The Stronghold is a colloquial term that refers to the rimward half of Deneb Sector, and the corridor along the Great Rift in Reft sector between Deneb (the world) and Tobia in Trojan Reach sector. This region is primarily stars in small clusters divided by two or more parsecs in distance.
This region is overwhelmingly human in population. Small Aslan minorities can be found in Gulf and adjacent regions of Reft sector. A large population of Vargr descended from Collapse-era refugees lives on Deneb/Usani, mainly as adherents of the Reformed To Will One Thing faith. Otherwise the region is a desert for native alien races. Even Chirpers are rare here. But where the lack in diversity, the more than make up in numbers: with a population of 700 billion, they constitute the largest bloc in the Commonwealth, and one third of its total population.
The rimward half of Deneb was settled in dribbles by the Third Imperium. Sporadic settlement paralleled the opening of the Spinward Marches, but it wasn't until after the Vargr Campaigns that colonisation began in earnest. Most of the colonisation concentrated upon a small number of very rich worlds where Imperial corporations were most willing to plant major investment. Early on the local governments were known for their servility to the Imperial government and offworld commercial interests, and were willing to accommodate their political policies and legal systems to serve these better than their own people.
Despite the richness of its worlds, it did not have the political savvy and strategic value of the Midway to rimward, and many of its worlds slid into obscurity by late in the Imperial era. Some of these worlds had the largest populations of any world in the Third Imperium: Askigaak/Star Lane, Beaxon/Gulf and Lilad/Zeng had more population combined than most subsectors, and other worlds in the region were scarcely better. The burden of feeding and employing these populations put enormous pressure on the local elites, and highly oppressive governments had developed to control and equitably distribute scarce resources. In many cases, however, these governments turned their peoples into virtual chattel slaves for offworld megacorps, producing cheap manufactured goods for bulk export in exchange for a subsistence amount of food and technological support. By the time of the Imperial Civil War many of these worlds were sullen powder-kegs, even though the local regimes had crushed the most overt resistance with offworld military support, any popular support they might have had evaporated into simple acquiescence by the majority.
The disintegration of the Third Imperium after Dulinor's attenat was the first severe blow to hit this rickety foundation. Megacorps pulled out much of their local resources as their markets dried up and their financial vulnerability increased exponentially, and this created massive local unemployment. Another blow was the gradual increase in authority over the Stronghold by the Archduke of Deneb, who previously was limited in his influence by a thicket of interfering aristocratic and commercial concerns. Norris slowly turned off the trickle of offworld armaments and credit that these regimes enjoyed, and enforced rule of law over the remaining commercial concerns in the region. Finally the Collapse of the Imperium all but discredited the local nobles in the eyes of their subjects. Vociferous stated support for the Imperium by local reactionaries was the sole vestige of legitimacy, as it was in agreement with the Archduke's own careful pledge of loyalty to the Iridium Throne. But with the 3I all but extinct after the release of Virus, Norris concentrated solely upon the survival of the new Regency of Deneb, and Strongholders slowly lost all interest in their ruling bodies, save on worlds where centuries of dictatorship had created xenophobic or dependent societies.
The Representation Reforms announced in IY 1152 was the hammer that finally broke this glass prison. On many worlds, alternative power structures had been in existence in the lower strata of their societies for almost three decades. The power transfer on these worlds was a tense, but mostly peaceful affair that gradually played itself out over several decades. But on worlds with the most regressed cultures and entrenched regimes, like Barbary/Star Lane (Deneb 0327), Lucifer(ex Endup)/Gulf (Deneb 0436) and many worlds of Zeng subsectors this process was bloody and protracted. Lucifer is perhaps the most extreme case of political interference ever exerted by the old Regency, as its government was one of the most extreme in its entire realm. But on those worlds where the process took its time, it resulted in the creation of governments with a deeper commitment to progressive and/or democractic principles. The tension between victorious reformers on some worlds, and oppressive regimes in the neighboring quadrant led to vicious infighting, and a polarisation that mimicked the later chasm between the Purifiers and Liberators.
