The L-5 Habitat
At the close of the 23rd century, equidistant from the Earth and moon lies an old and immense structure with a very simple name: L-5. Founded by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2061 and expanded three times in the 239 years since, it is not so much a space station as it is a city—a city of nearly 50,000 inhabitants from 37 nations, fully self-supporting, prosperous from trade and its own industries, and possessed of a culture and character all its own.
Its appearance is spectacular. Three slender spindles, each five kilometers long, are joined by equilateral triangular platforms a kilometer and a half on a side. On each spindle turn four great wheels, each a kilometer in diameter. The wheels turn slowly but endlessly; the platforms jut with docking armatures, antennae, cranes, and towers. Space for 100 kilometers around L-5 is crowded with ships, shuttles and solar collectors up to 100 hectares in area. Although perhaps not as impressive a feat of engineering as Gateway and the beanstalk, L-5 is a marvel, nonetheless.
Background and History
In the21st century, the European Space Agency powers took note of the vast losses the world had suffered in its natural resources and began planning to replace them. The most expensive option also offered the largest potential returns: exploitation of Luna and the asteroid belts. Metals and light fuels, particularly hydrogen, could be easily extracted from these sources, and large solar energy collectors near Earth could supplement dwindling petroleum reserves.
The expense could be lessened if the actual lifting of mining and processing machinery, people, and vehicles could be held to a minimum. That meant space-based smelting and manufacturing facilities, and that meant a space station. The ideal facility would house 200 to 500 people, be located far enough from the Earth to limit the transit costs of asteroid-bound ships, and yet remain close enough to make “downstream” traffic flow economical and give access to planned manufacturing bases on the moon. The ideal place was L-5. 400 million kilometers from Earth and the moon and, by a quirk of planetary geometry, slightly cheaper to reach than L-4 from the moon.
Code-named Project Diana, after the Greek deity of the moon, the ambitious undertaking involved a great deal of planning, and the first module was not launched until after the Americans placed their own facility at L-4. From the first, however, Project Diana was intended to be much more than a mere research station. Even before all its life-support sections were built, Diana (as the station was known then) was building power satellites and orbital factories in sections for construction in low Earth orbit (LEO) and was beginning work on other space habitats in cislunar space. It took the lunar mines and construction bases 15 years to finish Diana. When they did, their production was, as intended, shifted to building power satellite components; there was never a wasted motion.
The first L-5 complex was a single wheel on a single spindle, deliberately built larger than necessary to accommodate expected gr0wih.A kilometer in diameter, the wheel was built with three decks with a total floor area of 785,000 square meters, rotating to produce Earth-normal gravity conditions on the middle deck. At one end of the kilometer-long spindle was the fusion power plant; at the other end were extensive docks and construction yards. The ESA complement aboard, including dependents, stood at 514 on June 1, 2074, when Diana was officially declared completed. Room and life support existed for nearly 6000, a number thought astronomically and comfortably huge. Emigration was strictly controlled then, and non-ESA personnel had to post enormous transportation bonds. The most pessimistic projections indicated expansion would be necessary no sooner than 2150 at the earliest. This turned out to be rather short-sighted.
Six years after Diana’s completion, Dr. Jerome induced the effect that bears his name, and many space powers realized that practical starships could be less than a generation away. In 2099. Diana’s 25th anniversary. The Melbourne Accords were signed, providing demilitarization of certain orbits around Earth and classifying power satellites as civilian targets. All the ESA powers refused to sign since armed vessels were also being produced at L-5, and no alternate facilities existed elsewhere at the time for the ESA powers’ use-and likewise since Diana gave every ESA nation a virtually impregnable high ground from which to guard or threaten lunar yards, orbital power stations, and LEOS alike. To enhance their advantage-and to prepare for the coming jump to interstellar travel and exploration, ESA laid plans to radically expand the L-5 station.
These plans, finalized in 2106, called for three more wheels to be built, each a mate to Diana. They were to be called Marianne, Walkure, and Ntozake, and they were to be allocated to France, Bavaria, and Azania, respectively. This was the beginning of an unfortunate policy of nationalization of the wheels, which the growth of multinational and multiplanet corporations did not mitigate. With the stars beckoning, many people were eager not to see their nations fall behind in the race, and many more people were reluctant to lose ESA’s cohesion over something as small as the names on space station wheels. L-5, as it was becoming more commonly known, had only a single administrator, at any rate, who was chartered to be chosen from the members of a council drawn from the populace of each wheel. No limits were to be imposed on where immigrants could live (provided they worked for ESA or posted the bond). Both of these provisions were thought to be reasonable and comprehensive safeguards against the ‘ghettoization’ of L-5. That they proved ineffectual should not detract from the original care and concern of the planners.
