Mustered Out on Mertactor
Flexos Library Data
Affiliation: Non-Aligned ( Na )
Starport class E, Frontier installation. Essentially a marked spot of bedrock with no fuel, facilities, or bases present.
Medium sized world. Surface gravity of .625 G.
World diameter is 4773 miles (7680 km).
Exotic atmosphere. Oxygen tanks needed.
11 percent water. Cloud cover is 40 percent.
Participating Democracy. Government by advice and consent of the citizen.
Law Level 2: Portable energy weapons (laser carbine, laser rifle) prohibited. Ship’s gunnery not affected.
Tech Level 6: circa 1950.
Trade Classifications: Non-Industrial.
Flexos is an backwater world whose vast deserts, exotic atmosphere, primitive starport, low population, and inconvenient location make it an unlikely stop except for ships plying the jump-2 route from Tarkine and Noctocol to Walston and the Bowman belt. The planet does have some undeveloped potential, however, in the form of its fluid oceans and unique plant life, and it is well-known in the xenobiology departments of universities in the Spinward Marches for the extensive ruins left by a long-extinct primitive race.
Flexos is a fairly hospitable planet, all things considered. Its exotic atmosphere, composed mostly of carbon dioxide with a smaller proportion of nitrogen and traces of other gases, is unbreathable by humans but not toxic and serves to keep the planet much warmer than it would otherwise be in a system with such a cool, dim primary. Its 2° axial tilt provides mild seasons, and its dense fluid oceans help to stabilize temperatures in their vicinity. Temperatures are, however, below what humans would consider comfortable, with an average summer temperature of 0° C and an average winter temperature of -23° C in the mid-latitudes. Flexos’ small oceans are concentrated in the eastern hemisphere of the planet, and as a consequence, the largely uninhabited western hemisphere suffers much greater temperature extremes. Because tidal interaction with the nearby primary keeps the planetary core molten, Flexos has a magnetic field capable of maintaining its atmosphere and protecting its inhabitants from dangerous radiation.
Flexos’ most striking physical feature is its fractured crust. Like many smaller worlds with thick siliceous crusts, there is no tectonic activity, but the pressure of the planet’s molten core has created numerous large fissures that stretch across the surface for thousands of kilometers in nearly straight lines. In the eastern hemisphere, where the fissures are most numerous and the crust is thinnest, the activity of liquid water has eroded the lands near the ocean basins and created a hospitable environment for plant life. The rest of the planet, however, is an expanse of high, arid plains, exposed to high winds, dust storms, and extreme temperatures. Some of the fissures in the desert regions contain extensive oases within the shadows of their walls. The dust storms in the deserts, which reach a period of sustained activity during spring in each hemisphere, serve to stimulate plant growth in the lowlands and the oceans by depositing mineral-rich dust upon them.
The oceans of Flexos are remarkable as well. They are quite deep along the undersea fissures, reaching depths of as much as six kilometers, but the bulk of the ocean floor lies at depths of one kilometer or less. The lowest layer of the oceans consists of a thick bituminous sludge, the product of hundreds of millions of years of decaying plant matter reacting with geothermal activity on the ocean floor. Above this is a layer of dense, viscous hydrocarbons that originates entirely in the peculiar plant life of the land surface, washed into the sea by rain. Finally, a thin layer of little more than one hundred meters of liquid water lies on the surface, supersaturated with magesium sulfate, sodium sulfate, and small amounts of sodium chloride. The thermal mass of the underlying layers, combined with the low mass of the water layer, ensures that the water layer is quite hot at all times, reaching 82° C near the equator, generating a constant supply of storm clouds to quench the semi-arid lowlands. Although it is not drinkable in its raw form, settlements along the coasts have no difficulty using passive solar power to distill water for drinking and bathing. The few settlements further inland are supplied by ground water.
There are three relatively large oceans on Flexos: the Mezihku Ocean, which abuts the north polar region; the Ryemela Ocean to the south, around which most of the settlements are arranged; and the Zberangald Ocean, which straddles the equator. There are twenty-seven other smaller seas arranged into three groups, most of which lie in eroded areas where two or more crustal fissures meet. Small lakes and seasonal oases are scattered throughout the bottoms of the fissures, though only a few are found in the arid western hemisphere. Ice forms over parts of the Mezihku Ocean during winter in the northern hemisphere, and many of the smaller seas freeze to the bottom during winter.
