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Are you familiar with the Free Worlds taxation model?
It's brilliant. And probably totally unsustainable. Each world that joins us negotiates a certain yearly tax amount based on their population and resources. In return they gain access to our defense fleet and other shared resources. Twenty percent of each planet's tax payments are 'unrestricted,' money the Free Worlds can use for whatever we think is most important.
-Ijs Springborn, mission "FW Senate 1B"

Basic Information

The Free Worlds are a coalition of planets in the Rim and Dirt Belt regions which have recently declared independence from the Republic after Parliament refused to address issues they raised about trade tariffs, taxation, and representation. Within hours of this declaration, a nuclear attack destroyed the Republic Navy Yard and Galactic Stock Exchange.

The Free Worlds contend with deeply entrenched pirate strongholds along their southern border, and increasing tensions with the Republic Navy to the north; pilots visiting spaceports on their worlds will find no shortage of work. Those who prove themselves may be permitted to join the cause, flying the Free Worlds colors and drawing a daily salary for their efforts.

Story Arcs

The Free Worlds are the first (and currently only) complete story line in human space. The main objective of this story arc is to assist Katya Reynolds in tracking down the perpetrators of the nuclear attack on Geminus, in order to ease hostilities with the Republic Navy.

To begin the Free Worlds story, visit spaceports along the Rim and Dirt belt, doing any missions offered by militia officers. Katya herself is looking to recruit a steady and reliable pilot to help her investigate without drawing the ire of the Navy; avoid flippant remarks or flashy karate moves if you wish to help her.

This storyline is intended to be doable in a single ship on par with a clipper or argosy, but attempting to do so without a strong set of outfits or a great deal of experience in effective space combat will require a great deal of perseverance and re-loading from previous saves. Certain mission objectives, such as escorting large merchant fleets or engaging in large fleet combat, are much easier in a medium or heavy warship.

Faction Relations

The Free Worlds are believed to be responsible for the nuclear attack on Geminus, and tensions with the Republic are running high.

The Free Worlds are covertly supported by the Syndicate, who provide shipments of arms and starship components via the Tarazed corporation.

The Free Worlds interaction with the Pug varies somewhat depending on the player's choices in the Free Worlds mission chain. Read the plot synopsis below for details.

The Quarg are building a ringworld to the East of the Free Worlds, and have been working on that project since humans began exploring the region. They refuse to involve themselves in the conflict between the Free Worlds and the Republic.

Story Spoilers

This section condenses a great deal of conversation branches, many of which are very well written and deserve your attention, into a single broad synopsis. If you have not played through the story, but are looking for assistance progressing, refer instead to the ES github (search the repository for the name of the mission, which will bring up a .txt file detailing the offer requirements, completion criteria, and dialogue options for a whole string of missions. Use ctrl+F and the mission name to find your particular stumbling block.) or the Endless Sky Discord community. To view the synopsis, click the "Expand" button below.

Synopsis

A successful nuclear attack must be preceeded by nuclear tests, as the technology hasn't been used in combat for centuries; developing such weapons leaves unmistakable traces in the atmosphere which can be detected long after the craters have been filled in and labs dismantled. Following this reasoning, former Dirt Belt parliament representative Katya Reynolds and freelance nuclear inspector Ijs Springborn recruit the pilot for a tour of a dozen planets, to test and compare airborne contamination against samples from the Geminus bomb site. Katya ends up undercover on Clink, a small, rocky moon in the Kornephoros system where a nuclear blast would go unnoticed among daily asteroid impacts.

Shortly thereafter, the Republic Navy makes a push southwards into Free Worlds space, capturing Kornephoros and Katya with it. The pilot is diverted from their original mission to assist in a counteroffensive. After re-taking Kornephoros, the Navy draws back to regroup and rearm, allowing the Free Worlds to consolidate their position. The player is sent to engage in negotiations with several of the pirate worlds, allowing the Free Worlds to devote more of their fleet strength to the conflict with the navy.

The Navy comes back swinging, armed with newly developed weapons and refitted with more powerful engines and shields. The Free Worlds retaliates with innovations of their own, including plasma turrets and a capital ship to rival the Navy Cruiser, and are covertly supported by the Syndicate (who hesitate only briefly about selling to enemies of the Republic) via Tarazed corporation.

Eventually, a cease-fire is negotiated and the player is dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Earth, with a brief side-trip to parley with the Navy's upper echelons. No accord is reached, but again both sides use this time to arm themselves. The Navy takes a significant offensive step and extends their front all the way to Harmony, after which the player is presented with a major branching point.

