The term "Drifters" was coined by The Maven (Beshtala-Chanko's premiere aristocratic newspaper) as a moniker for the amorphous and diverse group of independent wayfarers that began to populate The Fringe. Although the term was intended to be derogatory - and still is among the BC elite - it has come to be embraced by the community as a badge of grit and symbol of their independence.
Survival in The Fringe is a multi-disciplinary pursuit and Drifters often have to leverage multiple skills and specializations in order to maintain a steady stream of gainful work. Devoid the convenience of established infrastructure, subsistence and transit in The Fringe comes at a high price. For many though, it's the anonymity, freedom of movement, and the prospect of striking it rich that makes the grind worth it.
Survivalist experts are in high demand and can find work across the spectrum of small independent crews, scientific expeditions, and full corporate seeding missions. Achieving sustainable subsistence in a variety of hostile environments is a broad purview, requiring a degree of honed instinct and adaptability unmatched by other professions.
Particulates, gassing, mag, grav, weather, and wildlife are all considerable variables when navigating unexplored ecosystems and many Survivalists focus their specialization in targeted envirocats. Some, however, have developed reputations as full-spectrum Survivalists. Many believe this tier is only achievable to those with multi-planar perceptive abilities or have managed to survive the inevitable mental cliff that comes with prolonged usage of hyperspec tech.
Food acquisition and preparation is an extremely high-value specialty in The Fringe. Anything edible outside the spectrum of synthetic proteins and packaged Everfuel must be indigenously sourced, often from an elusive orgapool of which little is known. Drifter culture prizes flavorful and nutritional organic sustenance, so gastrotechs are one of the highest-demand professions across all levels of enterprise.
Frontier gastrotechs, unlike civil chefs, must be proficient in a variety of chemical and biological skillsets. Indigenous ingredients, many of which are novel and alien, often require meticulous processing to render non-toxic. But the best Gastrotechs are able to unlock never-before-tasted flavor profiles that rival and arguably surpass the finest dining in Beshtala-Chanko's metropoles.
Specialties within the field are wide-ranging and uniquely tied to the perspective and talent of the Gastrotechs themselves. While carnivorous and vegetal proficients are most common, Drifter Gastrotechs are pushing into new territory with medicinal, gelatinous, gaseous, and transcendental cooking.
Gastrotechs are often identifiable by their pervasive usage of mouth machines: face-mounted apparatuses that enable the safe “consumption” of ingredients for nutritional analysis, toxicity gradation, and flavor profiling.
Asteroid mining is one of the most prevalent industries in The Fringe. With the finite supply of rare metals in BC Space dwindling, many of the major asteroid mining corporations have launched satellite operations. Due to the expansiveness of asteroid fields and the absence of institutionalized law enforcement, private claims are only enforceable to the extent the corporation is capable of supplying mercenary forces to police their claims, creating a huge opportunity for rustlers.
Rustlers typically work in small, agile crews with Skiff or Low Orbit class vessels. While more sophisticated operations are capable of EVA mining, most crews default to the cruder method of wrangling asteroids into the gravfield of nearby planets to pillage their contents on the surface.
Rustlers also played a notable role in the Freight Wars, forming the bulk of Round Power’s army in the early phase of the conflict. This unique combat class became infamous for their distinctive and effective appropriation of small spacecraft for surgical EVA assaults. When these niche combat specialties fell out of demand after the Free Squares Treaty, many rustlers-turned-mercs transitioned to piracy to leverage their new skillsets and exploit the new free-flowing trade routes through The Fringe.
Thus far, the level of pirate activity has served as a reliable barometer for the growth of entrepreneurial activity in The Fringe. The correlation is obvious. Absent any centralized law enforcement, independents and corporate operators alike are left to police their own claims - a heavy line item in the already thick overhead of conducting any sort of sustainable business in The Fringe.
