For canon information, see the Mass Effect wiki page for Illium.
Illium is the second planet of the Tasale system (Crescent Nebula), colonised and governed by asari corporate interests, serving as an entrepôt between the Asari Republics and the nearby Terminus Systems. An exceedingly wide variety of products and services are legal, including (most notoriously) indentured servitude, however these remain strictly regulated by the planet's complex bureaucracy in order to maintain acceptable standards of public safety.
Illium is a massive, hot world. Open-air settlements are possible only in the polar latitudes; colonisation closer to the equator requires the construction of climate-controlled arcologies.
Illium is ruled by the Board of Governors, members of which are chosen from among the planet's corporate elite. A number of Board positions are permanently tied to Illium's founding corporations, while others are filled based on the political and economic influence of the nominees and their backers. The planet also has a Republican-style electronic Legislature, where any Illium citizen is entitled to debate and participate in government by consensus. However, unlike a true asari Republic, the Legislature has no direct authority, and can only make 'recommendations' to the Board, which can be altered or vetoed at the Board's discretion. Traditionally the Board maintains a tight grip on economic policy, defence, and law enforcement, but allows the Legislature to handle social and administrative matters less influential to the fortunes of major companies.
The administration of Illium is overseen by a number of specialised Directorates (Defence Directorate, Health Directorate, Justice Directorate, etc.); the internal organisation of the Directorates varies considerably from one to another, being tailored to their areas of influence. The Directorates are answerable to the Board of Governors, but are traditionally given broad leeway to achieve their assigned goals as they see fit.
As Illium is still (in asari terms) a young colony, there are no native-born Matriarchs. Some asari of Matriarch age have immigrated from other worlds, and are treated with the respect common among asari towards their elders, but lacking the complex network of social and culture ties that build up over a lifetime they do not possess the wide-ranging political and social influence they would on a Republican world. While a few attempt to claim this automatic deference as a right, there is a general perception that those who represent themselves as 'Matriarchs of Illium' do so for personal gain, and aside from the fact of their age have not 'earned' their title the way a Republican Matriarch would.
Illium is famous (and notorious) in galactic circles for its practice of indentured servitude, a form of slavery, as well as other harsh economic practices. Nominally, the terms of servitude contracts -- including duration of servitude, conditions, the nature of the required duties, and so on -- must be known and agreed to by the worker prior to the commencement of such a contract; Illium's authorities and advocates claim that the practice is, in fact, simply a particularly concrete form of employment. In reality there are many areas of indentured servitude legislation that are open to interpretation, and employers with sufficient legal resources, or willingness to skirt the edge of the law and use their wealth to deflect the consequences, are known to exploit the disadvantaged or naive, manouevring them into 'agreeing' to servitude under conditions that would be considered involuntary under other legal systems. Once a servant is contracted, it is also not unknown for contract holders to alter the terms of the contract in their favour, using their influence to deny their servants the opportunity to challenge such alterations.
Indentured servitude in the fields of adult entertainment and prostitution is more highly regulated, and subject to more oversight, than in other fields of employment; in theory, it is 'impossible' for a servant to be compelled to provide sexual services. Illium being what it is, even these laws are circumvented, although usually less flagrantly than would otherwise be the case.
The Board of Governors' justification for embracing indentured servitude is that it provides a means for Illium to engage fully with the Terminus economy, including states which practice their own forms of slavery, in turn permitting Illium's prosperity to entice these trading partners to adopt similar legislation in preference to more exploitative unregulated slavery. Although several Terminus states have moved towards regulated servitude (gaining favourable trading terms with Illium in the process), this rationale is widely seen in C-Space as an excuse by which corporations in non-slaving territories can gain access to profitable Terminus markets via Illium while keeping their own hands clean. The Asari Republics, though expressing reservations, support Illium politically in C-Space, and have dissuaded the remainder of the Citadel Council from moving to limit the colony's ability to trade with its members.
(Grisank Vimanthia reminds you to consider indentured servitude!)
Illium's native culture is a curious mix of asari cooperation and consensus-based progress and cutthroat mercantile advantage-seeking. The planet's settlements - primarily Nos Astra - boast an impressive array of opera houses, concert halls, academic and social centres, sporting facilities and the like, but it has been noted that many cultural institutions are maintained not so much for their intrinsic value as for the political prestige they are regarded as bringing the world. Media conglomerates such as Illium Entertainment span the galaxy, but in offworld circles are rarely seen as being of the same calibre as their peers from other, longer-established settlements - a kind of planetwide 'nouveau riche' reputation.
Nonetheless, the sheer weight of population has produced a vibrant culture beyond the pretentions of the colony's elite, which while slightly hampered in interstellar circles by Illium's reputation is also aided greatly by the ready availability of facilities and financial support. Illium is similarly well represented in interstellar sporting circles. The Nos Astra Pulsars, based at Nos Astra University, are one of the leading teams of the Asari Pildavi Union.
The Reaper War
See main article: Illium at War (Story Arc)
The Tasale system came under assault during the Reaper mass offensives following the fall of Earth. Enemy forces were light compared to those devastating major homeworlds, and a daring attack on husk transport ships with atomic weapons denied them the ground troops to immediately overwhelm heavily defended locations. However the Reaper forces were more than sufficient to occupy the planet and keep the surviving armed forces and civilian populations on the defensive for the duration of the war.
