|A Belbanian Beach|
The Bright Black Sea's story proper begins in Belbania orbit, and Wil Litang often refers back to Belbania -- a world of oceans and islands where cha is grown. As I mentioned, when I first started writing what became The Bright Black Sea I toyed with the idea of having footnotes after each chapter enlarging on the places and elements of the chapter. Partly with the idea that Litang was writing a general account of the life of a tramp space freighter and partly for the fun of it. I didn't keep up with it, but I do have the notes I made for Belbania.
Notes on Belbania
The oceanic world of Belbania is not one of the major worlds of the Azminn system. It does, however, posses just enough interplanetary trade significance to be called on by tramp ships and small near-planet traders. Plus, all of its (current) neighboring planets are considerably colder and less developed planets, so that these days Belbania is a popular box-tourist destination for this ragtag collection of out of the way worlds. Every day several tourist ships arrive from Neavery, Chantria, and Bolsre carrying thousands of tourists in suspended animation boxes for their annual holiday to Belbania's beach resorts. Indeed, if it wasn't for the fact that warm beaches are far from uncommon among the 21 worlds of the Azminn solar system, Belbania might be better known beyond the cold worlds of Neavery, Chantria and Bolsre.
That said, it must also be admitted that Belbania's flying 'vampire' Sea Spiders don't add to its interplanetary holiday destination reputation. The Sea Spiders are common enough to make it rather hard to gloss over in the brochures, since truth in advertising requires mention of them. They have a rather menacing. ugly look about them: a vivid red hard shell, eight long. and rather sharp tipped legs, and stiff, buzzing wings. Plus, they grow to about the size of your fist. They are eatable, and boiled on the beach as they arrive, they are well worth the effort needed to acquired a taste for them. Each evening after Azminn sets they rise in swarms out of the shallow seas and fly inland to suck the nectar of the bankon fruit. Why they mistake humans for bankon fruit (if it is a mistake) has been a mystery for the twenty thousand years humans have lived on Belbania. They're not shy and land on you with a thump after which, if you let them, then take the better part of half an hour to unship their drilling tubes and get down to business of putting a hole in you. (As I mentioned, no one does anything fast on Belbania.) Clearly, everyone has plenty of time lift Sea Spiders off and toss them back to the sea or into a nearby pot of boiling water over the fire on the beach, if you've acquired the taste, so that they actually present little more than a minor annoyance, which can be avoided if you avoid the beach after sunset. From experience I can state that you can sit out on the beach well past bar time and only have a dozen or two land on you. You can eat well if you’ve got the water boiling. The only real risk you run of getting drilled by the sea spiders is if you fall deeply into a deep sleep on the beach. And by a deep sleep, I mean dead drunk. And even if you find yourself still on the beach come morning, you're likely to have only half a dozen or so rather sore swellings where the Sea Spiders drilled into you, only to discover, to their great astonishment and disappointment, that you're not a bankon fruit after all, and flew off in disgust. All in all, even with the vampire Sea Spiders, as the system gradually realigns itself over the centuries to where Belbania finds itself with more populous solar neighborhood, it might well become a nice second class resort destination. Of course the Belbanians count themselves lucky this isn't the case so far and I, for one, don't blame them.
Besides the tourist industry Belbania has two major exports, cha and Shellstone. cha grows on the high slops of volcanic islands of which Belbania has thousands, much like the planet of Chantsom Yea, which sets the Nine Star Nebula standard for cha. And like every other planet, other than Chantsom, which grows cha, (and you can grow it on any planet that is in the warm zone and has high volcanic peaks) the usual quality doesn't come close to the real Chantsom grown cha, which is, justly, fabulously expensive. Belbania cha planters do however produce a decent mass market variety for this quarter of the Azminn system, shipping something like 300 standard containers worth of cha to the worlds in this half of the Azminn system. However, I've found several growers high on the volcanic island peaks who grow and process cha in small quantities that actually rivals fine (but not the finest) quality Chantsom cha. I buy a dozen or so chests each time we call to trade on my own guild account; starting them off on the first leg of a long journey throughout the Nine Star Nebula to dealers in fine cha and connoisseurs (like myself) who value fine and rare cha. On those watches when everything seems to go wrong, I find myself dreaming of giving up space and becoming a cha planter on Belbania.
The other major export is Belbania Shellstone. Under its seas lie kilometers deep layers of fossilized sea creatures which are quarried, shaped, polished, and made into all sorts of objects d'art, furniture, furnishings and even wall panels. Shellstone had a market throughout the Azminn system. However, to maximize revenue and keep Belbanians hard(ish) at work, only finished products can be exported, which fills up shipping containers and keeps tramp ships like the Lost Star calling on Belbania on a regular basis. There's usually half a dozen tramps in orbit taking on containers of Belbania cha and Shellstone on any given time. Plus a dozen or more near-planet traders connected with the box tourist trade and the minor odds and ends that find their way to and from Belbania.