Covenant of Antarctica
“This is it, Maximilian. The world has abused our gifts for long enough. Now they must pay the price…”
– Lord Sturgeon to War Master Schneider, Archimedes Grange, Wells Chasm, Antarctica, 1870
The enigmatic Covenant of Antarctica is the world’s youngest and most unorthodox nation. Officially established in 1857 by its founder, the eccentric Britannian scientist-aristocrat Lord Barnabas Draynes Sturgeon, the Covenant has caused seismic shifts in global politics and scientific advancement in the few short years of its existence. The source of the Covenant’s influence is the mysterious Wells Chasm, a cluster of huge crevasses in the Antarctican icecap discovered by Sturgeon and his original multi-national expedition back in 1845. Within the chasm, named after the pilot of the scouting aeroplane from which Sturgeon had first seen the weirdly glowing anomaly, was something the majority of scientists thought was just a myth; a vast treasure house of extraordinary artefacts and knowledge known simply as ‘The Vault’.
In the years since permanent settlements were first established on Antarctica, Sturgeon and his followers have systematically explored sections of the Vault, dutifully chronicling their findings and duplicating and back engineering some of the more understandable devices they have discovered. Some of this knowledge they released to the outside world, playing a key role in many of the more recent technological miracles of the age. However, the Vault has proven to be vast, extending far into the earth beneath the ice, and despite years of research, the Antarcticans have still barely scratched the surface of the knowledge hidden there. In that time, a city has grown up around Wells Chasm, and an entire country around the city, as many different people – ex-mercenaries, maverick scientists and hardy adventurers with a taste for the ultimate in frontier life – have made the difficult journey to windswept South Georgia Island and thence to the mysterious continent itself.
Physically, the Covenant is one of the world’s largest single nations, claiming as it does the entire Antarctican landmass. However, much of this vast and desolate continent, especially its interior, remains little explored. Much of the Covenant’s relatively small population is concentrated around the great peninsula that juts out of the western coast of the continent towards the tip of South America, in settlements spread along its length towards the city of Wells Chasm deeper in the interior. Many of these towns have grown up around the sites of the original staging camps used by Sturgeon’s expedition as they travelled slowly across the snow-swept wastes towards the chasm by land. The two largest settlements in the Covenant are Wells Chasm itself and Aristotle Harbour far out on the Antarctican peninsula and the site of Sturgeon’s first landing on the wild continent. Both are thought to house populations in excess of fifteen thousand, substantially bigger than any other in the Covenant, although there are thought to be numerous smaller townships and bases scattered around the coastal areas of Antarctica.
Antarctican towns are like no others in the world. Such is the hostility of the environment that all settlements are at least partially buried in the ice and rock, well-insulated in order to preserve every scrap of precious heat. The Covenant utilises much of the knowledge gleaned from the Vault to sustain its civilisation. Subterranean farms provide nourishing foodstuffs for sustenance, and fish are farmed in specially constructed lakes, carefully temperature-controlled to keep the water in a liquid state. Travel between settlements is achieved mainly by autogyro aircraft, or via a network of railway-equipped tunnels burrowed through the rock by ingenious mole-machines.
Mining is an important industry in Antarctica, for the continent is rich in minerals of all kinds; one in particular is the source of much of its power; the mysterious Element 270, a bluish-green crystalline substance found in great thick veins that seem to radiate out from the Vault in all directions. Also known as Sturginium (much to Lord Sturgeon’s embarrassment) the element is a dangerous substance, but its properties, especially when combined with metals, are nothing short of miraculous. Although deposits of Element 270 have been found worldwide in the years since its existence was confirmed, the largest known deposits are in Antarctica itself.
Outside of Antarctica, the Covenant governs no land apart from the tiny island of South Georgia, formerly a Britannian territory. Now it is almost wholly occupied by a semi-subterranean town serving a substantial harbour, known as The Gateway. This settlement serves as the Covenant’s primary source of contact with the outside world. The Covenant’s fleets guard its home waters vigilantly, as many stray whaling crews will attest – only at The Gateway are foreign ships permitted to dock, and the town also serves as the home of the foreign embassies to the Covenant, making it a place that seethes with political intrigue and espionage. Everyone, however, is very careful to remain on the good side of the Covenant – to cross them on their own lands would be tempting fate indeed!
