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by Pete Gray

Starport: Class A, Regency Naval Base
Diameter: 6802 Miles
Atmosphere: Very Thin
Surface Water: 77%
Climate: Very Hot
Population: 75.47 Billion
Government: Civil Service Bureaucracy
Law Level: 6
Tech Level: 14 (Verging on 15)
Tech Profile: EE-FEGFF-FFGG-FE-F

This world is best described as a frying pan, with the low atmospheric density and high temperatures causing the local oceans to boil in the midday sun. Evaporation and condensation has covered the continents in thick drifts of sea salts and gypsum. In the thin atmosphere, wind will pick up and bear salt particles for thousands of miles, and once in a while massive storms will cause whiteout conditions, blanketing the entire world in a billowing yellow-white cloud. Prominent geological features include the Frozen Time Canyons, where evaporation and wind have incised bulbous figures that suggest the fossilisation of fantastic prehistoric creatures in the salt walls. Other features include Spider Web Plains, a vast tableland where ancient bolide strikes left behind patches of molten rock and salt that radiate as iridiscent streaks over hundreds of square miles.

Yet despite these conditions, and a lack of resources, the world is an unlikely sucess story. The primarily Vilani population subsisted upon trade coming down from the the Deneb Cluster en route to Trojan Reach. Some asteroid mining was carried out in the local belt as well, and the government carefully saved the money for future economic expansion. Cities and underground highways were cut into the local evaporite beds, and factories were built on the surface where they could be powered by windmills designed for the local environment.

As nearby Lilad grew in economic power, its attempts to control the destinies of its neighbors weighed heavily on Pikha attempts to modernise its economy. In response to this heavyhanded pressure, local society took the unusual route of virtually commercialising everything on the world. Though classified as a civil bureaucracy, in actuality most of the worlds government and economic functions are combined into small network collectives operated on a franchise basis by interested citizens. This can be a jarring experience for offworld travellers, as the world is balkanised by various contractors who operate public services as well as industries. Most taxation on the world is in the form of fees and levies on various commodities and business income, which often includes a maddening round of hidden surcharges on travellers who peruse lodging, entertainment and food venues. These taxes can vary by location, and are levied most heavily upon industries that are the most expensive in terms of labor, resources and public nuisance compared to their long term profitability. Centralised functions of lawmaking and the military remain in the government's hands exclusively, as is tax collection from franchises. Far from being a free enterprise heaven, there exists considerable corruption as franchise holders aggressively lobby the tax authorities for a favorable hearing.

The democratisation of kleptocracy would seem to create a very uncivil society, yet Pikhans are strictly honest in every other respect due to rigorous self policing, and for a world of its population, lacks many coercive bureaucratic rules and overseers. But a downside to this is the increased criminalisation of unethical or shameful behavior. Most lawbreaking is punished by forfeiture of assets, and public humiliation of the miscreant for a certain period of time known as the Shunning. Most often this takes the form of self-exile, whereupon a person is confined to a region called Khashii, which is actually a series of suburbs where the convicted criminal simply disappears as a person for the length of their sentence. All ties to their former community, social circle and family are severed, and they may not contact anyone outside of a small group of forty or fifty Shunned for the duration. Capital crimes are punished with either cold sleep in a Low Berth, or lifetime sequestration in sealed cells. People who return from Shunning often have to restart from the bottom in their particular careers or work.

Pikha has a long history of cooperation with nearby Dekha, largely because of strong bloodties between their original colonists, and their shared antipathy for Lilad. After Pikha was chosen for the IDP, Dekhan advisors worked closely with their cousins to buoy up their tech level. Currently the local level is a high TL-14 with increasing amounts of TL-15; recertification of the local TL should come in about five years. Unlike most recipients of TL advances, most of these gains have not been redirected towards military production, and the local population enjoys a bounty of products rarely seen anywhere else save Vincennes, Lunion or Mora. Advanced market segmentation is a hallmark of local products, which are beginning to include psitech and nanotech adaptive technology that tailor themselves to their users needs without much fuss or effort. Pikha is also a leading manufacturer of "lighttanks", the specialised minature factories that run on Quantum Teleportation data packages carried from centralised databases, uncannily replicating the original product of prototype without any hassle.

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