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Saturn is the most beautiful planet in the whole solar system, or so those who live on it claim. Certainly, the ornate majesty of its many splendid rings bejewels the gas giant in ways no other planet can match, and its plethora of richly varied moons provide suitable dance partners to such a lavishly decorated debutante.

But beauty alone did not bring humanity to Saturn. Matter and energy did, and by those measures, Saturn and its flock of moons bask in decadent wealth. Fortune seekers cannot claim that wealth as easily as the riches within the comfortable and familiar gravity well of Earth, but countless treasure troves exist for those with the will to seek them.

And seek them humanity has.

As we approach the fourth millennium, humanity’s fingerprints have spread across the solar system, and even beyond. The terraforming of Earth’s only moon has already been completed, and ambitious terraforming projects toil within the atmospheres of Venus and Mars, gradually transforming those worlds, as well. Great machines loom over the planet Mercury, ready to transform the airless rock into a solar-collecting swarm around the Sun…if the legal hurdles are ever fully cleared. Artificial habitats and great vessels dot the solar system from one end to the other, and the light and data of a thriving society fill the vacuum between worlds.

By comparison, Saturn and its moons appear much as they have since ancient times. Naturally, given the extent of humanity’s expansion, a wide variety of technological constructs orbit the gas giant, and cities and facilities of varying sizes are sprinkled across its moons. The largest of them is the dome of Promise City, situated at the heart of a cluster of gargantuan machines on the cold, shrouded moon of Titan, where the nitrogen-rich atmosphere and lakes of liquid methane have barely been touched by local terraforming efforts.

These and many others might be expected, but a closer examination of Saturn’s environs reveal more striking changes. For one, the co-orbital moons of Janus and Epimetheus, once famous for swapping orbits every four years, are gone, replaced by a wide shoal zone interspersed with massive industrial printers and mobile factories maneuvering around the skeletons of active construction projects. The resources of the Atlas Shoal are a pittance compared to the original mass of the two devoured moons, but to see the results of that grand labor, one must travel into the atmosphere of Saturn itself.

Specifically, to the cloud band at plus forty latitude, which enjoys relatively calm weather on a planet known for its fierce winds. There one may spy a speck of white floating amongst the clouds. Travel a little closer, and the immense scale of the object quickly becomes apparent.

Locals call it the “Shark Fin,” for the megastructure does indeed resemble the downturned fin of a colossal aquatic monster. The official designation is Janus-Epimetheus, named in honor of the two moons sacrificed to its construction, and often shortened to simply “Janus.” Its outer surface is a pristine white, and its rounded bow cuts through tan clouds of ammonia ice near the top, and reddish-orange thunderheads of ammonium hydrosulfide near the bottom. In total, Janus measures one hundred kilometers in height and two hundred kilometers across the widest point of its flattened, oval crown. Natural gravity is a pleasant 1.065 times Earth’s, and external pressure near the top is roughly one atmosphere.

Janus does not travel through this sea of golden and rust-colored clouds alone, but it stands above the rest for being the largest and most ambitious habitat by far. Over a billion physical and abstract citizens call Janus their home, for this is the thriving heart of the Saturn State, as well as its seat of governance.

The shining towers of Ballast Heights, capital city of the Saturn State, sprawl atop the Shark Fin’s crown, close to and a little behind the prow. Almost every building’s cross section takes the form of an elongated teardrop when viewed from above, allowing the city to weather the windy seasons with minimal fuss.

Three towers stretch skyward above the rest, their upper levels coated in dozens of giant dishes and precision lasers shielded behind glass domes to protect the equipment from gusts of wind. All of the dishes and lasers point toward the heavens, and data packets and abstract citizens alike come and go through these transceiver towers in a continuous ballet of photons and electrons. Each tower’s infostructure buffers thousands of connectomes at a time, the digital minds of these citizens paused for a short interval as they await transmission off-world, while separate infostructures accept the new arrivals by placing them in a run-state before staff welcome them cordially to Janus.

All of this is routine on the worlds of the Consolidated System Government. Boring even. But only because we at LifeBeam turn the extraordinary into the everyday.

A virtual banner flutters behind the pinnacle of one of these three towers, declaring our company’s name in bold, electric blue letters while our slogan of TRAVEL LIGHT! hovers below.

The physical mechanisms of our infostructure stretch from the top of the tower all the way down to the lowest subbasement in a solid column of robust computational engineering. Redundant systems work in trios, constantly checking and rechecking not only their own work, but that of their neighbors, and emergency backups stand ready to activate within moments in the event of a catastrophic failure.

The tower’s systems are drastically—one might say obsessively—overengineered against any conceivable failure. They have to be, for their cargo is life itself.

A LifeBeam Travel Guide to Saturn

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