Also typical of planets with relatively thick crusts, magma from Flexos’ core is vented by a few large volcanoes of considerable age. The largest of these is Darodapolur, located in the Ryoma highlands to the east of the Mezikhu Ocean. It is surrounded by a complex of smaller volcanoes, many of which are active. Eruptions are seldom violent and tend to be continuous, slow releases of lava instead. Sulfur compounds vented by the volcanoes are the source of the sulfur salts with which the oceans are saturated.
The crustal fissures of Flexos serve as convenient natural borders for the major regions or “cells” of the planet. In the largely uninhabited western highlands where the fissures are most clearly defined, these regions are of little interest to anyone but cartographers, explorers and researchers. In the lowlands around the Ryemela Ocean, where almost all of the population is concentrated, they form actual administrative districts. Three of these account for 95% of the planet’s population. The largest of these, on the northeast coast of the Ryemela Ocean is called Htyarloa and is the most sparsely settled, occupied by Aslan farmers with large plantations. It consists of a relatively low central region between two outer regions of rolling hills centering around the barely recognizeable remains of two ancient volcanoes. The land is quite rich, and being situated centrally between the three major oceans, it receives regular rainfall. South of Htyarloa, on the southeastern coast, is another agricultural region, consisting of three small cells. Much lower and marshier than Htyarloa, it is somewhat more densely populated, being better suited to smaller farms and the culling of the rather odd local fauna. The majority of the population, however, still lives in Lomburing, a small city located at the edge of the semi-arid highlands beyond the west coast. It is in this less-eroded area that the most interesting and distinct feature of Flexos is plainly visible.
The Lost City of the Isopods
When the first colonists arrived on Flexos, they settled in the heavily eroded lowlands near the sea. The land there was ideal for farming, or at least as close to ideal as could be found on this dry world, and the desert highlands were largely ignored. Survival was an all-consuming struggle for the first several generations, so it was not until much later that hard-won prosperity made possible luxuries like the idle exploration of the barren continental interior of Flexos. When that exploration finally did begin, the discoveries that they made completely changed the outlook and goals of colonial society.
There are thousands of species of sophonts in charted space. A handful managed to colonize other worlds, while most of the remainder were contacted by spacefaring races before developing high technology. Others, however, became extinct before making it offworld with their own technology or that of others. What the early explorers of Flexos found was that this world was once the home to such a lost race, arguably one of the strangest and most spectacular ever discovered.
Flourishing some three million years before present, the original inhabitants of Flexos were sapient arthropods, vaguely resembling the tiny wood louse isopods that Solomani colonists inadvertently spread throughout Imperial space, but much larger. The aboriginal Flexians were approximately one meter in length, with seven pairs of triply-jointed legs, the front pair of which had been modified to provide sophisticated hand-like structures. They were protected—from what, no one knows—by a ten-segmented carapace whose edges were ringed with sharp spines. Based on evidence recovered from excavations of their extensive mausoleums, they neither needed nor wore clothing, but did decorate their carapaces with paint and among what must have been their ruling class, gemstones and finely detailed metalwork. The full extent of their technical sophistication is not yet known, their metal tools having mostly corroded away in the millions of years since their extinction, but archaeological evidence strongly suggests they had achieved TL 3.
