Rubycon II is the star system centered on a bloated red star that is nearly a thousand times larger than Blessed Sol and burns a deep crimson. It is a dead system of two large gas giants whose pale surfaces flow with great typhoons that spread and die like bruises on flesh. These two planets are named the Ruby Brothers, and between the two planets lies a wide and dense field of asteroids that may be the remains of a lesser sibling planet whose death occurred long ago. This broken string of asteroids is a common hiding place for those wishing to avoid Imperial notice, and has become a meeting place for agencies of ill repute who would still chance the Koronus Passage to the Expanse. Beyond the orbit of these two bloated twin planets is Port Wander itself, set amongst a clutch of asteroids, many of which have been converted into other installations, ship yards, housing units, research stations, repair docks, and storage facilities. Surrounded by vessels of all shapes and sizes, it glows with the lights of hundreds of beacons and tens of thousands of souls. Beyond this island of life are the comets, untold hundreds of thousands of chunks of ice and soot, each a glittering mote in the heavens. Finally there is the true void, still and serene except for the silent roar of mighty plasma drives as ships pass in flight or in hope.
Drusus Marches, rimward at the very limits of the Calixis Sector. While nearby Rubycon I is a dim, white-dwarf star, alone and slowly radiating away its energy into the void, Rubycon II or Rubycon Majoris is a huge red supergiant with a small cluster of planets surrounding it. The star is nearly a thousand times larger than Blessed Sol and burns a deep crimson color; many who dwell under its light refer to it as The Ruby or simply Ruby. The Rogue Trader who first officially charted the system, Vivaldi Jontur, regarded it as inconsequential and moved on after a cursory inspection found nothing of interest. With no signs of alien life to exploit or mineral riches to mine, there was little in the dead system to warrant further expense. It would remain deserted until Port Wander was established, centuries later.
The most notable features of the system are the two large gas giants orbiting slowly far away from the star. They were easily detected by Jontur’s two sons, who were travelling with their father to learn from his travels. He named the planets in their honor, the nearest to the star becoming Carlon and the farther Thamos. Both planets are mostly hydrogen and helium, but Thamos has a larger percentage of ice, in the form of water, ammonia, and methane. Neither has any moons and only a smattering of attendant asteroids in stable co-orbital positions, as if a strong wind had swept away most of the normal formations which surround such planets. Vast scoopships mine both planets for their gases, selling them at the port for processing into fuel and organic base matter.
Far closer to Rubycon II is a single small, rocky, and tide-locked planet, scorched clean of any atmosphere or life. It is barely discernible through the red giant’s glare, brown and slag streaked, and was only discovered when the system was carefully mapped, years after Jontur’s visit. Dubbed Rustrock, it contains many valuable ores such as iron and adamantium, and today the dark side of the world is covered with mining facilities and refineries, sheltered from the star’s heat. A steady stream of cargo ships carries the purified extracts to the station’s foundries and shipyards.
Farther beyond Thamos in highly elliptical orbits are three small planets of frozen gas and ice. Kaiki, Apeli, and Skiri slowly travel along orbital paths that take hundreds of years. These orbits carry them far beyond Ruby’s light and into the system’s Ort Cloud. This makes them difficult to reach, though several expeditions have been mounted to chart and explore Kaiki and Apeli. Cursory examinations revealed nothing of interest, yet legends and myths abound in the port about buried treasures and secret xenos cities below the planets’ icy exteriors.
The furthest planet, Skiri, has been more thoroughly explored by the Priesthood of the Adeptus Mechanicus. For unknown reasons, the tech-priests decided to establish a research facility there: Altar-Templum-Calixis-Est-3, which keeps a constant gaze on the Maw to detect signs of instability. Through that dark portal it communes with its younger brother station at Footfall, Altar-Templum-Calixis-Ext-17, and only their tech-priest masters are privy to the secrets they share. Non-Mechanicus ships that stray too close to the dark and icy world are warned to stand clear, and several ships have vanished after disregarding the warnings.
The Mechanicum of Rubycon IIEdit
Unlike many of the other agencies within the Sector, the Machine Cult already had a foothold within the system when the Koronus Passage was revealed. Its presence on Port Wander allowed for a firm base of operations, as well as a solid foundation to weather the many conflicts over the Port’s authority and ownership. Few realized its interests predominantly lay on the extreme far edges of Rubycon, it only becoming clear when the other major powers within the system simultaneously and independently ceded any claims they had on an entire world to the Mechanicum. It had taken an entire cohort of Factors working for long months, each Factor targeting a different authority with tactical diplomacy, but all working together to multiply their gains until the prize was achieved: the planet on the farthest edge of Rubycon II, Skiri.
