This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 10.4.
On a moon in the Stanton system sits a nondescript outpost that few know of and even fewer have visited. At least that was the case until an error caused the automated processing facility inside to sell its product at a drastically deep discount. Those who noticed tried to keep the glitch a secret, but word quickly spread through the system’s underworld. Soon the outpost, by then better known as “Jumptown,” became a warzone with outlaws fighting for access. These brazen battles garnered enough attention that the issue was even discussed during a Senate hearing focused on rising crime rates within Stanton. So what drastically discounted, high-priced, and always in-demand product drove people to fight over the processing facility? WiDoW, a synthetic opioid that has become one of the most prominent recreational drugs in the UEE. It’s also one of the most dangerous. Not only for the devastating and tragic impact it has on those who fall under its spell but for the lengths some will go to profit off it.
WiDoW is a highly processed and highly illegal narcotic that is injected directly into the bloodstream. Its evocative name derives from one of the prominent side effects of extensive use: the drug’s viscous, ink-black consistency can stain the user’s veins, creating web-like subcutaneous patterns. A Class A substance that is illegal to possess and distribute inside the UEE, WiDoW produces extreme feelings of euphoria alongside providing pain relief and anti-anxiety effects. It’s also highly addictive and damaging to the Human body. Repeated use can lead not only to the telltale black markings but eventually collapsed veins, various liver and kidney diseases, heart conditions, and more.
The widespread availability of WiDoW is in part due to it being relatively easy to produce, which allows everyone from multi-system criminal syndicates to individuals to manufacture and sell it. While the production process is easily replicable, potency can vary greatly depending on several factors including quality of ingredients, cleanliness of equipment, and temperature fluctuations during processing. Some longtime users even claim that not knowing the potency of a dose is part of the thrill for them. While the WiDoW found today is completely synthetic, the substance has organic origins that shaped its initial image as a relatively safe and extremely exclusive designer drug.
WiDoW’s rise to prominence is a beguiling mix of fact and fiction. Several details are well-established while others are lost in the haze of history, half-truths, and top secret classification. Its story begins with the discovery of the Oso system in 2861. The breathable atmosphere and lush biosphere of Oso II made the planet the primary target for government survey teams. Yet, upon the discovery of the Osoians, the most advanced developing species ever encountered by the UEE, Oso II was put under the protection of the Fair Chance Act. A strict lockdown was enacted that would prevent its lush and varied biomes from being thoroughly explored. Still, one early survey team that was already exploring the tropical region before the lockdown did manage to collect a handful of unique native plant samples.
Scientists informally named one of those uprooted plants ‘nightspiral,’ due to the flower’s vibrant multi-colored swirls set against its dark petals. Government scientists studied the plant but struggled to propagate it, and with Oso II off limits, a return trip to understand its natural environment was out of the question. Instead, scientists crossbred the plant using a variety of techniques, including grafting and genetic modification, only to discover one variant produced seeds containing alkaloids. Investigations into the seeds’ medicinal potency and intoxicating effects were done but still remain highly classified. Still, at some point in the process, someone saw the potential and seed samples disappeared from a research facility.
Rumors of a new injectable opioid called NightNight first spread in late 2867. It quickly gained a reputation as the fashionable drug du jour, available only to the ultra-elite with underworld connections. NightNight’s popularity only grew when rumors spread that the powerful opioid was not addictive. While this rumor would eventually prove tragically false, it’s believed that most early users avoided falling under the drug’s spell because of its limited and exclusive availability.
As demand skyrocketed, production lagged behind. New plants produced relatively few seeds and processing NightNight became an expensive, time consuming, and extremely meticulous process. It’s believed that underground chemists worked on a completely synthetic version for years before perfecting the process in 2879. If the stories can be believed, the chemist who cracked the formula sold the secretive process for an exorbitant price to several gangs around the same time and then vanished. Whether that story is apocryphal or not, the manufacturing process spread widely around the UEE within a year.
THE DARK WEB
The first synthetic version of NightNight made its way through the circles of the rich and powerful. Now quick and easy to produce, the drug’s reach rapidly expanded to those who’d been desperate to try but unable to acquire it. Of course, few knew the version they paid the premium price for was completely synthetic and not quite like the original drug.
As availability rose, so did use rates. What was once a monthly habit for an elite few suddenly became a daily habit for a growing percentage of the population. It wasn’t long before the repercussions of overusing the synthetic variant became readily apparent. The seriousness of addiction was publicly highlighted when the plight of socialite Khali O’Brien made headlines in 2880. Friends of O’Brien leaked stories to the press expressing concern for her sudden and dramatic weight loss and the shocking appearance of black veins on her neck. Paparazzi hounded her every move and, after layers of concealer failed to hide the black veins, O’Brien took to wearing black scarves and turtlenecks. This prompted one gossip columnist to label her the “Black Widow,” an evocative term that stuck as black, web-like patterns appeared on more users. This condition and the drug’s now completely synthetic nature prompted government officials to classify it separately as WiDoW to distinguish between it and the earlier non-synthetic version, with the unusual capitalization originating from the common spectrum and comms shorthand for the drug: “WDW.”
Despite clear adverse effects and skyrocketing addiction rates, many users in the late 29th century still believed WiDoW to be relatively safe when compared to other opioids. This false conviction, alongside the drug being widely available, led the UEE government to declare WiDoW as “one of most significant public health issues of the 30th century” and designate it as a Class A narcotic. While billions of credits have been poured into Empire-wide information campaigns, rehab facilities, addiction counseling, and more, WiDoW remains as popular and profitable as ever; a fate drug experts expect won’t change unless something drastic happens culturally, economically, and politically.