Vessels lost in the defence of Illium include:
- Resolution of T'Cari
- MSV Westphalen
- Morning Walker
- TCN Califia
- Zenith Nadir
- Aluminum Mallard
The first major settlement, and Illium's capital. During the Reaper War, Nos Astra was occupied by Reaper forces, and effectively destroyed as a habitable site. With reclamation of the site expected to take years at best, Nos Varda - the nearby satellite city where Nos Astra's evacuees held out against the Reaper invasion - was renamed Nos Astra, and is expanding to accommodate the needs of a planetary capital. For details of pre-war Nos Astra, see here.
An arcology settlement populated almost exclusively by volus, which - aside from visitor areas and facilities - maintained internal pressure and atmospheric conditions suitable for volus to inhabit without the need for suits. Gol Mar was the heart of Vol Protectorate economic power on Illium, although among its inhabitants there was considerable disagreement whether the city represented a respectable inroad into Illium's asari-dominated economy, or was tolerated as a gilded ghetto to keep its inhabitants content while symbolically isolating them from the planet's true economic elite in Nos Astra.
Tragically, Gol Mar was destroyed outright during the Reaper invasion, when orbital strikes caused catastrophic damage to its environmental integrity. With the exception of a few volus in self-contained chambers, the entire population died from exposure to Illium's native atmosphere and pressure.
An expansive mining range in the southern polar region, one of the few highly profitable mining locations on the colony situated close enough to the poles to be worked without the need for sealed facilities above ground. Although a lynchpin of Illium's industrial capacity, Grey Sands was deemed undefendable against Reaper attack, and was evacuated prior to their landing. A cursory Reaper assault destroyed all surface installations and caused severe collapsing in underground areas, but postwar the mines are steadily being rebuilt and reopened.
One of the earliest arcology settlements, located near the equator and constructed within the mountain from which it takes its name to support nearby mines and refineries. In addition to the port facilities needed to cater to the civilian population, Hej's Peak also sports a huge array of industrial docks, primarily automated.
Iloma is Illium's earliest developed open-land agricultural zone, and still the primary source of agricultural products for Nos Astra and surrounding areas. Extending northward to within 50km of the tip of the Sannai Peninsula, the two peninsulas serve to separate the Jade and Viridian Seas. Iloma was evacuated during the war, with food production shifted to emergency hydroponic and airponic tower facilities within defended cities, but is now being reopened for business.
A major heavy industrial centre, although regarded as 'working class' by the colony's elite. Administration and corporate policies aimed at generating and securing a large productive workforce regardless of social considerations - most notoriously the Nos Aedelos Indentured Servitude Program - make the city a focal point for opponents of indentured servitude as a whole. Despite being an obvious target for Reaper attack, the manufacturing and repair capability of Nos Aedelos was considered too critical to Illium's defence to sacrifice. The city saw some of the heaviest fighting of the invasion, but its industrial heartland was not overrun, and rebuilding of outlying areas was quickly undertaken after the Reaper withdrawal.
- Nos Aedelos is home to Hahne-Kedar's Illium base, including manufacturing and R&D facilities for a number of industrial and civilian mechs and automation systems sold throughout the Terminus Systems, plus the company's well-known FENRIS/LOKI/YMIR lines of combat mechs, popular with Illium-based private military contractors including Eclipse .
One of the original settlements, though lacking the massive high-rise development (and prestige) of the capital. Parts of the city atop cliffsides enjoy spectacular views across the ocean and lowlands. City districts include Fer'Shan and Riva, and facilities include the Ryala Reesoong Memorial Military Hospital.
- Kalidsa Cove, situated near Nos Erra and within sight of its cliff faces, is a popular tourist resort, which also markets itself to Illium locals as an escape from the pressures of city living.
A city very near the planet's north pole. Due to its small size, and lengthy polar days and nights, few interstellar visitors make their way to Nos Olmos, but due to environmental factors its climate and natural surroundings are among the most hospitable to be found on Illium. Locals accustomed to the extended periods of light and dark regard their city as a hidden treasure of the colony.
Orbital Maje was a spaceport facility in geosynchronous orbit, situated in proximity to the surface-orbital lanes for traffic to and from Nos Astra. Although it originally served the majority of Nos Astra's orbital handling, the growth in Illium's economy led to the vast majority of heavy cargo import/export and transshipment being relocated to dedicated bulk freight platforms. Orbital Maje came to serve primarily as a transfer point for passengers arriving or departing on vessels too large to make planetfall, and also boasted a number of high-profile restaurants. The station was evacuated and subsequently destroyed during the Reaper invasion, and at present priority is being placed on rebuilding cargo-handling platforms. Travellers arriving or departing on large vessels are now catered to by surface facilities, and reach their ships by passenger shuttles.
One of the larger arcology settlements. Pre-war, Vis Marinis recently opened a sporting venue including two galactic-class heliae, for turian throwball, in the hope of attracting exhibition matches as a prelude to joining the Grand League. Vis Marinis was heavily damaged during the Reaper War; efforts to repair the damage and return the arcology to full function post-war ran into financial difficulties, and were eventually abandoned.