Ridgewell (Beta Trianguli Australis X)


Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl - no superior alternative has yet been found.
- Sir Winston Churchill

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.
- Thomas Hardy, Heredity

Peter-Swifttop Johnny Stevens introduced me to his household, the Swifttop building (named for being built on top of the hill just outside Swift, typical Ridgewell literalness). The city beneath looked like a toy model in a shop window in the brilliant cold sunlight. The Swifttops is an uniclone household, consisting solely of Johnnies. A greyed old Johnny was trying to organise ten Johnny children to tend the garden, while three adolescent Johnnies immediately seized upon the chance to speak with a real outworlder (no doubt curious about our reproductive practices). It would have been hard to recognise Peter unless I hadn’t memorised his stripes of facial paint. He told me that it was a common game for the children to switch painting and try to trick their parents. Surprisingly often it failed.
- Jonathan Ellis-Khayama, Interstellar Diary


Ridgewell was colonised by a multifamily corporation/foundation, the Prudence Foundation (roughly standard western values with a contingent from the Equatorial Net Alliance). This was the first major robot-assisted colonial project. The colony ship Joy was launched in 2041, and arrived in 2142. At this point an automatic ship sent before (Swift) had already done initial surveying and dropped a preliminary colony module to the surface (also called Swift; in time it became the capital of Ridgewell).

During the first colonisation stage a major accident occurred, killing everyone onboard the Joy: during a flare part of the ship exploded for an unknown reason, destroying most of the habitat module and cryonics facilities. The only survivors were the Stevens family, who were at the time the sole inhabitants of the Swift. They found themselves in a tricky position: they had access to all the reserve equipment but were just 6 people, far too few to set up a viable colony.

They settled for an unusual solution. The ship had a full complement of artificial wombs (intended for livestock, but not yet shipped downplanet) and the Stevens family used them for in vitro gestation of a large number of children (49). The children were at first brought up in the safety of the colony ship, while their parents heroically laboured to bring them up and repair the colony. With the help of the robots and large supply of expert systems they could manage many tasks that would otherwise have been impossible. In the end they succeeded and the now fairly large family moved completely down to the planet and settled down.

The initial colony at Swift grew, but a problem emerged: what to do about sex and reproduction? The young generation were growing up, and soon the question would become urgent. The preliminary solution was a simple antiaphrodisiac, which at least gave the small community time to grow up and think. The Stevens were in many ways conservative, and while they could accept in vitro babies, they could not accept what they regarded as incest. After a long period of hot debate they began to use the wombs again: cloning became the only accepted form of reproduction.

In time the colony grew, and Swift expanded further. In vitro cloning turned out to be an advantage in many ways: a whole clone of children could be birthed and reared together, minimising parenting time (an important factor during the initial colonisation stage), making planned parenting easier and creating a strong sense of sibling cohesion. Later in vivo cloning (where a clone was grown inside a surrogate mother) was tested a few times, but it never caught on. The colony became inhabited by clones of the original settlers.

Over time Ridgewell developed into a modern society, with some peculiarities of family and social structure. The original taboo against interbreeding continued, and clone parenting remained the norm. However, over time relations inside a clone became accepted (after some serious struggle between conservatives advocating total abstinence and liberals allowing intra-clone relations) and the normal family structure became a number of "parents" sharing a household rearing a number of clones, usually in groups of three or more at the same time. Some households were single clones, others mixed. There are still many areas where the conservatives are strong and psychochemical modifications used to remove sexuality.


Most communities are run by consensus; they are small enough for it to work well. In larger communities such as Swift, direct democracy is popular: people gather together at the plaza or on the net to discuss what to do. Sometimes a Family Meeting is called, when everybody tunes in for a major debate, or sends their representatives to Swift. There is also a Family Council acting as a parliament, doing most of the everyday governing that is needed (not much).