Piracy in The Fringe was initially fueled by residual energy from the Freight Wars. When Klem Earlie cut loose the bulk of Round Power’s mercenary army, many independently continued their assaults on Dugall Freighters in the form of piracy. This group of ex-rustlers made a name for themselves back in Beshtala-Chanko with a particularly flamboyant headline in The Maven: “Roving Terror Plauges Honest Industry in The Fringe”.
Despite the piece’s intention as a rebuke against nefarious activity, many credit it as the primary catalyst for the subsequent explosion of piracy. “Roving Terror” (a.k.a. Rovers) was co-opted as a proud moniker for Fringeling pirates, inspiring them to organize into a more cohesive cohort. The Rovers transcended their status as petty thieves and managed to pull off some sophisticated heists. But their time in the cream was short-lived as Dugall adapted their fleet design to thwart the roving menace.
The publicity, however, also triggered a wave of desperate migrants looking for easy grabs in unregulated space. All manner of micro-packs and loners began to test their mettle against the parallel flood of entrepreneurs and prospectors, forcing even the most independent of aspirants to bulk their weight in defensive power, be it equipment or crew.
While The Rovers live on in legend, pirates now are a disparate bunch with few allies, consolidated only in a few scattered tribes (often comprised of the marooned crews from abandoned mining operations). They’ve become more of an annoyance than a scourge to any well-endowed operation, but their ubiquity makes them palpable fodder for the nightmares of any small-time operator.
Smugglers are an elusive breed, discreetly infiltrating all manner of industries. The first Fringeling smugglers likely rose to meet demand from piracy, transporting stolen wares to BC mercantiles. But with the proliferation of independent hunters, trappers, and prospectors (and the introduction of special freight considerations including live or highly-perishable cargo), tickets for smugglers ballooned both in scale and spectrum.
Devoid the dense public transit reticulum Beshtala-Chanko enjoys, traditional smuggling in The Fringe poses a high bar for entry: a private interplanetary craft. As ventures exploded, it was impossible for the relatively small pool of capable smugglers to meet the demand for discreet logistics - be it to hump contraband or simply to shirk tariffs. To gap the lacks, many licensed merchants found it worthwhile to sheet their containers and risk their creditation to slip greyware into the formal supply chain.
But as the presence of mid-to-long-range craft inexorably grew, so did the undercrate capacity. Out in The Fringe - whether you’re in the business or not - no one is immune to the arms race of smuggling tactics. Be it the threat of pirates or the infamous territorial shakedowns from corporate mercs, anyone slogging crate needs the ability to hide their bounty. Effectively, anyone operating a slingable craft is a prospective smuggler. These ways, most professional smugglers are chimerized with their native industries, leading to a high degree of specialization.
The Leaf-Runners are perhaps the most famous case. When the BCDRA heat-flashed The Mire to cleanse the environ of Mire Leaf, the transcendentalist movement was effectively purged. Mire Leaf (not a plant, but rather the leaf-like scales of a mud-dwelling tunic mollusk) was the foundational ingredient for this burgeoning culinary niche and without it, the craft had no future. But hope for the transcendentalists reignited after the discovery of a consanguineous organism on the Fringeling planet Terrask. Terrask Leaf seemingly possesses all the same qualities as Mire Leaf, however with a much higher deg-rate and the need to be prepared immediately before consumption in order to retain its desired effects. Nobody knows how the anonymous Leaf Runners manage to get Terrask Leaf into BC, but the recent busts from the BCDRA Transcendentalist Inquisition are a testament to the ingenuity of the smuggler community.
The deep wells of undiscovered fauna amongst the many diverse environs contained within The Fringe have been a lure for hunting and trapping expeditions of all scales. Save for boonswell - a low-quality meatbird species indigenous to Chancie Block’s grasslands - there have yet to be any significant species discovered in The Fringe viable for mass market foodstuffs. Rather, the hunting and trapping industry is largely driven by the ravenous BC markets for rare and exotic pets, pelts, ivory, taxidermy, and luxury consumables.
