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Ross 154

Name : Ross 154

Allegiance : Federation

Government : Federal Colonial Rule

Economy : Capitalist

Coordinates : -1,0

Population : 1 Million

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

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