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The world of Messia is planet located within the Screaming Vortex, notable for the mutant hordes that roam the surface, but it's best known for its unusually long day and its desperate promethium miners. Overall the planet is a harsh, toxic Desert World where a day lasts over a year, with human habitation only within the city states of Mekonta and Zanok upon at the north and south poles, respectively. In order to heat their structures and provide basic power, these two cities constantly send teams of prospectors to travel across the planet’s surface in search of promethium. As the competing miners travel the desolate landscape, they must regularly face and overcome the massive hordes of mutants that constantly shamble across the surface, and change form with the rising and setting of the sun.
Located at Messia’s north pole, Mekonta is a city whose culture is entirely focused upon physical domination, cunning manipulation, and the notion that force of arms is the only way to secure power. A huge majority of the city’s population consist of slaves. The lucky ones participate in blood sports within the city’s arenas, to provide entertainment. The remainder rebuild the city as the dayside is constantly shattered under its star’s merciless light.
A large part of Mekonta’s society is based upon its system of government and inheritance, and the right to own property and govern must be obtained anew in every generation. The ideas of nurture and compassion are virtually nonexistent within Mekonta; once children reach the age of maturity—fifteen years—their rite of passage consists of being exiled from their parents’ homes. There is no system of inheritance and when an individual dies, his neighbours immediately begin to fight over his assets. Those who prove dominant through combat and treachery gain control of the property; those who fail in their efforts often become the new owners’ slaves.
The city’s press gangs constantly roam the streets, seeking out the indigent. These well-armed groups check virtually everyone for their identification, killing those who resist and displaying the bodies as trophies of their skills. Those who do not have identification are immediately added to Mekonta’s slave population and sent to work, typically in the mines, refineries, or the city’s constantly damaged structures.
The city deliberately provides its slaves with inadequate shelter and too little food to fend off starvation, creating an incredibly volatile environment. Many sicken and die of malnutrition, disease, or from exposure to the elements. The strongest, however, seize what they need from the weakest. This culls the population, so that the city need not care for those who are seemingly incapable of caring for themselves. Prior to death, these weakest of slaves are often sent to the arena, where they usually die in the blood sports.
Of course, such a hostile environment frequently leads to insurrection; so frequently, in fact, that the city’s core principles depend upon it. Each landholder maintains weapons that are far more sophisticated than those available to the common slaves. Rebels wielding sharpened sticks face authorities armed with shock truncheons and heavy stubbers. Once a riot is stamped out—there are hundreds each year—the slaveholders seize the leaders. These slaves are surrendered to the arena, where they enter the blood sport competition. Because they have typically demonstrated some degree of competency in a combat situation, they are provided primitive weapons to best exhibit their skills before the masses.
In addition to providing entertainment, the arena rewards those who manage to triumph within the tournaments. Victors are granted far more than just their freedom. The reward for winning a minor tournament includes placement within one of the city’s numerous mining expeditions, so that they may travel out into Messia’s wilds to prospect for promethium amidst the mutant hordes.
Almost all citizens attained that rank after proving themselves in successful expeditions. After returning laden with promethium and other riches, the triumphant leaders are rewarded with property rights and citizenship—bartered in exchange for the harvested resources. Lesser members of an expedition might horde their shares, working towards eventually attaining citizenship through surviving additional drilling expeditions.
The ramshackle city of Zanok is located at Messia’s south pole. Twin to Mekonta, its star’s harsh light and the planet’s furious weather devastate it during each long day, and is rebuilt as each night begins. According to legend, a group of slaves founded the city when they chose to establish a new home rather than return with their expedition harvests to Mekonta. The legend is believable as Zanok has neither a slave population nor any system of central authority. Ostensibly, the residents have full freedom to pursue their lives in any manner they see fit. Tragically, the combination of rugged environment and lack of central authority dictates that they seldom have an opportunity to do so.
Considering Messia’s hostile environment, it comes as no surprise that the freedoms available to all who dwell within Zanok are often abused. Everyone who lives within its confines are granted full and equal rights, and expected to respect one another’s privileges. However, there is no central power structure in place to see that those rights are preserved. As a consequence, the ideals that founded the city see little practical application.