Trappers are a reclusive bunch by nature, spending long stints in the wilderness before resurfacing with their hauls. The public house on Earlie Prime has been a hub for solo trappers to trade pelts and stories since the earliest times of The Fringe. Since the Free Squares Treaty, however, large-scale corporate trapping operations have become more popular. Much to the ire of the freelance trapping community, territory disputes have become a common occurrence for trappers who increasingly must be quipt for combat or assign precious resources to muscle if their expeditions are to be successful. Many have also been pushed into more extreme environs, seeking escape from corporate presence.
Hunters are a flashier sort, touting rare talents and premium kit. There’s also celebrity to be had for claiming legendary trophies. Sebastian Faulk is perhaps the most famous trophy hunter. His most recent expedition - sponsored by Grom - claimed the giant Ice Creeper of Cester Fraesh. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Hesh are a legendary clan of skilled hunters. Hesh practice discreet traditional methodologies and their reputation has earned them respect across not only the Fringe, but into Beshtala-Chanko’s uppermost circles.
Scientific organizations, who largely struggle to secure adequate funding for private expeditions, often contract hunters and trappers alike to deliver specimens for research. The most skilled trophy hunters are experts in securing prey unmarred by violence and are highly sought after by researchers to deliver pristine specimens.
While spanning completely different disciplines, miners and engineers share cultural status as the largest institutionalized working classes operating in The Fringe. Corporate recruiting efforts targeted toward BC low-income areas have skyrocketed of late and many migrants start their Fringeling careers as contract grunts before discovering ways to leverage their skills independently.
While outlawed in BC, contract trading is rampant in The Fringe due to the absence of enforcement, high cost of subsistence, and the general lack of agility for the poorly-endowed drifter. This has led to classes of people who are effectively indentured to their corporate patrons and shuttled into jobs and environs as their bosses see fit.
But as corporate presence has increased, so too has independent entrepreneurial activity. Corpo-trained miners and engineers are becoming highly sought after to bulk expedition teams and precocious drifters need not struggle to find myriad applications for their skills…that is if they can buck their contracts and the mercs who enforce them.
One of the most popular vocations in The Fringe is the pursuit of valuable raw materials amidst the swaths of unclaimed territory. Despite the presence of established mining operations, the promise of instant wealth remains palpable, drawing drifters of all walks to test their mettle and luck securing a claim all their own.
Prospectors tend to run solo or with small pack crews for agility and consolidation of payload. Because of this, prospecting is one of the most dangerous vocations in the Fringe as prospectors must be proficient in a breadth of disciplines beyond the ability to divine their hidden resources. Basic to advanced survival skills, familiarity with their chosen environ, and food acquisition are all requisites to a successful expedition.
Claim protection - via either stealth measures or bulked muscle - has become an increasingly potent consideration for small pack expeditions with the proliferation of outlaws and claim jumpers. Jumping used to be consolidated to hot spots near established settlements, but the sprawl of trade routes and the formation of gangs with private craft has shifted the traditional dynamic. As less and less of The Fringe becomes effective wilderness, outlaw presence can’t be overlooked in any part of The Fringe.
While the spirit of prospectors remains fiscal independence and the dream of life-changing finds, some of best prospectors get scooped up by corporate scouting missions to seed claims for large-scale mining operations, a sign of the inexorable development of resource-rich locales.
Drifters across many vocations could be labeled explorers as the business of many prospectors, hunters, trappers, survivalists, and even outlaws takes them into uncharted territory. But these ways, true explorers in The Fringe are few and far between. The pure pursuit of discovery is a luxury afforded only by the most prestigious BC academic institutions or the rare animal of the equally curious and well-endowed private patron.
The Man Earlie Expeditionary Society was one such institution, the first explorers in The Fringe whose discovery of powerballs on Earlie Prime launched Round Power. They still extend the occasional expedition, though funding has been meager since the ascension of Frederick Earlie to the Round Power throne.
