The Log of the Beowulf
Wanderer is a heavyworld mining colony of small population, largely devastated towards the end of the civil war by retreating rebels seeking to deny the use of the planet to government forces.
The planet is 1.75 times the diameter of Earth, but has 2G gravity, largely due to its unique crust and dense core. Wanderer seems to have been formed by collecting the heavier elements from the stellar accretion disk during system formation, which may explain why Epsilon Indi has a lower metallicity than Sol.
The heavy metals and rare compounds in the planets crust are thus highly sought after, especially fissionable elements such as U 235 and Pu 239 (used in fission weapons), both of which occur naturally in significant quantities in natural reactors in the planet’s crust, and lanthanum and ytterbium (which are extensively used in the drive coils of starships).
At its height, Wanderer had a population of 220,000.
By far the largest proportion (90%) were genetically and biochemically engineered workers, especially bred to be perfectly adapted to the heavy gravity, extreme climate and toxicity of the planet.
Standard-human administrators, security staff and merchant factors made up the remainder, with separate living quarters, (with controlled gravity environments for those who could afford it) and armoured radiation vacuum suits and exoskeleton walking frames, for any prolonged exposure to the mines and the planetary surface.
The present population is around 25,000, mostly workers with about 1,000 administrators.
All of the heavyworlder workforce are indentured to the mining corporation from the moment they are decanted from the laboratory. The average cost of generating, modifying and training a heavyworlder worker is around 100,000 standard credits, but over their lifetime their worth to their owners far exceeds this.
Workers are paid a nominal wage, (in an attempt to fend off accusations of exploitation and slavery) and are housed and fed a special diet by the corporation. The expected useful lifetime of a worker is 75 years, although it is fully expected many will continue to live up to twice that age but perform other roles because they would be unable to work efficiently in the mines.
Wanderer heavyworlders are exceptionally resistant to extremely hot or cold climates, radiation, and toxic chemicals, by virtue of genetic modification with DNA from native species, and biochemical engineering to increase their strength, hardiness and rapid healing.
Their vision is heavily red-shifted compared to standard-humans – their visual range is from infra-red to green. Blue, indigo and violet appear black to them. This is because Epsilon Indi is an orange K-type star and being able to sense infra-red and dim light is deemed by their owners to be valuable both at night and in the mines. Wanderers are able to see standard-spectrum colours using various visual aids, though these are usually only issued to supervisory grades.
The light on Wanderer is always orange-tinged because of Epsilon Indi’s spectral type of K, and it is noticeably dimmer than Sol. Epsilon Indi also emits slightly more infra-red radiation than Sol.
Wanderer owes its name to its eccentric orbit, which is never the same each 20-year cycle.
This a result of the complex five-body motion caused by its interaction not only with the primary and the brown dwarf binary, but also of a sub-brown dwarf, five times the size of Jupiter, which also has a 20-year periodic orbit round the primary at a 20 degree angle to the ecliptic.
The result is that at least once every forty years, Wanderer spends two years at its furthest distance from the primary (apindium) and four years at its closest distance (periindium). The usual surface temperature on Wanderer is 17C +/- 10C, and at apindium and periindium the temperature varies by another 20C (so max 47C in Highsummer and min -13C in Deepwinter).
These temperature extremes may not seem as great as those on Earth, but the high gravity makes the air pressure at the surface almost 1.8 bar. This means that even small wind movements generated by thermal changes are significant. Huge lightning storms, especially in Highsummer, are common.
The proportion of oxygen is less than that of Earth (15%) but the extra pressure easily compensates for this. Standard-humans could breathe Wanderer’s air unaided, were it not for the long-term effects of significant levels of radon in the atmosphere and the presence of toxic compounds (in parts per thousand rather than parts per million) in airborne dust raised from the soil.
There are two plants on Wanderer that can cope with the climate all year round, and less hardy variants of them.
