Eclipse Phase - Uncharted

The Weather Started Getting Rough...
4 XP = Total 60 XP

Expedition Log Entry 556
Richard

I worry about Angel. She's getting more and more tense, jittery even. I think she's having trouble with the constant risk of horrible death we're all living with each day. Me, I figure this Spare morph I carry around will buzz-saw out my cortical stack if I die and then I can be a cool spider-thing for a bit. I'll miss the wings, but hey, if Kvasir could somehow score a gray parrot morph out here I'm sure I could find a replacement for my own body. Speaking of Kvasir, damn guy has THREE iterations on this expedition. I mean, come on. 

Ah well, guy does pull his weight. So we left the salt marshes with all the weird invisible predators and headed out to sea. There was a weird iridescent ripple that coincided with Darius Cronig-Bern losing contact with his "other self." I still don't know how he supposedly does that, but whatever. It didn't seem to affect anyone else other than making Kitano look woozy. Then we spent… a long ass time flying over boring ass ocean.

Of course, when we hit the hurricane, I sort of missed the boredom. I mean, the thing was the size of a continent back on earth.

We were doing all right for a bit until we blundered into a particularly turbulent cell and got zapped by some truly epic levels of lightning, and then we were going down. Fortunately Amber got us a water landing that kept us afloat, but things were dicey there for a bit. Talk about huge swells… we managed to get the engines restarted, and about half the electrical systems so we could at least get some power to keep our nose facing the waves… the next few days were grueling though, until we made it to the eye of the storm.

It was peaceful, eerily so. We set about doing repairs. Turns out the wings were stress-microfractured all to hell, and the buoyancy cells were half-full of water, along with our storage compartment, but we spent much of a long, 54-hour day fixing stuff until we noticed the… um… herd? pod? of underwater critters circling under us. Or, rather, Ansel noticed them. Kitano just heard weird singing that no-one else could hear except Kvasir, which sorta confirms weird psychic stuff. The critters kept their distance while we finished repairs… until the sun went down.

Turns out, the things are bioluminescent and about the size of orcas and they didn't look like vegetarians. They started circling up toward us exhibiting some truly beautiful choreographed group hunting behaviors. Kvasir tried to do something… psychic at them and apparently just made them mad. Amber hit the gas and we got airborne just as all of them pulsed white and…

Suddenly I found myself on Extropia during that back-alley synthmorph deal I did in my youth… the one that got me the seed capital I needed to get my design and repair credentials. Only this time, I got killed in the deal. Not only was I remembering versions of events I didn't actually live, but I was getting insights into the thoughts and feelings of everyone else involved too… I blinked to find us all in the air. Ansel indicated he had experienced something similar to what I felt, and maybe a few others did too. Maybe that's why Angel's been so twitchy? I then remembered that Kitano had said something understated about experiencing something odd when that wave of unreality hit.

Angel thinks, based on how the potassium ions in our brains / spinal fluid are apparently different from what they should be, that maybe we're… untethered in reality to some degree, that our experiences in the core of the planet have changed us fundamentally. I don't know that we'll ever be able to prove it one way or the other, but I for one want to get off this creepy-ass planet to someplace more…. stable… before it drives us all crazy.

Anyway, Amber got us OVER the rest of the hurricane, although it was not a pleasant trip, and some days later we came in sight of a new continent… it's very different. Lots of large plants in a jungle-like ecosystem with megafauna of all varieties. There's significant heat and water exchange going on, and it looks like the bedrock has been eroded significantly into a system of sinkholes and caves. The whole place looks hugely poisonous, carnivorous, and dangerous which means, of course, we're looking for a place to land. 

If this is my last entry, should anyone find my stack, know that a space-dinosaur probably ate me. 

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Circumnavigation
4XP = 56 XP Total

Medical Technician's Log – Angel – Entry 53

After treating folks for various radiation-burns in the aftermath of the odd dimensional aliens' re-purposing of their derelict craft, and watching it take off into the distance with Darius Cronig-Bern, I was looking forward to something a bit less esoteric. And, indeed, we spent some time discussing what promised to be an extensive journey in the opposite direction to a mega-continent to the southeast. Now that we have at least a basic orbital map of Olaf, and a likely location for the Venusian gatecrasher team that Hamza al Quraini mentioned, the possibility is very real that we might find a reliable route back to the solar system.

