The Journal of Luis Acosta, Entry 23
By my best reckoning it's been a little more than a month earth-standard time since I led 254 refugees through the Fissure gate in advance of the Ultimates' invasion of Chat Noir. After losing about half our number traversing the first four worlds we fled through, we seem to have found one that isn't an immediate deathtrap. Of course, we're working with basic tents, weapons, or supplies, but at least we have the culinary fabber. None of the plant life here is compatible with the digestions of our biomorphs, but once broken down into component molecules and re-assembled it seems to work just fine.
Myself and a small, hand-picked team from among the refugees have taken to tentative (and tortuous) gate cycling to try to find a path back to the solar system, preferably a gate that hasn't been taken by the Ultimates. We've had pretty poor luck so far but a few days back we stumbled on a world that at first seemed unpromising due to the high radiation levels but after Sergio (one of our few synthmorphs) poked his head through he reported new settlement, oddly abandoned. A small team used some of our still-functioning exosuits to check it out. Sure enough, a whole base-camp was established around the gate bristling with instrumentation monitoring a net of micro-satellites. The whole complex didn't seem more than a few weeks old, yet there was no-one there.
That's when Sergio (ever-observant) noticed that the gate seemed to be in the very center of an enormous impact crater and that the strange glassy formations seemed to be signs of a high-heat event liquifying the earth. It seemed we'd found a forward observation post of a group unwilling to live "under the gun" of something that could cause craters like this. We weren't in as fortunate a circumstance, and I made the decision to stay in their camp until they might return to check on their equipment.
It was a wise plan. The owners of all this equipment turned out to be none-other than a small fragment of my old Gatecrashing team from Carnivale. I was most pleased and surprised to see them, particularly Elsie, whom I had assumed lost to me. I asked them how they were here, and where they got the equipment. Marco Macek volunteered that they had a new employer, but when I asked who it was, he immediately clammed up. Ah, a mystery. Elsie heightened the mystery by privately informing me that they were working for a "friendly" ASI. As a gatecrasher, I am ever mindful that the TITANs still exist, presumably somewhere on the gate network. This caused no small amount of concern, which I tried to conceal. My unease was not ameliorated by their revelation that the impact crater we stood within was apparently created during the Fall when parties unknown slammed an asteroid into a TITAN manufactory-complex surrounding this gate. This implied an active and aware alien intelligence capable of throwing asteroids around.
A review of the instrument-data revealed that there were satellites in orbit that weren't put there by Elsie and her friends. There is an alien satellite network positioned to ensure continuous coverage for the gate. There is an asteroid belt situated between this planet and the sun where, likely, the impact-object originated. Most interestingly, though, there is something large and artificial within the corona of the local sun… large enough for the dark spot to be seen from our instruments, but sadly we can make out little more from the basic networked orbital telescope we have. We'll have to refine our instruments to learn more.
This curiosity about potential alien life and the dire needs of my people convinced me that, ASI or no, Elsie and her friends have resources. Elsie may be young, and a bit headstrong, but she's generally a good read for people. I took the chance of giving them the gate code to our nascent colony.
They showed up shortly thereafter and Marco revealed that their employer was Danielle Astra, spokes-AGI for the Canaan aerostat of Venus. Suddenly certain rumors and suspicions about Canaan and Astra made sense, but those revelations didn't make me feel much better about what such an entity might really be up to. Still, they brought a bargain that "Astra" would provide real habs, new equipment and weapons, and the means to materially survive on our newfound home if, in exchange, we provided our labor in mining silicates, metals, isotopes, and other feedstock from the impact-crater world for her use. Some of these resources would then be put into constructing a launch facility and an orbital rocket capable of reaching one of the alien satellites in orbit. This should, I think, be our first step in trying to learn who wiped the TITANs off the face of this planet.
And so, work on the rocket has begun. Elsie told me a bit of their other discoveries like Rael Duvalier's hiding hole, the psychic moon spiders, and the dead Synergist expedition (fungal spore attack… terrible way to go).
Apparently some of the metals and isotopes for rocket-creation are coming from a Ceres-like ice world with a liquid water ocean that contains a fascinating biosphere. The world is geologically inert, but life has evolved due to daily doses of intense radiation. The world apparently orbits some source of long-wavelength radiation that provides the necessary energy to the system for life to exist, including chains of predators capable of using radioactive attacks on submarines.
I do so wish I could accompany them on these journeys. It's what I live for, and what I trained for. Still, my people need me, and Elsie has Alexi Oda and a solid team at her side. Perhaps once this refugee camp becomes something closer to a colony I'll be able to step aside and return to exploration.