The thing that makes the original Flexians so remarkable, however, is the planetwide city that they built deep below the surface of the desert. Apparently using a related species — some experts believe it may have been their own larvae — as tireless drones, the Flexians hewed a city from the living rock, beginning at an average depth of fifty meters and extending beneath the entire usable surface of the planet. In between the living and working spaces, they equipped it with a sophisticated system of aqueducts, sewer, and food transport tunnels. Although these have collapsed in many places, and all of the near-surface chambers have been eroded to varying degrees by wind, water, and surface spalling, vast areas of the upper levels are still in good condition, stretching for hundreds and sometimes thousands of uninterrupted kilometers beneath the high desert plains. The discovery of the upper levels of the city was regarded as a matter of great importance by the early colonists. Although the aboriginal isopods were much smaller than humans, they had tended to build large chambers which were then subdivided by floors and walls constructed from the waste rock produced by the original excavation. In many chambers, these subsidiary divisions had long since collapsed, and removing them from the remainder was simply a matter of knocking them down and carting the loose rock to the surface using the same passages that the isopods themselves had used to dump waste rock in great piles on the surface. The various aqueducts and other utility tunnels were easily reused and repurposed by the colonists to carry their own water and sewage, as well as electrical conduits, fiber optic communication cables, and air ducts. Most importantly, it was easy to seal sections of the city off from the outside so that a human-breathable atmosphere could be maintained inside. The large agricultural chambers in which the aborigines had presumably farmed fungus provided convenient locations for fusion powerplants and for the colonists’ own hydroponic and aquaculture agricultural systems. The potential of Flexos to host a population in the billions fired the imaginations of colonial leaders.
As the colonists pushed deeper into the aboriginal city, they discovered that when the isopods had run out of room to expand outward, they had tunneled deeper into the planet. Exploring the depths took considerably more effort, as the collapse of isolated sections of the upper level had permitted wind-borne dust to infiltrate the tunnel complex, along with silt carried by the infrequent but torrential desert rains. Over the course of three million years, almost all of the lower levels had been completely filled with sediment. As with the initial exploration of the upper levels, the first probes into the depths were driven by idle curiosity. And like those first discoveries, the second round of discoveries shook colonial society.
The walls of the upper levels had long been eroded by spalling, obliterating all fine details and leaving a rough surface. The walls of the lower levels, however, had been protected by sediment and so were spared the fate of the upper levels. Exposing these, the colonists discovered inscriptions of mind-boggling complexity. While some walls consisted solely of text, most contained both text and illustrations, the majority of which were complicated diagrams. Some of these were recognizeably astronomical and calendrical in nature, but the bulk of them appear to be religious or metaphysical, and all of them, to human eyes, were aesthetically pleasing. In the subsequent wave of excavations that took place all over the planet, it was determined that the metaphysical texts and diagrams varied widely from region to region, and often from chamber to chamber, while more prosaic subject matters were more or less uniform throughout the global city.
The study and export of isopod artifacts soon became a substantial component of the local economy, and has since driven efforts to excavate deeper and deeper levels of the city. Most tunnels run no deeper than a few hundred meters, but some areas, which may have been major population centers, extend more than a kilometer downward. The cause of the extinction of the isopods is not known. So far, no evidence of warfare has been discovered in the ruins. Many theories have been proposed, ranging from epidemics to climate change to overpopulation, but the small size of the Flexian scientific community and the lack of funding for more comprehensive exploration has so far hindered the search for answers.
Flexos has a population of around 62,000 permanent inhabitants, of whom 90% are humans of Darrian extraction. The remaining 10% are Darrian Aslan of the Arlyukhtistaokhte clan. The original settlers came mostly from Rorre and Mire, all of them followers of the Rorrian philosophers Nilungedh and Obhekeny, who sought a middle way between the enforced primitivism of Rorre and the uncontrolled technological change of the major Darrian worlds, naming the world Yihly, or “moderation”. As is the case back in the Darrian Confederation, the Aslan are fully-integrated and accepted members of society. Most of them live in the farmlands of Htyarloa and the bulk of the remainder form the nucleus of the local defense force.
Although Flexos is not an official Darrian colony — ideology would have prevented that in any event — it has received unofficial support from the confederation over the years, mostly in the form of fusion power plants and second-hand ships that cannot be manufactured locally. For its part, the government of Flexos maintains missions on several confederation worlds aimed at recruiting new settlers. Since the discovery of the isopod city and its readymade housing, a more concerted effort has been made to encourage immigration. Since the world’s low population makes it vulnerable to outside domination, there is broad public support for welcoming more settlers, but there is still disagreement about the ideal immigration rate, with one faction wanting to increase the population as quickly as possible and the other faction wanting a more moderate rate to ensure that the colony’s ideals are not diluted by a sudden influx of newcomers. Both factions agree, however, that a much larger population is a desirable goal; only the time frame is in dispute. The Darrian Confederation, for its part, is quietly exploring possibilities for expansion to the rimward and spinward, and Flexos might eventually be a foil against Imperial expansion if not a future member of the confederation.
