Concept art of The Expanse’s Ceres Station …. in this Sol universe known as Arcturus Station, a marriage between Ceres and Omega (Mass Effect).
Arcturus Station was nothing but a glorified port on a giant spinning rock.
It was also one of humanity’s most crime riddled, destitute and lawless stations ever conceived. Originally designed as a mine, it evolved further than what anyone had anticipated. Least of all the original mining company, whose company and board were swiftly taken over by a criminal gang upon discovery of Nitro onboard the asteroid.
However, like all good news, it soon spread quickly amongst the criminal elite, and a vicious war was fought over the asteroid, with the station slowly built further and further as more and more pirate ships were docked and abandoned when they died aboard.
Now resembling a brain-stem like shape, with the asteroid’s craggy surface serving as the “brain” so to speak, and the mass of metal and engine parts as the spinal cord, Arcturus was as lawless and derelict as it looked.
The only reliable place, to be found, was the port, which welcomed all vessels regardless of affiliation and charged exorbitant prices for air, water and nitro.
Whoever controlled the docks, controlled Arcturus.
The Icarus IV slowly came in, after receiving a hail from the port-master, whose voice sounded eerily familiar to both Raikkonen and Kournikova.
“Come on in, my winged one. Docking Bay 95.”
Raikkonen stared at his sensors and activated the retrojets to begin the deceleration process, as he spun his ship to face opposite the station, and fire the MPDrive in the other direction to slow it down.
As the Icarus IV neared the large squarish bay doors, an mechanical arm reached out, and gently clamped itself around the Icarus and cradled it in.
Raikkonen switched off the MPDrive and looked at Kournikova, who was already unbuckled and putting on their armour.
Custom-built by Kournikova, using the livery of the ship as the aesthetic, the Icarus IV’s combat armour was built to withstand heavy attacks and ensure survivability in space and low-oxygen environments.
An open face helmet, made of crimson reinforced glass allowed excellent peripheral vision, allowing the pilots to see out, but nothing could come in nor see in.
The armour itself was reminiscent of knight plate armour, with many layers interlocking into each other to ensure maximum coverage.
Armed with wrist mounted pistols and submachine guns, as well as shoulder mounted grenade launchers, the combat armour was dubbed Phalanx by Kournikova, in keeping with the Greek theme of their vessels.
It was also startling beautiful, with a mostly white ivory base, red accents and a fading geometric pattern on their weapons and helmet. Kournikova’s one was more silvery, whilst Raikkonen was predominantly scarlet.
Underneath the Phalanx, Raikkonen and Kournikova kept their jumpsuits on, designed to be tightly sealed to their body, to keep them warm in space, and to prevent any excess material from interfering with the armour.
The words Icarus IV were emblazoned boldly across the back, as well as the Finnish and Russian flag printed onto their shoulders, as well as a small Formula 0 insignia on their chest.
Raikkonen waited for the slight hiss of air, indicating that the armour and jumpsuit were airtight, before activating the oxygen supply around the rear and performing a comms check with Kournikova.
“Can you hear me Frost?”
“Reading you five by five Iceman.” replied Kournikova.
Activating their magnetic boots, by tapping the heels together, they landed on the Icarus‘ deck for the first time in their long voyage and opened the airlock to Arcturus.
Before leaving the ship, Raikkonen sent out a signal to the mother-ship, Daedalus, indicating their status and where they were. Taking a look around, he blew an imaginary kiss and sealed the airlock shut.
Looking out, Raikkonen and Kournikova walked the skinny gantry to the main entryway, their eyes alert and arms ready to fire.
A loud disembodied voice came over
“Well, well. If it isn’t the famous Europa couple come to grace my port. Come on in, we’ve got you covered.” said the voice jovially.
Kournikova looked over at Raikkonen who smiled back at her.
The entrance to the docking bay’s airlock opened and air hissed in. Checking his helmet, Raikkonen took a breath of fresh air, and took off his helmet, clipping it to his waist.
Kournikova shook free her blonde hair, styled in a short bob and stared ahead, wondering if the voice she heard truly was who she thought it was.
The other doors to the airlock slowly revealed an old associate of theirs, James Hooper, a pit mechanic from Mars who used to work on the Icarus IV before the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) kicked him for stealing parts. Raikkonen had protested but were overruled.
The last Raikkonen had heard of him, he was making a living repairing civilians ships. To see him here, was surprising but not unexpected.
Hooper opened his arms and hugged them both tightly.
“Jean, Lada!” he exclaimed. “It’s been so long!”
Kournikova kissed him on the cheek. “How have you been?”
“Well, as you can see … quite well” he smiled, patting a generous belly that wasn’t present during their time together. “I got a new boss now. She pays very well. I have to go introduce you guys to her, but first, what brings you here?”
“The Aurelius.” said Raikkonen casually as he continued to scan his surroundings.
Hooper stared at him in disbelief. “THE Aurelius?”
“Jesus Jean. We better tell the Baron. Let’s go.”
The three of them began walking to the maglev train that would take them down into the lower levels of Arcturus. Much like Dante’s Inferno, the lower the levels of Arcturus you went, the smaller, and more dangerous it became.
At the bottom of the “brain stem” design, was the ruler of Arcturus’ office, a sheer glass nightclub made of countless windows, twisted metal struts and dark ambience, known only to Arcturus residents as “Limbo.”
Everywhere on Arcturus was dirty, rundown and littered with abandoned transport crates, the stench of decomposing flesh hidden somewhere pungent in the atmosphere. Long ago, the mining company had installed realistic screens that depicted Earth’s blue skies, but now they were broken beyond repair, with cracks running across the entire expanse; the occasional rainbow flash of tech trying to start itself up, the only sign of life.
