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The Dark Edge

Taken by Force

Hidden from View





THE HISTORY OF PLANET P-19 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"So here we are waiting then," Vail said at last. "Let's pass the time pleasantly. Would you like to tell me the history of P-19?"

"'Like' in the sense of: enjoy, take pleasure in?"

"'Like' in the sense of: proceed to second-best option. Since I didn't learn it all up beforehand."

Eddon looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded. He began rattling out facts in a rapid-fire voice.

"Planet P-19 was first colonized 170 years ago. Human expansion across the galaxy was still in full swing then. P-19 had suitable oxygen atmosphere, suitable sunlight, suitable H2O conditions. Not exactly the same as Standard Earth Environment, but not too different. Main disadvantage was the metallic composition of the terrain."

"Mainly iron and cupro-nickel," Vail added helpfully. "With a high proportion of lead and zinc on the surface."

She smiled back at Eddon's quirked eyebrows. "No, I didn't read it up. Let's just call it witches' intuition."

"OK. So with a metallic composition like that, the planet needed tending. A nursling planet. You know about nursling planets?"

"Oh-aaah. The plant life has be be built up very gradually. Beginning at the bottom of the chain, first lichens, then mosses. You try and get the lower forms started, drawing on available minerals. When the lichens and mosses can sustain their own life-cycle, they become eco-factories producing more and more organic material. Eventually there should be enough organic material to start growing edible plants. Over a thousand years you can make a whole planet fertile."

"Right. After about 80 years, nearly one twentieth of the surface of P-19 was covered with lichen. The colonists had enough land under cultivation to look after their own food supply. 'Colonists' meaning, in this case, administrators, scientists and agricultural workers. The administrators and scientists were sent out by the Hegemony on term-contracts, to provide control and expertise. The agricultural workers were permanent political drop-outs, anti-urbanites, ex-crims, the usual volunteers. Anyone mad enough to prefer a bare survival existence at the edge of the galaxy to the civilized pleasures of a well-settled planet. No brain-power required, just manual labour. Hence the nickname 'peasants'."

"Sort of similar to the nickname 'witches'? I like them already."

"Yeah? You'll find plenty to like on P-19 then, because it's only the agricultural workers that are left now. They took over in the Breakaway their revolution against the Hegemony. At first it was peasants and scientists versus administrators. Then the scientists changed sides after the original Governor was stripped of power. The Hegemony brought in troops and the rebels were driven out into the uninhabitable zones. They were starving to death, almost finished, when suddenly this one scientist turned up on the rebel side Argid ev Ghair . . . The rebels under Argid ev Ghair developed new tactics. The rebellion went on for two years, and in the end the Hegemony called it quits. They shipped out the troops and administrators and the rest, and left the planet to go its own way."

"So what started the revolution in the first place?"

"The original Governor. He had this thing about the Anti-Human. You know about that? There's a huge patch of it just beyond the frontier here, beyond the Walder-J system. When they discovered it, this fool of a Governor wanted to become a conqueror. Thought he could overcome the Anti-Human by sending out ships to wipe out the webs. I suppose nobody knew the size of it then. Still, this Governor must've been a raving megalomaniac. It was when he tried to conscript the agricultural workers into forming a military force that the Breakaway began. All totally unnecessary. Should never have happened."



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Richard Harland.