Welcome to Planet Crud – a brief overview

Where there possibly used to be a small, innocent and attractive blue dot in the cosmos, is a world that has been through the wars, seen some catastrophic action, and is now hanging out quietly trying not to draw attention to itself.

Described as an ‘oblate spheroid’, Crud occupies a much-sought-after position in the temperate zone of a star system at the optimum distance from its one sun to maintain mostly liquid water, frozen opposite poles at north and south, and a combination of states of matter including a range of gases and solids.

It features two point four moons that almost never crash into one another, and on closer inspection a number of dense rings of space-debris, evidence of former civilisations.

Unfortunately, these prior civilisations of Crudlings were virtually wiped out during a little apocalyptic cosmetic work, and life on Crud was reduced to a bottleneck before gradually re-establishing itself under the new conditions.

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Geographically, the surface of Crud is divided longitudinally into an eastern and western hemisphere by a range of plateaus crisscrossed with deep ravines, called the Shatter. The ravines, with rivers or glaciers at the bottom, are sparsely populated, while the plateaus, known as the Cloud Islands due to the weather systems in the ravines below, are home to others. Some Cloud Islands are connected by bridges, while other communities are more insular.

The eastern hemisphere is the Crater Zone, a honeycomb of impact craters caused by a devastating meteor shower from an exploding comet or giant asteroid event many millennia ago. The Craters vary in size, from the small, only a few dozen miles across, to the large, several hundred miles in diameter. Not all of the Craters are habitable – some contain lakes of poisonous mercury, hostile plant-life, or other natural hazards which are relics of the meteor impacts. However some have freshwater lakes and springs (a premium in living condition terms), inland tidal seas ruled by the complex machinations of the two point four moons, fertile land, and are highly productive. They feature a range of climates from north to south, and various degrees of civilisation.

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The Crater inhabitants tend to be isolated, due to the treacherous Ridgeways, the mountain ranges that divide the Craters. Mostly impassable, these ridges provide protection from the hostile conditions (or contents) of other Craters, but they are also home to the Ridgeway communities themselves, reputed to be bandits who attack unwary explorers trying to traverse the mountains, and they are also rumoured to launch occasional assaults, after resources the Craters may have. Some of the more advanced Craters have built domes over their entire communities, to protect themselves from invasion or from toxic weather systems originating in neighbouring impact areas.

Wildlife in the Craters has evolved as it would in closed ecosystems, and is wildly variable from one Crater to another. The most sapient population is very interested in the subsurface strata, the evidence of previous habitation and its technology. One or two of the more curious Craters have found subterranean installations that might be dormant or obsolete life-support units, and are working on establishing whether they pre-date the meteor event, or arrived as part of it. Some of the ancient space debris encircling the planet may yet prove to have working use, as archaeological digs in academic parts of Crud hope to establish the original purpose of it.

The western hemisphere is the Catacomb Zone. Although a few Craters pock-mark the west, mostly the planet’s western crust was split and separated in the shockwaves from the east, forming a mass network of caves and sink-holes, featuring waterfalls, subsurface river systems and tropical underground rainforest. Light is brought to the underground Crudling population by means of reflection, using mirror-traps.

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The western hemisphere also features the Only Ocean and the Pinnacles, a chain of towering islands formed when an entire mountain range was blown out of a former continent. Fishing is the main means of survival here.

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A number of things are ascribed to the meteor shower that devastated and dictates the landscape of planet Crud. Any unexplained happenings, magic, miracles, deviations from genetic normality or ability are traditionally blamed on the event, although scientific minds are now seeking further evidence.

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Head in the Clouds

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The Cloud Islands on planet Crud, part of the Shatter that divides the eastern and western hemispheres, overlook both the Crater Zone (impact region) on one side, and the Shambles (lowlands) on the other. The Islands are a loosely interconnected chain of countries at high altitude, mainly in competition with the inhabitants of the ravines and canyons, miles below. The Cloud Islanders strongly dispute any mining of the bedrock beneath them, while the Canyonians resent fly-tipping and contaminated rainfall/effluent from above – even though it does add a remarkably sought-after fertility to their topsoil.

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You would think that the Cloud Islands are barren and arid, but although at the poles they are ice-covered all year round, at the equatorial region there is as many as three months of the year with clement weather. Industry is focused on food (mainly of the game bird and poultry variety) with a huge export business to the contaminated lowland areas, the subterranean and and Crater communities. Clean untainted water is also bottled and exported, and there is a growing electronics and computing industry, due to the hygienic conditions of life at high altitudes.

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The Cloud Islands vary in size from a few hectares of tepui to table-top mountains several hundred miles long, dominating their smaller neighbours. Migration is common, and the closest neighbours are enabled by sturdy bridges, aerial cars, and zip-lines.

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Some Islands in the sky are Republics, or feudal monarchies – all are popular tourist destinations.

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Scenery is varied and beautiful, acclimatised to the altitude, and wildlife that has developed indigenously, or been imported, has learned not to fall off the edges. Late night drinking is discouraged on all but the largest Cloud Islands, and many of the smaller ones are completely dry states to reduce ‘death by sleepwalking off the country’.