But there still remain those few intrepid spirits (or wealthy frontier fetishists) who dream of being the first to carve paths into new lands and paradigm-shifting discoveries and The Fringe is ripe with unturnt stones waiting to be disturbed by human invasion.
While chemical aptitude is relevant to a variety of fields - from gastrotechs to survivalists - the term “chemists” typically refers to their role in interplanetary travel.
Maintenance of the complex biochemical computers required for long-distance navigation comes at a high skill threshold. Pilots come cheap, but chemists are a rarer breed. While Dugall Freight still clings to their monopoly on freighter traffic in The Fringe, many of their elite chemists have defected for more lucrative opportunities with independent expeditions. Supply is low and demand is high for skilled chemists in The Fringe.
Crime remains one of the largest industries in The Fringe. Ranging from street-level pelfgrubbers and friar-gas fiends to sprawling smuggling operations whose power rivals those of BC scions, outlaws run free, enjoying the absence of any sort of centralized enforcement.
While rustlers, pirates, and a smugglers garner the highest profile, outlaws of all types infest the many dark corners of The Fringe, eager to swipe hard-earned payload off the backs of honest entrepreneurs. With the many layered prospecting booms bringing hordes of eager kips looking to test their mettle, claim-jumping has become something of a default vocation for the coin-slack and skill-poor contingents. In success, it’s not uncommon for claim-jumpers to form into roving gangs, pooling resources, specializing, and broadening the spectrum of their activities.
The Forsaken - drifters who have been marooned in wilderness environs after an expedition goes south - are another common spring flowing into the outlaw pool.
Save for The Bench, the legendary drifter waystation under a confoundingly upheld anomalous armistice, the threats are omnipresent. Be ye aggressor or defender, proper quipment is a necessity to navigate the frontier. “Get quipt or get cramped” they say. And the adage holds true.
In lawless space, private muscle is the lifeblood of businesses looking to maintain a sustainable presence in The Fringe. Ranging from any old cove that can hit a mark to celebrity condants - contract generals with allegiant soldiers whose numbers sometimes rival armies - the mercenary pool is large and growing larger. The current shape of the Fringe and persistent threat of bad actors means that every venture, no matter the size, needs to employ some form of protection, be they a small prospecting pack or a full corporate dig.
The Cove Stalkers are perhaps the most well-known mercenary army operating in The Fringe. Founded by Fowes “The Godbird” Trent on the heels of his controversial mutiny of Mad Foreman Jonesy, their fame has been bolstered by Trent’s prolific publication of paperback memoirs detailing his wild exploits. The Cove Stalkers remain the contract of choice for any BC-based corp looking to secure their own slice of The Fringe.
Asteroid Mining operations, such as Horvo Mineral, employ large fleets of skiff-borne mercs to enforce their claims in The Rocky Cloud. This has proved a demanding and largely unsuccessful venture due to the vastness of asteroid claims and the post-Freight Wars proliferation of capable rustlers. But the need remains and there’s good work for talented skiff pilots and mercs with EVA combat experience.
The BC-based Red Forks are the most elite and historic organization of private lawmen. Due to legacy legal agreements with the Chanko regime, the Red Forks are prohibited from operating in The Fringe, though rumors abound that veiled agents have been active for some time.
But despite the strong presence of institutionalized mercs there remains ample work for small-time operators as well. Even the most humble of expeditions needs a trusty gun at their side.
In contrast, bounty hunters almost always operate as loners. A more clandestine class, their reputations swirl behind closed doors as it’s advantageous to keep their identities under veil. One known bounty hunter is Fancy Karl, whose exploits became much more public after being recruited by Man Earlie to join the Cross of the Round Power. Fancy Karl was a prominent figure in The Freight Wars and continues to operate on Round Power’s payroll.