Galactic Geographic: The Most Lucrative Drug

I sit in a circle of men for a special gathering that occurs once a month for the Kilcatar. Like many of the other intelligent life in the galaxy the Kilcatar consist of a humanoid body structure. Their skin in an oily black that shines in the sun like water during the sunrise. The men’s teeth are sharp, and have been cut this way at a young age as a symbol of manhood. Kilcatar eyes vary but most men have yellow eyes while the women, who are only seen through a veil by off-worlders, are red. The only woman permissibly seen by off-worlders is the Queen of Rein who first greeted the Federation Officers who made contact here only 50 units of time (UOT). Largely still unknown, this planet’s history and culture is mostly cut off from the rest of the galaxy as the Kilcatar are suspicious of anyone not part of their clan. Their entire planet is a large desert with some small oasis’s providing faint relief. It is incredibly hot here as there are three suns that shine down on Rein.

The tent is full of a blue haze as coals burn on top of an old ceramic hookah said to be as old as the village (my guide states the village is fairly new only spanning 5 UOT). Inside of the hookah holds the most lucrative drug to hit the core planets, Silweed. Traditionally smoked for religious purposes Silweed has become one of the most popular exports of the Kilcatar alongside precious uranium used to fill star ships.

Haj, leader of the group, takes a drag from the pipe exhaling the blue smoke that has become a pop icon for many in the Central Galactic Core. Haj like all others in the tent today are hoping to receive a vision from the Three Suns, gods of the people. He lays back into his cushion passing the pipe to his right. It is largely a ceremonial process that is taking place. It both excites and confuses foreigners who visit the planet Rein.

Most explorers, and experts have agreed on the importance of the ceremony. However, the Federation still does not completely understand the specific meaning, or historical roots. This is mostly due to the incredible language barrier. Kilcatar speak in a poetic way that doesn’t have a clear meaning to off-worlders. This language barrier exits between other clans separated by history. Where we would say “Go to the store and get some milk” Kilcatar would say, “If the three suns are willing haste yourself to find the substance of life used to feed babies that nurture them to adulthood.”  A simple conversation of asking where to eat is a literary endeavor involving the call upon different heroes, or deities of their history.

All week farmers of the village have been preparing for the ceremony that is common place with the Kilcatar religion, which does not have a simple language translation. The closest interpretation for the religion’s name is Valley of the Three Suns. Today’s celebration is for the three suns that the planet orbits, and the one day each month that there is no darkness anywhere on the land.

Silweed, unknown until recently has been farmed here long before the Federation discovered the planet, and it’s people. The language as well as the culture are still unfamiliar to most people in the Federation, and almost all of the people on Rein still do not understand basic (The language used by the Federation). This barrier though has not stopped many corrupt officials, and smugglers from taking the drug off world into the black market to be sold to billions in the core worlds.

The pipe comes to me, and is passed on as I have not completed the Kilcatar trials. A sort of coming of age that all of the Kilcatar youth must pass before smoking the weed. Haj’s son Rey is currently on a journey for the right of passage that includes walking to the nearest Holy Place and fasting for 40 days under the care of the sisterhood. The sisterhood is made of girls who have hit puberty, and are sent away to live in the monastery for young men like Rey to fast at. With any luck Rey will marry one there and bring her back to live with their family as his wife. Haj’s wife, Tumita, grew up almost 2000 units of measure (UOM) from her home now. For Rein that is incredibly far away with the primitive technology that surrounds the planet. .

All week I have been following Haj and his group of farmers as they cultivate the crop. Large rows of Silweed grow around the small village.  It’s a simple looking plant, it starts with a green stem with blue veins running up from the ground. At the top is a red flower that has yellow specs around it. It can grow to be as large as an average human male (6 UOM). I watched as the farmers hacked away at the stem, and throw the weed into a cart pulled by Yush, the work animal of this world. The Yush are smart enough to pull the cart by themselves back to facility where the women cut away the leaves and mash the stems into a paste used for smoking. Along the rows of the crop are the metal hoses used to hydrate, and fertilize the plants. The crop traditionally takes 1095 DUOT to grow. The technology introduced to Rein by the Federation in order to help other produce grow has been modified to grow Silweed, causing Silweed to mature at a much faster rate.