The local law level is quite low. Portable energy weapons are restricted to the small permanent military, but all citizens are part of the reserve militia and are in possession of small arms in whose use they are well-trained. In the absence of any threats beyond occasional pirate raids, the militia functions mostly as a local police force, with members on active duty being rotated regularly to avoid corruption. Off-world visitors, on the other hand, can expect to be held to much more stringent standards as far as weapons possession is concerned. Without special permission from the local government, possession by visitors of any weapons at all within urban areas is strictly prohibited, and light arms only are permitted in the countryside.
The government of Flexos is a participatory democracy, in line with the doctrines of Nilungedh and Obhekeny. An elected council makes legislative initiatives which are voted upon by the general public in monthly referenda. While there is no provision for initiatives originating from the public, the council is quite large and new members are elected every year. There is also a permanent managerial bureaucracy, appointed by the council to an indefinite term and approved by the electorate. This executive group works much like a city commission, overseeing the day-to-day work of running the colony. Because it is subject to recall at six-month intervals, it is obliged to work by popular consensus, but in actual practice, contentious issues tend to be handled behind the scenes.
The current chief executive of Flexos is Zos Nyaderemond, the latest popular leader in a long line of prominent members of a family which was among the original wave of colonists. Charming and charismatic, he is also pragmatic to a fault, which has led him to make decisions of dubious morality in the effort to keep the colony thriving in the face of considerable outside pressure. Nyaderemond has carefully balanced the competing interests of his unofficial Darrian patrons, the increasing interest of the Imperium in Flexos and the other worlds of District 268, and the schemes of the Trexalon Technical Consortium to harrass Imperial interests. So far, he has been very successful in playing them against each other. He has permitted the TTC to begin initial work in constructing a covert starport in the outer system and turning a blind eye to piracy in exchange for money and equipment, while simultaneously courting the Imperium and passing along useful bits of information to naval observers. He has deftly maintained the illusion that Flexos could be the vanguard of Darrian expansion to the rimward despite his conviction that Imperial annexation is all but inevitable, welcome or not. As the covert conflict between Trexalon and the Imperium has heated up, however, it is increasingly obvious that the balancing act cannot go on forever, and Nyaderemond’s current problem is to figure out whom to betray and in what order to avoid retaliation at the hands of the losers before the winners can take full control.
The Aslan population, as the core of the Flexian military, is more closely involved in Nyaderemond’s machinations than most of his fellow humans. Since the earliest days of the colony, the Arlyukhtistaokhte clan has been given a near monopoly on agricultural production in exchange for their military might. While the number of Aslan, like the number of humans, is currently quite small, nearly a quarter of them spend most of their time actively serving as internal security forces and as officers in Flexos’ tiny planetary navy, a heterogenous collection of ships salvaged, purchased, and captured over the years. As a consequence, the influence of the clan leadership on the executive levels of the local government is disproportionately high. While they are certainly not malicious and consider themselves members in good standing of Flexian society, the government is occasionally forced into making concessions to clan interests that might not always be in the interests of the colony as a whole.
For the first two centuries after the initial colonization, Flexos was purely a subsistence economy, struggling to wrest a living from the land and making up for shortfalls with the meager subsidies it received from its supporters in the Darrian Confederation. As prospectors and smugglers moved in with the increasing development of District 268, the government wisely pursued a policy of tolerating virtually any activity in the system as long as a modest concession fee was paid. Since Flexos was the only world in the system where visitors could conveniently rest and repair their ships, paying the concession fees was generally a worthwhile investment. Later, as a trio of surplus system defense boats became available to the colonists, the holdouts were convinced to pay the fees as well.