Reconciliation

A syndicate employee defects to the Free Worlds, seeking sanctuary and claiming that the Syndicate was responsible for the attack on Geminus. Assisted by a Naval Intelligence Questioner, you escort the defector to a Parliamentary hearing, while the Navy agrees to another temporary cease fire. The syndicate uses it's Parliamentary influence to discredit the defector, despite clear evidence of nuclear tests undertaken in a pirate world adjacent to Syndicate space. Other elements of the Republic arrange for protective custody and a fair hearing. Once that passes out of the player's control, they are assigned to escort ambassadors between Gamma Corvi and Sol, when suddenly they are directed to investigate a communications failure around the Zeta Aquilae system.

Attempts to investigate are stymied by an inexplicable closure of the hyperspace links leading into that area, but the mission loses priority when the Syndicate moves a fleet armed with nuclear weapons into the Sol system. When the player arrives on the scene, they learn that the nuke fleet has departed east in a great hurry, and the hyperlink closed behind them. Parliament is frantic, as the next system to lose it's hyperlink connection could easily be Sol itself, and the player is tasked with leading an expedition into syndicate space along the only remaining route, a series of uninhabited systems to the north and east.

The player arrives in Syndicate space to discover panic almost as widespread as in the Republic, as a previously unknown alien species has attacked and destroyed the fleet that fled Sol, and has begun to annex worlds into a government known as the Pug Protectorate. These aliens (who are apparently responsible for the disruption of hyperlinks) state that the resurgence of nuclear weaponry indicates that humans are clearly not fit to govern themselves, and must therefore submit to oversight by the Pug.

A repentant faction of the Syndicate's leadership gives the player access to a cache of alien technology looted over the last century from mysterious alien ships raiding from the galactic core, including a drive system that does not require hyperlinks. With the jump drive, the player returns to the Sol system to put together a coalition fleet to undertake an attack into Pug space, using the Syndicate's entire stockpile of jump drives. This counterattack is successful, and on the surface of Maker a device which restores the severed hyperlinks is discovered, allowing reinforcements to come in from the rest of human space.

The Navy secures the rest of Pug space, the player goes hunting for the remaining syndicate nuclear stockpile. At this point it is revealed that the whole Republic/Free Worlds war was engineered to prevent a galactic recession predicted by a certain advanced economic modelling program. This program turns out to be a gift from the Alphas, who have manipulated for most of the past 70 years, promoting an extremist faction which has now retreated to Buccaneer Bay. As proof of their good intentions, the Syndicate gives the player an alien cloaking device, allowing them to safely play decoy against the syndicate's nuclear missiles. With the player's help, the remaining extremists are defeated. With the extremists brought to justice and the syndicate defector's testimony proving that the Free Worlds were not responsible for the Geminus attack, Parliament acknowledges their right to autonomy.

Checkmate

The pilot choses to ignore the syndicate defector, which may be a trap and will certainly leave the Free Worlds in an untenable military position. Instead, they focus on balancing out the advantage of the Navy's latest weaponry. The Wolf Pack, a militia group that favors extreme measures, manages to acquire one-shot nuclear missiles via an illicit weapon manufacturer on Greenrock. The player supports this plan as the only chance for success, and shortly the Navy is forced to arrange a cease fire while diplomats attempt to negotiate a less violent end to the war.

Upon delivering the diplomatic team to a Parliamentary hearing, the player and the diplomats are accused of treason. The party is permitted to leave only when the diplomats threaten an orbital bombardment. Upon returning to Free Worlds space, preparations immediately begin for an operation "Checkmate," a fleet which will push north and occupy Sol with nuclear weapons until the Republic agrees to their terms.

This plan is sent awry when an alien fleet attacks; most of the nukes are used to fight them off, and in the aftermath you discover that the hyperlinks leading back to the Free Worlds have been severed. The player goes to negotiate with this alien group, known as the Pug, but they are determined to enforce peace and refuse to reopen the hyperlinks. The player disables and plunders a Pug ship for it's jump drive, allowing them to escape pug territory.

Building on the confusion caused by the disruption of the hyperlinks and the Pug's stated goal of annexing and 'protecting' all human worlds, the player is able to convince the Navy to support a raid into Pug space. The raid succeeds, and machinery is found that is able to re-open the disrupted hyperlinks, allowing a coalition fleet to attack the Pug capital system.

The Pug retreat via an artificial wormhole, leaving all combatants worried that they may someday return. The Free Worlds are granted a great deal of autonomy from the Republic, but agree to a minor tax in case the Navy is ever required to fight off another alien invasion. Investigation by Navy Intelligence proves that the Free Worlds were not responsible for the Geminus bombing, and a somewhat uneasy peace reigns.

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