|System||Tau Ceti / Pell's Star|
Downbelow (also known as Pell's World) is a fictional planet in American science fiction and fantasy author C. J. Cherryh's Alliance-Union universe. It is the first planet discovered by humans with an advanced ecosystem and, even more significantly, intelligent alien life in the form of the Hisa. Pell Station, a star station prominent in this universe, orbits the planet.
During the Earth Company's drive to colonise the stars, a planet orbiting Tau Ceti is discovered by a probe in 2093. The probe captain names the planet Pell's World and its star Pell's Star after himself. Pell Station is built in orbit around the planet. The stationers begin referring to the planet as Downbelow, while the station itself naturally becomes known as Downbelow Station.
Pell's World is similar to Earth, except for a perpetual blanket of cloud that covers the entire world, resulting from a predominance of green-house gasses. Humans quickly establish a foothold on the planet, requiring only gas masks and air tanks to breathe in an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide and airborne biologicals. They build research and agricultural stations in sealed domes that require no gas masks, and, with the help of the local Hisa, cultivate crops on the open plains. A shuttle port for ferrying personnel and light cargo to and from Upabove (as the space station is called on the planet) is established, and a launch pad for unmanned rockets constructed for lifting agricultural produce to the station. Heavy equipment and other large cargo is "dropped" to the planet from the station in capsules equipped with parachutes.
That Downbelow is a living planet causes a stir, but it is the discovery of sentient life that sends shock waves all the way back to Earth, sparking off moral, religious, philosophical and policy debates. Then, to aggravate an already delicate situation, Pell Station becomes a source of agricultural goods and other luxuries, hitherto only available from Earth. This economic advantage disrupts the whole balance of power in the Alliance-Union universe, and becomes one of the main contributing factors to the outbreak of the Company Wars in 2300.
The Hisa Edit
The Hisa are Downbelow's native inhabitants. Also called Downers by humans, they are gentle and friendly primate-like bipeds covered in brown fur with large eyes. They have no technology, wear no clothes except for strings of ornaments, live in burrows and do not build structures. They sustain themselves by planting and harvesting crops, principally grain. They also have their own language and learn to speak rudimentary English from the humans.
Care-free and playing at every opportunity, the Hisa only work when they have to. In spring, when the monsoon rains start, mating rituals commence and they go "walk-about", abandoning what work they are doing, to the frustration of humans trying to supervise them, and walk great distances. This migration is generally initiated by the females with interested males following, which leads to mating and new life.
The Hisa revere and worship Great Sun (Pell's Star) which is rarely visible behind the planet's blanket of cloud. It is the dream of every Hisa to witness such a spectacle. Thus watching the sky is a part of Hisa life, and to assist them, they erect Watchers, giant stone statues with huge eyes that gaze perpetually skyward for a glimpse of Great Sun.
After contact is established with the Hisa, the humans take full advantage of the favourable situation the planet and its inhabitants offer them. They begin cultivating crops, principally grain, from seeds acquired from the Hisa. No seeds from Earth are planted for fear of contaminating Downbelow's biosphere. Then they begin recruiting Hisa to work the fields. By 2106, trade agreements are brokered with the Hisa to supply the humans with grain and other foodstuffs in exchange for medical help and limited technology.
When the Company Wars begin in 2300, Pell Station finds itself short of maintenance personnel and begins employing Hisa to do small repetitive mechanical jobs on the station. The Hisa learn quickly and are more than happy to go Upabove because it gives them an unobstructured view of Great Sun. Travelling to the station becomes regarded by them as a pilgrimage, in spite of having to wear gas masks in the oxygen-rich air. The maintenance tunnels, however, are pumped full of carbon dioxide, enabling the Hisa to work without gas masks (and necessitating them for humans). The Hisa work in four-year tours of duty on the station.
The exploitation of the Hisa and the pillaging of the planet, however, come to an end when, during the War, a Hisa named Satin leads an "uprising" against the humans. They begin resisting human demands and schedules, and stop giving anything to human researchers and administrators on the planet. Originally the plan had been to give the Hisa a technology boost and help them into space, but it becomes apparent that human greed had pushed them too far and demanded too much from them.
By the time the war ends, Downbelow in general and the Hisa in particular becomes out of bounds for all, but a select few highly qualified humans. Agriculture and research on the planet continue but are restricted to certain enclaves. The rotation of Hisa workers to and from the station is also drastically reduced. The importance of preserving Hisa culture and Downbelow's environment precludes providing medicines and technology to the Hisa, and while humans are often tempted to help them, the new hands-off approach remains strictly in force.
- Cherryh, C. J. Downbelow Station, Daw Books, 1981.
- Cherryh, C. J. Finity's End, Warner Aspect, 1997.
- C. J. Cherryh's home page. Alliance/Union Chronology.