Over the last fifty years, the local economy has become quite diversified for such a small colony. Flexos has been blessed by a long series of far-sighted leaders, gifted with both pragmatism and cunning, who have vigorously explored every possibility for economic growth within the bounds of their original communitarian philosophy. The discovery of the isopod city made the creation of new settlements a simple and inexpensive affair, and also opened up opportunities for tourism. While the recent war has made travel in these backwater regions dicier than usual, a few thousand tourists a year, mostly Darrian, have begun arriving for tours of the ruins. The carved walls of the ruins themselves have become something of a local commodity, and while all pieces are carefully photographed for scientific purposes and the best pieces are barred from export, the prices paid by collectors in other parts of the Spinward Marches represent a considerable contribution to the small local economy. A small but growing presence of researchers from various Imperial and Darrian universities also provides a boost for the Flexians, both for local merchants and in the form of free advertising for the antiquities export market.
It is hoped that research into the impressive local plant life (see below) will eventually become a major source of revenue, either as a legitimate market in medicines and spices, or else as a source of black market entertainment drugs to Imperial markets. The chemical and mineral wealth of Flexos’ odd seas has not even begun to be explored. In both cases, travellers with the appropriate skills can find ready employ with the promise of royalties from the local government.
The past five years have seen an influx of cash from dubious sources. As the government plays the competing regional powers against each other, it has accepted large bribes (by local standards) from a number of parties with conflicting goals. While the government has all but resigned itself to eventual Imperial annexation, it is eager to have some clout when the time comes and certainly to avoid the domination of lesser powers in the meantime. In order to accomplish this, it has been taking bigger risks than before in order to secure development funds, arms, and fresh bodies. At the same time, smugglers and privateers have been becoming bolder themselves, and the government is keen to exploit them while it still can in hopes that it will have the might to defend itself against them once Flexos becomes a worthwhile target for raiding parties. In these areas, too, there is ample opportunity for appropriately equipped offworlders to find employment.
As might be expected, Flexos doesn’t have much of a military. Its populace is organized into a militia composed of all able-bodied adults, but in actual practice, the militia amounts to an effective police force but not much of an army. It is capable of fending off small raiding parties, but a well-equipped mercenary unit would have little difficulty seizing anything it liked. So far, Flexos’ main defense has been that it doesn’t have much worth stealing.
The formal military of Flexos consists mostly of Aslan troops from the farming district of Htyarloa and number some 200 men, with an additional 800 or so in reserve. These troops are moderately well-equipped and trained, and can be expected to carry a good stock of infantry arms from TL 10 to 12, mostly purchased from travelling smugglers. Transport is primarily by air/raft, along with a handful of well-worn grav tanks, any or none of which may be fully operational at any time. Despite their relative isolation from the human population, they are trusted and well-liked by the citizenry, and their high morale and motivation does a great deal to compensate for their lack of advanced weaponry. The relatively pacifistic populace dotes on them as brave and noble defenders of the colonial cause, and Aslan being Aslan, the troops eat it up.
In recent years, the government has been able to obtain three aging system defense boats, a battered Gazelle-class close escort, a couple of cutters for in-system travel, and a small fleet of far traders owned by privateer captains under long term contracts to shuttle trade goods and colonists to and from the Darrian Confederation and the Five Sisters subsector. All of these ships can be expected to engage would-be troublemakers. All but the SDBs and the Gazelle are under orders to avoid contact with superior forces. The crews of the dedicated combat vessels are a mix of humans and Aslan; the captains are Aslan in every case.
Flora and Fauna
Flexos is entirely devoid of any higher animal life. With the exception of insects, all of the local fauna consists of a few species small arthropods that bear a more than passing resemblance to the larger isopods that once ruled the planet. It is suspected that one or another of these animals might be the worker drones the isopods used to build their city, but unless future excavations reveal more about their construction methods, this will remain an open question. It is nonetheless the case that several of the arthropod species do dig or at least enlarge burrows in solid rock by eating plants containing corrosive juices and regurgitating the acids inside their nest sites. One of these species, a small animal capable of rolling itself into a defensive ball about the size of a grapefruit, is docile and easily tamed, making it a popular pet among the local children, though its habit of raiding garbage and chewing its way into food stores makes it somewhat less well-liked by the adult population.