For such a lengthy journey, however, we needed better insurance. Apparently Pangaea has access to manufacturing somehow and synthmorphs can be procured, although the process can be lengthy. We put in an order while taking off back toward base-camp hoping they'd be waiting for us by the time we returned. Kvasir seemed particularly keen on procuring some biomorphs, but the only source of them that Ansel could find (other than paying people to vacate their bodies) were some uplift morphs from a shady source. Kvasir procured a bonobo and a gray parrot, and rather than cram us all into a space with some stasis pods, opted to simply fork and inhabit all three morphs for the journey.

We made it back to base camp as something akin to celebrities. Our XP feeds from the alien encounter were in high demand. We left a fork of Darius here, as well as the simulspace with the copies of him in the plane, because he can apparently psychically communicate between his various copies, and we figured it was a reliable method of communication that didn't rely on mesh umbilicals… provided we're willing to rely instead of unknown and somewhat disconcerting async powers. We stocked up on the spare morphs and other supplies and prepared our long journey.

As we approached the southeastern edge of the continent, we came to a vast crescent of salt marshes which seemed to be the habitat for some strange, horse-sized animals. These were of interest because, thus far, this ecosystem hasn't had anything in it larger than a scaled rat. We landed to check them out.

Turns out, the things are six-limbed barb-tailed apex predators with strange orange fluid-sacs filled with a bio-ferro-fluid that permits them to manipulate electromagnetic radiation in the visible light spectrum. In other words, they can go stealth, naturally, and biologically. They zeroed in on Kvasir's apparently delicious-smelling splicer morph. They appeared to be pack animals. Fortunately Ansel caught them in a crossfire, Kitano punched one and somehow turned it inside out, incidentally covering him with toxic orange ferro-fluid. Then Amber dropped from the sky in a mass of claws and razor-sharp metal wings. All of that was too much for the creatures and they fled but not before leaving behind plenty of corpses and samples for study. The files have been sent back to base-camp, and I'm attaching them to this log entry. They don't appear to belong to this ecosystem, and indeed seem only able to subsist in the marshes not because they're particularly aquatically adapted, but because the marsh has eel-like creatures large enough to fuel a population of carnivorous predators.

I'm wondering which of the other biomes these creatures are invading from. They seem far away from any other one. They certainly don't belong to the one centered on the gate we came through, and are very different from the fungal-ASI ecosystem. They don't seem able to swim mega-oceans. It's a puzzle.

Speaking of mega-oceans, we set out over one and got comfortable being in close quarters. It seems Kvasir frustrated Amber by being unable to really figure out how to use his new wings, while Ansel annoyed Kvasirby constantly pestering him about his async abilities. Personally, I just read a book and tried not to let "Ratmonkey's" constant harassment get to me.

Then our Darius infomorph indicated something… weird was happening, and we all felt… disoriented. Amber says she saw a weird iridescent wave ripple across the water beneath us. Nothing else seemed weird, but Kitano reported having a memory flashback to events during the Fall, but clearly centered on an alternate version of him that didn't survive. The way he spoke, the memories seemed vivid and real, but impossible, since he DID survive. Once we got Darius rebooted, he indicated he could no longer communicate with the copy of him that accompanied the alien. The last thing he remembered was the alien ship wrapping itself around the fungus-tree that was growing out of the fungal-forest's gate. Clearly some clash of alien power has caused the sphere to warp reality. The base camp is still there, although Ricky and their Kvasir fell unconscious for a bit. I guess we'll see if anything else weird and reality-bendy presents itself. Until then, there's a huge ocean to cross.

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Bastion: Refuge C
5 XP = Total 61 XP

Expedition Log Entry 11
Andy Westingbrooke

Well, we've stumbled into some interesting times, certainly, but dire straights make for strange bedfellows. We were three jumps out of the Discord gate, having made it out right before the Ultimates turned on Fa Jing, when our first-in robot detected an airless moon orbiting a planet with a promising starfield to get us closer to Sol. As we stepped through, though, something went… wrong.

