This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 5.4.
In 2535, High-General Volder toured the facilities of an upstart hull plating manufacturer that, to the shock of many industry insiders, had recently landed a major UPE military contract. Simone Visconti, the company’s chief engineer and CEO, nervously followed along, carrying her research data. She was ready and willing to answer any questions about how her revolutionary techniques had created some of the most damage-resistant hull plating in the Empire. Yet according to legend, High-General Volder had only one question for her. “Why the hell did you name it Basilisk?”
“Because they’re extremely hard to kill,” responded Visconti. Before she could elaborate on the few ways this mythological creature could reputedly be killed, High-General Volder strode off, indifferent to the details. Historians agree that Volder was focused on the big picture. Simone Visconti, on the other hand, obsessed over every last little factor. This unwavering dedication to detail birthed Basilisk’s reputation as the producer of high quality armor, a distinction that still sticks, even though some claim the company’s product quality has eroded over the years.
Birth of Basilisk
Simone Visconti was born on Asura in 2509. Her parents worked for one of the major mining conglomerates that fueled the planet’s economic boom. Constant curiosity and intellectual aptitude were apparent in Visconti from a young age, and they eventually earned her a full scholarship to the University of Persei Analytical Research and Quantification (UPARQ). Visconti spent a little over a year studying physics at the prestigious school before abruptly leaving to finish her education at the considerably less-esteemed University of Tram.
Whenever asked about it, Visconti simply said that “it wasn’t for me” — a phrase friends and colleagues grew accustomed to hearing when something didn’t interest her. However, biographers later learned from Visconti’s UPARQ classmates that by mid-semester of her second year she had become bored with studying physics and wished to switch disciplines to engineering. UPARQ officials denied her request and told her to wait until the following semester to make the adjustment. Instead, Visconti stopped attending classes and spent her time in the library devouring engineering texts. Suddenly, her scholarship was in jeopardy, as the prospect of her failing all her classes became a reality. But rather than return to classes she had no interest in, Visconti simply walked away.
After completing her engineering studies at the University of Tram, Visconti borrowed money from her parents and rented a small research lab where she could lose herself in her work — trying to create photovoltaic hull plating that would simultaneously protect and power ships. Most believed it to be an impossible task, but some who saw her early work were encouraged. Bernard Pak was one of those people. A longtime friend of Visconti’s parents who had made a fortune in local real estate, Pak offered to fund Visconti’s vision by upgrading facilities and hiring a small staff for a significant stake in the company.
As years wore on without a breakthrough, Pak became increasingly impatient. Eventually, he threatened to stop bankrolling Visconti unless he saw concrete progress. Though she hadn’t solved the mystery of photovoltaic plating, the experimental manufacturing techniques Visconti developed along the way had other advantages. She organized a field test to show Pak how their hull plating withstood damage better than other manufacturers. When Pak saw the results, he immediately knew what to do.
Pak insisted Visconti bring the current hull plating to market, pitching it as a way to ensure her research stayed funded while also allowing him to receive some return on his investment. Pak poured credits into establishing a manufacturing plant, and soon the first pieces of Basilisk ship armor rolled off a Tram production line. The company smartly targeted local mining consortiums and industrial operations by touting their product’s excellent durability. It wasn’t long before demand outpaced supply. Asura’s booming economy (filled with high-skilled, blue-collar workers) and Pak’s real estate prowess allowed them to rapidly expand operations.
Meanwhile, tensions between the UPE and the Xi’an Empire were on the rise. A few years earlier, in 2530, Humanity had stumbled upon the species for the first time in the Pallas System. After the initial diplomatic snafus, mistrust between the two was high. In the face of a possible alien threat, modernizing the military became High-General Volder’s primary mission. The UPE significantly increased military spending just as Basilisk’s new manufacturing facilities came on line. The timing couldn’t have been better. Riding high on their newfound reputation and the fact that their competitors hadn’t had the time to reverse engineer their plating, Basilisk landed a coveted government contract to supply hull armor for the latest line of destroyer-class capital ships.
In 2541, the UPE’s fear of an alien war came to pass, though the enemy was the Tevarin rather than the Xi’an. As military spending skyrocketed, Basilisk was one of the major beneficiaries. Soon, lucrative government contracts became the company’s bread and butter, making it next to impossible for anyone in the private sector to get their hands on their armor, which in turn only strengthened their reputation in the public’s eye. By the time the First Tevarin War came to an end, Basilisk had become one of the UPE’s leading military suppliers, having expanded their operations to include personal armor and ship shield generators.
Basilisk was the envy of the defense industry. Yet, over the ensuing decades, Visconti grew uncomfortable with her company’s increasing ties to Ivar Messer’s regime. Visconti let her objections be known to the board of directors, only to discover her research budget halved. She stormed into Pak’s office and threatened to quit if the issue wasn’t rectified. Pak claimed the cuts were because her research had failed to produce any further advancements. Supposedly, he said that if she couldn’t live with the cuts then maybe Basilisk “wasn’t for you” anymore.
Visconti sold her stake in the company and used the credits to fund her research. Among her many pursuits, she returned to the one that continued to elude her: photovoltaic plating. Sadly, she never achieved the breakthrough that she envisioned.
When Pak retired in 2586, Francis Kelting, a former advisor to Messer, stepped in and gained control of Basilisk. He signed numerous government contracts that included options and extensions which solidified the ties between the company and the despotic regime for decades to come. Any board member who opposed Kelting’s decisions was quickly unseated or (in one shocking case) convicted of corruption and embezzlement on clearly trumped-up charges.
Kelting held onto the reins of power at Basilisk with an iron fist until he suffered a catastrophic heart attack during a particularly intense board meeting in 2673. Legend has it that one board member quipped, “I take it this meeting’s adjourned,” then collected her files and left without offering any help to the man many had come to despise. Basilisk executives spent the following decades trying to undo their Gordian knot of connections to the Messer regime without facing retribution. Then once again, the tides of history intervened in their favor.
In the late 28th century, mining conglomerates were fleeing the Ferron System in droves after depleting Asura of its resources. Basilisk followed suit, claiming the skyrocketing crime rate was not conducive to its employees’ safety or to beneficial business conditions. The company moved their headquarters and main manufacturing hub to Castra. Internal documents show that board members, eager to disassociate themselves from the growing corruption of the Messer regime, timed the move so that their operations wouldn’t be fully functional when the next round of government contracts became available. Citing a lack of manufacturing capacity, Basilisk extricated themselves from over half of the government contracts that they would have been expected, or more accurately pressured, to undertake.
Basilisk also used the move to Castra to shift their business model back toward the private sector. The market was flooded with products of a similar quality, but few had both Basilisk’s reputation and name recognition. Though they couldn’t avoid their associations with the Messers, ex-military personnel attested to the brand and their initial sales in this new market were encouraging.
After the Messer regime finally toppled, the UEE made sweeping changes to the military budget that reshaped the landscape of government contracts. Basilisk soon found themselves having to undercut competitors to retain the government contracts they had come to rely on while re-establishing their place in the civilian and industrial markets. As profit margins shrank on their government contracts, Basilisk was forced to institute cost-cutting measures.
Today, items destined for the UEE military are produced at different facilities and using cheaper materials than their private sector counterparts. Amid accusations of inferior manufacturing, Basilisk insists that all items they produce meet exacting military standards. It is said that Navy pilots often joke that if Basilisk armor is strapped to their ship, then it better have been purchased from their public site.
However, despite quality concerns, Basilisk remains a preeminent defense industry manufacturer, and one that has weathered centuries of turmoil thanks to a revolutionary product made possible only because of Simone Visconti’s dedication to the details.