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Sadly, much of Crud considers the Cloud Islanders to be arrogant and difficult to deal with, although it is more likely that they have confused ‘diplomacy’ with ‘proximity’. They are happy to receive trade and untainted poultry from them, obviously.

The Cloud Islanders make up approximately 20% of Crud’s overall recovering population. There are Islander ex-pat communities in the largest cosmopolitan cities on Crud, including Craterpool and Bigmouth, mostly to distribute traded goods from home. Migration from the lowlands upwards is less common, although there is estimated to be around 50,000 Canyonians living undeclared ‘topside’, mostly working on improvements to the waste disposal and recycling industry.

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(Images from Morgue File and Google)

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Those that seek their fortune, make tracks to Bigmouth

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Claiming to be ‘the Gateway to Riches’ and the most culturally diverse city on Crud, Bigmouth (pronounced ‘Bigmutha’) sits at the eastern edge of the Catacomb Zone, spilling out of the underground world onto the Shambles, the rolling lowlands and lakes beneath the Shatter, in the shadow of the Cloud Islands.

The western, subterranean half of the city (the Downside) is the most coveted place to live, while that of the Shambles ‘Upside’ is a rowdy, overcrowded, cosmopolitan buzz of electric anticipation, filled with dreamers, scam veterans, officials and red tape, in an attempt to keep the world from their closely-guarded door.

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And Crudlings do indeed flock there, drawn by the possibility of an archaeological jackpot being struck in the sunken landscape. Referring rather unkindly to the Catacomb dwellers as ‘Cruddites’ they believe that the Bigmouth anti-immigration bureaucracy exists to prevent progress elsewhere on Crud, by denying access to new discoveries beneath the fractured surface of the planet, which could mean technological advancement for all.

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Others wish to investigate the subsurface world at an academic and scientific level, particularly the surface integrity of their home planet.

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Bigmouth is an industrial centre of structural engineering, where reinforcing and protecting their underground population and defending it from jealous outsiders is a priority.

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Maintaining the underground half of the city’s drainage systems and fresh water supply is a complex industry, much in demand, and Bigmouth-trained engineers can be guaranteed work wherever they seek it on the planet of Crud.

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Although the archaeological miners seek mainly the sought-after metal containers of useful relics, evidence of the ancient civilisations of Crud is also more easily discovered in the Catacombs.

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The subterranean streets of Downside Bigmouth are affluent, with daylight provided by mirror-traps, and ventilation from a combination of sink-holes to the surface and Crudling-made convection systems combined with the natural lighting reflection channels.

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Underground flora and fauna flourishes with the carefully-managed provisions for an ecosystem, and clean-energy transport links are excellent in concept and function, although not always on time due to the diligence of security and immigration staff on the look-out for interlopers from elsewhere on Crud, and endless maintenance work.

The tracks have to be kept salted, as the prolific edible fungus that provides the staple diet of the underground population may be found growing anywhere, and it frequently makes the lines unsafe.

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Crud’s most isolated community – the remote slopes of Wails

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The furthest and most westerly part of the Pinnacles, the island chain formed when a mountain range exploded out of a previously-existing continent in the asteroid impact and crashed into the Only Ocean on Crud, Wails is a small cluster of almost sheer-sided islands, over seven hundred miles from their nearest neighbours. Geologically, it appears to have been a single and possibly the largest mountain of the original range, which was launched like a cruise missile into the atmosphere with great momentum before plummeting downward, fracturing into a dozen pieces at a considerable distance from other landing sites.

Wails is named for the echoing sounds the wind makes when it blows through the island cluster from the vast empty ocean. The locals call it ‘the Sarcastic Wind’ (we would consider it very similar to Rik Mayall’s rendition of “OoooOOOOOooooohh!’ immortalised in The Young Ones). It is very difficult to deal with serious matters on those days. However, the wind has been established to be tonally perfect and consistent, so choir practice and music lessons are always scheduled in the windiest season.

Mainly, the community live in cliffside dwellings fashioned from caves and driftwood, or on piers built at the bottom of the rock faces. Horizontal surfaces to live on are rare, and come at a premium. They are self-sustaining in fish, seaweed, and a few breeds of swimming woolly mammal, provider of an excellent fibre for knitting and waterproof rope. The fibre is hollow, oily, and naturally floats, which enables the animals to swim easily in the deep water, and supplies the babies of Wails with fabric for their knitted buoyancy aids.

The largest island, Wailsea, has the benefit of a single beach and a more gently sloping southern face, where a few crops are grown including the most expensive exported bean on Crud, and enterprising Crudling developers have built more comfortable and spacious cabins for the small but exclusive tourist industry.

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As well as the occasional mercurial visitor, Wails is also a retirement destination for the very rich. Contributing factors are the clement weather, a tolerably tropical temperature, and the excellent healthcare, where most local viruses can be cured with a dose of sea-snake venom administered by one of the mobile Canoe Doctors.