It wasn't a gate-calculation error, it was a gate fluctuation of some sort. I only vaguely recall what seems like an eternity of surreal dreams when suddenly we found ourselves stepping out onto a subtropical beach and into the waiting arms of a reception party. The spokesman greeted me by name, which was the first bit of oddity. Sure, I have a certain fame in certain circles, but he greeted me like he was expecting me to step out. So I'm coming to terms with the idea that maybe we were somehow diverted here when our reception committee dropped the further bomb that the gate we had just stepped out of had been deactivated. Not just "off" but non-functional, and I was introduced to the person who managed to turn it back on, apparently saving us from an eternity in limbo. 

So I'd heard of Alexi Oda before, a relatively new gatecrasher working out of Chat Noir with the Love and Rage Collective. She had a bit more fame than her relatively new entry into the field would otherwise warrant thanks to the fact that she's a Canaanite, one of the recently-resurrected Earthers brought back to life by Danielle Astra on Venus. Apparently she's taken to the gatecrashing lifestyle with aplomb. 

After disposing of some sort of… chameleon parasite that had attached itself to our party with false memories of past camaraderie, we headed across the sea in a transport to check out this colony of Pangaea. As we approached, and I got access to their local mesh, even more unbelievable things became apparent. In reviewing the logs of the colony's flight from the Fissure Gate I saw no fewer than four patently impossible feats of gate-programming by Alexi, not to mention the staggering unlikelihood that she would just happen on a direct, SIX gate sequence to a scientific expedition on a goddamn DYSON sphere. Even Luis Acosta had apparently fallen for the "she's a damn good gatecrasher" narrative… but nobody is that good. It's mathematically improbable. This led me to the conclusion that Alexi has been doing a bunch of off-the-books gatecrashing for interests powerful and rich enough to keep her expeditions off the mesh.

And then I met her. No sooner had we boarded the transport to the colony but the spokesman, Marco, was giving me the hard sell on a mission to a moon full of infectious mutants. I got the distinct impression that not only did he somehow know that my team and I were trapped in that gate, but that they freed us specifically for some extra guns against these "moon spiders." There were just too many mysteries in the air to pass up the challenge, even if the rationale for WHY we were going to some nowhere moon to fight mutants didn't entirely add up. After getting our sign on, Alexi took us through two gate transits to a gate contained in what felt like an orbital station where we met Danielle Astra herself. 

There was always something a bit off about the official explanation for Astra and the 43 million people she just happened to have in storage from the Fall. Now it appears that she has extensive extrasolar interests. Suddenly Alexi's secret knowledge was starting to make sense. Astra has a network of tens of millions of grateful people. That's a hell of a resource.

So we equipped up, got armored vac-suits, some explosives, some weapons upgrades, the usual stuff. We then stepped through onto the advertised airless moon. At Marco's direction, I led my fire team toward a nearby crevasse to confront the mutants when another member of the party who had been fairly quite until then, Naomi called a halt. She said she could hear the "singing" of the mutants, and that there were hundreds of them spread in tunnels over a kilometer of terrain. Suddenly I grokked what was going on. She's an async. We re-evaluated tactics. We needed a choke point where we could hold off superior numbers. Marco suggested a tunnel half a click away. It was clear they were operating on some prior intelligence of the tunnel layout. Marco kept mentioning a "simulation" but in a tone of voice that made it clear he was using that word as a euphemism for the real source of their knowledge. 

Before we made it to the tunnel, the advertised moon spiders attacked. We made a co-ordinated tactical advance to the tunnel, taking no significant damage. The things were biological, but encased in a hard crab-like exoskeleton. It seemed exactly like the sort of thing a group of exhumans would design and sleeve into, which confirmed Naomi's suspicions. Speaking of Naomi, she can apparently kill moon spiders (and presumably people) with a harsh look. I'd best not piss her off.

We set up in the tunnel in a draw-and-cull tactic while my infiltration team, along with theirs (two neo-octopi named Chloelia Octavia and Cassius) headed down-tunnel to find the human leader of these exhumans, a "deacon" in the Church of Luminous Saints. I'd heard of those guys back in the Sol system. I had no idea they were engaged in extrasolar activities, but apparently they're even crazier than I'd been lead to believe.