Construction of the second stage of L-5 (the first expansion) began April 20, 21 07, and continued, with occasional lapses in construction due to the high costs involved, until 2131. Many debates arose in all the ESA nations over the need for so large, expensive, and possibly non-self-supporting an expansion, but in the end there was little choice but to continue construction and try to recoup the investment in money and prestige.
These were dark days for L-5, plagued as it was with an uncertain economy dependent on the boom-and-bust cycles of asteroid and lunar mining and flighty Earthside financing. The economic problems were made worse by the encroachment of regionalism. As each new wheel was built-even if only the tag-ends of the spokes were completed-immigrants piled in from Diana, usually all of a particular nationality or language group. Multinational corporations were invited to invest in wheel construction for trade or space concessions, with the hope that transnational communities would be the result. But the multinationals, to save cost, recruited from the locals, for the most part. And when they did hire a few new people, they were only 37 percent likely (according to the ESA study from 2130) to live among people not of their ethnic or linguistic background.
This is not to say that the wheels were all composed of one group of people, but each wheel did ’have a predominant ethnic flavor with a leavening (never more than a third of the total population) of other ethnic, national, or corporate groups.The2130 study found, for instance, that Marianne at completion had a population whose loyalties were 67 percent French, 14 percent British or Canadian, 13 percent Altamira Combine (later absorbed into Eurospace, itself later absorbed into Trilon), 4 percent Manchurian, and 2 percent Indonesian. Time has reduced the absolute value of such nationalism, but the ethnic flavors of the wheels remain to this day.
The Second Age of Exploration’s second extrasolar phase (2140 to 2200) vindicated the ambitious first expansion. For the first time. L-5’s industry took a leading position in the construction of space vessels, particularly starships, and once again its population grew. Even the shock of the Alpha Centauri War in 2162 did not appreciably diminish its growth; when the ESA powers finally signed the Melbourne Accords in 2163 and demilitarized L-5. The habitat’s resources were used to construct military yards farther away from Earth. It has been argued in some academic circles that the removal of military influence overL-5’s industrial resources contributed to the lessening of the nationalistic rivalries; but this is debatable, as by this time L-5’s “nationalist” factions were already culturally quite distinct from their ostensible homelands and no less contentious for all that.
By the turn of the century, L-5 was prosperous, peaceful, and getting crowded with more than 10,000 people in its four wheels. The flow of goods from the out-system colonies was continuing, and the prospects for growth were improving. The result of all these factors was the joint ESA/L-5 Council of 2201 and plans for the second expansion. The space habitat was to more than double in size with the construction of a second spindle with four additional wheels-Godfrey, Frankowski, lverson and Juarez (the names of explorers and colonial leaders of the 22nd century)-and the addition of two large docking and shipyard facilities each over a kilometer long to connect the two spindles. The completion date was to be 2231, the centennial of the first expansion. But construction went ahead of schedule, and the expansion was finished in 2220.
Not that there weren’t problems. For one thing, L-5’s sheer size and economic importance to Earth forced ESA to come to a new political understanding with its gateway to space. The year after the second expansion’s completion, President Sowtay Ramachuk wrested from ESA a concession of L-5’s full rights to its own economic self-determination. The Ramachuk Declaration established a unique independence for the space habitat; in return for self-determination. L-5 agreed to pay a set annual fee to the ESA as reimbursement for the second expansion costs. These payments were to continue to 2271, but later events intervened.
The growth of L-5 also produced a hefty and profitable trade in smuggling. The large transportation bonds which had previously prevented emigration of large numbers of people were lifted, bringing new settlers in from many colonies and space habitats, and some even from outside the solar system.
Most settlers were honest, hard-working people, but a few were criminals, fugitives, smugglers and pirates who saw an opportunity to use L-5 as a base of operations. They brought with them, ironically, a short-lived prosperity even greater than that enjoyed by L-5 in its heyday, and established the roots of a permanent underground that has never completely disappeared.
