Tales of the Solar Patrol: Class of 2058
In early 1996, a fleet of exploratory ships launched from Earth in late 1995 reached the clouded world of Venus. While in orbit, they discovered that the atmosphere’s unusual properties hindered the use of radio. Communication from Venus to Earth was impossible, as were surface-to-orbit transmissions. After a few days of debate, it was agreed that a small landing party would penetrate the upper surface and return within a week. If the ship did not report back as scheduled, exploration would be halted until some means of breaking the static field could be found.
With less than 12 hours before the scheduled return to Earth, the Celestia broke out of Venus’ atmosphere with incredible tales, tales of a world of low swamps, shallow seas, and creatures that strongly resembled the best reconstructions of Earth’s extinct dinosaurs! They also reported that the haze of the atmosphere was due to large concentrations of atmospheric particles, which not only impaired normal vision but which scrambled infrared and radar as well. Mapping of the planet was going to be a long and tedious task.
The largest landmass on Venus is a flat region rising a few hundred feet above the shallow oceans and swamps that dominate the rest of the world. Christened the Great Plateau, it became the site of the first permanent research stations. Over the years, these stations expanded, traders began to appear, at first just selling goods to the scientists and their families, but soon seeking out native products that might be valuable elsewhere in the System. They found exotic woods, astounding flowers from which unearthly perfumes could be made, amber in shades of azure and crimson…and sentient beings.
In 1998, a group of traders seeking plant samples for sale to a pharmaceutical concern made first contact with the Salishal, though they quickly became known as the Venusian Lizardmen. The Salishal were surprisingly non-hostile, though extremely cautious. Gestures and the like sufficed for the first round of trading: a rustproof machete for a collection of polished and cut red amber. Two months later, the first trained ethnologists and anthropologists made contact with the tribe, and slowly, communication improved.
When news of the Salishal reached Earth, considerable political debate ensued. Many proposals were barely disguised calls for conquest and colonialism, dressed up in words like “guidance” and “protection.” Others demanded the complete abandonment of Venus, despite ample evidence that much of the planet’s surface was not now, and never had been, Salishal territory. Ultimately, the desire for knowledge and the belief humanity would not repeat past errors won out, and the League adopted a policy of controlled settlement of uninhabited areas of Venus and limited commercial trade with the Salishal. Earth would not dump the lizardmen into a culture thousands of years ahead of their own, but the League likewise was not going to ignore so rich a planet, especially with Mars effectively cut off.
The policy remains in effect, and enforcement is a constant struggle. The Salishal do not necessarily want to remain cut off from the magical tools of the Beyond the Clouds People. Many unscrupulous traders are all too happy to defy the edict on trading directly with the Salishal, who buy up old-style rifles and other goods in exchange for amber, rare plants, and exotic animals.
Salishal society varies greatly, from extremely simple nomadic bands wandering the swamps to city-dwellers who have mastered clay baking and simple metallurgy. All Salishal culture is heavily based on bloodline and kinship, which they can easily detect by smell. Feuds between bloodlines last until one family or the other is wholly destroyed or the feud is settled by interbreeding, effectively turning two families into one.
The Salishal were, as it turned out, not the only thinking beings on Venus. Anthropologists had noted that they had a word that meant “Others like Us Not like Us,” which they puzzled over. The Salishal tribes fought among themselves, but all seemed to have a concept of another foe, an enemy that all Salishal hated and would destroy on sight. To a large extent, this enemy was dismissed as symbolic or mythical, something that was part of a common root religion – until exploration teams reached the smoking island chains of the Aphrodite Ocean and found the Krik.
The Krik were contacted in 2015, almost two decades after humans first landed on Venus, a testament to the difficulties of exploring this strange world. The first Krik encountered roughly resembled upright mantises. Eventually, explorers discovered that these were warrior-caste Krik, one of many different types. Krik had been seen before, in fact, but since those were scavengers and harvesters, and not intelligent, no real notice had been taken of them.
The Krik society strongly resembles that of hive insects of Earth, but several castes display signs of human-level intelligence and seem capable of varying degrees of independent thought. Contrary to what some would expect, the Queen of each hive is non-sentient – she is just a gargantuan egg-laying machine with no consciousness. The Warrior, Builder, and Leader castes exhibit intelligence, with the Scavenger and Drone castes being about as clever as the great apes on Earth. The Krik are in a constant state of war with the Salishal, but they do not have a particular hatred for the Earthers, provided they stay out of the Krik’s way. Earth has decided on a strict neutrality policy in terms of the war between the two races, offering medical aid and basic utility goods to both but refusing to supply weapons or other advanced technology. Naturally, the same ethically challenged traders who defy the policy regarding the Salishal do so with the Krik as well, and an ancient, ritualized war has begun to change as the thunder of rifle fire echoes through the Venusian swamps. Despite being insect-like, the Krik are warm-blooded, just one more oddity of Venusian biology.
Warriors are, basically, killing machines, attacking with their claws if unarmed or with blades made of sharpened exoskeleton, usually from their own discarded moltings. They are incapable of any actions other than rote defense of themselves or an area unless a leader commands them. Given a generalized task such as “guard this area” or “eliminate all Salishal in that village,” they can form strategies and plans, but without the initial order to accomplish the task, they would do very little. They can draw on the memories of their ancestors to guide them.
Leaders are fully autonomous beings, capable of independent thought, though they rarely engage in it unless pressed. A single Leader commands between five and 50 other Krik of lower orders. Though he defers to more experienced Leaders, jockeying for position happens frequently. Leaders and Warriors are the only intelligent Krik likely to be encountered away from their hives. While some Salishal have given up their ways to live among humans, no Krik has ever abandoned the hives permanently.
There’s Ma’s Bar and Grill in old Armstrong City on Luna. there’s the Free Fall on Ceres…and then there’s Venusport. With the second planet being a freewheeling frontier world, it’s not surprising that the point of transfer between the rugged, isolated, and dangerous life of the frontier and the comforts and technology of Earth is a rough and tumble sort of place. What surprises some is the degree of it. Venusport seems determined to outdo its own legend, and the Earth League (and the Solar Patrol) seem content to ignore its excesses, perhaps on the grounds that such a place is a needed safety valve, or that it’s convenient to have a lot of the scum of the system in one place, where it’s simple to keep track of them. Finding a pirate in some tiny asteroid dive in the vastness of the Belt is challenging. Finding him flush with loot and spending it freely at some Venusport den of iniquity is, by comparison, effortless, and making sure he vanishes into a cell on the brig of a departing spaceship is easier still.