(Story excerpt)...As it becomes clear that Earth will soon be uninhabitable, different groups – the few surviving national governments, corporations, social clades and the like – start making preparations to leave the solar system. They bring asteroids into Earth orbit, hollow them out, fit them with ion drives and cryo-hibernation vaults, as well as factories and construction gear to ‘bootstrap’ an industrial base quickly. Only a tiny fraction of the human population can take this escape route – billions are left to die on the dying planet.

The various colony ships depart in different directions. The crews sleep in the cryo-vaults, watched over by robots. Contact with Earth is lost as the Fifth Water War goes nuclear. One particular colony ship, the Romanov, was built by Russian oligarchs...

Colony ship Romanov

Family background: Imperial Family, Poor Peasant, Romanov Loyalist

Art inspiration: Tsarist Russia

The role of fate in the affairs of humanity cannot be underestimated. It was fate that thrust the Mandate upon the Romanovs.

Their discovery of Gate travel gave the responsibility of unifying the scattered worlds of humanity. They established the trade network that made them the wealthiest and most powerful civilization amid the stars – and when it became evident that reckless use of the Gates threatened the safety of all humanity, they took on the burden of protecting humanity from itself. The Romanovs remembered how Earth was ruined by human greed and shortsightedness, and are determined not to let that happen again.

It was not pride or jealously that made them take on the burden of the Mandate. It was a duty that had to be done. The Romanovs have always taken the long view. They measure their successes in centuries, even millennia. If the other colonies chafe under Mandate rule for a few generations, so be it, as long as the Romanovs can safeguard the ultimate future of humanity.

To be a Romanov, then, is to be part of a chain that stretches back to the darkest days of old Earth, and forward to the unknowable future. Endure, whisper a billion billion unborn generations, endure so that we may exist.

Colony ship Europa

Family background: St.Clair, Radu, Demole

Art inspiration: Age of Reason and fin de siècle Paris

The Europans of Starfall are the cultural and intellectual center of the Mandate. At times, their influence exceeds even that of the Romanovs, and many worlds look to them for leadership. The Europan nobles have always shied away from directly challenging the Romanovs, but it is an open secret that they covet the Imperial title. Of course, some claim they have all the influence and power they need, and that half the Emperors were Europan puppets, entranced by Starfall culture and sophistication.

The Europans see their Romanov cousins as backward peasants, and consider the Mandate to be an unnecessary restriction, a chain holding back human progress. At the same time, they have benefited from their alliance with the Romanovs, and so seek to reform the Mandate instead of destroying it.

The Europans are renowned as artists, scientists and diplomats. This progress comes at a price – their military forces are small and comparatively weak, despite possessing some of the most advanced weaponry in the Mandate. In times of peace, the Europans could rely on the Grand Fleet for protection, but now they look nervously at the advancing rebels. The glittering worlds of the Europan systems are ripe for plunder and conquest…

Colony ship Great Ark

Family background: Raglan, Arkwright, Mountjoy

Art inspiration: Victorian/steampunky vibe

The Arkwright Colonies settled on worlds rich in metal and other resources, and are the industrial powerhouse of the Mandate. The union of Arkwright productivity with Romanov trade fuelled the early growth of the Gate network, and for a time it seemed inevitable that the Arkwrights would become the dominant power in human space. Then came the war, and the forcible establishment of the Mandate.

The Arkwright families have long been jealous of the Romanovs’ power and influence, and the two houses are fierce rivals. The Arkwrights continued to push against the boundaries set by the Romanovs – they continued illicit Gate building for centuries after that first war, and drove the second colonization effort that created the fringe worlds.

The Arkwright worlds themselves are like world-spanning factories, with insatiable hungers for food and raw materials. The Arkwrights need to expand faster than the Mandate permits. If it takes a rebellion to break these chains, so be it!

Colony ship Black Eagle

Family background: Black, Weber, Kurst

Art inspiration: Prussians, with a side order of Cossack

The Black Eagle worlds are no strangers to conflict. Before they joined the Mandate, border wars and internal feuding wracked these colonies. The first system settled by the Black Eagle ship was Kurst – that system had four marginally habitable worlds, but none was anywhere near as hospitable as Novy Petersburg or Starfall or Victoria. Right from the beginning, the Black Eagle settlers fought amongst themselves for survival.

Contact with the Romanovs brought an end to this conflict, and began the brief summer of the Black Eagle worlds. Gate travel meant the Kurst worlds could import the supplies they needed to make life bearable. Even better, it offered the hope of finding new, better worlds to settle. Equipped with Gate technology, the Black Eagle settlers struck off into the unknown – and brought back disaster.

The Black Eagles have long been the most stalwart supporters of the Mandate, and are famed for their military traditions. Despite this, they have more in common with the oppressed fringe worlds than they do with the glittering worlds of the core…