The emergence of the Purifiers on a national scale after the ascension of Lemat Arthurian nearly sparked civil war in the Stronghold. Radical reformers were staved off only by the emergence of more levelheaded leadership, and by Arthurian's massive purges of dissident military officers affiliated with local reform movements. Instead of disrupting the escalating war effort against the Zhodani, these leaders took the long view, carefully building upon the extensive past reform movement to slowly constrict the reactionaries remaining popular support and working to expand Anti-Purifier resistance within the mainstream military. After the Long Retreat drove disintegrating Regency forces back to their borders and beyond, Stronghold military forces worked in concert with local resistance groups to carry out coups that deposed the remaining dictatorial regimes in a lightning offensive. The lack of any response from the Black Regent and his allies on Mora to this insurgency underscored their weakness and isolation, and the Liberators crossed over from Corridor in NE 36 to the Stronghold and use it as a launching base for their successful offensive to oust the Purifiers.
The Stronghold's particular brand of Commonwealth culture is marked by diligence in duty, and hardline support for tradition and custom. Its cathedral is the workshop, the factory and the union hall. It is the most conservative and disciplined region of the eleven recognised cultural regions. This is rooted in centuries of tireless and unflagging survival under decadent and cynical political regimes and stagnant cultures and economies. The very stagnation and lack of quick viable alternatives to it created a culture that takes a very long view of things. Despite the violence that racked it during the Regency's last half century of existence, rebellion and dissidence was merely reflexive of the circumstances rather than reflective of a permanent tendency within the local culture. The Stronghold is seen as the blue collar backbone of the Commonwealth simply for the fact of its gradual change rooted in continuity. They live for work, and their labors are seen as interlocking and transcending time or place, with successive generations taking up the unfinished toils of their parents and ancestors without complaint or hesitation. This slow but steady pace means that their adoption of republican government is both protracted and yet implacably final.
More than any other Commonwealth cultural grouping, they tend to identify themselves in a bewildering variety of hybrid and concentric layers. They tend to organise themselves along a spider-web of community lines crosscut by income, professional obligations, religious creed and even sports affiliations. Strongholders are very blue collar in their aspirations and outlook. They live and die for the group, and congregate in large extended families that often live in close proximity to one another in a community or region. They are highly grounded in tangibles, and disparage excessively speculative or theoretical ventures. They prefer memory, honor past tradition religiously, and uphold high culture unyieldingly in the face of new fashions or affectations. And they are joiners, with their affiliations with larger groups being the backbone of their individual existence. Their loyalties are not monolithic however, and individual 'holders' are renowned for their stubborn adherence to personal preferences or prejudices.
The crowded conditions of many high population worlds means that most of their population, especially the lower social classes, are crowded into sprawling arcologies of dingy apartments. This doesn't mean that many slums exist, as the 'holders do not tolerate such eyesores given their propensity to mutiply across community boundaries like a virus. Housing standards are strictly enforced, as are most community standards. Though Stronghold communities are often not much to look owing to local ecological or industrial circumstances, they are always comfortable with a high degree of amenities.
Their cities and settlements are compact and vertically concentrated in towers and arcologies. Streets and urban partitions are neatly laid out on precise lines within a safe distance of each other. Architecture is brutally pragmatic, and their cities are at best boring to look at. Local planners tend to concentrate their designing on the interiors of buildings, and sumptuously dour space and function, sans much ornamentation, upon public facilities like transport hubs, stadiums/auditoriums and government buildings. Many cities have extensive subterranean or covered areas to protect persons from the elements, and public transport predominates. Public services are run in a clockwork fashion, and civil services and businesses are run on quasimilitary lines. Housing is modest, but well designed in terms of access and internal amenities. Hospitality industries are generally generic, as luxury is considered to be an unnecessary frill.
Local police are very much in evidence, sometimes reinforced by local planetary military police or gendarmes. Brotherhood forces are conspiciously marked, but they and the other security services are less authoritarian than their Sabinar neighbors. Rather they exist as an insulating hedge between internal order and an unruly outside universe. Most policing is actually internal, as the local sense of a strong social order tends to restrain most forms of deviance. The local legal systems are punitive, but open and fair, and legal aid is abundant and competent. Despite their seeming brusqueness, local government is customer oriented, and there exists an astounding amount of popular access to prominent politicians and bureaucratic leaders.
Politically they are very conservative, and will only embrace change if its long term value can be convincingly demonstrated. Even then they are not going to tread in angel-free zones, preferring gradual and protracted change patiently applied through day and night, thick and thin. They are not much given to compromise either: it's either their way or no way at all. This does make them either fervent partisans or determined adversaries, and there exists no gray areas in their souls. Internally they prefer strongly communitarian policies: strong social insurance policies, strong political institutions, a stressing of work ethic, and are strongly antilibertarian. They tend to practice "dotted-line" or "commons" capitalism that deemphasises sharp distinctions in ownership and private balkanisation in favor of voluntary incentives that increase commitment by private owners towards the collective community. In foreign policy they are extremely isolationist, and some regions veer towards xenophobia (principally the Commons Crescent).
