Turnbull/Mary (Tau Eridani V, Tau Eridani A-7)


It's often safer to be in chains than to be free.
- The Trail, Kafka

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.
- C.S. Lewis

On arrival, our handler gave us locator badges from HM. After making sure we had paid enough RCUs for our stay she led us through the airlock into Mary proper. The impression was one of a labyrinth of nearly identical, colourcoded corridors with similarly nearly identical people in colourcoded coveralls. The gravity was very low, so most people slowly bounded along the corridors, speeding up with handrails practically covered with warning stickers. In fact, the most common decorations were warning signs: sharp corner warnings, depressurisation warnings, radiation warnings, increased RCU debit warnings, pershaz warning, restricted zone warning… The passers-by clearly saw that we were aliens, and did their best not to look at us.
- Jonathan Ellis-Khayama, Interstellar Diary


Turnbull is a failed colony. When the first colony ship (the Owl) owned by the Turnbull International Foundation arrived in 2128 they discovered too late that while the local biosphere flourished, it was extremely deadly. At first everything appeared perfect, and the colonists explored the planet, studied the biosphere and began to set up the initial colony. All the usual precautions and surveys were undertaken, but no obvious danger was apparent. But after 7 months of human presence on the planet a local protozoan had adapted to human biology and began to dissolve keratin – resulting in a disease that literally skinned people alive. First rashes developed, then the hair began to fall off and finally all the skin began to flake off resulting in excruciating pain and deadly secondary infections. They tried to stop it with all means, but it was clear they had too few resources to handle the problem. The survivors, already infected, froze themselves again on the Owl in the hope of rescue, leaving a warning message for the second ship, the Eagle.

The colonists on the Eagle, arriving some months later, were faced with a choice: trying to settle the system, also freeze themselves in the hope for rescue, or try to leave. Leaving would need refuelling the ship, in turn requiring an infrastructure for He3 extraction which essentially required an entire settlement. Settling on Turnbull after the horrible demise of the initial colony was not popular, and attempts to find a cure failed. The arguments were long and heated, but in the end the leaders of the project decided to settle on a suitable asteroid, Mary, with enough resources to support the construction of a semi-permanent habitat. If this worked, then they could later decide on whether to gather enough He3 to escape, or stay in the system.

The colonisation project was hard, the ship had the wrong equipment and nobody dared to use the materials from the first ship as it was likely contaminated. The project leaders had to force everybody able to do so to work in order to ensure survival. The heroic habitat construction project on Mary succeeded against all odds, but the situation was critical – all systems were close to marginal, the amount of available oxygen, water and biomass was low, accidents deadly. As people settled down, life became a permanent crisis situation where the project leaders had to make tough decisions, often against the will of the colonists. An attempted mutiny was crushed, and the leaders instituted harsh rules to "guarantee survival for the duration of the crisis".

After building the basic habitat, the colonists burrowed deep into Mary. They gathered volatiles from ice dragged from the outskirts of the system, and slowly produced more biomass. At several points the whole situation was near disaster as uncontrolled infections threatened all food productions, or asteroid-quakes caused depressurisation in certain sections. The management had to find a way of dealing with what to do with people that either worked against them or had no useful skills; in the end they settled for the temporary solution of cryofreezing them to be awakened once the crisis was over.

As the years went on, things settled down. As the colonists grew older, children were reared and became used to their world. Mary slowly became a regimented, closed society where everybody and everything had its place. While the acute threats gradually subsided, the politics of scarcity, control and having to plan for disasters continued. The original project of refuelling the colony ship was abandoned as "too costly during the present crisis", the study of the flaying plague was discontinued to deal with other epidemics, and scientific work was turned to exploiting Mary. Routine replaced exploration, caution curiosity.


Today Marian society is rigid, closed and bureaucratic. It is nearly a caste system, where everybody is educated for a single duty. Everybody is sterilised; children are born and educated in a central nursery facility deep in the core. Most people belong to the various life-support branches like Biomass Management (BM: agriculture, sanitation), Matter Management (MM: water, air, mining), Energy Management (EM: energy production and distribution) and Technology Management (TM: repairs, building and maintenance of the habitat). Above them in hierarchy are Information Management (IM: communications, media), Human Management (HM: nursing, education, medicine, economics, and social security), Security Management (SM: the police, surveillance) and finally Project Management (PM: administration, planning and oversight). On the Planning Committee representatives for the 8 branches sit, formally with similar status but in practice ranked.

Society on Mary is dominated by matters of scarce resources. Withholding resources is treason, and selfishness the worst sin except for endangering the habitat. At the same time, HM realises that humans are humans, and need things like privacy, personal space, creativity and individuality (even these tendencies can be ameliorated by conditioning) in order not to crack up. Their solution has been to encourage resource-economical activities such as sex, lucid dreaming, meditation and computer games. Especially the games have grown tremendously, from simple network games producing cheap excitement into elaborate collaborative fantasy worlds. Stories and conflicts within the games are matters that fill everyday discussions, and IM is building more gameworlds all the time. Beside the official rankings, many people are known for their rankings in various games. Everyday reality is often regarded as the boring but necessary basis for the true reality of dreams. At the same time the games give HM and SM an unobtrusive way to monitor people's psychological profiles.