Even though it raised some eyebrows, few still considered this much of a triumph. The world was little more than rock and ice, barely a mention in Rogue Trader Vivaldi Jontur’s original survey of the system. Like most objects within the system, it had no valuable ores or other wealth to exploit. Its orbit is so far removed from the Port and normal intra-system routes that most barely remember its existence. So, for the most part, the principalities of Port Wander ignored things as the Mechanicus developed the planet and its surroundings with a research station and network of auspex sensoria.
The Ruby Brothers so dominate the system that it was not until construction of Port Wander began that cartographers discovered the asteroid belt that lies between them. Theories vary amongst the Scintillan Geologis Scholarium if these represent another planet torn to shreds by the intense gravity of the two Brothers, or are simply debris left from the origins of the Rubycon system. The field is relatively dense, filled with objects ranging from small grains to huge rocks thousands of kilometers across. The myriad orbital paths are in a constant flux due to the competing attractions of the two gas giants, making navigation hazardous. Once Port Wander became more than just another naval station and the flood of merchants, civilians, and entrepreneurs arrived in the system though, the field transformed from a navigational hazard to a civilization of its own. Commonly called “Ruby’s Belt” or simply “the Rocks,” it is the home to many thousands who exploit its resources and hide in its dark shadows.
While Port Wander was largely constructed from prefabricated hull sections, a station of its size does need a regular supply of raw materials for upkeep and repairs, especially given the constant if unconventional growth it sees. The nearby asteroid field is instrumental in feeding these expansions. Although it is not as rich in metallic ores as the dense inner planet of Rustrock it has a wider variety of lighter minerals, including the materials used in plasteel and ceramite. These void miners make up the bulk of the regular population in the field, with several family operations dating back many generations. Their operations move from rock to rock, and whoever sets up an extraction facility first becomes the “owner” unless a more heavily armed group wishes to dispute the claim. Usually, there are enough asteroids that little fighting occurs. However, should word get out of an especially pure or valuable strike then outright combat breaks out, with dozens of factions vying for control. For this reason most mining groups possess heavy armaments as well as mining equipment.
Miners are not the only armed parties in Ruby’s Belt. The dense and unforgiving nature of the orbiting rocks makes this area ideal for those wishing to avoid detection from Imperial agencies. Smugglers maintain hidden bases throughout sections of the field, where they can stash their contraband goods and ready their nimble craft for secretive rendezvous. Raiders, pirates, and criminal cartels also maintain stations away from the sensors of the Navy patrol ships, and woe to any miner who should discover one by accident. Some are even more secretive; tap room tales speak of nameless rocks home to escaped slaves or foul mutants who have stolen away from Port Wander or passing vessels. Other stories whisper of xenos cults who find the seclusion perfect for their blasphemous schemes, or even followers of the Ruinous Powers who are rumoured to thrive despite periodic Inquisitorial purges. Then there are the legends of the Ghost Rock, taken to be a common asteroid but on closer observation revealed to be an artificial construct. Those who tell the tale speak of rockcrete mountains bristling with weaponry, and escapes due more to luck than skill. It is never found in the same place twice, and most dismiss it as a fearful tale.
The Belt is also host to more hospitable places. There are several major repair yards, nominally to service mining vessels—though many are willing to do discrete shipwork on the side. A few have an underground reputation for discretely working on xenos mechanisms as well, if the Thrones are golden. Other larger rocks have been transformed into opulent manses for the nobles who have chosen to live in the system, where they can be close to the rich excitement of the Expanse (but not too close). Complete with enclosures of actual grasses and even trees, they represent wealth beyond imagining. There are also the farming asteroids, hollowed out and pumped with atmosphere to grow fungus, algaes, and other primitive organics to feed the port’s teeming multitudes.
While most of the congregational shrines for travelling pilgrims are located near Port Wander, several asteroids have been converted over to permanent dwellings for those who have returned from the Maw but cannot imagine returning to Calixis, such is their spiritual transformation. Here they exist in a monastic setting, interacting little with the rest of the system except to barter their meagre products for fresh organic slurry and water, enough to maintain their simple livelihoods. They are rarely disturbed by anyone, as even most system pirates recognize their worthlessness as targets.