Lord Barnabas Draynes Sturgeon, the Britannian-born scientist and founder of the nation, is the current and undisputed leader of the Covenant of Antarctica. His official title is Master of Wells Chasm and Keeper of the Vault, although he is sometimes informally known as High Lord of Antarctica. Sturgeon lives in Wells Chasm itself, in a well-fortified but very comfortably appointed home known as Archimedes Grange. Outwardly a small fortress protruding from the ice, the interior resembles a typical Britannian country house.
Sturgeon governs with the assistance of a loyal inner coterie of his most trusted companions, which resembles the hierarchy of a research institute as much as it does an organ of government. Some of its members have been his friends for many years. Foremost among them are Lord Leonidas, the Greek-born physicist who along with Sturgeon first sighted Wells Chasm from the air, and Lord Oleg Tatamovich, formerly an agent of Tsar Vladimir of the Russian Coalition who swore allegiance to the Antarctican cause after becoming one of the first people to enter the Vault itself.
Though the Covenant is not a democracy, Sturgeon does not see himself as a dictator. Together with his coterie, he devised a set of laws by which he and his compatriots would govern their new nation, and a list of rights bestowed upon, and responsibilities expected of, every citizen of Antarctica. This is the actual Covenant after which the nation is named, and which every citizen is expected to be able to read and understand. New citizens are educated in the meaning of the Covenant, and are expected to swear allegiance to it. For the most part, citizens remain loyal, for Sturgeon treats his people well in return for their loyalty, and the Covenant grants a considerably greater number of liberties to Antarcticans than they would enjoy as inhabitants of most other nations. However, as the betrayal and flight of the dissenter Markov in 1866 proved, there is no such thing as a true utopia.
Antarctican emissaries are present all over the world, both in embassies and frequently as visiting lecturers in universities, academies and research institutes. Not all of these emissaries are visible by any means, and serve the Covenant as a very efficient spy network as well as a diplomatic corps.
The Covenent’s military forces are small, but thanks to their extraordinary grasp of technology, they command offensive power out of all proportion to their numbers. The Antarctican military are commanded by War Master Maximilian Schneider, a grizzled former Prussian colonel turned mercenary, whose entire army was hired by Sturgeon in 1850 and subsequently swore allegiance to the Covenant. They are a true combined arms organisation. The divisions of their military, known as War Fleets, contain land, naval and air elements which work in concert like a well-oiled machine. There are currently thought to be some fifteen War Fleets in operational state, although several more are thought to be maintained as reserves.
The Antarcticans employ the full gamut of military hardware. Their infantry, known as Commandos, although small in number are exceptionally highly-trained and very well equipped- the equal of any other nation’s elite troops. They are supplemented by the strange constructs known as Iron Men; artificial humanoid soldiers of great strength and resilience. These same constructs serve as crew on many Antarctican war machines, performing simple but important tasks with mechanical efficiency and utter tirelessness.
Antarctican war machines are not radically different in function to any other nations’. Their differences lie in their quality. With superior materials technology and artificial crewmen, they are simply capable of operating at a much greater degree of efficiency than the equivalent machineries of other nations. Nonetheless, they are known to have a number of abilities that improve their combat abilities. Antarctican naval vessels have been seen to partially submerge themselves into order to travel and greater speed and render themselves more difficult to hit.
The Covenant’s land engines are also almost all walking devices, but their craftsmanship puts the efforts of even the Blazing Sun to shame; they are frighteningly agile for machines of their size. The vast crab-like Antarctican Land Ships, complete with massive prehensile claws, occasionally reported by eyewitnesses are capable of scattering whole tank regiments by themselves. Oddly, troops and machines matching these descriptions have been sighted in radically different locations around the world, from the jungles of south-east Asia to the plains of Poland. How they got there – and subsequently vanished without trace when their tasks were completed – is still a complete mystery, although some scientists think that their appearances may be connected to the proximity of the strange energy portals associated with large quantities of Sturginium deposits, although so far nothing has been proven.
Spurred by the misuse of their gifts, the Covenant marches to war; those who have perverted the power of science will soon know the depths of their folly…