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by Pete Grey

Stern-Stern was not one of the original Pre-Maghiz colonies of the Darrian Confederacy, but was settled in the aftermath of the First Frontier War. The system, then known as 247-461, had originally been bypassed due to inadequate surveys, and except for a starport, had been ignored by the Confederation and its economic planners. The world was cursed with a very thin atmosphere, and possessed few obvious resources that would make it attractive to outside settlement.

This changed after a Sternmetal Horizons survey discovered in 576 that the world had extensive deposits of Iron, Nickel and Aluminum in large ore bodies buried under its extensive plains. Military tensions and conflict with the Zhodani, and the massive initial investment outlays required for subsurface mining delayed colonisation until 603, and the Second Frontier War delayed actual explotation of the deposits until 625.

Sternmetal, with assistance from the Darrian government, sank several deep shafts, some of up to 10kms deep, to reach the ore bodies. In doing so, the company had to compromise safety. The digging of deep shafts, in an atmosphere under severe underground pressure, on a world with very little air pressure to begin with, was a dangerous and expensive undertaking. Death due to the bends, or blowouts at the surface level, claimed a number of lives, and gave the world an unpleasant reputation. Sternmetal soon suffered a labor shortage, as skilled mining workers developed an understandable reluctance to work in the mines.

As production dipped, Sternmetal approached its fellow megacorp Naasirka for assistance in automating the world's production. Through a seperate holding company called Sternmetal Automation, the two companies pooled their efforts and constructed a huge network of automated factories and mining complexes for extraction, processing, refinement and machining the mines output for eventual export. These complexes were probably the largest robotic factories ever constructed in the Marches before the Collapse, and still rank among the largest still extant. These facilities was the pollution they generated as a byproduct of various mining and industrial processes, but the two Sternmetal divisions (which is where the world name originates) profitted enough to pay their employees very good wages and continued to deliver massive amounts of vital metals to both the Third Imperium and the Confederation.

The world was the target of major Zhodani raids during the later Frontier Wars, and of an attempted Sword World invasion during the False War, but it has remained in Darrian possession for its entire history.

But because of these factories, the Collapse and Virus posed a special threat. A controversy developed between the company and local authorities, between the Regency wanting to shut them down and the Darrians wanting to keep them running, and within their own governments between security services and industrial planning agencies. In the end, the now renamed Horizons was able to retain the factories, as the authorities came to the conclusion that more would be lost through shutting them down, and risking shortages and price hikes in resources vital to the Quarantine, than whatever viral threat they posed to the Spinward Extents.

In order to keep the factories, the company agreed to eliminate outside communication links, creating a totally self-contained and airgapped communication and control system placed in fortified military-style command centers. Horizons beefed up security around the facility, though more against outside intrusion by agitators and anti-virus radicals, than against actual Viral infection. The company still has the confidence of most of the local population, and it has eliminated most of the old silicon-based systems that made the world vulnerable, but there has been concerted action by offworld protesters and action groups to disrupt or impede local production. And while the company still enjoys the confidence of the Darrian government, a number of neighboring world governments and their citizens have staged frequent protests and passed disruptive resolutions against Horizons and the Stern-Stern world government.

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