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Shortcut is as dry as a bleached bone. In fact it gleams like a bone, for much of its lowlands are streaked with extensive beds of yellow-white evaporites like gypsum, powdery limestones and various salts, a relic of its watery past. Huge canyons of layered rock, carved by the wind, scar its face. Very little life remains on the world, and water is difficult to extract from its stony deserts.
But Shortcut still managed to attract settlement. The world's harsh environment coupled with its prime location near the Avalar Consulate attracted many free traders, pirates, mercenaries and smugglers. These various groups tussled over the scarce resources, and for control over the system, until the different groups created a unified system of guilds that managed competition.
Under the laws of these guilds, there existed no laws except a man's conscience. Weapons were cheap and easy to obtain. An organised system of duelling and assassination became the main means of settling disputes or righting grievances, though the guilds that managed to avoid becoming entangled within too many duel wars managed to climb to the top of the pile.
Visitors to the world before the Collapse were quickly made aware that all business on the world had to be done through a guild. Every guild had a specialty, and a monopoly over that specialty, and they had the right, nay the imperative, to defend their monopoly against outside competition by any means available to them. Unfortunately, outsiders had to find a sponsor in order to become a part of the guild, and could only be accomplished through practically selling yourself into bondage for a guild lord and his or her subordinates.
The methods of the guilds always skirted the law as it was defined by its Avalaran neighbors, and the world was a frequent target of naval sweeps and punitive operations. For its part the Shortcut guilds encouraged free trade through its very large port by allowing no guild a monopoly over interstellar commerce. To further tweak the Consulate authorities, "guides" and protection were offered to non-Avalaran merchants that operated in abeyance of Consulate customs. An ugly cycle soon developed, with the Consulate escalating and intensifying its patrols and raids, and the guilds further refining their smuggling and piracy tactics in response.
Unfortunately for the guilds, the Collapse precipitated their downfall. Citing a clear and present danger to the Consulate and charted space, the Avalar Navy began a blockade in 1132, and lasted until the world's capitulation in 1137. An Avalar military garrison was emplaced to patrol the world, and the guilds were forced to create an actual legitmate government. It also exposed free traders to onerous Quarantine guidelines that were selectively enforced as the Consulate authorities deemed it applicable.
But in the Post-Collapse period the economic payoff of free enterprise has loosened the morals and principles of the Consulate to a great degree, and this is especially evident on Shortcut. While the guilds have been forced to restrain and govern themselves, and to break up the original monopolies in favor of competitive trade, the original networks still exist under joint local-Avalaran control. With the rise of the competing Enterprise in neighboring Beyond Sector, the Consulate decided that it needed a few thieves of its own to maintain their economic edge within their local sphere of space, and as a result a number of semi-legal joint ventures exist between the locals and a number of Avalaran business and bureaucratic interests with the full blessing of the Consulate government.
As in the past, outsiders must work their way up to the demands of the local bosses, but it now includes the string of subservience to shadowy elements of the Consulate government and underworld. Most free traders manage to avoid any involvement with these elements, thanks to Zhodani and Regency pressure to keep the port free of their influence.