I’ve fallen in with an odd group, although odd is definitely relative. I supposed compared to the team my initial fork still travels with this group is par for the course. Gatecrashing is a career move that definitely attracts the eccentric, and I'm certainly no exception to that rule.
Some days ago, I was monitoring the security and surveillance I set up at the expedition base camp, as usual, when I felt a… strange pressure, a premonition of some immense event, potentially devastating to all conscious minds in the camp. In a panic, I did the only thing I could think of and I downloaded myself into one of the extra splicer morphs without activating the thaw process. Apparently it worked. Next thing I knew I was looking through biological eyes at five strangers.
I did what I could to ascertain who they were. They claimed to be gatecrashers from the colony that Sanjay Rhys found, Pangaea. They apparently returned with Rhys to find everyone at base camp mysteriously gone, and some alien signal trying to co-opt our local mesh. Somehow Darius Croenig-Bern defeated this signal. I sent some mesh-inquiries to the copy of me at Croenig-Bern's camp, but he apparently departed with my primary self and is no longer in contact. The copy of me at the airlock camp confirmed the newcomers' story, however.
It seems that whatever strange force caused the Factors to vanish from base-camp's vicinity and appear near the airlock may be responsible for similarly vanishing our base camp's personnel. Since that initial incident coincided with the activation of the airlock, the only real idea I had was to see if fiddling with the airlock might change things to bring them back. It was a bit of a stretch, I know.
After sharing news with the newcomers, they agreed to use their own aircraft to travel to the airlock camp's location. They appear to have an async with them. She unnerves me, but perhaps it's just the … sensation of resonance I get when I look at her. She was very curious as to how an AGI could become infected. We spoke a bit. I feel somewhat confirmed in my decision to stay digital as often as possible. Giving the virus its way by going biological just seems to encourage it to make you less and less stable. Perhaps I'm doing her a disservice.
Their pilot is a neo-octopus. She seems quite skilled, and we were aloft and making good time. About twelve hours into our journey their scout and gatecrasher noticed refined metal on the surface which turned out to be a derelict vehicle. A quick mesh inquiry to the airlock camp indicated that none of them had lost a vehicle, which led to the hypothesis that maybe the long-lost Gunderson expedition had lost one fairly close to base camp, less than a week by surface-travel, that had been overlooked by previous flyovers.
We opted to land at the closest stretch of flat ground. As we approached the derelict vehicle, however, we noticed a humanoid form slumped against a wheel with glowing blue filaments sprouting from it and infiltrating the surrounding countryside. Alexi and Marco, being synthmorphs, opted to approach. They rapidly determined that the filaments appeared to be some sort of fungus, and highly electrified, capable of incapacitating synthmorphs. Both of them took some damage before they were able to back off. Chloelia somewhat recklessly poked a filament with a tentacle confirming that the electric shocks hurt biomorphs too. Wherever the fungus was contacted it seemed to discharge energy like a capacitor, leaving the fungus a dull blue, but also stimulated rapid growth in the direction of the contact in keeping with a "stinger" predatory style.
After some careful analysis, it appeared that the fungus was drawing power from the dead synthmorph's power supply, and also the power supply of the vehicle. Naomi was able to leverage the body free of the fungus and onto the vehicle's roof, where Marco was able to carefully remove the cortical stack. We abandoned everything else as a lost cause.
Once in the air, Alexi and Marco booted the stack up in a field simulspace they had. She was Xinghua Ming, a member of Gunderson's expedition. Apparently, only days out of base camp, they encountered Factors and were forced to flee a conflict after having been wounded and damaged. Six hours later, Ming's body began to malfunction and she remembered nothing more. This seemed to confirm that the fungus was some sort of Factor bio-weapon. She seemed saddened that Gunderson and her other team-mates didn't return for her.
About six hours after we encountered the fungus most of us began showing symptoms as well. It appears the spores in the air caught in our lungs and synth bodies. I pumped myself full of anti-fungal and anti-biotic drugs, which seemed to fight it off. Chloelia found a lake to land in and submerged, drowning the fungus. Naomi just… concentrated hard… and coughed the fungal mass out of her sinuses. The synthmorphs were less lucky. Alexi caught her infection quickly and isolated the parts of herself infected until removal could be effected Marco shut himself off completely. Naomi had to perform significant cleaning and repair services to get the fungus out. Eventually we seemed clean once more.
We arrived at the airlock camp where we met the engineers who were converting the suborbital shuttle to something spaceworthy. They reported completion. Luna recruited one of Kitano's people to come with us in exchange for the loan of one of their laser-swords. We piled into the shuttle with Chloelia piloting and entered the airlock.
The trick, of course, was in opening it. I tried, but much like the attempt made by my primary fork, all I got was a headache. Naomi made an attempt to attune to the lock and… something dramatic happened. Her eyes began glowing red and she started spouting glossolalia, alien words beyond the capacity of our muses' ability to translate. A risky attempt by Alexi to distract the seemingly-possessed Naomi allowed Luna and Marco to strike her and break her connection to whatever was in her mind. Suddenly the airlock began to close above us and open beneath us.
When the floor opened up, a lemon yellow light poured up and we faced a gulf, a vast interior space filled with skyscraper-sized glowing yellow crystals covered in traceries of alien circuitry. Hovering below us was a small shuttle and a humanoid figure in an EVA suit waving up at us. We established communication and he identified himself as Dr. Alexi Gunderson. He claimed to have opened the airlock for us and he wanted to show us a place to land where we could speak face to face.
Everyone was suitably suspicious, but after some conversation we grudgingly followed him to a landing place in the sphere's superstructure where we had an EVA-suit to EVA-suit conversation. He said a great many things about trans-dimensional theoretical physics which were fascinating, and which I'll be storing in separate data logs for further analysis. He didn't know about the missing base-camp personnel, but didn't seem surprised. He indicated that the entire sphere was an immense machine constructed solely to artificially manipulate perceptual realities. The odd events on the surface were byproducts of the sphere's true function which, Gunderson claimed, was to artificially unify the perceptual frames of reference of every piece of the vast crystalline intelligence that lives in the sphere and has propagated throughout the galaxy.
Essentially, he claimed that every intelligent yellow crystal everywhere in the galaxy is all part and parcel of one immense intelligence. It's not a hive, or a gestalt, it's just one enormously powerful sentience and the sphere is the mechanism whereby it's many far-flung pieces can think and perceive in unison.
Gunderson proposed a method whereby we might gain the return of the missing personnel. It involved seeking the attention of this meta-intelligence and gaining its cooperation in shifting "perceptual reality" such that we once more exist in a version of events where they weren't missing. Upon learning of the Ultimates' assault on the Solar system gates, he was momentarily concerned, but posited a similar shift in reality might fix that problem. Needless to say, many of us looked askance at any course of action that would draw the attention of such an entity to the Solar system, particularly in a "change reality" kind of way.
Gunderson claimed that my primary fork and the forward expeditionary force had arrived at the ruins he called "the citadel" and he offered to bring us together. His theory was that gathering a larger number of "perceptual frameworks" in one place would create an "anomaly" in the system that would be more likely to draw the attention of the crystalline intelligences for the purposes of initiating communication. We opted to follow him to join with the other group to discuss our options.
We flew through a strange blue field where I instantaneously experienced every possible version of myself through every permutation of possible events. It was… disorienting. Aside from that, nothing seems to have changed, but I'll shut down this log for later review while I make a mental inventory.