The 55 different clone "clans" (based on the 6 original settlers and their 49 children minus the 8 people who abstained from cloning) have slightly different personalities and styles, even if large individual variations exist. The Xaviers are known to be somewhat calmer and more creative than the efficient Brendas, the Pauls tend to be conservative, and so on.

Names consist formally of three parts: the personal name, the clone name and the family name Stevens. The personal name often contain a part showing family: Elizabeth-Greenhill Mary Stevens refers to Elizabeth of the Greenhill community of the Mary clan. Normally only the personal name is used.

Overall, Ridgewell society is fairly conservative, stable and free – free with the exception of reproduction, which is still a somewhat sensitive issue. Genetic modifications and inter-clone breeding are not allowed. Family life is strong, both in and between the households, clones and Stevens. With the exceptions of some loners and eccentrics the Stevens tend to hold together and care a lot for their communities (often with mock arrogance towards other communities).

There are roughly four political "parties", although they largely lack formal organisation. The Conservatives are overall anti-sex, pro-space and tend to be a bit clone-bound; several clones belong to the party almost to the last member. The other major grouping is the Liberals, who are roughly pro insex, isolationist and much more mixed. The two minor parties are the Radicals, pro-space and pro-sex, and the Family Party which is closely linked to the Family worshippers; their program is mainly isolationism, clone loyalty and population increase.

Technologically Ridgewell is not very outstanding. The one area where much work has been done is medicine, both cloning technology and in exploiting the fact that the population has only 55 genotypes. An illness that affects one individual is likely to be able to affect his or her clone, so a certain caution against epidemics has developed. Life extension has progressed significantly, and of the original first generation settlers (the "zeros") two (Elisabeth and Ursula) are still alive, 201 and 200 years old respectively. Otherwise, Ridgewell technology is fairly low tech: a relatively robotised society with much automation, but no real unique technologies of its own.

Contact with the other colonies has caused trouble. While some welcome the outsiders, others worry that they threaten the pleasant society the family has built. The conservatives are of course upset about the sex habits of outsiders, and many liberals agree with them on this. There have however developed the controversial "marriage party" that claims it is completely allowable to marry outside the family. A Family Meeting will likely convene shortly to discuss the issue. Another issue that is growing more heated is the number of Pauls in high offices – the clone is overrepresented in government, business and academia, and many are starting to think they are a slight bit too nepotist for their own good. The Pauls of course claim they are where they are because they are so good at their jobs.


The Stargazers Guild run the still orbiting colony ship (now in orbit around the moon Humpty) and other interplanetary ships. They are mainly responsible for astronomical monitoring, getting He3 and maintaining the satellite net. The Guild is really an extended multiclone household, dominated by the Clements and Isabelles.

The Genetic Archives are located in Swift, although copies are found in other places. They hold frozen samples of DNA from the clone-line founders. The archived DNA is then used for cloning, making sure no genetic drift occurs.

The Family Vault is located in the mountains south of Swift. It is the main cryonics facility, and here most of the first generations are stored. The Vault has become a bit of a museum, with a visitors section with memorabilia and exhibitions of the colonisation to educate young generations.

Orchid Productions Inc is the largest networked corporation on Ridgewell. It mainly trades in utility bot programs, selling plans for building houses, gardens, factories and home management, but also owns several transport companies transporting goods between the different settlements.

Robin Ventures is a major robotics/engineering firm producing most of the utility bots on Ridgewell. It is almost completely run by the Robin clone, although most of the clones actually only live from dividends in the ownership – relatively few actually work in the firm which is heavily automated. Other clones joke about the robot-Robins and their armies of household robots.

The Ephemeralist Movement dislikes life extension technologies. They claim that near-immortality slows down social growth, entrenches the rich and powerful and degrades the human spirit. While similar mortalist movements exist on many planets (other major mortalist groups exist on Gaia, Nova and New America), they are especially strong on Ridgewell since the risk of having the same immortal clones in the same positions for centuries is so obvious in the family-bound society. Currently the ephemeralists are mainly arguing against life extension treatments during gestation and trying to convince people to abstain from the antiagathic treaments, but observers worry that in contact with outworlders they could become more militant.