Because of its size and diversity, the Stronghold is divided among three different member federations. Despite this division, all three are themselves little more than composite states created out of the mutual loyalties and unity of their major population centers. These three are:
Name refers both to the triumvirate of Tobia/Tobia (Trojan Reach 3215), Lintl/Vestus (Reft 0503) and Beaxon (Deneb 0439), and to the strongly communitarian politics that unite them. The federation includes all of Reft sector on this side of the Great Rift, trailing Tobia subsector, and all of Gulf subsector rimward of Lucifer/Gulf. The federation subsists off of the seperate distinctions of the triumvirate: Tobia's strong civil services, Lintl's powerful religious hiearchy and faith, and Beaxon's preponderance of heavy industry and manufacturing.
This comma shaped federation constitutes the trailing half of Star Lane, the coreward half of Gulf, bends to encompass the worlds of Vincennes subsector-independent of the Isle of Vincennes county-and all of Zeng subsector. The worlds of Askigaak/Star Lane (Deneb 0629), Dekha/Vincennes (Deneb 1128) and Pikha/Zeng (Deneb 1633) anchor it politically and economically. Its name reflects its decentralised character: every world is committed to a "commons" of mutual benefit and collective responsibility.
The most centralised of the Commonwealth's federations has its capitol at Deneb/Usani (Deneb 1925) and incorporates the small trailing smidgen of Vincennes outside of the Isle of Vincennes County (Islands Federation) or the Crescent, and all of Atsah (Deneb H), Usani (Deneb K) and Kamlar (Deneb O) subsectors. Name refers to both Deneb's traditional position as the beginning of the region Behind the Claw, and its unusually complex culture of secular and religious institutions.
The colors of the Stronghold Federations are rendered in dark blue and bright orange. The flag of the Tribune features three unfurled scrolls, on a blue and black background, illuminated by an orange Commonwealth sunburst. The flag of the Commons Crescent shows a silvery world/moon, on a blue and violet background, at its four main phases (waxing, full, waning, new) around an orange sunburst. The Gateway flag shows an orange sunburst shining through a city gate. Stronghold mercantile craft are often adorned with an orange Eagle carrying a stone, or flying over a mountain.
- Askigaak Devolution
The pending abandonment of Askigaak/Star Lane (Deneb 0629 UPP: B549BA8-E), by a major percentage of its population. Askigaak is a primarily Vilani culture world (albeit with a primarily Solomani population), settled early in the Third Imperial period. It is a frigid water world whose land is primarily seamounts and archipelagoes that jut above the icepacks of the temperate latitudes. Most of the population has lived in sprawling underwater arcologies, often in very miserable conditions. The Industrial Development Program raised its tech level from 12 to 14, and improved offworld access considerably. But since 1117, the population has increased to an unsustainable 123 billion people, compounded in large part by the successful IDP instigation of massive industrialization.
A survey made in 1184 indicated that the world's meager ecosystem was near failure due to the massive stress created by such a massive population. And the large number of people made very heavy casualties likely on such an earthquake prone world. After protracted negotiations between Regent Seldrian, the subsector governor, and the Askigaak government, a plan was drawn up that would evacuate about eighty to eighty five percent of the population to other nearby worlds. Several less well populated worlds were approached with the offer of hosting at least a portion of Askigaak's displaced population in return for monetary aid and high population status.
The plan proved impractical, owing to the massive amount of shipping required to move that many people, and subsequent administrations scaled the number back. After a halting beginning and needless controversy, Askigaak and the planetary government of Aziziyah (Deneb 0229) came to amicable terms, and the first shipments of civilians began in IY 1212/NE 12. The program was suspended after Regent Caranda's assassination, and was restored haltingly after NE 23. It was stopped indefinitely with the outbreak of the Crucible War, and the nascent Commonwealth abandoned the program completely in NE 44. Nevertheless, one billion people had been moved in the interim, along with sufficient housing and means of employment, and there remains a sizeable outflow of civilians to the Aziziyah even today. Aziziyah is part of Pallique County, a subdivision of the Islands Federation, and the immigrant community has adopted their culture.