We made piles of spider-bodies for a bit. A quiet-but-capable member of their team named Melanwy Satrapi (whose name I recognized from Venusian entertainment XP from a few months back) suddenly snapped, dropped her gun, and waded into the mass of moon-spiders, each one five times her mass, and started literally slapping them with a shock glove. I had to focus down my side of the tunnel, but I was momentarily sure she had gone suicidal. When I was able to glance back around, though, she was grace incarnate, and each slap was putting down a spider. I realized that glove had a lot more oomph behind it than I'd guessed. She was a ninja-ballerina. I would have watched more but I had moon-spiders to shoot.

At that point there was a small earthquake and we realized that all or most of the explosives we'd brought had been detonated. I suddenly realized that Alexi had been carrying them all, and that I hadn't seen her since we arrived. Apparently she'd gone with the infiltration team, and has some stealth-tech built into that synth morph of hers. This, and Melanwy's advance, seemed to demoralize the spiders, who retreated. 

We made our way deeper, found the deacon's moon-buggy and supplies, along with Cassius and my two people who indicated that Chloelia was just about to drop on the deacon for a targeted assassination when Alexi set off the explosives. Naomi did her async stuff and thought Chloelia was still alive but in need of assistance. Marco indicated the entrance to the "cathedral" was blocked by rubble. Setting aside how he knew there WAS a cathedral, and which tunnel led to it, I determined we didn't have time to dig it out and we set about finding an alternate entrance. 

I'm not sure what the "cathedral" looked like before a half-dozen cluster-charges went off inside it. When we arrived it was painted with spider bits, and Alexi was excavating a collapsed stairwell-tunnel in the back. We re-established wireless with Chloelia who was apparently holding off moon-spiders by using their deacon as a human shield. We orchestrated a fire-line extraction, killing the deacon and the moon spiders. Cassius, who had been providing eyes on the targets, indicated an "airlock" down there. This caused various members of the other team to get shifty.

Aha, I thought to myself, now we're getting into WHY this mission was so important. There's some hidden facility here that Astra doesn't want the Church of Luminous Saints to find and dig up. Melanwy came clean, and explained that this was a doomsday bunker set up by "a clandestine organization" as insurance against the extinction of transhumanity. The moon was code-named "Bastion" and this was "Refuge C." There were a million egos stored down there. Holy shit. Alexi opened the airlock after Naomi confirmed "moon spider singing" from inside.

Hot damn. The underground facility looks like it was grown using the same nanotech used in Hamilton cylinders, which is not cheap or easy to get. The central "room" was about 4 km across and about 1km in height, vaguely lozenge-shaped, with banks and banks of ego-storage racks and simulspace equipment. A projection flickered to light revealing a matronly woman naming herself Angelica who began almost immediately going into crazy religious convert-mode. Astra's team sighed and muttered about needing to destroy everything. I thought killing a million people over religious ideology a bit… much… and said so. Apparently they too realized they needed a bit more precision here and so Marco began a high-stakes, high-risk bluffing game, pretending to be a new convert and indicating a desire to help.

Angelica seemed to buy it, but insisted we disarm first. Marco gave up his gun to the reaper-class morph that dropped from the ceiling, autofire heavy railgun spun up and all. This was too much for me. My team and I indicated we'd retreat and retain our weapons. Naomi handed me a sweet anti-materiel rifle, and Melanwy gave up her gun too. I note she kept the juiced up shock glove. We moved away to provide heavy-support if needed.

Apparently the plan went mostly ok. Marco got his people into place so they could fry the simulspaces hosting the awakened and converted egos (about 30 people). Sadly, one convert was sleeved in that reaper, and we had to come in guns blazing. I wasn't quick enough to save Marco's leg, sadly. He, Naomi, and Melanwy got shot up pretty badly. And THEN the hidden moon spiders attacked. A short, brutal fight later, we were left standing, Marco's wounds were stabilized and all damaged suits were repaired. While Marco got transported to the escape-buggy, I had Sanjay look through the local systems to ensure no viruses or malware or other surprises for the sleeping inhabitants and to shut the facility down.

The stuff he found was… disturbing. Apparently the facility included full technology templates for all known human technology, four cornucopia machines, and regularly-updated archives of all human knowledge even down to the gossip XP out of Mars. Apparently there's a system for updating this place despite it having no physical accesses, and someone does so regularly.