The economy is based on RCUs, Resource Consumption Units. Each unit allows a certain amount of air, food, water, energy and services. Nursing and education incurs a RCU debt, which has to be worked off to the habitat – they are in "the duty category". Once a person has worked it off (which can take many years since they need RCUs to pay their own existence in the meantime) they are "duty free" and in theory able to do what they want. In practice they have to remain on their old jobs. People who are too old or sick to work or lack RCUs are liabilities to the system, and not allowed to consume resources. They are frozen in the Repository, awaiting the day when "the crisis ends". Crimes are usually punished by fines, behaviour therapy (which also incur a cost, of course; this can put someone back in the duty category) or freezing.

Everything is monitored, analysed and checked. The management systems monitor everyone and note any deviation from normal (some people who behave too variably are marked as "unpredictable" and generally avoided). There have been a few cases of corruption in the past, starting purges to protect the colony from "waste and favouritism"; an atmosphere of everybody watching everybody has spread. Still, some black market and semi-legal activity occurs, partly as a security valve accepted after sociological studies by HM (and secretly, a way for SM to have blackmail on most people). Computer games, sex and lucid dreaming are the most popular forms of entertainment.

Technology isn’t very advanced; most is equal to Earth technology in the 2050’s, with an emphasis on life support technology and asteroid mining.

The encounter with a joint Arcadian-Nova expedition in 2345 left Mary shaken; clearly the administration could not imagine what to do with the outsiders. The expedition also saved the contaminated colonists of the first expedition, who were revived and treated on Arcadia and Nova.


MM (Matter Management) deals with mining, purifying, distilling He3 from the regolith and producing breathable air, drinkable water and raw materials. Most of the organisation is little more than a mining venture, and it has fairly low political status despite constant media barrages about how essential it is. Section 2 of MM runs most of the factories producing goods; local corruption allows the black market to get access to certain goods.

BM (Biomass Management) deals with the production, use and recycling of biomass. BM does the laborious conversion from water and minerals into biomass, tends the hydroponic gardens, production of more advanced biological products and sanitation/recycling. BM is always asking for more raw materials to keep the biomass levels up.

EM (Energy Management) runs the powerplants and powergrids. It is generally regarded as a bit arrogant, often having problems working with TM and running emergency drills too often.

TM (Technology Management) is responsible for keeping the overall technological system running. They build, maintain and repair the habitat, oversee the day-to-day function of the automation and runs several factories to produce new parts. While most of TM has fairly low status some sections are respected, such as Section 6 which is responsible for safety and emergencies; there are many stories about the heroics of Section 6 employees fighting disasters against huge odds and saving the habitats at the cost of their lives. Another important section is Section 8, which manages the remaining space vehicles and off-habitat sensors.

IM (Information Management) is the most popular and expansive part of Mary society. It builds and maintains the information and computer resources, and Section 2 produces the entertainment everybody watches or plays. Section 7 is not as well known, but it is responsible for propaganda, subliminal messages and monitoring; it is closely linked to SM.

HM (Human Management) is a huge organisation with sections ranging from economics (Section 1), sociological studies (Section 2), education (Section 3), health care (Section 4), housing (Section 5), sports (Section 6), psychology (Section 7), reproduction (Section 8) and cryonic freezing (Section 9).

SM (Security Management) keeps track of where the citizens are, what they are doing and if it is dangerous. Section 1 deals with physical dangers and how to deal with them (they coordinate with TM Section 6), while Section 2 is about law enforcement. Section 2 monitors the habitat through surveillance cameras, and sends out the Blacks to fetch offenders for punishment or therapy. Section 3 is about internal security; it is not well known and keeps a low profile.

PM (Project Management) is the central administration of Mary, organising the other management sections and making sure they work together to solve the Crisis.

The Underworld certainly exists. It deals with illegal drugs, stolen goods and betting as well as various protection rackets. Many of the transactions (and some deeds) are done in the game virtuals: since RCUs are highly monitored, game scores and in-game-money are used. SM of course works against the underworld groups, but they are clever and SM often has more work to do monitoring legal activities and the citizens overall lives.


Mary is fairly drab and utilitarian, with colour mainly used for warning signs and symbols. Since the temperature is always 21 degrees C, people dress in white shorts and T-shirts marked with their names, position and rank. Tattoos are fairly common, often abstract patters of depictions of various characters from popular network games.



Slang for RCUs.


Behavioural Therapy. Used to treat various crimes and misdemeanors. The participants are said to have become BeTer afterwards.


People from SM. Similar slang is used for the other branches: greens for BM, blues for HM, reds for PM.

The Beyond

The outside universe.


Community hazard, a danger to everyone such as air leaks, blowouts, life support failure, meteor impacts or social unrest.

The Core

The planning council.

The Crisis

The current situation of scarcity, instability and imminent danger that has threatened Mary since it was founded.

Descend to the core

Rise through the ranks. The most important functions are located in the lowermost parts of Mary.