The Orbital Quarantine Command (OQC) finally provided the impetus to dislodge the more brazen and public of the smugglers with a well-timed police effort and media blitz. July 2, 2259—the very end of the “Roaring Fifties,” the decade of greatest criminal activity—OQC released a report of a deadly alien bacillus that had been detected in a drug shipment smuggled in from off-Earth only as it was about to go down from an LEO in a dead glider. The public raised a tremendous outcry and demanded that the smugglers be stopped. The trail led back to a consortium of major drug figures in L-5. After a lengthy investigation and series of trials, the Six Kings, as the chief smugglers called themselves, were convicted and deported. The L-5 Council adopted a tougher series of anti-smuggling laws, and order was imposed and maintained—even after the alien bacillus was revealed to be an OQC hoax.
By the third expansion, L-5 was experiencing new, two-pronged difficulties. Two spindles turned out to be an insufficiently modeled engineering feat; complicated oscillations had developed in the dual structure that it was not designed to absorb. The entire habitat was not just unstable and prone to several different kinds of vibrations, but it was starting to make the inhabitants physically sick. They were being afflicted with the so-called “slow-motion sickness,” a complicated physiological problem brought on by these almost undetectable oscillations. The solution lay in building a stabilizing addition to L-5, but therein lay a second major problem.
Paradoxically, as humanity increased its holdings among the stars, its near-Earth facilities diminished in their importance to this effort. Habitats closer to the frontier did more of the manufacturing of high-profit items like drugs and fabricated materials. Trade was still increasing, but the rapid growth of the first half of the 23rd century was obviously at an end. Simply stated, it was going to be difficult for L-5 to generate the funds necessary to produce a third expansion on its own, and yet it had to expand to cease the vibration problems and retain its share of trans-Earth trade.
The L-5 Council and President Barthes decided to expand anyway in 2264. Plans were readily drawn up within a year. But even before that, Barthes carefully engineered an elaborate refinancing of both the third and the second expansions with ESA, a consortium of major Earth banks, and ambitious corporations and private developers. Under the terms of the Houston Concord. L-5 would have an additional 30 years- until 2301-to pay off its debt. In that time, with plenty of bonus provisions for early completion, the developers were to expand L-5 to three spindles with 12 wheels, and dramatically enlarge its port capability—up to 60 ships a day would be able to dock there, exclusive of lunar and interface vehicles. The planners felt this to be a large enough capacity for another half century of growth. But again, events intervened. The third spindle, with the wheels Shi’at, Cousonne, Xangxi, and Belsen, named for four of L-5’s most prominent presidents, was completed ahead of schedule in 2274. Tragically, just a week before the dedication ceremony, Sowtay Ramachuk died suddenly; a mourning L-5 speedily renamed Belsen to Ramachuk.
Barthes’ vision paid off for L-5 in the last quarter of the 23rd century. The modern interstellar trade network between the arms made Earth one of the two major nexuses where goods were processed and transported. L-5, already a major starport, became the gateway to Earth and Eumpe, and the builder of 72 percent of all ship tonnage in Earth orbit. With the increased volume of trade from the Chinese Arm and the influx of Cantonese and Mandarin corporations and personnel, L-5 consolidated its economic stability as never before. Prosperity brought with it a flowering of the arts, particularly of music and drama, flavored with touches of all the worlds in human space. When Xiang tone-poems came to Earth, they first played L-5.
Prosperity also brought crime, which, though never as open and violent as in the 2250s, was decidedly more profitable than it was in the ’50s. Organized crime on L-5 takes the form of smuggling, money laundering, and a certain amount of discreet fencing. Earth finds it hard to believe that piracy can exist in the modern era and would be shocked to learn how much cargo lost in the French Arm turns up in the Chinese Arm, and vice versa. No armed ships can be based at L-5, of course, but many criminal bosses lead comfortable lives here, protected from scrutiny by quite plausible legitimate businesses. Some are even corporate executives whose firms are unaware of their extracurricular activities.
The ESA became alarmed by this prosperity in 2280 when the Adelmann Survey revealed that besides having a decided export imbalance (shipping out more, in value, than it was taking in), L-5 was shipping fully 85 percent of all its goods and services to non-terrestrial destinations, including 60 percent of all native production. In short, less and less L-5 trade was being done with Earth, and the trend was accelerating. The survey results did much to compel France to build a beanstalk to help adjust this trend.