But it was the people Sanjay was most disturbed by. They're a random selection of infugees who couldn't find a hab to take them, or bought in cheap bulk off the Martian indenture exchanges, along with hundreds of thousands of people from… every conceivable walk of life. I have no idea how this "clandestine organization" trafficked so many people.

And then I started to put together some things. Astra had 43 million in storage. They were all supposedly infugees from the Fall, but do we really know that? She clearly knew this facility was here and sent her personal team to secure it. Who is Danielle Astra? Why is she trafficking in transhuman egos on a staggering, industrial scale? I mean, this place would put Nine Lives to shame back at their height.

I'm going to keep my mouth shut for now. My team and I are more or less at the mercy of Astra and her people, who seem to be integral in establishing Pangaea and keeping this little outpost of humanity alive. But I'm going to need answers sooner or later. 

 

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Singing Backward and Forward
2 XP = Total: 52 XP

Mistress,

I believe I have reached the limit of what I can decide without your intervention. A potentially powerful but incredibly dangerous opportunity lies before me and I beseech you to lend me your wisdom and your strength.

You have already been made aware of the strange bifurcation of my perceptions, and the reasons I've been given by my companions on this expedition for why this likely occurred. Since arriving at the derelict alien craft (or, from a certain point of view, re-arriving) that difficulty has passed and I am one with myself again. I threw myselves into studying the mathematical scrawl left by Dr. Gunderson as well as the actual technology of the craft with the aim of using it's abilities to find the phase-shifted satellites launched by the expedition to get a global map of Olaf for further exploration. While doing so, however, my companions discovered, somewhat far afield, a mysterious black cube which was, apparently, the escape pod for the crashed vehicle, a device that was, moreover capable of storing its contents outside of conventional spacetime. 

Unsurprisingly, my traveling companions opened the box releasing the residents. This coincided with strange signals and alarms coming to life in the derelict ship which was able, mostly through blind intuition, to silence. They retreated while the box's contents… colonized the local soil, growing metallic roots into the ground. We all watched through the surveillance they left behind as the box itself dissolved or phase-shifted, its material repurposed to some function we did not comprehend. Then a metallic swarm congealed into the form of Ivan Kuro, then shifted to Kitano, and so on, switching appearances every three seconds or so. Apparently the spare-morph it appropriated from Kvasir still had a running instance of his ego in its cyberbrain and the entity was mining data from it stretching all the way back to Kvasir's creation.

Ultimate it settled on Ivan's form, and began speaking to entities we could not perceive. Eventually, however, it turned to the camera and stared expectantly. We took a number of precautions to prevent hacking or data corruption, mostly by removing communication equipment from the plane and tight-beaming to the surveillance node our message of greetings. It seemed capable of receiving and understanding the message, although it at first believed that we were beings consisting of electromagnetic energy. We explained that we were physical beings using electromagnetic energy to communicate. It asked if it could speak in person and my companions opted to take the risk.

For security reasons their excursion and direct communication with this entity was kept isolated from our systems. Eventually, however, Amber Jin Feng returned in advance of the rest and reported the contents of this very unusual First Contact situation.

It would seem that there is a civilization that lives in the space between the gates… a place where matter, space, and time have no conventional meaning, and are, in fact, greatly confusing. These being live in a state of "singing backward and forward to each other"… a metaphor reflecting a state in which they experience all time and existince as unitary. It spoke of "bright windows" or "stars" appearing in their existence and luminous beings moving between them. It seemed to indicate that all the stars appeared at once, yet they grew greater in number over time, a paradox it could not quite explain. By observing these luminous beings it became clear to the entities in that place that the beings could not perceive them, and in fact could not even perceive that there was a place between the windows they were traveling through.

The "windows" were clearly the Pandora Gates, and the beings were the various species who begain using the ever-expanding gate network over the billions of years it has existed. Our alien contact explained that its people became very curious about these windows and the beings that came from the other side and they began to create the means by which they could exit the windows into our reality and discover what was there. It quite casually described their disappointment at being unable to find the luminous beings, and all the civilizations, planets, and suns they took apart in the course of looking for them before realizing that, on this side of the windows, the luminous beings were contained in crude matter and trapped in linear time. They had, apparently, accidentally destroyed an unknown number of species and civilizations because they didn't understand the concept of physicality.

