Genre: Wainscotting Ruritanian science fiction… or maybe scientifiction, depending.
When asteroid mining magnate Roy Singleton declared himself “His Ducal Serene Highness Royal I, Grand Duke of 52 Europa,” the central Earth government saw it as one of dozens of publicity stunts the eccentric billionaire had undertaken in his career. As one of the first people to engage in large-scale exploitation of the Belt (and the first to make space profitable after the Martian fiasco,) he’d earned the right to call himself whatever he wanted as long as he kept the raw materials needed to maintain the Marrakesh Miracle.
When Grand Duke Royal I offered to “hire” California’s prison population, housing them in the twelve mining stations he’d built in the belt and putting them to work until they finished their sentences or bought out their contracts, he was seen as an innovator using his bully pulpit to help his former home state while helping himself in the process. TIME Magazine named “Duke Roy” its Man of the Year and ran a cover photo of the mogul, dressed in gold braid and epaulettes with a platinum circlet and chain of office, holding a lever in reference to Archimedes’ oft-repeated quote of “Give me a place to stand and, with a lever, I will move the whole world.”
When Grand Duke Royal I moved off-world and declared an embargo on Earth unless he was declared Lord Protector of the planet and all of its holdings he was seen as an irrelevant crank. The Pallasite Combine had been running smoothly for decades, automated shuttles from the hundreds of mining companies in the Belt delivering a constant supply of mineral wealth to an Earth that had grown comfortable and bucolic as its raw material needs were met as part of a flat trade for food and technical innovations not easily built off-world. When the Combine reported that Roy Singleton had died in a shuttle crash and that his assets had been passed on to his shareholders, the CEG hierarchy responded with a collective shrug and moved on.
Of course, the Pallasite Combine didn’t tell the whole story. They didn’t talk about the Accord that brought the noble houses of the Belt together into one rough, brawling family under the eye of their Elector, nor did they talk about Duke Royal’s denial of the Elector’s right of rulership. They didn’t talk about the fleet of fighter craft that Duke Royal’s corsairs had put to use against his brother and sister nobles. They didn’t talk about the saboteurs Duke Royal deployed to destroy life support systems, leaving miners to gasp and freeze in the endless wastes of space. And they definitely didn’t talk about how Duke Royal’s master-at-arms, a lifer brought to space from the Pelican Bay maximum security penitentiary, captured the tyrant at dagger-point and allowed him to walk the airlock rather than facing a trial before surrendering all of Royal’s holdings before the Pallasite Throne of Her Ducal Serene Highness Titania I, Grand Duchess of Ceres.
Now, with the eyes of Earth turned away, the nobles of the Belt enjoy a golden age. As their elders duel at the negotiating table or before the Pallasite Throne, young scions of wealth and privilege “take the G-cure” among the clannish, insular Barsoomist separatists of Mars, race through the void or in the ice oceans of Ceres and engage in tangled games of vendetta and romance in gilded space stations and jeweled asteroid estates. As countless indentured workers drag the wealth of a thousand Earths from the asteroids, they while away their lives under the unchanging stars.
Of course, there are uncountable dangers in the Belt. Mining camps go rogue and house guards put down worker revolts while corsairs and pirates flying under the banners of Bad Duke Royal, the Grand Pasha of the Void or the Free Traders of Libertatia seek blood and plunder in the spaceways. Inter-house rivalries can grow bloody, whether solved through duel, through the delicate dance of space combat or through sabotage and atrocity. Some even worry that Earth may rise from its slumber, seeking to bring its errant children to heel. Some say that the Pallasite Throne should take the initiative and make good on Royal I’s threat.
But not before Racing Season ends, of course. And after the 2125 Chateau Lafitte is uncorked.