Any time some individual or group commits their labours to building a functional structure, that same group must commit resources to defending and maintaining it for the short time that it lasts. Otherwise, their neighbours may attempt to either seize it or scavenge materials from it to use on their own construction. A culture of jealousy, greed, and violence supplanted the idealised one of respect and personal freedom. This has led to a city that is a veritable warzone. Places that are not well-defended are often seized by roaming gangs formed out of desperation. Precious resources—including food, fuel, and breathable air—are held through force of arms so that they may be used or bartered for the necessities of life.
Above ground, the vast majority of free-standing structures are little more than burned out rubble. Starving scavengers regularly comb through these ruins, spending precious oxygen as they attempt to find anything that they might use to preserve their lives. Desperate gangs roam the streets looking for prey, while well-armed guards man the perimeters of the few well-maintained structures, such as the refineries and forges.
The majority of the city’s inhabitants dwell below the planet’s surface, a habit that dates back to shortly after the city’s founding. New mines had discovered substantial veins of metallic ores, which in turn led to refineries to convert organic ores into promethium, manufactories to build weapons and raw materials for buildings, and an extensive underground air purification network to keep the mines running.
In time, the purifiers became one of the city’s most valuable assets, and any who lived within the mines received a steady supply of air that was largely free from the planet’s toxic contaminants. As the ages passed, most of the city’s population took up permanent residence within the caves, particularly those that were abandoned as different veins of ore were exhausted.
The caves also have the benefit of being far more defensible than the free-standing structures located above ground. Extended families often secure particular portions of each of the man-made caverns, assuring one another of survival and protection. Open markets regularly take place in the larger caverns, though more often than not clans simply steal desired goods rather than barter for them.
Even in these protected environs, violence and poor maintenance present a significant danger to all involved. Many citizens who survived countless battles have died when caves collapsed. At other times, organised gangs have introduced poisons to kill off whole marketplaces in the hopes of securing all of the assets for themselves.
Messia’s two cities are entirely dependent upon the promethium ore drilling teams for their survival. Without these resources, the cities would not have the fuel necessary for survival at the planet’s poles. Because of this, the nomadic cultures have learnt to maintain a stable relationship with the two cities. With both, the relationship is largely dependent upon trade. The drilling expeditions cannot manufacture replacement parts or sustain agriculture as they drill and defend themselves from the planet’s mutant hordes. Leaders of the expeditions sponsored by Mekonta also work towards acquiring citizenship and power, while the ones that regularly supply Zanok are more typically focused upon obtaining material wealth. Offworlders also sometimes appear to launch their own expeditions for the valuable promethium, or wrest away existing drill-rigs and claim their own fiefdoms in the wastes to expand their power.
In addition to the common risks that are universally associated with gathering any volatile resource, such as raw promethium, there are several other dangers endemic to Messia. The world’s surface is vast, and an expedition that suffers a critical breakdown far from the poles is much more likely to encounter one of the myriad hazards long before any sort of aid might arrive. The toxic atmosphere is an ever-present danger; an exposed human who attempts to breathe the planet’s native air is likely to die of airway burns from the acidic atmospheric compounds within a few short hours. The stifling heat of the planet’s lightside can be potent enough to spontaneously ignite the raw ores if an expedition’s cooling systems fail. On both the light and dark sides of the planet, hordes of near-mindless mutants stalk the world’s surface. These creatures are focused on the utter annihilation of anything they encounter, including the drill machines. Other drilling expeditions are also often ready to sabotage or attack their competitors in the hopes of seizing a drill site or rival’s cargo.
As the members of an expedition face these dangers together, they either develop a desperate camaraderie, or they fall prey to the world’s myriad dangers. In many cases, individuals soon discover that they prefer this lifestyle to that of the world’s two cities, and many become Chem-Hunters who live out singular lives amidst the wastes or even beyond the planet itself. Several of the drilling groups exist as formal bond-clans that have worked collectively for generations, their massive drill-machines becoming heirlooms that are representative of their lineage. It is these clans that roam the wastelands outside the cities, with powerful drill-barons commanding each in various levels of ruthlessness and savagery. Battles between rival clans can exist for years, drillrigs changing hands in each conflict as the clans struggle for dominance over each other and the planet itself.