Haj, and the other farmers have become quite wealthy in recent years due to the demand of the crop. He says things have changed rapidly since the growing popularity, and perhaps for the worse. Normally a village like  Haj’s is closed off economically making only a few units at nearby cities by selling off extra meat, or produce. Since Silweed’s rise this village like many others has been contracted (extorted) by the Khans, warlords of the planet who work along with smugglers to produce Silweed in massive quantities.

Haj’s worry comes from the land that he believes still belongs to him, and his sons. He fears once the demand for the weed ends the Khan of the region will use his sons to fight for uranium. The Khan’s do not recognize local land owning, and in the past when a village has had a bad Silweed production the Khan lays waste to the village. Haj’s, and the Khans claim to land are also disputed by the Royal Family who have stated all of the land belongs to the three Suns. The Royal family appears to align themselves closely to the Federation, but have little control outside the major cities.

Once the harvest is completed Haj and the farmers had produced 100 units of weight (UOW) of the weed. Far more then what would normally be needed to use during the Three Suns Celebration. The excess paste is packed into ceramic jars, and stored in a cool shelter made of mud. It is the only permanent structure in the village, and the one structure that the village is protective of. The guide tells me that it is a fairly new structure built by the Khan of the region to protect his investment. If he finds the hut damaged, or Silweed missing then he may take out its worth on the village called a blood payment.

The weed sits inside of the hut for several days before three land rovers baring the marking of Khan Tal arrive for the pickup. The exchange is a humorous one as the people believe selling Silweed is religiously wrong. The Khans men gift to the farmers meat, produce, and building supplies along with a hefty sum of Federation Units. The farmers then gift the Khans men the Silweed paste as thanks for their generosity. Silweed may only be given away as a gift, and not sold. The Khans men make sure that they announce loudly to the village that they have come baring gifts, and in return need nothing.

My guide and I talked with the Khans men in hopes that we could follow their caravan to the water palace, Khan Tal’s home, famously known in the region. They agreed to take us without pay for the Khan was very interested in off-worlders and often dines with them to learn of the worlds beyond Rein. My guide also tells me there is a chance that these men would be rewarded for their efforts.

Before the Federation, this planet relied mostly on beasts for transportation. A part of becoming a member of the federation allowed companies like Atlas to integrate into the society introducing new technologies. While considered old by many core worlds the land vehicles in Rein are a status symbol of wealth. The Atlas logos have been painted over with Khan Tals, and have been outfitted with weapons that are illegally smuggled in for protection of Silweed.

The water palace lives up to its name. As we approached a massive marble structure shot out of the ground in was decorated with blue paint and furnished with modern appliances. It was the closest I had been to inner core lifestyle since landing in Rein. The palace was surrounded by huts and tents common of Kilcatar poor. Closer to the palace were shops made of stone, and marble. Inside of the walls of the Palace the culture, and ceremonies of the Kilcatar are quickly forgotten. Women walk openly among the men, some without veil even to off-worlders. Men of the Khan went shirtless and at times and slept in the grass, a rare sight for this planet as sleeping in the grass is a sin. All of this water in the palace was imported from other planets. In Rein water is very rare and difficult to come by. Most of the villages have to dig deep to find a small sliver of water. The people of this planet have evolved to the point where they only need a small amount of water to survive. There was even a shared bath house.

Khan Tal is one of 12 Khans who produce Silweed for smugglers. Once the Khans fought over uranium territory, stealing the mineral from the Atlas corporation. They sold it for a lesser price to merchant’s in the outer and mid rim. Khans would team up fighting Atlas, but soon betray one another to steal the uranium for themselves. With the rise of Silweed, uranium has stopped being the best product to sell. Better priced and easier to sell the Khans found it the best way to make a lot of money quickly. In an interview with Khan Tal he stated in broken basic, “Before lots of war with Khans, and Atlas, many solider dead, not enough money or guns to keep fighting. With drug, no Atlas problems, no fighting, and too far from the Federation for interference.”

The Khan a big man by Kilcatar standards sits at about the size of 8 UOM. He tells me that his Palace rivals that of Prince Alkadim the third son of the Royal Family in beauty, and style. I had to admit that it was a lavish place, home to many products and stylings that resemble life in the wealthier central core. Some parts of his home one can see posters of pop musical icons, movies, and actors. I ask the Khan if he knows of these people, he tells me he just likes to trade those trinkets with smugglers.

