Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

No matter where you go in this universe, no matter how strange the dominants or disgustingly lethal the atmosphere, you’ll always find a watering hole serving hot drinks and simple food to a motley, and largely transient, clientele.
Last month I was on Charil – emphasis on ‘char’. Imagine a planet-wide desert riven with lava flows cutting deep into the sand, running along channels lined with a purple vitric layer.
That heat-resistant layer is the sole reason anything chooses to visit the planet. For nascent spacefaring races, the aesthetics of heat shielding are secondary to effectiveness, and Charil Vitric is better than anything short of molecularly-bonded cerametal.
The place I frequent there was built from it, and sits on a hundred-metre island of the stuff, left over from an ancient lava flow of what must have been stupefying magnitude.

I loaded and flew two hundred tonnes of it here, Nactor, where the amphibians who rose to dominance barely two hundred of their years ago are desperate to save the tomb of their first unifying leader from the geysers of boiling water that are starting to erode it. I suggested Charil Vitric for its properties, and because purple is a colour that doesn’t occur naturally here.

Right now, I’m sitting in a café built from bricks of multi-coloured coral, sipping something that tastes like coffee and looks like tar. I’m waiting for the Nactorians responsible for saving the tomb to work out how much of my cargo they need to purchase.

Afterwards, I’ll take whatever’s left to Zheno. They make shields from it for use in their interminable civil wars.
They declare temporary truces within the watering holes I visit. Clansmen of all sides meet, talk, trade, and bid vigorously but politely to buy sheets of Charil Vitric. Sworn enemies of nine generations or more sit side by side swapping drinks and laughing as they enter competing bids. Uncanny. If only they’d realise that same camaraderie could save their degenerating society.
But they don’t. After all the bidding is done, they go outside and try to murder one another to steal whatever Charil Vitric each has.
I always wait, sipping green tea, eating honeycomb biscuits, and chatting with any clientele left. Might find a wandering player and have a game of Dara to pass the time. When the fighting and looting has finished, usually around the following dawn, I’ll take myself back to my ship and head for somewhere more civilised to get provisions.

Once I had a diplomat take passage to Zheno. They spent years trying to negotiate a peace. Last time I was there, they’d given up and married into one of the clans.

After resupplying at Caramore or Embergrist, it’s out into the long night again. Apart from my watering holes, I’ll keep roaming. Space is clean. That’s why I stay on the move. Planets can infect you with their craziness.