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Dustpan

A750879-9

by Pete Grey

All habitable worlds go through cycles of slow decay. Most worlds are created with a bounty of gas and liquids on their surfaces, the result of their fiery births. But as they cool, their bounty is lost through steady subtraction. The oceans are lost through plate subduction, as hydrated minerals are plunged into the mantle, depleting the hydrosphere at a rate faster than volcanism or meteoric processes can replenish it. The atmosphere is slowly stripped away by the solar wind and gravitational escape.

Dustpan is appropriately named. An old (est. 5.1 billion years old) world where this process of planetary aging has turned it into a dry wasteland. The world is divided into uplands that mark the former continents, and huge sediment filled basins that are the former oceans. The planets extensive fauna and flora have mostly died out, leaving only small, hardy desert stock in its place. Surface water is rare, and the atmosphere is almost unbearably dry.

Dustpan was first settled by Solomani colonists around -60, who came to exploit the huge mineral beds that now lay uncovered in the basins of its former oceans. Huge strip mining operations scarred the surface, as overlaying sand and sediment were scraped away to get at precious deposits of manganese, nickel and iron.

The relative lack of potable water made that resource even more valuable, as the original mining camps became the cores of permanent human settlements. Most water on the planet is "meteoric" in nature, meaning aquifers of very old water trapped underground with no means of outflow. However those same aquifers have no source of replenishment, and the water flow diminished in proportion to the increase in population. By 400, most communities on the planet were increasingly polarised on the water issue, and guerilla wars broke out over the best remaining water sources.

Politically the world is divided at the communal level. Isolated city states, known as Kirs, are found at well heads, most of which are found on the northern "continent" of Ghibli. Kirs are of 10,000-30,000 people, and are mostly self-sufficient in the production of foodstuffs, and most basic TL 7-8 goods. Almost all are old domed cities that have expanded into huge citadels that sprawl over advantageous terrain. Government is by represenative councils, where a block or ward within a Kir elects a senior member to the main Community Council, usually for three to five year terms. The legal codes for the world are severe, and regulate every part of daily lives. Water wastage is a capitol offense, in case your wondering.

The locals subsist on dryfarming of a local tree called the Sherrycoat, whose leaves, roots and bark are very rich in nutrients. Two other plants, the Hoehoie, an edible grass, and the Mersandt, which is prized for its succulence and medicinal properties, supplement it. Most meat is obtained from the raising of Chupika, a dog-sized animal resembling both a kangaroo rat and hamster.

Power for electricity and water pumping is provided by wind turbines, for despite the atmospheres thiness the world's severe temperature diffrentiations create constant windflows. Duststorms are frequent, often isolating Kir-dwellers inside. The local dust is heavy in alkali salts and other ancient evaporates, making its somewhat toxic. Even more dangerous is the massive internal heat and electrical disturbances created by these huge storm columns. These huge storms combined with nearly unbearable outside temperatures, confine most of the world's population into their insulated and fortified dwellings, effectively isolating them from each other, and the much larger universe.

No permanent political grouping above the local Kirs exist. The worlds highport and two downports are administered by an outside company to maintain their neutrality. If concerns of mutual interest, or a global crisis, exists an informal council known as the Xhoma is convened at a location determined by lottery, and each Kir is represented by its most senior Councillors. But petty wars are as common as attempts at mediation, and the locals have given up trying to impose their unified will upon a world as hostile as theirs.

Outside of the Kirs exist the Dust Gypsies, peripatetic traders that travel across the world desert between Kirs in huge caravans of trucks or huge locally manufactured "landships." These groups are exempted from local politics, even conveying trade between warring Kirs. These groups are utterly at the mercy of their markets for shelter and water, and it is considered anathema to attack them. The Dust Gypsies are especially important for one reason: they collate and collect data on marriageable men and women, acting as matchmakers between eligible grooms and brides seperated by the planets vast distances. This marriage commerce is more than for self-edification: it allows the otherwise isolated Kirs the means of replenishing their otherwise limited gene-pools.

For that same very reason, offworlders are heavily recruited as either prospective mates, or as surrogate parents and donors, to provide children with offworld genes. The world's hospitality to offworlders is famous, or infamous, in the Approaches, and many of Menorial's merchant crews maintain close ties with the world, taking "contract mates" they visit several times a year.


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