Even with these motes of civilization, the area is akin to wandering into a deep and dark forest; there are dangers both obvious and subtle for the unwary traveler. Navigating without being struck by an errant rock is problem enough, but navigating the twisting feuds, rivalries, and hunting grounds that fill “the rocks” can be lethal.
What Lies BeyondEdit
Beyond the planets are vast fields of comets and other debris, forming a cloud ranging far into the void. The comets are of particular interest, as these fetch a premium price on the station, and scores work these dim regions because of them. Most are void miners who have chosen to switch from rock to ice, trading more dependable finds for higher risks and the chance of higher profits. While most live somewhat ordinary lives, mining and transporting their frozen hauls back into the warmer depths of the system for sale, others spend their entire lives on their icy homes. These are the true Cloudminers and they hold sway over this dominion. Many will never leave the clouds, though others visit the port for trade negotiations or to barter their ice and other discoveries for their needs.
Their finds are often remarkable, and the clouds are home to many a wrecked vessel. Some are the obvious remains of disastrous warp attempts or pirate attacks, while others could be millennia-old space hulks or even xenos vessels beneath the accumulated impact scores and encrusted soot. The Cloudminers also mine these finds, and what they uncover has lead to furious bidding wars and outright armed conflict.
For there are others in the clouds. Pirates and raiders of all types lie in wait to attack unwary traders returning from the Expanse, hiding amidst the ice to patiently stalk their prey. Smuggler networks also ply the area, ready to pick up those items not permissible even on Port Wander and escort them to eager buyers. At the cloud fringes lie the standard system beacons established by the Imperial Navy to aid in navigation for approaching and departing vessels, and the flickering astropathic boost-relays to aid warp-communications.
Beyond the clouds are the endless depths of the void. These deep oceans only are disturbed by passing vessels hurrying into the system or towards their warp jump location. Rubycon II is far removed from other systems, and no Imperial ships would think to brave the centuries of passage to the closest stars via real space.
Requiescant in PaceEdit
Approximately every 17 years, Big Brother and Little Brother approach conjunction, forming a line from Rubycon II along both planets and Port Wander itself. During this time, the Rubycon II asteroid belt is relatively quiescent, the competing gravity wells forming a temporary Lagrange point of stability. When this happens, salvagers, adventurers, pirates, and madmen scramble to make the most of the window of opportunity, flying into the field in search of wealth and glory.
The prize they seek is the wreck of the Terra In Excelsis, a Hazeroth-class vessel lost decades before for reasons unknown. After her arrival in the Rubycon II system, inbound to Port Wander, she simply went dead, responding to neither vox nor astropathic communication, then drifted inexorably into the asteroid belt. Asteroid miners and other brave souls occasionally report seeing the shattered hulk of the ship, holed by asteroid strikes, appearing and disappearing again into the ever-moving chaos of the belt. Some claim that she seems to be mocking them, rising from above the plane of the ecliptic for just a moment, then sinking again out of sight.
Her last verified port of call was the Sunerisle colony, discovered in 743.M41, and from which her captain, Omar ben Judahra, was said to have recovered a relic with worth beyond reckoning. Here, sadly, the tale becomes confused and accounts differ. One version holds that Sunerisle was the last resting place of a lost Primarch, and that the Terra In Excelsis holds his corpse within its cavernous halls. Others tell of a xenos relic of unbelievable power. Still more believe that a map pinpointing the location of a Standard Construction Template has been stored in the ship’s archive.
In any case, every Rubycon Conjunction, swarms of small vessels ply the belt in search of the missing ship. While drunken voidfarers are prone to tall tales of the “ghost ship of Rubycon,” none claim to have docked with the vessel and survived. The sole exception, to those in the know, are the traders and renegades of the Beast House. Each Conjunction they dispatch a small vessel to the belt, carrying a squad of hardened killers, the best-trained and best-equipped mercenaries money can buy. Each Conjunction, this vessel returns, most of the mercenaries on board dead, but its hold filled with a cargo so dangerous and so valuable Inquisitors have been murdered to keep it safe.
The drifting hulk of the Terra In Excelsis is aswarm with Genestealers, xenos abominations so virulent and deadly that a single specimen, left unchecked, can topple an Imperial world. Any Rogue Trader who would brave the asteroid belt during Conjunction in search of the treasure of the Terra in Excelsis risks more than his life and his ship…he risks his very soul.