The Beanstalk Era and the Future
With the completion of Gateway there seems little doubt that within 20 years L-5’s growth will again compel a fourth expansion. A fourth spindle will mean not only more living room (for up to 120,000 people) but also a greater proportional increase in available docking space. Adding four more wheels will increase population by only 33percent, but building up the endplates to hold a fourth spindle will double L-5’s ship-handling capability to 120 ships a day.
Before that time, OQC will have to radically increase its ability to police all of L-5’s increased trans-Earth traffic, probably by increasing the number of inspectors. Gateway is presently a more pressing concern, but as trade increases in volume, OQC will need a new front line farther out in space. When that happens, a new kind of frontier will expand into space. Whether L-5 resists or cooperates with this expansion remains to be seen; beyond this point, all projections are useless.
Structure and Population
L-5 consists of four major parts: the two docking triangles, the three spindles at each corner of the triangles, the 12 wheels on those spindles (which together comprise the main habitat), and the host of smaller, free-floating structures that form a halo about the main habitat.
The two docking triangles—with their maze of gantries, loading tubes, control towers, communications and power reception antennae, and auxiliary craft hangars are impossibly complex in appearance. The same is true of the maze of service and personnel corridors that link all the habitable portions. Passengers taking the high-speed elevators to the spindles, of course, only catch a glimpse of these. Few would guess that beyond their capsules and tubes lie construction yards and fabrication facilities capable of building a complete starship, over 200 private and public shuttles serving LEOS, lunar stations and other orbital habitats, or such wonders as three complete and independent hospitals, each in a spin habitat buried in the maze.
Each triangle is a complete port, with nearly identical administrative organizations and workforces of roughly 5000 each. Port Alvarez lies at the alpha end of L-5 and Port Lemanac at the omega end. Strangely, there is no sense of competition between the two ports at any level. The proximity of hard vacuum and massive, powerful machinery leaves no room in port workers’ minds for anything less serious than safety and survival.
Connecting the two triangles and serving as hubs for the wheels are the three spindles. Visitors are often surprised to learn that the spindles are used as work space and are not simply empty conduit-bearing transit tubes. Around each spindle is a sleeve of workshops, storage holds and other specialized chambers providing L-5 with zero-G pressurized space close at hand. The spindles contain four separate tramways connecting the wheel hubs, service tubes or flyways containing handholds for manual transport between wheels, and a limited number of backup connections for life support and power transmission.
The 12 wheels are the heart of L-5. Each is an independently functioning life-support system. Should one or two fail, the rest of L-5 would not be threatened, and the remaining systems could even sustain the load of two dead wheels virtually indefinitely. No such failure has ever occurred, fortunately. Though each wheel is outwardly identical to every other-with three decks, a diameter of one kilometer and a width of 200 meters-each but the newest has been extensively modified and rebuilt within. Each also has its own distinctive ethnic and cultural flavor, described below.
On Earth, 239 years would lend a structure a certain age and solidity. In a space habitat like L-5, age means three refits and certain structural peculiarities-like spiral stairways, an open two deck park space, and quaint interior trim. Diana’s proximity to Port Alvarez and its heavily British population has made it greatly resemble a pressurized London underground, complete with a tradition of exotic underground music from clubs like Banger’s Up and Scowcroft’s.
Old France in orbit, Marianne’s French-speaking people are known for their freewheeling hospitality and unique cuisine. The largest and richest French trading companies have their offices here, in spite of the high rent. A sizeable Cantonese minority on A deck, closest to the hub, represents Canton’s trading ventures, especially those that serve worlds in the French Arm.
Once almost entirely Bavarian, Walkure became multinational early in the 23rd century and stayed that way until recently when German reunification prompted a large scale resettlement effort. As a result, the older Ukrainian, Indonesian, lncan and Arabian neighborhoods have been bought up, and reconstruction has made most of them disappear. Some of the more archaic and maze-like parts still survive, however, and so does the stubborn German-speaking under culture that lives there-members call themselves “Stahlsingers.” Walkure is thus a combination of the ultramodern and the shadowy and dangerous.