The Chocolate River Communities are a famous series of households and small towns along the Chocolate River, 700 kilometres west of Swift. They are home to many artists, designers and media people and are sometimes called the bandwidth capital of Ridgewell. The area is traditionally Liberal, and the strongest Radical supporters live here. The "Chocolate style" is usually imitated (or parodied; for some time it has been chic to exaggerate it humorously) on the rest of the planet.


Approximately western clothing from the 2030s. Many dress very lightly in hot weather. Facial paint is a common decoration, both expressing individuality and family/clan affiliation. Due to the bright light, sunglasses are common and often a style statement in themselves.


Big Brother

Both a honorific to senior family members, and a term for the police (mostly Bernards).


The area between terrestrial and Ridgewell ecologies. Often rather poor and subjected to erosion. Used in analogy to denote the need of uniform policies ("We cannot have borders in our reproduction!")


Robotic, stupid, pre-programmed.


A group of children reared together, not necessarily of the same clone.


Somebody from the same brood as oneself.


Greeting to other family members ("Welcome siblings!"). Can be modified to imply rank ("Big brother, this is a sensitive matter…")


Somebody maintaining the tanks. A respected profession.


Refers to another of one’s clone. Often shortened to clone ("Hi, clone!").


The Stevens family. Has connotations of nationality, shared values, belonging and unity.

Family Meeting

Major convocation of the Stevens. Sometimes local meetings are held, but the true Family Meetings take place in Swift and involve representatives and participants from the entire planet.

Flash season

The periods of increased solar activity.


Sunglasses and other eye protection, especially stylish ones.


The people maintaining a household.


Sex within a clone. Used in a derogatory way by conservatives, more neutral among liberals.


The first generation of clones. Following "generations" are called Twos, Threes and so on, even if they are based on frozen genetic samples of the Zeros.


Sex between clones. Generally regarded as abhorrent. Sex with off-worlders is sometimes called outoutsex by those disparaging it.


A tidal plain. Mudlands are mined for biomass to be converted into soil.


Somebody from the other colonies; a positive term suggesting relationship.


The First Six (Jonathan, Mary, Ronald, Simone, Diana and Thomas), who were the parents of the Zeros.

Professor Balthazar

Somebody suffering from sunstroke.


People reproducing sexually. Academic term.


One's facial painting.


The in vitro gestation tanks where children grow. Their maintainers are called caretankers.


The first Ridgewell generation.


Population: 7,762,060. Life expectancy at decantation: 760 years (estimated)




The day is 25 earth hours and 19 minutes. The Stevens divide it into 1000 beats (around 1.5 minutes), gathered into 100 decis or 10 hectos. Dates are based on Earth dating. One solar year is 4.5 Earth-years long.


A photograph taken just after landing of the First Six standing before their shuttle. Sometimes the famous painting by Evan Spikehill Andrew Stevens based on the photo is used.


The sun is called Balthazar. The nine other planets are named Welsh, Greenfield, Kirch, Wirzenius, Almesberger, Hankins, Chapman, Battersby and Tranter.

Ridgewell orbits 3 AU from the sun, with a period of 4.5 earth years or 1570 days. It is 13,145 kilometres in diameter, with a 1.026 g gravity. The day is 25 hours and 12 minutes long. The axial tilt is 2 degrees, making seasons very weak.

The two moons, Humpty (1982 km) and Dumpty (4830 km) orbit close to the planet (60,000 km and 200,000 km respectvely) and cause the major tides; the planet is in a 3:2 resonance with Humpty, making it orbit twice when Ridgewell revolves thrice. The very close moons make placing satellites in stable orbits tricky, constant adjustments have to be made. The sky is dominated by the moons: Humpty is almost five degrees across and Dumpty three degrees. Eclipses are a daily event in the equatorial regions, and most Stevens take a long lunch or sieasta during the eclipse.