The oceans are also devoid of much life beyond bacteria and simple colonial organisms, owing to the high temperature and salinity of the water layer. The long lakes and oases in the fissures of the deserts are cooler but even more inimical to life in their chemical constituents. There has been interest in recent years in importing oxygen-producing algae suited to local conditions, but there has so far not been any progress on that front. It is speculated that there may be life in the thick organic sludge layers below the water, but here too the lack of proper equipment has prevented further investigation.
Where Flexian biology really shines, however, is in its flora. Most local plants are small succulents, seldom growing larger than a medium-sized bush, but the number of species is vast. Complicating a survey of Flexos’ botanical inventory is the fact that most native plants are unusually adaptable to their environment, so a single species can take very different forms according to local conditions of moisture, light, and soil composition. This trait has made them a subject of considerable amateur interest among the colonists, and the regular meetings of small botanical clubs are one of the more common social events in the capital and its suburbs. Another reason, less publicized, for the popularity of botanical clubs is that many plants contain psychoactive substances.
A dozen or so of these have been subjected to enough amateur experimentation that they have become common recreational drugs. As none have thus far been a source of addiction or disruption, and all of them are easily enough grown to discourage commercial trade, the government has been content to ignore them for the time being. The government is, however, very interested in the wide variety of novel compounds found in various species, some of which may have valuable medical uses, and its actively attempting to recruit researchers from the Darrian Confederation and the Imperium. One plant which has been the subject of intense study contains alkaloids which resemble precursors to both anagathics and psi drugs.
The majority of the succulents have adapted to the semiarid environment of the mid-altitudes by having a high oilcontent. Some of these oils are richly aromatic, and othershave been adopted into the local cuisine as spices. The export opportunities for these plants are also the subject of government interest, mostly under the supervision of the Aslan agricultural monopoly. Virtually all of them are useful sources of protein and fiber if the oils are first cooked out of them. More than a few visitors passing through the planet have discovered this after the fact: consuming them raw typically causes severe intestinal discomfort.
A couple of exotic plants deserve further mention. One species, called by the te-zlodh name dihldaghar, is a migratory plant. Shaped something like a Terran tumbleweed, the dihldaghar begins life in the northwest portion of the lowlands and shortly thereafter detaches its roots from the ground and blows with the summer winds to the south. When it reaches the southernmost extreme of its journey, it takes to root again and rides out the winter in the mild southern climate. When spring returns and the winds shift to the north, it releases spores which are borne back to its northern origin before the parent plant dies. Flexos’ other remarkable plant, and the one that is probably most immediately noticeable to travellers, is the zihlihtom or tetrahedron tree. The zihlihtom grows to enormous size in the relatively low local gravity, reaching heights of 20 to 60 meters in a mature specimen. Its upper foliage is broad and spreading, serving not only to collect the dim sunlight but also to channel rain to its roots. In order to anchor itself against the winds of the frequent summer storms, it grows three secondary trunks from a point midway up the primary trunk back downwards into the ground. Once these have grown strong enough to support the tree, the lower half of the primary trunk dries out and eventually rots away, leaving the upper half perched on a tetrahedral base. They are much loved by the urban population; the city of Lomburing is built in and around an especially magnificent grove of zihlihtoms. Because they are extraordinarily efficient at extracting moisture from the soil, however, they have been largely wiped out in the vicinity of the Aslan farmlands.
Life on Flexos
As might be expected from such a small colony, even one attempting to grow as earnestly as Flexos, daily life moves along at a rather slow pace, excepting perhaps the commercial center of Lomburing, where the hustle and bustle of government and innumerable small commercial outfits fill the days, if not the nights. Central Lomburing is stately and attractive, built in the archaic Darrian style favored on Rorre using stone blocks salvaged from the isopod ruins. Few buildings exceed two or three stories. The main roads are wide thoroughfares with ample room for both pedestrians and vehicles, while the secondary alleyways are narrow and winding, reserved for pedestrians only. There are five main public squares, used for gatherings and market days, framed by the massive triple trunks of some particularly large tetrahedron trees. The residential districts are neat and orderly, consisting mainly of long, low group houses, reflecting the communal bent of colonial society. Individual dwellings can also be found, mostly around the edges of town and are with few exceptions quite modest.
