. In contrast, most of the southern hemisphere is perpetually cold and dark, and the South Pole has an ice cap predominantly made of dry ice (solid carbon dioxide), with traces of water ice. On the surface, temperatures are only bearable at equatorial latitudes. Here, indigenous lichens and other small hardy plant species survive, along with a few indigenous, lizard-like animals called keplins.
At the time represented in the game, the citizens of Messina are the last humans alive. The First Fleet of colonists from Earth arrived at Messina ten years earlier, having fled a nuclear apocalypse on the mother planet and journeying for centuries in cryogenic storage. The First Governor of Messina led a landing party, which set up a rudimentary farming commUnity (grid space E5). Once the farm was operational, the main population of colonists was woken from hibernation and sent to work terraforming the equatorial zones. They established more farms, built Equator City (grid space D1), and sent expeditions to build mines near the poles.
At the outbreak of the game, a Second Fleet of colonists has arrived, landing their own Starship on the planet surface near a small Oasis (grid space D8). They find the new colony in turmoil, on the brink of starvation. A strike by ice miners, in protest against their miserable conditions, has led to water shortages. When the civilian police attempted to intervene, critical infrastructure was damaged, leading to widespread crop failures. Violent outbreaks at food deposits and black market extortion by a burgeoning criminal class led the First Fleet Governor to announce rations and a curfew, provoking more violent riots in the streets. Terrified colonists abandoned their farms, fleeing from armed looters, and now several farms lie idle. Hungry civilians seem too scared to leave the defensive shields and brittle peace of Equator City.
United Energy, an unscrupulous mining company that joint-funded the original interstellar voyage in the hope of becoming the first interstellar megacorporation, has refused to implement rationing and is now threatening to flick the switch on the planet’s power supply.
The newly arrived General in charge of the Second Fleet agrees that firm intervention is needed, but insists that it is the military who should re-establish law and order. The General is scornful of the efforts of the First Fleet Governor, who has obviously lost control of the situation. In turn, the Governor sees the General as a thug who barely knows the routes around the Goldilocks Zone, let alone the more dangerous areas of the planet, and who sees every problem in military terms.
Worse still, the planetary AI has just declared it does not trust any of the human factions and it will not tolerate any further deviations from its own master plan for orderly planetary development. The AI’s modelling suggests that, without drastic measures, the colony will starve within the year. Amongst the scenarios it seems to be contemplating is a planetary reboot, starting from scratch with its own favoured bunch of tame human scientists and technicians, waiting in the original Starship, along with a few hundred civilians still in deep freeze.