Reflection Journal of Allegra Nourish
It is becoming clearer with every passing day that this planet will prove to be the ultimate test of our worthiness. Kitano-sama has done well to bring us here. This planet will challenge our bodies but most importantly our minds and our ability to adapt to situations far beyond our comfort zones.
As we prepared to leave the site of the enormous airlock into the interior of the planet, the copy of Kvasir we left behind at base camp informed us that, with timing coincident to the opening of that airlock, the Factor colonies near the base camp simply vanished. Not only did they vanish, but all signs of their previous habitation were erased as if they had never been there. Subsequent aerial surveillance by Amber Jin Feng revealed a colony of a similar size a couple kilometers away that hadn't been there before. She also noted subtle variations in local geographical features. Although multiple theories were posited, the one that seems to have the most traction is that the planet can somehow manipulate dimensional reality, substituting versions of itself for other versions either wholly or in part, and that this may be the explanation for the touchy gate connections and other anomalies noted by the prior expedition.
Whatever the case, it seemed a poor idea to leave the airlock-site with nearby Factors without at least attempting to ensure they don't try to predate our engineering team which was even then gathering themselves to begin the long trek. We moved into the heavily-forested area surrounding the small canyon wherein the Factor colony lived. It became rapidly clear that these Factors hunt by way of stretching themselves as thin, sticky films between branches and just beneath surface layers of dirt. Three of our number were trapped. All three were synthmorphs, which appeared to confuse the Factors somewhat. After spritzing the area with "diplomacy" scents, Ivan Kuro unzipped the scent-dampening suit to expose bare flesh, and initiated skin-to-skin contact with a Factor.
If the expression on his face was any indication, he experienced something traumatic and extraordinary. Hopefully he possesses the personal strength and fortitude to grow from this. He reported that the Factor was interfacing with his mind in some async capacity, and notwithstanding the alien thought processes, a basic communication was established. I will summarize what was learned.
The Factors believed that they had lived there for some 77 local days, and that the airlock has been whole and functional for years. This directly contradicts our own recent experiences, but plays into the theory of dimensional flux. The Factors dimly remember high technology, particularly one of their own space ships, but they (or their ancestors) were exiled here in the dim past, presumably because they were infected with an async virus. They were unaware that bipeds like ourselves were sapient, and felt shame at having consumed one, presumably a member of Dr. Gunderson's expedition. They were willing to communicate and negotiate mutual non-hostility now that they know what our general physicality appears to be to them.
Of more ephemeral, but doubtless personal interest to Ivan was insight into Factor psychology. I suspect he'll be meditating on his experience for some time to come.
After determining that the local Factor colony was unlikely to be a problem for our engineering backup team, we communicated all of this to base camp and departed. Base camp added some additional personnel to the backup team, including our exolinguist, who is excited to duplicate Ivan's first contact feat of communication.
We flew for many more days, passing over a mountain range and over a dry scrub plain. Amber found a long-decayed construct buried in the sands which should provide a very valuable source of exotic metals and radioactive isotopes for the long-term survival of our expedition. The backup team was notified of its location. Eventually we reached a stormy highland and the ruins first detected by the first expedition's satellite, and the presumed destination of Dr. Gunderson and his team a couple of years ago.
We found the remnants of Gunderson's camp, as well as a single grave for Dr. Sarah Mason, microbiologist. Our medic, Angel, was set the task of autopsy while the rest of us explored the strange edifice. It became rapidly apparent that the "ruin" was a derelict spacecraft of some sort. The entire structure appeared constructed from the same faintly iridescent alloy. Something about the structure sings to me, as it does to all of us blessed with the Barabbas strain. There were no obvious mechanisms or controls inside the craft, nor labels or writing with the exception of extensive and intricate scrawls in a human hand of complex mathematical equations. It would appear Dr. Gunderson and his team took copious notes, using the walls of the craft itself as their canvas. Some study hypothesized that they were trying to theorize how the vehicle functions, using the vehicle itself as a reference and text.
As we spent days in and around the craft, the wind and rain howling outside, our connection to base camp severed either through weather or some other accident, we started to realize that this vessel was never intended to traverse physical space, but was rather built to shift through space-time or through dimensions, or some other esoteric form of travel. We eventually discovered the egg-like control pod, or so we assumed it was because of the unusual material constituting the disc of the floor… a substance that absorbs all electromagnetic energy, appearing to be a black so pure as to evoke nothingness, yet remaining solid.
Despite a lack of power to any system, and the inert nature of everything discovered thus far, this disc of material, slightly more than a meter in diameter, called to us. Kitano-sama reached out to it with the Barabbas strain and awoke some faint response in the material. It created a faint purple penumbra around his handprint, and caused him to faint. Amber dragged him off the material with what I thought was undue haste. When I woke him he reported having experienced all of space and time and seemed suspicous that the people around him weren't the same versions of ourselves that he had known.
As we discussed these implications, Angel reported that Dr. Mason had apparently died of an aneurysm. This prompted a discussion of whether perhaps she had experienced something similar to Kitano-sama. Kitano-sama wished to bring her head with us on our continued journeys in case his developing mastery of the Barabbas strain might someday gain something useful from it. This prompted an argument. Amber had a strong negative emotional reaction to the idea. This dispute necessitated a demonstration. Kitano-sama took a sample of muscle tissue from Dr. Mason and exercised the Barabbas strain's influence. This sliver of tissue began rapidly growing, regenerating into almost a complete arm before suddenly and messily exploding in acidic slime, causing minor burns to many present. This demonstration seemed to placate some and horrify others, but Kitano-sama was ultimately able to secure cooperation in taking Dr. Mason's head with us.
At that point, he became suddenly impaled upon his muramasa, as wielded by someone who appeared in all ways to be a perfect duplicate seeking to determine which between them was the stronger.
The subsequent combat was a beautiful thing to behold. I will save a more thorough description for my next entry.