40% of the surface is ocean, a single major ocean (just called "the sea") stretching east-west, a smaller sea called the Melkior Sea and several large lakes. Most are salty and rather shallow, and tides change the landscape significantly on the muddy tidal plains. The high sierras are hot, dry lands far from the seas where erosion has carved out endless canyons and caves. The colony was established in a lowland area along the shores of a series of smaller lakes in the subtropical and temperate zone, low enough to avoid the dryness of the sierras but beyond the reach of the tidal plains. Since then colonists have settled both places: there are the troglodyte villages where underground water is used to grow crops and sustain mountain villages, and buildings on high stilts on the plains, gathering soil for the upland farms.

The climate is often humid, with thunderstorms and rains. During the flares the sky turns cloudy and the winds stop; for a time the whole planet seems to be still, and then usually strong rains follow afterwards. This is a timing signal for many of the "flareflowers" that use the rains to distribute their seeds. There is also an interesting oscillation in the high altitude air flow that makes the weather more unpredictable than on the Earth.

The planet is somewhat non-terrestrial. The sunlight is bright and remote, a blazing disk much smaller than Sol from Earth. The climate is relatively warm, with long cycles induced by solar activity rather than the slow change of seasons. Auroras are common, especially when Humpty and Dumpty aligns with the planets extensive magnetic field.


Life on Ridgewell has a fundamentally different biochemistry than terrestrial life. The amino acids are of the wrong handedness and type, the "sugars" are bizarre nitrogen compounds. None of the ecologies can stand each other, so the colonised areas are 100% terrestrial and the rest 100% Ridgewell.

Ridgewell life is of roughly terran complexity, with dense cone forests near the equator, water-retenting plants in the deserts and sierras, extensive tidal coral reefs and fertile river valleys. Most plants are noticeably bluer than on earth, and often show some mobility with their leaves to avoid strong rain or shadow.

Animals are extremely diverse, with seven major bodyplans and many variations. Most larger animals are snake, manta- or starfish-like, with cantilevered skeletons and flexible bodies. The most numerous group is the airfishes, manta-like flyers that can become over three meters large. Most are harmless, but the colonists have problems with the flounderbirds. The flounderbirds are beaked, two meter flyers that mistake terran crops for partners (both show the same reflection spectrum in the ultraviolet); flocks sometimes crush crops or gardens. A popular but short-lived pet is the choral snake, a singing and colourful snakelike creature; many children gather snakes and set up "song contests" as the snakes try to outsing each other when brought together.

One of the most unusual ecosystem on Ridgewell is the equatorial cone-forests, this is where most of the truly exotic species live. Cup- or cone-like plants can become several meters high and gather rain water reserves both for drought protection (the areas where they grow have variable rainfall, depending on a complicated interplay between dry sierra winds, moist tidal plain air and the chaotic high-altitude dynamics near the equator driven by tidal effects) and to support a local ecosystem. In the water a variety of photosynthetic microroganisms thrive, as well as animals feeding on them that produce extra nutrients for the host plant by their metabolism. These land-pools are an important part in the life of many crystal creeper species. Crystal creepers are worm/centipede like animals with crystalline thorns they use to climb and walk. They are local to the cone forests and can become up to a meter long. They are highly poisonous to humans, and make the cone forests a shunned place despite their beauty.

The tidal flats are extensive regions of mud, rock and tidal coral reefs, filter-feeders protected by silicate shells during ebb. Large regions of the tidal flats are dominated by a peculiar sulphur-phosphorous-salt ecology where bacteria and algae form stinking but essential mottled red-orange-grey masses. These regions are the main feeding of many land animals that venture out to the flats during the ebb to feed and play an essential role in the salt cycles of Ridgewell.