From Bar Lev, A Traveler's Tales of Twenty Worlds (Dayan, 2618)
They don't call it the Outback on Tanith, because for some reason the ubiquitous footloose Aussies missed the ship to Tanith. They do call the wild land beyond the settled areas a great many other things, few of them suitable for print.
And it is wild, make no mistake about that. Almost eerily wild, for a planet that has had not only settlers but cities for five centuries, and escaped the worst of the Formation Wars thanks to being under the Falkenberg Protectorate for most of them.
Part of the problem is that bad flying weather, uncomfortable temperatures, and rugged terrain slow down communications over a large part of Tanith. It's too much trouble to get to a good part of the land area, so few people try.
Those hardy souls who do try and survive don't make much of an impact on the land. There aren't very many of them, and what they do cut and clear, the land is constantly trying to take back. They also don't talk with the government, even the local government, more than they have to and the government usually doesn't find it worthwhile making them talk.
So I came to Tanith wondering why it's so often the setting for novels of exotic adventure, lost races, and what have you. I left, no longer wondering.
I'd stopped wondering the day I went three klicks into the wilderness from somebody's farm (I won't embarrass my host by giving his name) and it took all of the next day for me to find my way back. I was dry and bug-bitten and thorn-pricked and thanking all the gods of the galaxy that the Weems' Beast isn't as common as it used to be.
The locals say this is because all the ones who survived to breed after the Formation Wars were too smart to hang around human settlements. I said I thought that would make a fine horror novel the Weems' Beasts secretly developing intelligence.
My host handed me a stiff drink and said that you don't make jokes about some things, even if you've been in the jungle for two days.
Viewed from above the plane of the ecliptic, Byers' Star bathes its inner worlds in warmth and solar wind. For those members of its family, their places in the biosphere are an unnecessary luxury, for none of them bear life.
Farther out, in the harsh area called the Tolerable Zone, little of Byers' life-sustaining light and heat penetrate. In most other systems of its type in known space, these worlds also would be lifeless.
But here, nature has allowed life to maintain its reputation for ubiquity. The first world in the Tolerable Zone is a gas giant, a swirling morass of orange-brown gasses, blighted with a sepia-hued elliptical storm region along its equator. The storm's dark, elongated oval against the bright orange sphere instantly earned the giant the name “Cat's Eye,” despite the protests to Captain Byers from the first expedition's scientists. They held for the more romantic designation of G-MA-11-797-Ag.
No matter. A titanic cat's eye it resembled, and Cat's Eye it has been called ever since. Like most gas giants, this one has several moons. It is on the largest of these ten bodies that life made its place. Cat's Eye is far enough from Byers' for her moons to be cold, but the giant herself produces light and energy.
So the moon is warmed. Not enough to give life a niche, exactly; one expedition scientist described it as more of a loophole. But it is enough. The CoDominium government that had funded the discovery wanted worlds, even moons, with life, any life.
For where life could exist at all, men could follow.
The moon was named Haven. A dark jest, by some unknown clerk in the Bureau of Relocation, for it was nothing of the sort, not yet. the irony of that name was as yet several centuries in the future. But to the New Harmony Church and countless other persecuted minorities on crowded Earth, the name of the distant and isolated frontier world shone like a beacon.
The CoDominium used Haven as it had so many other low-value worlds, as a dumping ground for all sorts of undesirables from Earth and the other, more settled worlds. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and “troublemakers” were sentenced to Haven, never to return to Earth.
Godlike, the CoDominium charged the exiles with the reclamation of Haven, a world no one could have wanted in the first place. Godlike, that same CoDominium promptly ignored its charges' struggle for existence on the moon. The system was valued more for the refueling station orbiting Cat's Eye than for the millions of souls on the largely ignored lesser body nearby. Haven entered no one's thoughts until the next batch of exiles from the Bureau of Relocation needed disposition.
And yet, godlike, the Haveners (as they soon came to call themselves) did exactly as they were told. The plants and animals of Haven were given names like shark's fin, wireweed, land gators, hangman bush. They fought the colonists and their Terran plants as, eons ago, they had fought for survival on the harsh surface of Haven. They nearly won.
In time, the CoDominium devoured itself. The Haveners survived, and after a fashion, even flourished, long beyond the death of the State that had created them. The Empire arose and grew to greatness. When its ships arrived to annex the system and its by-now respectable moon, it found strong communities of tough, independent-minded people. Their admission to the Empire was as much their choice as it was the Imperial Will.
The Haveners' hardy and pugnacious spirit was soon recognized by the Empire. In time, they composed the core of several Imperial Guard units. Under the influence of successive Imperial viceroys, Haven waxed and waned variously as a quaint tourist trap, a renowned outworld fleshpot, and finally just another Imperial backwater, as the fortunes of the Empire of Man fluctuated.
In time, the Empire has come to its final crisis. The death throes of such a vast and advanced organism will be long and violent. The Haveners would say: “The healthier the beast, the harder to kill it.”
They would know, too. Haven has many healthy beasts, most of them two-legged....
The petty tyrannies that have sprouted all over the Empire would have been of little consequence by themselves. They are not alone. They have rallied under the banner of the Saurons.
The Saurons are a race of specially bred soldiers, warrior-eugenicists, whose genetic science is far beyond the Empire's. Sauron Soldiers are to elite human troops what those elite troops are to civilians. Beyond even the Soldiers lies the Saurons' greatest triumph and greatest weapon, the Cyborgs.
Genetically and chemically enhanced, the Cyborgs are living machines of human/Sauron origin and superhuman capabilities. With a genetic code based on synthesized RNA, they often breed true. Their own society holds them in awe, and barely in check. Ultimately the Cyborgs have come to dominate their own people which we must hope will be their doom.
The Cyborgs exist only to fight, and they fight like no other creatures in the universe. As victory piled on victory, the Saurons formed the Coalition of Secession. Disaffected worlds of the Empire have gathered together under their rubber-stamp council, to be ruled and wielded in the Sauron bid to topple the Empire and bring all known space under Sauron rule.
To meet this threat, the Empire has rallied totally. It may be the Empire's last rallying but it should be more than the Saurons can face.
Yet the Saurons can be only the last link in a long chain. The first link in that chain was the early experiments in human eugenics, under the CoDominium. Illegal and underfinanced, they needed a hiding place a world of outcasts, far from Terra or other unfriendly eyes. It was fitting that the CoDominium chose Haven.
The first cycle is now closed. New ones begin.From War World, Vol. I: The Burning Eye, and Vol. II: Death's Head Rebellion, created by Jerry Pournelle, edited by John Carr and Roland Green (Baen, 1988 & 1990).