The so-called ’African wheel" (sometimes insultingly called the “African Arm”) was built to accommodate the Azanians. Like the Bavarians in Walkure at a later date, the Azanians leased out portions of their wheel to other allies and minor powers needing access to space, notably the Nigerians and Mozambiquans, so Ntozake acquired early on an international and intercultural flavor-one at some odds with the European wheels. Though the composition has changed over the years, Ntozake is still quintessentially African. English and French are spoken here, but full acceptance at all levels of the culture is possible only for those speaking Bantu, Xhosa, or Arabic. At least one powerful smuggling cartel is rumored to be based here, adjacent to Port Lemanac.
This wheel was scarcely begun when the Manchurians began leasing space in it, despite the then prohibitive price. Manchurian and Chinese interests, including some corporations which have now moved out of the solar system, settled here. Godfrey is roughly 80 percent Manchurian and Chinese, with a Canadian minority mostly employed by Solar Shipping. A large number of Xiang and Xiang-inspired artworks pass through or originate in Godfrey, and the rooms and corridors reflect a strong alien art influence.
The Ukrainians were quick to spread to new quarters out of Walkure, and have made Frankowski a home away from home. The Melbourne Accords make it impossible for military vessels to be based or even supplied from here, but a large quantity of space-bound and Earth-bound Ukrainian freight, some to military bases elsewhere, does go through L-5. A number of other Slavic nations or organizations, notably Poland’s Zapamoga, maintain offices here. At present there is a quiet struggle for space going on between the Ukraine and the lncan Republic, a newcomer from Juarez.
Eurospace, a private consortium of industrial interests from ESA nations, made a deliberate attempt to form a “nationless,” purely corporate neighborhood, and came quite close to succeeding here. Unfortunately, Eurospace was unable to break up language enclaves even after splitting up housing allocations and gave the effort up in 2254. By this time lverson had a decidedly unique motley flavor, and it was this that drew the UAR to establish its own space-based settlement soon after. Trilon and Associates eventually absorbed Eurospace and wound up hiring the bulk of lverson’s labor-European, Arabian, or whatever-for its Port Lemanac activities.
Brazil bought into Juarez quite early and used it and Port Lemanac as a springboard for deep-space exploration. Argentinean domination of much of southern South America made it difficult for the Brazilians to find and encourage other worthy Hispanic nations to join it. But when the lncan Republic broke free of Argentina, that dramatically changed. Now lncan Republic corporate interests dominate 48 percent of Juarez. To preserve relations with their Portuguese- speaking allies (including Portugal, whose space trading authority is now located here), the lncans began looking for space elsewhere in L-5. The gateway to the Latin Finger, Juarez may end up giving its lncan Republic settlers an entire wheel of their own at the next expansion.
Arabia and the Life Foundation consolidated their L-5 holdings next to Port Alvarez and cemented a long-standing friendship. A number of Middle Eastern and southern Asian interests have settled people here, including the UAR, and Rebco established an office in Shi’at to serve the Chinese Arm. Arabic is the preferred language, but English is probably the one most commonly used. By convention, Shi’at keeps Riyadh time, and muezzins call the faithful to prayer five times daily. (In a spaceborne structure, one may choose the appropriate direction to Mecca, according to Islamic law, if the exact direction is not known.)
The Institut des Etudes Xenologiques (IEX) and a host of French corporations and affiliated minor organizations settled into this wheel and caused a minor furor among the British, who claimed a second French wheel was being established. The upset didn’t end until the Royal Society also gained quarters here. Since that time a number of other foundations have settled into Cousonne, including the Astronomischen Rechen-lnstitut (ARI). This concentration of intellectuals has produced a kind of college town atmosphere, complete with a wide range of college insignia on every surface and even on the people.
For many years, the Look Upwards Combine, a Cantonese group of research foundations and industrial companies, pressed the L-5 Council for a wheel of its own, apart from the Manchurians-and finally got it in 2270. As rapid as their growth has been, the Cantonese interests have also allowed some Chinese, the Alberta Farmer’s Cooperative, the Academia dei Lincei, and Ferrantino, an enclave of Italian starship designers, to take up residence. With the population split between engineers, agriculturalists and visionaries speaking two dialects of Chinese and three kinds of Italian, Xangxi’s culture has a somewhat schizophrenic cast to it. As one former council member from this wheel put it, “To live on Xangxi one must either be crazy or wish to become so."
