This Galactic Guide originally appeared in Jump Point 5.10.
Most people have been to a place where something just felt ‘off.’ You can’t put your finger on it, but there’s something unsettling. It could be a darkly lit street in Prime or the winding canyons of Reis, but either way, it’s the type of place where your flight instincts kick in and tell you to get out. For many, that sensation encapsulates the Branaugh system. While the system has been the subject of many political discussions over the past year, that disturbing, dangerous quality has haunted the system since its discovery in 2877 … and for one explorer, even before that.
Born of Blood
Desmond Fell always dreamed of charting the stars. Even as a child, growing up near the shipping pads on Lo in Corel system, he not only daydreamed about searching the cosmos to unlock its secrets, but also about getting to experience the varied cultures within the UEE. His ultimate goal, however, was to discover a new solar system.
From geology coursework to weekend survival excursions to Castor, Fell dedicated every waking moment to absorbing everything that could potentially help him in his chosen vocation. He graduated from ULON with a shared degree in political discourse and geotechnology, and immediately began working as a surveyor for a mining company, while saving money for his own ship.
Desmond toiled for years, never losing sight of his ultimate goal until, in 2872, he stepped aboard the scrappy Aurora that would be his first ship. This newly minted explorer now had a ship, a scanning array, and a dream. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place in 2877. After heading out to the Chronos system to finally have a look at the government’s audacious Synthworld project, he decided to test out some new scanning mods he’d recently acquired.
The first ping didn’t register with him. Convinced the anomaly was just bound to the newly installed parts, he ran the sweep again.
It pinged again.
“Suddenly, my stomach sank to my ankles,” Fell recounted in an interview on Showdown from 2879. “I started to get that rush of excitement, but, for some reason, I didn’t want to move. I was seized with this fear that I was dreaming and moving would wake me up.”
But he did. Fell begin to isolate the spacial anomaly to hone in on the exact position and angle needed to access the jump point.
“I won’t even comment on how terrifying it was, navigating uncharted interspace,” Fell continued from that same interview. “But when I came out the other side, and my scanners said it was a fresh, untouched system … that feeling’ll stay with me the rest of my life.”
After quickly returning to Chronos to stock up on supplies and quantum fuel, he set about charting his discovery. Sailing through the empty system, Fell noted three planets orbiting a K-type main sequence star. Positioned on the edge of the system’s green zone, only the second planet seemed potentially habitable. Fell quantumed towards the planet while prepping his scanners for a full planetary assessment.
Pushing through the turbulent atmosphere, he navigated along the rocky terrain. The planet seemed devoid of life, unsurprising considering the storms and heavy winds that continually hammered his small craft.
“I’ll admit, I was a little conflicted when I was surveying the planet. Part of me didn’t want to leave. I mean, this would probably be the only time I’d get to experience a planet on my own, so there was definitely excitement, but there was another part that wanted to get the hell out of there. Everything about the place, the weather, the landscape, it just seemed violent.”
As he was finishing his sweep, Fell found something that would reinforce the latter instinct.
Another ship. Sitting at the top of a massive overlook, it was almost indistinguishable against the swirling particulates in the air. Fell set down nearby and investigated. Although the ship was half buried, it didn’t appear to have crashed; it looked like it had exploded. Closer investigation revealed scorch marks that had the unmistakable look of laser fire. Fell searched the surrounding area and found a small cave.
Inside, there was a corpse.
An Inauspicious Beginning
In a single hour, Desmond Fell submitted a jump point discovery form to the Department of Transportation and Navigation and a report to the Advocacy. While Imperial surveyors were assessing the system, a joint task force of Naval Investigative Division and Advocacy agents from Chronos launched an investigation.
Over the next few months, several curious events occurred. The surveyors’ attempts to analyze the system were hampered by the limited size of the jump point into the system. Deprived of their ability to bring in larger transports, they were forced to break down the large equipment into smaller components for cargo runs.
In the meantime, the Advocacy was making little headway on their investigation, thanks to the adverse atmospheric conditions destroying any trace evidence. They did manage to identify the body as Theresa Branaugh, an explorer who had been missing for nearly four years. Between interviews with friends and family and the limited data they could extract from her mobiGlas, agents compiled a rough timeline of her movements up to her disappearance.
The story that began to unfold was of an explorer, much like Fell, who had dedicated her life to the unknown, but had not found much success in her endeavors. She was deeply in debt and had borrowed from whomever she could in order to keep flying, so when she ultimately disappeared, local authorities at the time suspected that she had run afoul of a loan shark. Now it seemed that Branaugh had found the new system and — while surveying — had come across someone who was using the system as a hideout and died for it. Unfortunately, the Advocacy were unable to find any clues of her killer and her case remains unsolved to this day.