Khan Tal even has two luxury star ships capable of interplanetary travel. “I don’t dare venture far for I know the Federation is stronger there, but I have a great life here.” A great life indeed the Khan brings in over a million units monthly, almost more than then some of those in the Royal family, and more than some entire planetary systems.

The Khan greeted me, and my guide with a large feast. It was lavish, and resembled a party similar to the inner core. The guide tells me that most of these people are the Khans friends and family. Others were brought here  by their parents as a gift to the Khan in hopes their children will grow up better than in the “Wastes”. Children given to the Khan come from  the poorest of the poor. They will grow up most likely in some service to the Khan. Sometimes as a solider, or a slave. However, even being a slave for the Khan is better than the life in the waste.

The Khan talked to me as he tested out the Silweed freshly brought from Haj’s farm. He talks for hours about many topics, and his interest in foreigners. “My land is a good land, and I am merciful. The three Suns yes they blessed me and I have blessed all of these people. The Royals are suspicious of you and your Federation, but I tell you one day Rein will rid themselves of them. They should embrace the federation for all the gifts.”

I asked him if he understood that the Federation wanted to end the sale of Silweed. He responded in broken basic “I know I know, Federation is mad about Silweed, but they have not seen what else the 12 can bring. ”

For all of the prosperity that we witnessed at the water palace much was hidden from me. I was told by my guide that while we were staying there several men who were guests inside of the palace refused to use the shared bath house. In their eyes it was an abomination for a unwed man and woman to see each other naked. They were beheaded and their wives forced to eat of their bodies. A humiliation in Rein worse than death.  The women killed themselves after in shame.

 

My guide, a Kilcatar who studied basic, and contracts with the Federation tells me, “These things are not uncommon here. The Khans want more from your Federation because it will give them more power over the Royals. They act like they are gift givers, but they have always gifted with a knife.”

The government officially complies to the Federations laws of drug smuggling, and states that Silweed smuggling is being cracked down on. However, many people like Khan Tal say something completely different. “Before the government had to help Atlas fight us off from the uranium mines, but with Silweed there is less violence. The customs officers make more, and it is good for our people.”

The truth of the matter is more difficult to understand. Just outside of the  Government Capital is one of the largest Silweed fields producing around 10000 UOW every month more than anywhere else on the planet, and it is in eyesight of Rein’s customs building. The Federation Customs cannot burn these fields or alter them in anyway because of the significance Silweed has on the people. Burning them would be a mortal sin, and the people would rise with the Khans to fight the Royals.

Silweed in its original form is a very harmless drug with some hallucinogenic affects, and an overall feeling of euphoria. However, smugglers and criminal organizations in the mid and core have found that by boiling it down into a concentrate can be extremely addictive and give the users a powerful high that can last for an earth day.

It first arrived on the scene two years ago. As soon as it hit, hospitals began to become overrun with a new drug known as rush. Overdoses became common, and addiction went on the rise in planets that usually have low drug problems. In the last two years the drug has killed over 15 million in the mid and core worlds, and hospitalized over 100 million. Over a billion are addicted.

After spending several days with Khan Tal he begins to make contact to several smugglers, and arranges for a pick up for his Silweed. The meeting place is not at the Water Palace, but several hundred UOD away in what locals call Valley of a Thousand Skulls. This abandoned area was once an Atlas uranium mine. Cracked and broken buildings now dot the area. Several ships land and take small amounts of the Khans Silweed away at a time. My guide explains to me that this is done to preserve the payment. A federation cruiser can realistically only take, and search one ship at a time.

This was the end of my journey with the Khan, and my guide. I begin looking for a crew willing to take some extra Federation units to give me a ride to their next location. I found a beat up intergalactic shipping freight. The kind that is used normally for colonization efforts, or agricultural shipments. The Captains name is Black Jane a title that she gives instead of a real name. After trading some units I get the green light, and ready to leave Rein. On-board I am given the extra bed in the Captains room. While a far cry from the Water Palace it has a nice smugglers touch to it. When we are airborne, and in warp Black Jane comes back with food and I get a chance to sit down and interview her.

