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Meta Eridani III >
Meta Eridani III, formerly known as Natureworld, is a quarantined world in an uninhabited system in the spinward end of the Greater Rigel Sector Co-Prosperity Sphere, just outside Earth Alliance space. It seems exceedingly unlikely that any hitchhiker will need to know anything about this planet, but in the interest of completeness, and because we get paid by the word, here goes.
In 2087, in response to the escalation of Earth's Fourth World War, an international coalition of influential environmentalists and business leaders (go figure—times were strange on Earth) became concerned that various native species of fauna and flora might be wiped out in the course of the conflict. This coalition established a not-for-profit corporation, Nature Preservation Inc., with the goal of saving those lifeforms.
The method chosen for the NaturePres project was to acquire a class-D planet in an uninhabited system within a reasonable range of Sol, terraform it to provide suitable habitats for the selected creatures, and settle them there. When the war was over, so the theory went, they could be recovered and resettled back on Earth. In the meantime, the modified planet, nicknamed "Natureworld", would be closed to visitors. It was not intended to be a zoo or themed attraction; merely a biological repository.
What happened next has never been disclosed. Theories range from a sudden upturn in volcanic activity, to a catastrophic meteor shower, to (somewhat less plausibly) an unrecorded alien contact. At any event, in 2095 NaturePres abruptly declared the Natureworld project a failure due to "irremediable site contamination" and sealed off the planet completely, ceasing even the controlled monitoring and periodic survey activities previously carried out by company scientists.
The NaturePres consortium collapsed, the company was dissolved, and the entire business was largely forgotten by the time the war ended the following year. As a result, a number of species earmarked for preservation on Natureworld did become extinct on Earth (though most were reintroduced later from other offworld populations, or in later centuries through more advanced bioengineering). With the Meta Eridani system declared a no-go zone by the United Galactica, the whole episode passed into history.
The next time anyone heard anything about the former Natureworld was nearly two centuries later, in 2290, when—amid the chaos that followed the fall and outlawing of the Wedge Defense Force—the UG Assembly quietly reopened Meta Eridani. This was done at the behest of a second consortium of interested parties, representing enterprises on New Japan, Tomodachi, and several other worlds of the Co-Prosperity Sphere, whose principals were interested in surveying the remains of Natureworld and seeing whether anything interesting—and profitable—could be done with the place after two centuries.
It took more than 40 years of work and colossal investments of capital, but what resulted was the much-heralded 2333 grand opening of the galaxy's first whole-planet wildlife preserve—a gigantic high-tech zoo named, after the various initials of its key investors, Japari Park.
Billed as a wildlife park with a difference, Japari Park encompassed the entire planet, which, as Natureworld, had been terraformed with a variety of distinct biomes to support the various inhabitants' needs. Staffed by an army of friendly, knowledgeable personnel and an even larger army of maintenance and support robots, it was advertised as a place where average galactic citizens could spend every vacation for the rest of their lives and still not see it all. It was widely hailed as one of the wonders of the galaxy.
It lasted nineteen months.
When the United Galactica fell in 2335, the Japari Park consortium's members ended up on opposite sides of the Co-Prosperity Sphere Conflict, one of the innumerable regional civil wars that broke out in the sudden absence of galactic governance. With the back of its supporting corporation abruptly and totally broken, the park, and the planet, were once again abandoned. Almost overnight, what had been a thriving A-list galactic attraction with a permanent population of more than 50,000 sapients became a ghost planet littered with derelict shops, tour vehicles, amusement rides, and other attractions.
As in the case of Natureworld before it, the desertion of Japari Park has long been rumored to have had a greater cause than the politico-economics of the times, but just as in the first instance, no credible evidence has ever surfaced. All the same, there are some oddities about the situation which suggest that there may truly be more than meets the eye.
For example, if Japari Park was abandoned solely because the money ran out, why was the evacuation carried out in such tremendous haste? Why has not one former park staffer or guest ever been willing to address the issue? Why did the Neo-Japanese government (which claimed local jurisdiction at the time) seal off the entire planetary system again? And why is Meta Eridani still an interstellar no-go area even today, almost eight decades later? How can a planet that was universally described as a lush paradise with nearly perfect tourism infrastructure suddenly have become worthy of a Class A hazardous environment designation in the Federation Red Book?
Nobody seems to know, or if anybody does, they're not willing to say. The Guide can understand how this might raise a hitchhiker's curiosity, but we strongly advise our readers not to be the ones who look into it. Trespassing in the Meta Eridani system carries the same criminal penalty as high-space piracy, so very few starship captains would be willing to risk it, and the ones who would are almost certainly not safe to associate with in any way. Besides, even if you made it in, you'd be caught before you ever made planetfall.
Stick to safer spacelanes, hitchhikers. Every indication is that whatever is going on in Meta Eridani, you're better off not knowing.
This Guide entry was written by the Hon. Phileas T. Fogg VII, Esq., president emeritus of the Crown Colonies All-Galaxy Explorers' Society.