This is a plant that looks similar to some Earth grasses, occurring in widely separated clumps of between twelve to sixteen dagger-like leaves of up to half a metre in length. Dagger-weed clumps are just the surface parts of huge plants that can cover several hectares underground, with extensive root systems to take advantage of the very low water table. Dagger-weed retains the heavy metals lead and silver that it leaches from the ground, and combines them with Lanthanum and Ytterbium to make an excellent Lanthanum-Ytterbium-Silver-Lead ceramic piezoelectric generator on the underside of each leaf, which generate significant amounts of electricity in windy conditions. This electricity is used by the plant in nitrogen fixing in its roots, and in a variant of photosynthesis in its leaves using silver nitrate and silver-oxide-caesium photomultiplier effects to make the most of what little light is available at night or in winter.
Dagger-weed is not an efficient means of gathering the heavy metals, although the leaves of the plant are stiff and sharp and can be used as tools, or even ornamentally.
This looks very much like an Earth columnar cactus. It grows up to three metres high and a half metre in diameter. This plant has spines that are similar to the leaves of the dagger-weed in composition, but are usually only up to six centimetres long. The cactus is immensely strong when fully grown as it’s carapace and cell structures are loaded with metals and it is almost impossible to cut down without machinery.
The plant is also known as the “Miners Friend” – it has a massively deep and complex root system which means that the cactus can be tapped for water. The water is laced with all sorts of minerals and heavy metals and it is conjectured that it is the primary source of nutrients for the few animals that exist on Wanderer. It certainly is extremely palatable to the heavyworlders, who routinely grow domestic versions of the plant.
Most life on Wanderer is subterranean invertebrate or insectile, existing on dagger-weed and cactus roots, and occasionally harvested young dagger-weed leaves. There are a few exceptions.
The Grendel stands a metre tall at the shoulder, is a hexapod, an adults grow up to six metres long. It browses almost exclusively on Dagger-weed, and uses Bolide cacti as scratching posts and drinking fountains.
It is mostly found in or near caves in the foothills, but has been known to go underground in Deepwinter. In the summer it remains outdoors constantly.
It appears to be a sluggish creature, but this is deceptive. It will quickly defend itself with a bite or a tail slap, which would be dangerous to heavyworlders and lethal to standard-humans. However otherwise appears totally non-aggressive, and its heavy armour and bulk make it very resistant to harm.
The danger comes in summer, and especially in Highsummer. The Grendel basks constantly in the sun, and stores energy (presumably using similar systems to the plants it feeds upon). At the height of summer, the mating season commences. Fights break out between males, and these can often be protracted, and/or lethal. The Grendel now displays its hidden talent. That stored energy is used to power the Grendel to lightning=fast bursts of speed. In sprints over a short distance, a Grendel can reach 120kph, and maintain 45kph while chasing enemies. These bursts of energy do not last long, unless a Grendel is significantly wounded, when it will fight and chase until it dies. Expending energy generates immense amounts of heat (a dead Grendel after a fight is often scalding to the touch) and excessive use of this energy boost can literally cook the creature from the inside out.
Once mating season is over, the danger does not end. The female Grendels retreat to the caves in the foothills and lay eggs in the sand near a cave mouth, while their mates aggressively patrol. Most miners decide to stay underground or in their homes at this time, unsurprisingly.
Grendel hide is very tough, and is laced with all sorts of heavy metals and rare compounds. It is so tough that tailoring it is a major undertaking needing industrial machinery. It would offer significant protection against radiation and physical harm, could it be worked into a suit.
As it’s name implies, this is a snakelike vertebrate creature, covered in small spines much like miniature versions of those on a Bolide Cactus.
Adults range in size from 25mm to 75mm in diameter, and grow up to 2m long.
They are usually only found in on the surface in caves and fissures, and spend much of their time underground, but will come out during the hot summers. They do not appear to harvest solar energy and wind energy like surface dwellers do on Wanderer.
They are still being studied, but it appears that they subsist on energy released by breaking down actinides, and can occasionally be seen gathering young dagger-weed leaves and taking them underground (presumably either to eat, or as nesting material).
Their spines are sharp and impregnated with polonium, which it extracts from uranium deposits, and significant amounts of actinium are found in their organs. Polonium is a poison to standard-humans, and a severe irritant to Wanderers, who have a strong histamine response to it. The spikesnake is generally not aggressive, relying on its spines to deter grendels, but will defend itself if attacked or provoked.