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"Know first, then judge."

- ancient Argenop wisdom

This is Meniscus, a planet far from Earth.

Meniscus has a breathable atmosphere and a humid, continental climate. The seasons include a brutal winter. Meniscus travels around twinned suns and has two phased moons.

Water on Meniscus does not behave as on Earth. Interacting with gravity and atmosphere, it effervesces, moving rapidly to aerosol – surface water tends to climb rather than fall. Most of the water is groundwater. Where it comes to the surface in volume, it creates dramatic water-climbs and lake-like churns.

Since surface water is rare on Meniscus, erosion occurs by wind scour and frost-heave. Landscapes vary from wind-swept desert to dense forest. Tree-species are deciduous and the understory is thick with shrubs and herbs.

The planet has a diverse population of animal species. Predators, including slear-snakes and wolf-like kotildi, roam the wild-lands. Herbivores include the squirrel-like midlar and the cat-like evernell – most evernells have adapted to urban life.

Meniscus has a dystopian society. The dominant Dock-winders are oppressive, not bound by Human morals or ethics. More than thirty Earth years ago, they invaded Earth and now harvest it for young Humans and other produce.

Humans are kept as slaves, often in squalor, and viewed as prey by the brutal Gel-heads. Human families and communities are not allowed. Humans in servitude live meagre, controlled lives. Freedom is a memory.

The native sentients of Meniscus include the Dock-winders, Gel-heads and Argenops. Dock-winders are intelligent humanoids with long necks and angular bodies, and are obsessed with mythology. Most are merchants, trading in sentients, Humans in particular. Their necks are tattooed to record significant transactions.

Gel-heads are barely sentient, driven by greed and the search for gratification. They are humanoid, but their skin is green and gelatinous. Through the skin, internal organs, musculature and skeleture are visible.

Argenops are non-humanoid sentients. Gentle and timid, they are furry with long ears, pendulant arms and prehensile tails. Living deep in the woodlands, in a geographic region set apart by water-climbs and hard-to-navigate churns, they are sheltered from other inhabited areas of the planet.

Human children from the first shipment to Meniscus were genetically altered to serve as soldiers. These modifications increased strength and enabled the control of body energy as a weapon. Other Humans considered the altered Humans lost and referred to them as the Slain. Once modified, the Slain could not be forced into servitude, so the Dock-winders freed them to roam as traders or mercenaries.

A glossary of terms and a guide to Gel-speak, the common language on Meniscus, are found at the end of the story.

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