Black Jane tells me she was an orphan of the Rus Empire. Like many of the Rus youth she grew up in the paramilitary socialist academies. She began smuggling after getting her piloting license. I asked her “Why Silweed?” Jane tells me that the drug is too perfect of an enterprise to simply stop. “I used to smuggle people from the outer rim. From newly colonized, or discovered places like Rein. You know the real shit holes. That could make some money, but most people wanted me to do it for charity. I tried some work with uranium, but that got really risky when companies like Atlas started their kill policy. Any ship even believed to be holding their uranium gets docked, and searched. Even in a Federation Space. Rush is the perfect product to smuggle. You don’t have to feed it, or shelter it. Best part of it all is that the only people who seem to want it stopped is the Federation, but small time like me doesn’t interest that billion unit bureaucracy.” Jane isn’t wrong. Khan Tal had over a hundred smugglers transporting his Silweed, and taking into account all the other Khans doing the exact same thing makes it hard to regulate.

Jane and her crew of ten have been smuggling out Silweed to the midrim for several galactic months now. Their destination is the Aldramaton moon where crime is all too common. “Aldramaton is a scummy place full of people willing to do some serious crimes for a few units. We work with several crime families they’re mostly the Nuvil. They’re the ones who are making Silweed into Rush.”

Aldramaton is a moon entirely covered by city. Both the moon, and the planet below Quin have historically been separatists from the Federation. However, recent aggression from the outer rim Empire Rus toward the mid-rim planets have caused Aldramaton to re-petition enrollment into the Federation. The Federation agrees to the petition only if Aldramaton takes care of its slaving, and drug smuggling. Black Jane, and other smugglers traveling from Rein bring their cargo here where slaves are responsible for transforming Silweed to Rush.

Black Jane’s lands off onto a false death strip (Death strips are landing pads that are not regularly serviced, and dangerous to land on). In areas like these the Federation control is weak, and the crime family large. As I leave the ship about twenty-five collard Nuvil slaves approach to off-load the cargo. There is one overseer. He had the look of a Nuvil captian. His skin is a glossy blue like those of Arumenda. His face is tattooed, and pierced. He wears thick glasses, and a leather duster. An exchange of money is made to Black Jane after the Silweed is accounted for. I make my exit before too many questions about me are asked. It is not unusual for travelers here to be taken and forcefully enslaved.

I make my way to a Federation controlled sector.  The Federation has had to resort to going by sectors to control the crime population. Aldramaton is an endless city with towers thousands of UOM high, some reaching out into space. Going through one tower to control crime is a monumental task. Each person entering into the zone must show a valid ID to be there. I scan my Intergalactic Geographic badge. An alarm sounds, and the Sergeant on duty pulls me into questioning.

I sit in a white room for a short time until Federation Naval Customs Officer Kalil enters. He wears a sharp suit that the naval officers wear, different than the customs agents that pulled me in. Kalil overseas a specialized group of police who work capturing the Silweed shipments as they land. I gained the chance to interview Kalil after I told him about my article of pursuing Silweed to Rush.

Officer Kalil like many other government officials are hitting a wall when it comes to stopping the production of Rush, “In Aldramaton we have four major crime families. In the past they competed with each other over territory, and money. Since Rush’s large success each family is fine with making only a portion of the profit instead of controlling it all. This makes our job harder because now they are more unified against us than ever before. We are seeing labs pop up all over the moon, and we have a hydra affect. Shutting one down only creates two more. While the long term solution is to dismantle the family the short term is to contain the flow.” Kalil, like many in the Federation were optimistic that Aldramaton can become free from the crime families, but after Rush’s creation the hope of stopping the drug production have quickly fallen.

My journey to understand the powerful drug Rush has ended with some answers. Most ended with Federation red tape and cultural suspicions of outsiders. While there is no clear answer in the stop of Rush smuggling many experts have agreed the best way to reduce issues is to target the population and run anti rush advertisements as a way to show its dangerous affects. The most long term solution is for the Federation, and the separate government entities working together to crack down on organized crime. Many far right, and far left politics have suggested the real issue is Rein. There have been bills to kill the entire crop of Silweed, replacing the Khans over the royals. Currently sessions have not revealed any clear answer to stopping the drug.

 

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