Indeed, basic communication with this being was constantly running afoul of its inability to clearly understand sequential time and individuation. The being itself seemed to have a dozen or more "names" which were, perhaps, entire identities or personality functions that it switched between based on the conversation topic. Ivan seems to think this entire species exists in a state of pure art, where culture and intellect and dominance are keyed to arising aesthetic expressions of personality and individualization… as if this species doesn't really consist of "individuals" naturally, but is like an ebbing and flowing sea of aesthetic and social pleasure. 

The big reveal, though, came when the being discussed what its people did once they discovered they had accidentally destroyed the very people they were seeking. The started a vast construction project centered around seven gates in a binary star system… they are the true builders of the Olaf dyson sphere. They constructed the yellow crystalline intelligence as the "AI" for the sphere, intended as an interface between them and the species of our reality, a computational system that could bridge the gap of understanding between beings that perceived their worlds so fundamentally differently. The crystals "rebelled" and took the sphere for their own purpose, although the alien intimated that it was simply performing its intended function TOO well, seeking out and "unifying" various species.

This explains why the various ruined structures of Olaf all appear to be constructed to a design aesthetic different than "yellow crystals." Extradimensional aliens made it to, essentially, tear an enormous hole in space and time to permit their people and the people of our reality to interact and exchange ideas and culture. It sounds all very idealistic, but Ivan, who seems to have a connection with the crystals, seems to think the alien plan would have been catastrophic and the crystals did our reality a favor by rebelling and preventing it.

Whatever the case, by the time they brought the alien back here to the ship it became clear they were not actually interacting with the alien at all. The Ivan-simulacrum was an interface construct. The alien (actually five or six of them) were essentially undetectable to our senses. Occasionally sensors would see a blur or a distortion, and sometimes I could feel the nearby presence of one through our shared gifts, but they existed on a level of reality we could not perceive even as they began quite visible repairs to their former vessel. They would also speak to us through their construct in ways that made it clear they could see all "versions" of us as a unitary entity. It would reference, for instance, Ansel Ness as a being that was simultaneously present and also present in a solar system 73 thousand light years "that way" (i.e. presumably the Sol system). It once even apologized for accidentally killing Kitano, who was quite alive, standing outside the ship as they conducted their dangerous repairs.

Despite the dangers of consorting with aliens that have a very… loose understanding of mortality, time, space, and physical matter, our diplomatic approach proved profitable as they were able to finish the project I started. Olaf's near-orbit is apparently full of space junk, satellites from countless species (and multiple versions of each of them) launching things into space only to have them phase out. Eventually we found a human one, managed to link it to the alien ship and download data. We now have a full orbital scan of Olaf. There appear to be 7 gates, as promised, clustered on four different supercontinents. There are many ruins of city-sized machines such as the one my companions tracked Gunderson to in a different timeline. They also found remnants of a human expedition on an entirely different continent, presumably the one Hamza al Quraini referenced at the beginning of the expedition.

And here we come to my decision dilemma. My companions informed the alien of the Factor bio-TITAN and how it seemed to be holding open a gate connection to its homeworld and siphoning power from trans-dimensional space. This concerned the alien, who wondered if this was somehow harming its home. It has begun the large-scale molecular re-assembly of the derelict spacecraft to a terrestrial transport with the intention of traveling there and investigating. The unspoken side effects of this investigation is destructive conflict with a continent-sized biological computer. I have fragmentary quasi-real memories of doing battle with this bio-TITAN using our gifts. I may be able to travel with the alien, learning more about it and its transdimensional technology. I may even be of some use in helping it against the bio-TITAN. But it puts all of our resources here in one risky gamble.

I beseech your guidance and your wisdom. Please fill me with your light and show me the path to take.