Fell was so moved by Branaugh’s tragic fate that he amended his initial application to name the system after her, to honor her discovery.
To Claim or Not to Claim
The newly minted Branaugh system still had its fair share of problems, though. The small jump point was continuing to make it difficult for the UEE to move any large machinery into the system. Surveyors were busy compiling resource assessments while planetary engineers studied the terraforming prospects of the second planet and the military conducted a strategic analysis.
Ultimately, the Pathfinders presented their findings to the Senate subcommittee on Expansion. Among other issues, they determined that the potential resources gleaned from the planets would barely offset the cost and time needed to break down and transport terraforming equipment into the system. The Senate ultimately recommended that the Imperator pass on claiming the system, citing the lack of economic incentives to justify the cost of establishing settlements there.
The system was then abandoned. For years, the only visitors were curious explorers, the occasional miner and outlaws looking for a place to lay low.
In 2928, an ICC cartographer travelled to the system to perform a series of long-distance scans and discovered something very interesting.
The New Inhabitants
Since the Tevarin purged themselves of their culture as a response to their loss in the Second Tevarin War, their people seemed aimless and adrift in the UEE. While some tried to embrace the government that offered to assimilate them, a majority of the Tevarin sank into despondency, trading their refined warrior code for bargain enforcer jobs. Many just wanted to be left alone, content to spend their days drinking and fighting. They had been conquered by the UEE, twice. That fact was grudgingly accepted, but it didn’t mean they had to like it.
After the UEE officially abandoned Branaugh system, Tevarin began to drift into the system over the course of years. By all accounts, this didn’t seem to be any kind of concerted or organized effort. Branaugh just seemed to represent something that these Tevarin were searching for: an unused, ignored corner of the universe where they could simply be left alone. Despite the completely hostile environment and unbreathable atmosphere, Tevarin and other expatriates have continued to drift to Branaugh II and the nearby asteroid field and make them their home.
This small rocky planet is mostly known for its rapid orbit around the system’s star.
To all who see it, the most immediate striking aspect of Branaugh II is the stunning set of rings around the planet; to most, that’s where the beauty ends. The surface is an unforgiving landscape of jagged rocks, high winds and churning storm systems. Planetary surveyors were unconvinced that the terraforming needed to make the atmosphere breathable would also be able to stabilize the tumultuous weather patterns.
When Tevarin began to migrate to the planet, they initially took over the outposts and structures originally used by the UEE Pathfinders to study the planet and subsequently abandoned. As more settlers arrived, most claimed their own isolated corner of the planet as their own, but some built around this initial cluster of outposts to create the closest thing Branaugh II has to a town. Named Ne’er (a mispronunciation of the Cathcart slang term ‘now’er’ for ‘nowhere’), this sprawling frontier town has become the main trading hub for the planet, exchanging goods and services with those travelling through, as well as providing a place for locals to pick up supplies.
Branaugh Belt Alpha
This staggered belt of asteroids provides the bulk of the system’s income. Residents and smaller mining operations set up digs on the various asteroids to mine and trade out-of-system. Again, thanks to the restricted nature of the jump point, none of the larger mining companies can get their larger machines in here, keeping it open for independent operators. Pilots should be careful though; several of the more reclusive Tevarin settlers who find Branaugh II ‘too populated’ live in the belt. Most locals will even avoid travelling through this belt if necessary, as a handful ships reportedly vanish here every year.
Nicknamed “Tempest” for its continual planetwide storms, this sprawling gas giant offers the other source of income for the system. Settlers on Branaugh II have set up harvesting facilities to refine the planet’s gases.
Branaugh is an unclaimed system and not subject to the same level of security enjoyed by civilized systems. Anyone attempting to visit should exercise extreme caution.
HEARD IN THE WIND
“After all this time, I can’t believe it. All those people who told me I should just stop. That I’m wasting my time … It’s weird though. Standing where I am right now, I don’t want to rub their faces in this. Tell them ‘I told you so.’ They just didn’t know what I was chasing. This feeling right here, right now, this made all the lows worth it, but for me. Not them. I’m happy to be me.”
– Last journal entry of Theresa Branaugh
“It’s wretched. I couldn’t think of anyone who would possibly want to live there.”
– Excerpt from Dr. Ellis Vonat’s summary of findings to Senate Subcommittee on Expansion