Returned to the duty category.

Duty free

Somebody not owing the government RCUs.


Somebody addicted to the GamNet.


The game networks


The best players.

In Repose

Frozen in the Repository


Lucid dream.


Personal Hazard, a danger such as vacuum, heat, cold, radiation or dangerous machinery.


Somebody with a mind like regolith: flaky, boring and useless. Insult.


Somebody not paying his dues.


Music style popular among the gamesters.


The disease that killed people on Turnbull; in popular imagination it has turned into a taint that might spread from anything that has touched the planet.


910,636 people. Average life expectancy at birth: 61.6 Earth-years, although almost nobody ever dies - they are all frozen in the Repository until the Crisis is over..


Resource Consumption Units. One RCU corresponds roughly to the amount of air, water, biomass, electricity and services needed to survive one day. Common derived units are the centiRCU and deciRCU.


Mary uses seconds as the time unit. Common measures are kilos (1000 seconds, around 16 minutes), days (100,000 seconds, around 28 hours) and megas (1000,000 seconds, a 10 day week). One orbit around the sun takes 6.9 years (around 218 megas). By tradition the apehelion and perihelion is celebrated by a brief holiday, periday.


Each Management has its own colour (BM green, HM blue, EM yellow, SM black, PM red and so on), worn on lapel badges signifying rank and organisation (vertical band to the left, with a square to the right whose height denotes rank). All the colour bands put together form the symbol for the entire Mary colony.


The system has five planets, but they are of little interest to the marions. The outermost is Turnbull, earthlike and with two major moons. The other four are small gas giants/superterrestrial planets, named Harcourt, Alkorta, Varela and Franquemont. Mary orbits 0.3 AU outside Turnbull. It is 117 kilometres in diameter, a carbonaceous chondrite sphere covered with craters. The surface bears the markings of solar panels around the equator, a crater where a comet was deliberately crashed into the surface to get ice, and a number of factory installations. The original habitat domes surround the gutted remains of the Eagle, which was used for equipment and raw materials.


Turnbull orbits 2.32 AU from the sun; one year is 3.53 Earth-years or 1407 days. It is 14,038 kilometres in diameter, with an average density equal to the Earth. The gravity is 1.1 G. It is a fairly cold planet, the mean temperature is 14 degrees Celsius. Approximately 15% of the surface is covered with ice; without it 69% of the surface would be water. The day is 22 hours long and the axial inclination is 20 degrees.

The planet has two moons, Vera (2492 km, orbiting 1.1 million kilometres away) and Jeanette (4313 km, orbiting on average 2.1 million kilometres away). Jeanette has a fairly high inclination orbit; it may have been captured in the near geological past in a near-disaster.

Turnbull is very geologically active, with a major pangean continent breaking up along a series of rift valleys and inland seas as well as plenty of volcanic island chains. The dust contents in the atmosphere has a variable effect on the weather - mini iceages are not uncommon after massive eruptions.

The continent is called Durham, containing the highly saline Hosono Sea and the Wennerström Sea west of Lindell Bay. In the ocean there are several dozen island chains, named after crewmembers on the Owl. The inland climate tends to be rather extreme, and the southern parts of Durham are a frozen tundra from which intense blizzards blow halfway to the equator during the winters. The colony itself was sensibly located away from major rifts and climatic extremes, on the temperate Metallica peninsula of the northeastern coast.

Life on Turnbull is comparatively earthlike from a chemical point of view, but the chemicals are used for very different purposes in the biochemistry (for example, energy is mainly stored in proteins, and genetic information in special fatty acid complexes). It is surprisingly adaptable, exhibiting an ability to quickly evolve to fill new niches as they appear.

Turnbull plants have a peculiar mottled appearance of red and blue spots; they are really colonies of two kinds of single celled creatures with different photosynthetic pigments living in a matrix provided by a third creature. While land and sea plants are not that unlike terrestrial counterparts, the skyplants of the equatorial regions are unique. They float on hydrogen-filled balloons, able to avoid getting shadowed by simply drifting with the winds. While they get enough sunlight and moisture, they have problems with acquiring enough minerals to grow. Most plants sport sticky roots hanging from the body, some descending during the night to the sea to pick up debris, others catching flying animals and many simply exploit volcanic dust in the atmosphere - after a major eruption the amount of skyplants can increase enormously. Some plants even prey on smaller plants, by catching them and dissolving them. Dense clouds of skyplants pose a noticeable hazard to flying vehicles.

There are three major forms of animals and countless smaller groupings. The most common is the decapedes, centipede or wormlike animals found burrowing for nutrients in the ground or undergrowth, some preying on smaller species. One form has evolved wings, and live on, in and around the skyplants. The hexapedes (called Schwartzkopfs) are hairy, six limbed warm-blooded animals found in the sutherly regions; they show many niches similar to arctic rodents and foxes. The rollers are found mainly along the shores of the rift seas, ball-like animals rolling along using two tentacles and eating whatever they can find on the beach. Ryan's Roller is the largest one, up to two meters large and quite able to crush a human.