The Hesperian Basin Trading Company and companies like it have a long history in Great Britain, stretching back to the Middle Ages when merchant families formed cooperatives to exploit certain regions and freeze out competition. One of the earliest formal companies was the Muscovy Company, formed in Elizabethan times to trade with the territories around the Baltic. More recent examples include the Hudson’s Bay Company, formed to exploit the North American fur trade, and the most famous such firm, the British East India Company (it is commonly known as “John Company”), which effectively ruled much of India until the company was closed down in the 1850s. At its height, John Company had merchant ships, factories, plantations, trading stations, and warehouses throughout India. It also had a small navy and a sizable army of both British and native soldiers to protect its interests. Many historians believe that it was partly the actions of the British East India Company that provoked the Sepoy Rebellion.

The HBTC, of course, is not as powerful as John Company, but it has only been around for a little over four years and, like John Company, maintains an army. The soldiers of this force are humans, some with military experience, others without. The company hires retired army sergeants for the noncommissioned ranks. Officers are largely company executives with some military training, with a smattering of former army officers. The equipment they receive is equal to that of the British army, but their training and discipline are considered substandard by professional military men. In its defense, however, HBTC never intended for its forces to be used as a full-strength offensive army, but merely to defend its outposts. At this, they are remarkably good.

The soldiers of the HBTC are officially organized into two regiments according to present-day British regulations. But in practice the regiments are split into company-sized units and dispersed among the various company outposts. Assignments are rotated on a regular basis, and soldiers do not usually spend too much time in any one place.

IN AN EFFORT to solidify their presence on Mars, the factors of HBTC have constructed several outposts on the outskirts of the explored territories. These outposts are built
near or directly next to canals so they have an adequate supply of water during the constant dry season that prevails on Mars. Many are constructed on the ruins of old Martian settlements or outposts along one of the canals.

The HBTC forts/outposts also serve the purpose of protecting the company’s employees in the region. While they are not heavily manned, they are equipped with adequate firepower to threaten most light to medium sky galleons as well as any ground raids that might be launched by hostile ground forces. The forts provide a haven for those local citizens who also face the constant threats of living on the edge of the bold new frontier.

The outposts were primarily built to serve as a hub for commercial activity, of course, and profitable trade remains their raison d’etre. The company trades British, Martian, and
other manufactured goods for the raw materials of whatever region the outpost is located in. Numerous trappers and explorers use these small forts as a base of operations, exploring the wilds of the Martian terrain with a place to return to for safety—a haven in the wilderness.

While these outposts are ever-growing in number, they are usually many days distance from a larger garrison or city-state. This isolation often leaves these positions as dangerous targets for marauders who are more than willing to risk the wrath of the British Empire for personal gain. Communications between such outlying forts and larger contingents of soldiers usually takes place using periodic message runners, but some stations are equipped for signaling within the local region with small heliographs, which are not large enough to signal more than 15 miles, but are adequate for warning the nearby locals of any danger.

HBTC outposts usually have approximately 65 personnel (what would be called a “short company” in the army) assigned as a garrison. This mix of personnel can be deceiving since the number includes supplemental personnel such as clerks, cooks, etc. The actual number of combat soldiers assigned to defend the fort is closer to 57.

In most outposts, because of their isolated locations, about half of the garrison will be trained in riding, usually gashants or ruumet breehr. This is not enough to give the company any significant long-distance striking power, but it is sufficient to patrol the near vicinity of the outpost. Lookouts are posted at all times in tall towers built from the native stone. The towers are equipped with heliograph signaling apparatuses, but at Dickerson this equipment is rarely used except to communicate with close-by patrols since no other outpost is within signaling range.

Each outpost is equipped with cannon weaponry for protection from sky galleons. These weapons range in size from a six-pounder on up and are usually mounted so they can fire at steep angles to attack incoming flyers. Such a fort will usually also maintain several smaller guns, such as Nordenfelt or Maxim guns, for protection as well. The guns are manned at all times.

Aside from barracks and at least one magazine, the interior of the outposts is usually made up of a number of small huts and buildings. Many have small hotels and bars run by HBTC subcontractors catering to the unique adventurers who travel the Martian sands. Shops and a market square are also very common, although they are not permitted in some forts due to the forts’ proximity to raiding Hill Martians.

The most guarded position in any outpost is the well. Without water there is no hope for survival under the blazing Sun. Thus, wells are usually guarded and protected around-the-clock. Some forts have stockpiled water butts in various other locations about the fort as a precaution, in case the well goes dry.