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by Pete Grey

Iptete is mostly desert, and posesses few resources. It's only advantage lay in its prime location along the main Urnian-Piah trade route between Shortcut and Ronsk. A small port was constructed in the 300s to service this trade, but for the most part the world attracted only a few transients.

These transient colonies, however, slowly grew in size. Several communities of maverick pioneers colonised the world, each representing a different collective of free traders that used the world as their home base. Unable to attract much trade beyond the transient commerce flowing through the port, and not really needing much high tech other than to support the trade fleets, the world's TL regressed down to a sustainable level of 3.

Several new groups branched off from the main cluster of settlements, and journeyed into the outback, and were soon sustaining themselves through the production of ornate artwork, and the trade of enigmatic artifacts transported from the most remote desert towns. These generally take the form of ornate jewelry, and sometimes of more prosaic things like eating implements and serving trays, ceramic pottery, and ornate weaponry like knives and swords. All of them are well made, with intricate designs in a logical, coherent style. Some travellers have also reported strange machinery and unusual toys in the possession of the deep desert dwellers. And orbital surveys have noticed the ease with which these people seem to extract water in these parched regions.

The source for these articles have always been a source for controversy, with the natives asserting that they are of local manufacture, in spite of evidence that these artifacts were manufactured at a tech level much higher than they could accomplish at any point of their history. And the design and function of these artifacts are too baroque to be of human origin. And the natives have done much to encourage this suspicion: they refuse to show offworld visitors either the manufactories, or the process of making these artifacts. All of these indicate that the Iptetans have access to some kind of relic alien technology and artifacts of unknown origin and heritage. Yet the locals stubbornly insist that they do not posess any such material.

All of this secretiveness may be calculated. It attracts would be buyers to their out-of-the-way world, while preventing offworld speculators from undercutting their monopoly. Unfortunately, it has also attracted a good deal of scrutiny from some of the more piratical elements of the Avalar Consulates bureaucratic and corporate bodies. Avalaran companies, assisted by the Avalaran Navy, control most of the offworld distribution and marketing of Iptetan artifacts, and have been pressuring the locals to make more concessions.

For centuries the Iptetans have refused, and have sought alternative means of shipping their artifacts offworld. The Consulate and its agents have retaliated through economic pressure, and veiled military threats. Since the Collapse, it has tried to cow recalcitrant worlds by declaring that they shelter previously undiscovered Ancient sites, and that these fall, by the provisions of a treaty signed with the Zhodani in 889, under their jurisdiction. And naturally, Iptete has been declared an Ancient site, even though no clear evidence exists of one, or if these artifacts are even of that origin.

Because of the unrelenting pressure, those communities closest to the starport have acquiesced, and have become Avalaran clients. A unified caretaker government is now based at the starport to administer the system, and to open up access to Avalaran merchants. Avalaran naval and quarantine vessels maintain a permanent vigil over the system, harassing merchant ships that have actual business in the system. Despite this heavy presence, the Consulate has so far failed to place the majority of the population under its control, thanks mostly to its reluctance to create any kind of permanent garrison within deep desert, a result of their overreliance upon offworld supply chains and an inability to adapt to local conditions.

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