The L-5 Council took advantage of the third expansion to consolidate all its offices and workers into a single habitat. As large as the administration was, there was still room for the Foundation for Practical Knowledge, denied a space in Cousonne, to settle here. Ramachuk is the usual first destination for diplomats and government officials, as well as important transient executives, coming to L-5. It is habitually gleaming and spotless, unfailingly modem to a fault. Cultural icons and distinctions are actively suppressed in this wheel, the heart of L-5’s government, to avoid a chaotic or provincial appearance. Nowhere else on L-5 is it easier to think of L-5 as a big space station.
L-5 is not a single structure. Its main habitat is unitary, unlike the multinational habitat at L-4, but surrounding this habitat are several hundred auxiliary and support habitats and structures of several major types. Most important are the power satellites-immense grids of solar cells and transmitters that produce most of L-5’s power. Early plans for Diana included solar power as a backup to the integral fusion plant, but concerns about radioactivity, waste disposal, and public image forced L-5 to rely completely on the satellite grid after the first expansion. After all, one of Diana’s purposes was to demonstrate the viability of solar power on Earth, and it made little sense to rely on fusion power when there was abundant sunlight waiting to be harvested.
The reliability factor was also irresistible; unlike a single fusion plant or even a network of them, the solar grid cannot go down completely. And even if portions of it do, no one is endangered. Manufacturing plants of various sizes, about half of them manned, are the next most valuable class of free structures. Utilizing vacuum, microgravity and proximity to port facilities, these factories produce a surprising range and quantity of semi processed and finished goods from pharmaceuticals and cloth to logic circuits and genetically engineered biodevices. At one time, the next most important class of structures was considered to be first in importance and L-5’s unofficial reason for being-laboratories. In 2300, separate laboratory and experimental facilities are used only because of their proximity to Earth. Experiments and trial manufacturing requiring freedom from radio and gravitic interference must be conducted elsewhere.
In fact, a large proportion of the old laboratory facilities have been converted to highly desirable storage space-they are now warehouses. Not a few have also been converted into private residences by the very wealthy-nearly ultimate privacy for nearly ultimate cost. And, of course, the final components of the halo are all the hundreds of starships, shuttles, work modules and other craft arriving, departing, or simply sailing between L-5 and all other points in space, near and far.
Life Aboard L-5
Until the third expansion, the majority of L-5’s population was transient. Employees of one or another of the corporations leasing space, of ESA or of the station authority itself, would regularly sign on for duty of several years, and then return home to Earth. Not until the 23rd century did residents stay permanently, and even then they were in a minority. The majority, in fact, became more mobile, and entire families grew up living in space habitats, shuttling from one to another as they followed career paths.
The continual changeover of population, plus the semi-isolated nature of each wheel, is responsible for the wide cultural variation aboard L-5. Broadly put, while L-5 is a single structure, in reality it is 12 distinct districts, each split into three or more neighborhoods. Early residents preferred the company of people who spoke their birth language, even if they remained strangers to each other. Neighborhoods lived on even after people moved away; they had a solid sense of continuity to them, and, save for the occasional voluntary relocation, no L-5 neighborhood has ever completely disappeared.
ESA intended that L-5, when it grew large enough, have a representative form of government, and this tradition holds. Each wheel holds a yearly congress (l-5 keeps the solar calendar and Greenwich Mean Time throughout most of the habitat) to choose three to 10 representatives, depending on its population, to send to the L-5 Council. The council has authority over station management, part and safety regulations, and general civil order, but it depends on local constabularies to keep order on the individual wheels.
Since the second expansion, L-5’s primary industry has been its port and shipyard facilities. Ship construction and maintenance occupy a little less than 65 percent of L-5’s work force. Of the remainder, a growing segment is involved in space-based manufacturing, and about 12 percent is devoted to life support, habitat engineering, administration, and tourism. Daily life for the inhabitants of L-5 greatly resembles life on Earth (or wherever). Work, school, shopping, and recreation are like what’s available in London or Cairo or Rio, depending on the wheel. Outdoor spaces with skylights and appropriate foliage, usually on A deck nearest the hub, provide park space. In some locations, two or more neighborhoods may share a single parkland, if the climate preference isn’t too different between them.