The maglev train went in a circular motion, concurrent to the asteroid, which was constantly spinning, courtesy of an attempt to impart artificial gravity. A noticeable Coriolis effect was observed due to the curvature and size of the station and taken into consideration for life onboard Arcturus.
Drinks had to be held at a certain angle, to allow for it to “semi float” into the cup. The horizon was never straight, the drop off always visible and for many newcomers, this created a sharp loss of balance and wonderment at whether Arcturus would ever end.
Gravity also only increased as you went lower and deeper into the station’s “brain stem”, the Limbo nightclub itself boasting the strongest gravity of the entire station and thus symbolic of the ruler’s status. It also served as a defensive mechanism against those who would revolt against Arcturus’ baron, impacting their offensive capabilities as those from outer planets would struggle to adapt.
Hooper kept an running commentary as they travelled further and further into the depths of Arcturus. Describing the various gangs that controlled the many levels of Arcturus, the Red Suns who dominated the area near the port, the Sidewinders who governed the middle sector and finally the Emperors who were loyal to the Baron who had access to the best of the black market equipment and served as the de facto military of Arcturus.
As Hooper continued to point out landmarks on Arcturus, miserable, emaciated people shuffled on and off the maglev, their misery evident on faces, as they cowered from the stronger, tougher thugs in armour, their demeanour, stance and equipment similar to Raikkonen and Kournikova.
As the maglev reached the final section, loud throbbing electronic music could be heard, its’ dark, heavy and seductive beat piercing through the walls of the train. When the doors opened, 4 armoured men stood at attention at the station, their helmets covered by heavy metallic mandibles that gave them an insect-like look.
Lowering their arms, when Hooper stepped forward, the leader, an imposing 2 metre tall man known only “Bouncer,” jerked his head and with a voice modulator said “Go ahead. The Baron is waiting.”
Walking the short distance to Limbo, the music only ratcheted up its volume, and both Raikkonen and Kournikova started to sense headaches develop, the pulsing sounds burying itself deep into their brains.
Limbo, itself was spectacularly dark and a testament to hellish interior design. A huge circular design, with a huge light shaft down the middle, where neon red and green patterns pulsated, Limbo had numerous platforms where nude twisted women and men danced constantly, their necks fed the same cocktail of drugs to combat G-forces. The floor itself was made of reinforced glass, to allow the stars to shine through, and have people believe they were dancing in space.
The bar was situated at the base of the light shaft, wrapping around it, the bartenders working half blind due to the intensity of their environment. Drinking here, was almost guaranteed you two option … an endless high, savouring every star that appeared beneath your feet, every touch, every breath or a gutter crawl, as people took away your possessions whilst you were dying from some stomach virus.
The best and worst drinks in the galaxy. Welcome to Limbo, where you wish you could leave, but can never do so. So to hell with it, dance, drink and destroy your life away.
Raikkonen and Kournikova kept their eyes peeled, astonished at the sheer amount of people waving their arms and legs in ecstasy or pain, faces wet with tears from crying or laughing, every spectrum of emotion, except boredom, on display in full force.
Hooper made his way past a giant woman, who towered above him, her skeleton stretched by Arcturus’ weak gravity. Leaning down she whispered at Raikkonen
“Hi honey” her voice dripping with promise. “Get out of that armour and slip into me instead.”
Raikkonen gently pushed her away, and kept going, ignoring the slur she directed at his back, and walked up a staircase designed to give the best defensive coverage in case of attack.
At the top of the walkway, reclined the Baron, an attractive woman of mysterious origins, flanked by her bodyguards, all of whom had kill switches in their armour, in case of betrayal.
Rumours and deceit followed the Baron whenever she was discussed. Some claimed she was a Martian Marine Corps deserter, able to access Martian technology. Others believed she was raised a whore on another station, but rose to dominance through her appetite and lust for power.
However outlandish the tale, the Baron did nothing to rescind or confirm them. All that mattered was that she was the apex predator atop one of the toughest food chains in the galaxy and every single organism beneath her had to pay her respect.
The Baron itself, was a name that had long been established as the title for the ruler of Arcturus, and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to keep it that way. Out here, the politics of Mars and Earth mattered little.
With long sable hair, piercing purple eyes and a statuesque body, she stood tall at 185 centimetres, and was muscularly lean, her strength matched only by her skill with a experimental pistol she kept strapped to her thigh.
The weapon itself, was capable of a rare ability to “trace” targets via its’ onboard computer. Able to intercept incoming rounds and find heads, the Baron’s pistol was a one-of-a-kind weapon platform, needing only to cool down, to reuse after prolonged firing.
Clad in a white/blue jumpsuit that ran black from the waist down, and styled with a inner scarlet colouring, the collar was bared high around her neck, and the neckline was plunging, revealing her ample breasts. Her sable hair was often shaved in a styled mohawk, and concentric lined tattoos ran across her neck and collarbone. Expensive black combat heels and knuckled gloves completed her look.
She was every bit a pirate queen. Fierce, attractive and strong.
Hooper presented himself before her.
Raikkonen and Kournikova felt the presence of the paranoid Emperor guards, whose white and blue armour glowed menacingly under Limbo’s lighting.
“The famed Europa team.” intoned a husky voice.
“What brings you to Limbo?”
This is largely inspired by the Afterlife club as seen in the amazing sci-fi series, Mass Effect. I mostly wanted to mix Ceres Station’s design and realistic approach to space station design, with the bizarre and foreboding atmosphere of Omega from Mass Effect 2 and 3.
This went a lot smoother to write and I was pleased to see the story grow a bit more concretely, after a shaky first two chapters.