THIS PLANET, THIS lump of bleached sand and rock, was known as Handshaar. It was the Shining planet, a glowing beacon of civilisation in a far corner of known space.
To the thousands of Imperial Guard Trooper’s stationed around its surface, it was described somewhat differently. Milder metaphors listed were; ‘The Hated Hell-Hole‘, “The Orks Armpit” and the “rear-end of the world”, depending on your point of view.
It was a land of tall jagged mountains, rolling sand dunes and endless open desert. It was also a place of mythical monsters, vast salt plains, and shifting sands. A man could also become very rich harvesting the planets unlimited natural resources of minerals and precious metals.
Handshaar was the only inhabited planet in a small sub-system made up of three planets and three moons. Handshaar itself was caught in the gravitational pull of a huge blue gas giant made from hydrogen and helium called Ukodus. It was twenty times the size of Handshaar and was circled by a ring of floating ice particles and rocks. The ring was a thousand miles wide and lethal to the unwary traveller. Ukodus had its own moon made of water and rock with clouds of methane. A quarter the size of Handshaar and uninhabited, MX302 was believed to house the remains of an ancient xenos civilisation. A Munitorum space station with its population of Adepts and servitors scoured the moon for any signs of life and try to discover the secrets it held. They braved the low temperatures, the wind and icy rain, and many died in the bitter cold storms.
Ukodus’s shadow never fell on Handshaar, locked as it was in its endless orbit. It sat high up in the heavens, a great globe of blue and grey. It was so large and close, that you only had to stretch out your arm to feel its cool embrace.
The other planet and moons circling above us were classified as Death worlds, planets deemed too dangerous to inhabit, and were either barren balls of rock or primitive environments, with poisoned atmospheres or surfaces of molten rock, metal or ice.
Life, that is life as we know it, existed in numbers, only here on Handshaar.
The planet had been colonised over ten thousand years ago, but only had a small population, numbering a few million, perhaps no more than ten. It was hard to carry out a consensus when a great chunk of the population was nomadic and never remained in the same place for very long.
It also had a long and ancient culture based on religion and trade.
People travelled through the asteroid belts, the dust clouds and pirate fleets, to get to Handshaar’s vast reserves of
minerals, precious metals and stones. They also came to the shrines and holy places on Handshaar, to give homage to
The God-Emperor. Everyone visited its capital, Nabulûs City, a religious centre of some significance, where many miracles had occurred and valuable Holy relics were stored.
Life was very hard here, with an almost blast furnace heat during the day, and when the suns crossed over the horizon, a bright, hot night Living on the planets surface was hard and uncompromising, and to be caught away from habitation, shade or water meant certain death.
There was no precipitation here, no rain to ease a parched throat, or precious water to grow crops, to bring life… There was just the raw heat, dust, windstorms and never-ending daylight.
Vast water conveyors, the size of large cities, shuttled in and out of the atmosphere all day and all night, bringing in the precious lifeblood, without which all life would cease.
However, despite everything, indigenous life did exist on this sun-scorched rock and the Flyfax and flies were a testament to that.
Handshaar had not always been as dry or arid as it was now. Millions of years ago, if you had walked upon its surface, you would have found flowing rivers here, with lakes and vast oceans. Green trees and life forms in their billions roaming lush and fertile lands.
Then it all disappeared, some catastrophe had struck the planet, and turned it into the lump of rock it was today.
However, due to a freak of geology, any water that remained, remained so underground, hidden and out of sight. In places, small springs did manage to reach the surface, and when it did, it brought precious life to the deserts.
An eco-system evolved around these small water fissures. Flies and insects lived off plants; small reptiles lived off the flies, and so on, all the way up the food chain to the huge mythical monsters that roamed the deep deserts, which was the stuff of local legend.
The Handshaari lived in small airy cities or shaded encampments, which were linked by wide high ways or caravan tracks. Small-scattered outposts dotted the surface, where the hard men lived, trading with any who paid the fair price. In the deep desert, there were the Beddo … and rumours, quiet rumours of horrors beyond comprehension that no one ever talked about. Outsiders never explored the vast wastes, and if they did venture out, few, if any, ever came back.
Handshaar was a valuable outpost of the Imperium, and Imperial forces had been fighting the illusive rebels for nine weeks now, tracking them down in the vast featureless wildernesses. The small cities and towns had virtually fallen without a fight, and the rebel forces were driven ever backwards, ever retreating. Now, all that remained was the capital city itself, and it was here that the rebels had decided to draw a line in the sand.
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