Friday, January 14, 2022

A Planet Called Shithole

For when you need the worst place possible.

Selausaun (Shithole)

An enormous mistake.
  • Parent Star: G5V
  • Population: 7.4 million (ground), ~1000 (orbit)
  • Who's In Charge?: Technically, a CTA governance node allied with House Tauvi. Practically, no one. House Tauvi, having inherited the whole mess through a buyout of the founding company, has tried multiple times to sell the planet and being unable to extricate themselves without falling afoul of their creditors, they have stationed a cursory detachment of their armigers to fulfill their legal requirements and effectively abandoned the entire enterprise.
  • Gravity: 1.31 G
  • Atmosphere: Nitrogen-oxygen mix with high Co2, water vapor and sulfides. Breathable only at extremely high altitudes, limiting open settlements to the Huaguo Plateau. Nitrogen narcosis will swiftly kill anyone at lower elevations without a pressure suit. Even in regions where the pressure is tolerable, the temperature, humidity, and particulate content are hellish.
  • Major Settlements: Paradise Pools, Toadstool Town, Isaac's Altar, Pipe Dream, [FIELD EMPTY], Dudfuck
  • Moons: 2
  • Orbital Infrastructure: Negligible. Shuttle service is available between the primary orbital habitat and Paradise Pools.
  • Biosphere: Partially compatible with terragen biochemistry.

The one benefit to Shithole is that it isn't Hell. Of course, the one benefit to Hell is that it isn't Shithole, so in terms of human misery we have just about broken even. No one should have come here, but we unfortunately did and the inhabitants are now trapped by a series of enormous, easily-avoidable mistakes.

Mistake 1: The initial long-distance observations, while promising in terms of gravity, temperature, atmosphere and biosignatures, were not sufficiently reviewed.

The first big colonization push was fueled in a large part for the search for a new Earth, a do-over after the horrors of the Collapse (This is why there are thirty-odd planets named some variant of New Earth). Shithole was, at first glance, a dead ringer for the coveted "superhabitable planet" slot, and the lucky stake claimers went plummeting into inescapable debt gambling on a single seedship.

Mistake 2: The company that backed the colonization effort was trying to get in on the initial gold rush of interstellar expansion and had no prior experience in field.

Typical of the era. Anyone with enough money wanted in on the rush, regardless of any presence in the Reclamation or the settlement of the solar system. A reliable seedship template, full of exowombs and zygotes and parental AI, was by now easy enough to build (if incredibly expensive) This led to most of the funding companies collapsing well before seeing a return investment, sometimes before the mission ever reached the destination.

Mistake 3: The seedship was operated via dumb AI that prioritized for planetary habitats rather than orbital ones.

A smart AI, or any sensible human overseer, would have passed over Shithole as a scientific study for another day and taken advantage of the convenient, if cold, Mars-sized world orbiting the local ice giant to set up an initial colony. But dumb AI have their parameters set in silicon and this one was locked right on Shithole. Planet-side colonization was what the parent company used to get investors, and so the oversight was justified as a way of keeping them happy.

So the ship arrives and sends all its cargo down through the haze and finds the situation on the ground much, much worse than expected.

The Situation on the Ground

The preliminary studies were correct: Shithole had plenty of water. But nearly all of it was in the form of atmospheric water vapor and all that remained of its ancient shallow seas were stagnant, salty dregs. All the rest was locked up in the biosphere - a near-global macrobiome of fungus-analog forests that thrived in the heat, humidity, and dim light of the lower altitudes of the dry ocean beds. Only a few high plateaus, once the continental shelves, were suitable for humans. At the very least, the ship's AI understood this.

The initial colony on Huaguo Plateau (what would eventually be named Paradise Pools for its hyperchromatic sulfuric hot springs) managed to avoid Oedipal Colony Collapse Syndrome (a single mercy in the rolling clusterfuck), and for a few years looked like it might actually stabilize and survive its early stages.

Then the local bacteria learned how to eat plastic. Within another five years, the fungi could as well. This is on top of being able to eat human flesh. Metal without special treatment corroded too quickly to be useful as a building material, and there wasn't the industrial base to support the treatment processes. Colony conditions deteriorated swiftly after that. Nearly half the population (by then nearing 40,000) died, and many of the survivors ended up abandoning the settlements entirely for life on the plateau barrens and fungiforests (where, to this day, they are regularly reported as cryptids).