During the summer, the streets are full of pedestrians clad in traditional Darrian cool weather clothing — the highs seldom exceed 10° C — and wearing the ubiquitous electrolysis masks that extract oxygen from Flexos’ predominately carbon dioxide atmosphere. During summer storms and the harsh winters, most traffic takes place in tunnels under the street. In the outlying areas, the tunnels are still ad hoc affairs, secure against collapse but usually only wide enough for two people to walk abreast. Nearer to the center of the city, they have been expanded into a more formal system, well-lit and large enough to accommodate electric vehicles.
Upper Lomburing, which lies at the edge of the desert inside the chambers of the isopod city, is where most new settlement is taking place. The approach to the upper city winds through a badly ruined section of the ancient city, where erosion has stripped away the roofs and only tumbled walls remain. The entrance to the city is protected by a large airlock which opens into an impressively large chamber that may have served as a public meeting place millions of years ago. Like most of the upper layers of the isopod city, the wall reliefs have long since spalled away, but in all such areas in Upper Lomburing, they have been replaced with lovely frescoes depicting scenes from the colonists’ homeworlds and the history of the colony. Despite the lack of natural light, there is a long waiting list for colonists to move into the new underground settlements where the air is reasonably warm even in winter and the chambers have been sealed to retain an oxygen atmosphere breathable without masks. The ongoing excavation of the lower levels, chiefly intended to open up new living space, is a source of great interest to the inhabitants who line up on leisure days to see the newly-exposed reliefs and to speculate on their meaning. Amateur exploration of undeveloped areas is both tolerated and encouraged, but only by colonists carrying one of a limited number of available tracking devices, a measure instituted by the local government after a party of young people was lost. Visitors are also permitted to wander through the ruins, but as with practically everything else visitors may do on Flexos, the payment of a modest fee is expected.
There are a number of smaller settlements up and down the coast, most of which are devoted to small-scale mineral extraction and specialized agriculture not included in the Aslan monopoly. Most of these number fewer than a hundred souls, and while they have grown somewhat suspicious of outsiders in their relative isolation, they are friendly enough if they are treated well. Travellers not familiar with Darrian society may be surprised to find that the inhabitants of these small settlements are no less well educated that their urban counterparts.
Across the Ryemela Ocean in Htyarloa, reachable by air/raft or the occasional harvest barge, are the vast plantations maintained by the Aslan Arlyukhtistaokhte clan. Descended from Aslan long since assimilated into Darrian society, the Aslan of Htyarloa are nowhere near as volatile as their original Ihatei ancestors, but neither have they become humans, so travellers should treat them with the usual caution accorded to Aslan. They are not generally well-disposed to offworlders, there being few legitimate reasons for them to visit, but good conduct and plenty of flattery can usually convince the overseers of individual parcels of land to permit visits of a few days. Most crops are grown here in greenhouses using hydroponics, but there also exist large plantings of native species that have proven export potential, as well as smaller experimental plantings. The labor is provided mostly by juvenile Aslan males and human workers from across the ocean, while the female Aslan oversee the whole affair. Following the communal model of the human-dominated west, most Htyarloans live in communal longhouses and dine together at midday and in the evenings. This is about the only time a visitor is likely to see more than a handful of adult Aslan males. Inquiries into their activities are not encouraged, and will be met with an intentionally vague answer about their role in the Flexian military.
Visitors will in general find Flexians everywhere to be gracious hosts once they have established that they are present on legitimate business. As is the case with many small colonies, virtually everyone expects a tip for any service rendered, but this is seldom more than a credit or two, and larger tips will usually be politely refused. Failure to tip will not incur any hostility, but word travels fast in a small colony, and stingy visitors may suddenly find themselves lost, carrying their own bags and unable to get directions. The local government is especially solicitous if they suspect that travellers may bring new business opportunities, legal or otherwise, but the increasingly delicate political situation in the subsector means that travellers with unscrupulous lines of work will have to be discreet if they wish to gain employment with the government.