They are also attracted by the romance of the Only Ocean funeral, which takes place on Certain Death Island. This is set on the rock that stands at the most western edge of Wails and is the most distant point from any mainland on Crud. A dedicated jetty, facing the open water, has been in place for Wailsh funeral ceremonies for many generations.

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The reason for all sea funerals taking place on Certain Death Island is that it is the only place in Wails where an object tossed into the waves will not wash back inland again within twenty-four hours, on the complex currents channelled through the island cluster. Residents living on Zanuzi Rock, for example, can throw their dirty laundry into the sea at night and have it back on their doorstep the next morning – sometimes mysteriously folded, or having snared a fish for breakfast in one of the pockets.

Superstition is rife in Wails, as is dishonesty. Everything, including unsolved crime, is blamed on the spirits of the ocean, which makes for rather a pleasant and amiable community – no-one is blamed for anything, or takes responsibility. Laundry not back yet? Needed by the sea-spirits. Dinner not ready? Eaten by the sea-spirits. Canoe stolen? Taken by the sea-spirits. (You get the idea). Credibility is also given willingly to tall stories shared and ascribed to the traditional adage “a spirit of the ocean told my grandfather/grandmother…”

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Archaeological mining is also a growing industry in Wails. Deep-sea divers have discovered sunken corrugated metal containers in a number of locations, and fight their territorial rights with other archaeological expeditions arriving from elsewhere. The Wailsh are surprisingly vain, and will compete tooth and nail for access to any sub-marine storage object that might turn out to contain hats, gaudy shirts, plastic shoes, glass beads, or brightly-coloured artificial hair extensions.

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Craterpool – a sparkling metropolis

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We’ll kick off our tour of the planet of Crud with Craterpool, a modest-sized, densely populated settlement in the temperate region of the Crater Zone. It sits comfortably sheltered in its impact crater encircling a hospitable inland sea, and is home to beatniks, academics, wishful thinkers, archaeological resource miners, romantic hopefuls, and some fairly animated bigots (as Crudlings go, that’s pretty animated).

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Beneath the surface of Craterpool, the remnants of a vast ancient city were discovered, mainly unearthing lighting structures made by an inert gas trapped in glass tubes. Any visitor to Craterpool will mostly be struck by the array of illumination, both night and day, fully recharged by solar cells and wind farms installed along the Ridgeways, over which there is some territorial disagreement with the Ridgeway community.

Large, burly Craterpudlians are deployed night and day to patrol these precious energy sources.

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The Craterpool sea features the twin islands of Craterpool Tor, a local tourist destination, and Craterpool Man, a smaller islet with only a folly and a resident hermit. Regular boat trips depart from the Tor to circumnavigate Craterpool Man, with the often vain possibility of seeing the Man himself, performing his outdoor daily ablutions and rituals.

Notably, the infamous Star Jumps accompanied by his mysterious mantra – “Bugroff! Bugroff!” – the meaning and language as yet unknown.

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The northern circumference of Craterpool is the most affluent, benefiting from the sunniest position in the city, while the quite literally shady southern sector would be described as a slum, but still comfortable compared to some other parts of planet Crud.

The Craterpool slums do suffer from a mildly worrying smell when the wind is bearing from the south, thought to be evidence of hydrogen sulphide toxicity in a neighbouring lake or sea. Perhaps due to this factor, the Ridgeway bandits are almost nonexistent at this southerly perimeter, and so the population of ‘Downtown Craterpool’ enjoys a comparatively peaceful existence, if somewhat inconvenienced by odd bouts of Craterpudlian Slum Bottom.

The slums are formed of part excavated ancient buildings, and part ramshackle construction on top.

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Craterpool is a triumph of reconstruction and recycling culture. Almost everything mined in the crater is able to be used. It was quite obviously a rich manufacturing community in the past, with recent discoveries including a seam of huge rectangular corrugated metal containers filled with what appear to be highly impractical footwear.

Both the containers and footwear have proved to be  extremely popular in downtown Craterpool.

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Almost all fruit grown in the downtown area ferments on the branch before it can be harvested (again possibly due to airborne pollutants) so intoxication is common. This fruit alcohol is also the main means of trade with North Craterpool.

The Craterpool diet otherwise is a combination of sea-harvest, root vegetables, a plentiful edible fungus, and a small amount of cultivated grain. Game meat is a luxury and has to be hunted on the borders of the Ridgeways, in competition with the bandits. Enterprising slum farmers have attempted to breed some of this coveted game, but are yet to find a species which does not retain the local pollutants. A few illegal traders sell tainted meat on the black market.

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Life for the residents of North Craterpool can be considered among the best on Crud. They do not have the danger associated with living on the Cloud Islands, or in the Catacombs. They enjoy a relatively pollutant-free climate, and as long as they can afford the security, are in little danger of attacks by the Ridgeway clans.

The education system is good. However, superstition is high in comparison to the southern downtown circumference. Reported sightings of unidentified creatures are frequent, and have increased since the archaeological mining has progressed beyond the shores to the Craterpool sea-bed.

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