A very small system with little to attract any interest. The only reason it is mentioned
here is the curious ecosystem on the ice world Merlin. All the indigenous life is beneath the
ice of the vast salt-water ocean, which covers the entire world. It exists in large pockets of gas,
trapped beneath the permanent stable ice sheet, and in the oceans themselves.
It wasn't until 2775 when Burt Hackrington-Smythe made the series of documentaries
"Heaven Under the Ice" that it was understood how such a world managed to sustain the large
shoals of merlin fish found here. The ecosystem is based on a lichen which grows on the walls
of air-filled chambers under the ice, living off the weak red light which filters through from
above. The lichens produce oxygen to give a mixture surprisingly breathable by humans, and
they form an insulating layer. Typically the temperature inside can be as high as 20 degrees
Centigrade, heated by the thick layer of rotting vegetation which floats on the surface of the
sea below. A whole host of other species graze on the lichen, lighting the cavity with their
various glowing body parts, and species such as the Merlin Plesiosaur with its fierce red glowing eyes (much valued for its silky hide) travel between these oases, eating a few of the
grazing creatures at each stop.
The life cycles of these cavities is tens of Earth years. They start as little high-pressure
bubbles deep under the ice, and can grow up to about five kilometers across, giving the truly
beautiful panoramas depicted by Hackrington-Smythe. The cavities slowly migrate to the
surface as the ice above them melts, and their eventual death can be quite spectacular, when
suddenly a crack forms in the ice above the cavity and the pressure is released. There is a long
rumble as water floods the cavity, then rushes up through the hole formed, forming a giant
moss laden geyser on the surface above. The shoals of merlin fish rush to the sound of
rumbling, to feed on the debris which falls into the sea below, and it is for this reason that the
fishing industry on Merlin was so easy to establish. No fishing fleets are needed - each factory
simply releases an explosive charge in a man-made cavity below the reprocessing plant, and
an hour later it is full of fish! Strict controls are enforced to prevent overfishing, since the
early private fisheries almost wiped out the stocks in only four years.
The only surface settlement is the windswept Sirocco Starport. It is built directly on the
ice sheet, and is used to supply the numerous fish processing plants built under the ice. It is
also through here that the huge tonnage of fish is exported to the surrounding worlds. The
seedy starport diner, The Ecstatic Gourmet, serves an excellent dish called Merlunch which is
a pie made with pickled merlin fish. It sounds off-putting but regular travellers to this area
make a point of visiting the diner just for this, rarely risking the other fare.
Entry by David Braben