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by Pete Grey

Paques is an unusual world: ninety percent of the planet is airless plateaus and mesas. But ten percent of the world lies in deep depressions created by rifting. These rift valleys are between 5000 and 7000 meters deep, and they are the collection points for subsurface gases and water that seep through the thin crust. The local air is a cocktail of oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor, sulfur dioxide and trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide and igneous methane.

Originally, this gas was mostly CO2 seeping up through geothermal vents, but as life was seeded on the world by cometary impacts, algae evolved within these vents and began to produce oxygen through chemosynthesis. Because most of this activity takes place far beneath the surface, atmospheric pressure is only sufficient to make the rift valleys tolerable to more advanced life.

Paques also posesses huge ice caps and glaciers at its polar regions, constituting the majority of its hydrosphere. The glaciers often flow into the rift valleys, and where conditions are perfect, the melt and fill large parts of the valley into deep rift lakes similar to Earth's Lake Baikal and Tanganyika.

The Strend Pact colonised the world in -235, and built pressure domes on the escarpments surrounding these valleys to house the colonists. Further exploration indicated that the world had only limited mineral resources, and the colony subsisted mostly upon meager trade with Strend and a few agricultural goods seeded within the rift valleys. When the Pact failed after a successful rebellion on nearby Sable des Etoiles, the flow of necessary spare parts for life support machinery was cut off. By 350, the colonists had abandoned their failing settlements for life on the valley floors.

Life on Paques has a curious claustrophobic feeling to it. The entire population lives by farming and animal husbandry within the narrow clefts and gullies of huge, yawning chasms kilometers deep. Effectively cut off from a horizon and the idea of a future it implies, the locals seem cut off from notions of progress or betterment. Life within these valleys is fixed and unchanging, dictated by the seasons of their world, the flow of potable water from the deep valley vents, and the normal circadian needs of their own bodies, and crops and animals. They are concentrated on the lint in their navels as it were, trying to piece together a life on a hostile world. Life is a continous circle for these people. They scarcely even look up at the sky, since that would create neck strain.

The entire population lives in large clans created out of 4-6 extended families, who live in small settlements of interconnected huts constructed out of the local volcanic stone. These groups portion off a large section of a rift valley for their own use through the construction of large watchtowers and obelisk-like boundary markers. Wars are infrequent, occuring when the communities grow too close to each other's grazing land and living space. Those communities fortunate enough to exist next to a rift lake usually construct their settlements either on the lake or in fortified coves on the shore. Fishing replaces traditional farming, and trade exists between the different groups based upon the exchange of these different commodities.

Paques has been a seldom visited backwater for most of the Imperial era. Producing barely enough food to support themselves at subsistence level, and producing few things of value beyond their unusual agriculture, offworld trade was of marginal importance. But Paques did attract the construction of a D-class facility, as its strategic location between Strend and Dustpan required at least a marginal repair and service facility for trade vessels. Even with this offworld presence, the locals still kept largely to themselves, though trade delegations occasionally peddled food and jewelry to transient ship crews.

In 1152, a seeker belonging to Horizons (formerly Sternmetal Horizons) mining division chanced upon a huge deposit of Lanthanum in one of the large rift valleys. With Lanthanum made prohibitively expensive thanks to the Spinward starship shortage and strict government control over existing supplies, the economic benefits immediately attracted massive offworld interest. Rival corps and prospectors swarmed the world. setting up opposing claims all over the ore body, and squabbling over the legality of those claims. The locals were offended by the intrusion, and revolted by the behavior of the prospectors. By 1155, the government rating accurately reflected growing anarchy, and growing confrontations between various factions of offworlders, and with the locals.

RISS intervened in 1157, revoking the mining claims of the fueding parties, and evicting the miners from the valleys. After studying the situation for about five years, the Regency awarded Horizons exclusive rights to mine the Lanthanum. But there was one condition: Horizons would have to defer to the locals and their customs, and they would have to set aside investment for local infrastructure and development. The company reluctantly acceded to this demand, even going so far as to hire the locals as miners. This development has created mixed results, as the traditional culture has been confronted with a modernism even more insidious and opposed to its continuance than the prospectors ever were.

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