While most sociologists agree that the shift to hunter-gatherer lifestyles was the right idea, hunting and gathering in a mushroom jungle does not a profitable colony make. By this time the original company was long gone (to the point that their records have been erased) and ownership of Shithole passed through a series of successive rights-holders who made attempts at re-colonizing the world through influxes of criminals and the politically unwanted. These attempts stuck, mostly because every time disaster struck a new influx of people and resources would be incoming to help prop things up. House Tauvi would try this as well, and eventually give up on the practice. The plantations here were never able to make a profit for them, and they had better prisons closer to home anyway.

Shithole Today

So the question then becomes "why the fuck would anyone ever go to Shithole?"

Drugs and science, mostly. Often both.

Thanks to the partial compatibility with terragen biochemistry, there are plenty of substances with effects of interest to humans on Shithole. Most of these remain unknown - The soft jungles of Shithole have remained almost completely unexplored and uncataloged, despite being one of the most complex alien biospheres yet discovered. The occasional short-term science station will crop up (under the close watch of the armigers), but no one has been willing to invest in a proper ecological survey (though biotech and pharmaceutical companies will gladly pay for survey data).

It's no secret that the armigers of House Tauvi are exporting drugs from Shithole under the auspices of their absentee landlords. While they live like comparative kings to the average inhabitants of Shithole, they are very small fish when compared to the Great Houses and major syndicates surrounding them on the outside, and so long as they stay that way there won't be any trouble.

This peace isn't bound to last. Eventually the armigers will overstep, either with the locals or with the outside, and someone will get it in their head to put them in their place. If a valuable enough substance is discovered, the planet could flip from worthless to lynchpin overnight. Then everyone is going to be very interested.


The Colonel - Leader of the House Tauvi armigers. Babyfaced, orange hair in a thin braid, impeccable white suit, wears medals like a classic junta dictator. Smooth talking and friendly exterior over a core of childlike cruelty and entitlement. Currently lives in orbit directing the operation.

The Commandant - Head of armiger operations on the ground, operating out of Paradise Pools. Marks where scars have been rejuvenated away. A veteran whose hardline policies are tolerated only due to their unnatural impartiality - no favor is given to armigers or groundsiders when order is disrupted. Compromised through a romantic relationship with a groundsider, which is liable to cause scandal (the armigers of House Tauvi practice Theban military endogamy).

The Headman
- Cracked and raw skin from years' labor out in the elements. What hair remains has been shaved away. Bulgy eyes, voice raspy. Unofficial representative of the plantations around Paradise Pools. Respected there, considered a quisling elsewhere.

The Holy Hermit - A religious leader of the indigenous Shitholers that has risen to prominence in the wildnerness. Prophecies of doom for the armigers, the final failure of the colony, and the mass movement to life in the jungles are everywhere.

The Sister
- Short, energetic. Member of an offworld religious order (St. Mab the Mad of Mars). Snooping around and causing trouble, not shy about insinuating ulterior motives. Knows a bit too much about military operations.

The Corpse - The morning started with Jonjen Losarri floating facefirst in a hot spring.


Sometimes, on rare days when it is neither raining nor sporing, you can see the sun from Paradise Pools. It will be shrouded in a thick haze of puke-colored clouds, but you'll be able to see it.

If the breeze is favorable, you might even be able to peer through the mist and spore veils at the soft jungle below the plateau: broad yellow shingles; corpse-pale domes and caps; tangled veins of red; brain-broccoli clusters of purple, brown and grey. No matter how favoriable the weather, you will not be able to make out the horizon. The air is thick with life: currents and eddies of spores and aeroplankton, larger creatures filtering the chaff through sails and fins. Herds of floaters, clouds of sprites, pods of balloon animals, the occasional hungry gel-hawk.

At night, it is completely black. You cannot see the stars from Paradise Pools, only the faint phosphorescence of the life down below the death-line.


  1. This material is who-knows how old. Like about a decade, possibly. Too good to waste.

  2. I love the subtle worldbuilding that St. Mab of Mars implies, I'm wondering what Martian Orthodox Christianity would look like...

  3. Good stuff, reminds me of a more fleshed out version of the cooler end of Mass Effect planet surveys

    "Oedipal colony collapse syndrome" - eyes emoji

    Soft jungle - surprisingly evocative description

    1. A dumb AI trying to raise vat-grown humans is a supremely risky endeavor, and many attempts will fall apart as the first human generation is too dependent on the AI to function outside of its limited purview.