A lively nightlife, not to be sneered at, lights up L-5, distinctive on every wheel. A visitor could literally sample the world’s entertainment going from Diana to Ramachuk and back again, from the placid collegiate clubs of Cousonne to the dark coffee houses of Shi’at. Many tourists do little more when they come here.
Surprisingly for an artificial habitat, L-5 has an underground- and not just one, but many. Nearly all the wheels have “punker” gangs, composed mainly of youths of varying degrees of rebelliousness. Most, even more surprisingly, are multiethnic, feeling and expressing more loyalty for their wheel and their fellows than for their supposed heritages. A sizable number also have links to organized crime. Some serve as enforcers for some of the criminal bosses; others pursue other shadowy transactions or orchestrate elaborate practical jokes to demonstrate their antipathy toward the “establishment.” Since most punkers have respectable daytime occupations, and each underground is unique to each wheel and its culture, no uniform means for eliminating the underground has been found. And with the growth of culture as an exportable item (in the form of books, music, paintings and sculpture) and the proliferation of underground trappings on some pretty important people (Laszlo Pfeiffer, the composer, and novelist Angelika Adams for two), the L-5 Council and the local congresses have hesitated to try.
L-5’s approach to its criminal elements is unique. Though some prominent smugglers and persons linked to criminal organizations live on L-5, so long as those activities bring no attention or notoriety to L-5, neither the local police nor the council bothers them. The usual punishment for minor infractions is civic service, usually in the fish tanks or algae farms of the life-support sections. Imprisonment is wasteful on a habitat where every hand is needed for survival. For more serious crimes, such as angering the OQC or ESA, the usual punishment is banishment-a ticket to somewhere else, most likely another habitat not in Earth space.
For the most serious crimes-like murder-the typical sentence of the council’s court is the “down-ticket." A criminal is shipped directly down to Earth—at his own expense if possible—to serve out a lengthy prison term in spaces that L-5 leases from penal institutions in Africa and Brazil. These criminals are permanently banned from returning to any space habitat. More down-tickets have been given than is realized— the council finds no profit in advertising its troubles.
The OQC maintains a medium-sized office on L-5. The OQC is more concerned with contamination reaching Earth than it is with any invasion of a closed ecological system like L-5. Still, with the completion of the beanstalk and Gateway, more traffic is expected to flow from L-5 Earthward, and so OQC may be forced to enhance its 30-person force of inspectors to screen ships incoming to Gateway a little more thoroughly.
As it stands now, OQC inspectors are not well liked aboard L-5 since they represent the encroachment of Earthside authority into L-5’s freewheeling ways. OQC’s operating charter gives its inspectors free run throughout the habitat, and they answer to no authority but OQC’s courts and their superiors on Gateway. No one on L-5 wants to protect any smuggler stupid enough to endanger the habitat by bringing illegal drugs through it, but the independent-minded inhabitants of L-5 feel a natural resentment toward the intrusion. The situation is not tense—yet—but it is awkward and threatens to get worse.
Some groups on L-5 have discussed inviting aliens to visit: some Xiang artists would be enthusiastically welcomed by the inhabitants of Godfrey. Such visits would be unprecedented- and would undoubtedly be prohibited by the OQC but L-5’s proud iconoclastic culture seems to point toward accession to the visitation idea. Both the Sung and the Pentapods have expressed an interest in seeing more of humans and their worlds, and many on L-5 would also find it fascinating to offer that chance. It has not yet happened but it could.
IEX L-5 Station
The Institut des Etudes Xenologiques (IEX) maintains a station at L-5 separate from the former ESA station, as one of two off-Earth quarantine facilities (the other is on Luna). Each of these is devoted to the study of extraterrestrial organisms too hazardous to bring to Earth itself. Strict decontamination procedures are followed by all personnel entering or leaving these facilities. In the event of an accidental escape of alien organisms, the lab complexes can be sealed off and the contaminated areas sterilized through various methods, including opening the areas to the vacuum of space.
Shaped like a large, fat cylinder with docking ports at each end, the IEX L-5 installation was designed in such a way as to be able to support organisms needing surface gravities different from that of Earth. With an internal structure of concentric cylinders, the IEX L-5 station provides levels of different simulated gravities as it rotates on its axis, with the one-G level being roughly halfway between the axis and the station’s outer surface. Personnel working at the station commute via a “space taxi” system from the ESA station where they live.