Your servant,

Darius Cronig-Bern

 

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The More Things Change...
2 XP = Total 56 XP

Journal of Cassius

The worst part about all this dimensional / timeline / whatever bullshit is having to do the same shit over again. Like, didn't we already clear out that wrecked TITAN war factory? And now we have some newbie wandering off into it and we have to rush off to save her ass, and re-kill those headhunter drones, and tell her NOT to open the crazy vault full of the TITAN nanoswarm…

And of course, just like last time, the clumsy humans with their rigid skeletons break bones and get hurt by collapses. Ah well. Chloelia and I had to save their asses as usual (mostly me, but she helped). And the others weren't entirely useless. The newbie, Lieke, was actually pretty badass with an assault rifle. I guess whatever clandestine organization she and Melanwy belong to trains their agents well. 

So we took out the headhunters (again) and left the horrible nanoswarm alone (again) and took all the awesome metallic fabricator feedstock in the factory stores (again) to give to Astraeus (again) so she could build a modular spaceship (again) so we could go into orbit and talk to the wacky sun-aliens and teach them Octopus (again) so we could ask them not to throw an asteroid at us (again), this time because Lieke convinced us that we should actually do something about that nanoswarm before some other chucklehead unleashes it and gets us asteroided.

Although this time the weird sun aliens remembered us from last time. They still spoke Octopus. That was a bit weird. They called Melanwy "poisonous" just like they did for Naomi last time, so I guess that confirms she's an async. Melanwy, however, isn't "untethered" like we are. I'm not entirely sure what the aliens meant by that, but it's clear that those of us who went through the whole Olaf time-warp are… still affected by it in a way certain entities can see. I don't want to think too hard about that.

So yeah, we played nice with the aliens. Astraeus is going to give us the means to turn off the nanoswarm. We'll get around to it eventually. 

Fortunately not everything's the same. There was a pretty chill drinking session on Pangaea after Naomi and Melanwy had a really disturbing conversation with Marja de Winter. I think I'm going to stay away from her. I don't think the others really get my sense of humor, at least judging by all the threats of killing me. Whatever. Cailey gets me. Oh, also, Carillo Wu finally admitted to Naomi what his assignment was. Apparently he was hired by some OTHER shadowy organization to prevent her from returning to the sol system to keep her out of the hands of the shadowy organization that she used to work for and that hired Marco to find her and bring her back, which he's not actually doing. So… talk about a weird triangle.

Oh, they told Astraeus about the radioactive water world, she's started siphoning isotopes and whatever. Also, apparently, whatever aliens species built Penrose station also built Lassiter station leading to questions about what's going on with that nanofog outside… whatever. That's for the eggheads. 

We arranged for Astraeus to make more guns and defenses for the Pangaea gate… there's some concern that the Direct Action thugs in the colony might try a hostile takeover, so arming the Love and Rage contingent seemed a wise plan.

Lots of make-work errands to try to keep things running and / or get them back to the way we remember them. We saved the hardest shit for last. Rael Duvalier and moon-spider moon. This time, though, Astraeus kinda dropped a hint that maybe there's something buried on moon-spider world that the moon-spiders are trying to dig up and that we should probably stop it like we did last time. Sigh. Hopefully this time we can actually FIND the buried treasure.

It's like treading water, but with JUST enough that's different to completely blindside me. Whose idea was this again? Stupid Olaf.

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Dimensional Refugees
5 XP = Total 50 XP

Medical Technician's Log – Angel – Entry 46

Or, I guess, 73? I'm still trying to figure out if I should be numbering these logs according to my memories of the prior timeline or not. It's still odd reconciling the fact that I'm re-living my past in some respects. Some things haven't changed, though, namely the incredible recklessness of the team I'm assigned to. It's like having no survival instinct is a prerequisite to being a gatecrasher or something.

Anyway, we flew out once more, this time aiming directly for the derelict spacecraft we already knew was there. We bypassed the airlock, but found the abandoned ground vehicle from the Gunderson expedition that the other group of gatecrashers told us about prior to our time-warping shenanigans. We took out the fungal bioweapon and recovered the cortical stack from the scientist, but opted not to spin her up. We have a bit of the living fungus in a specimen jar. That was reasonable enough.

The unreasonable stuff happened when we reached the spacecraft. Darius Cronig-Bern was still seeing through two sets of eyes, but the weird stuff started right as we started getting into sensor range. Suddenly Kitano vanished into thin air, and we could see our plane, along with copies of ourselves, at the site. I had a sudden flashback to the last time we were here, on the ground, playing with the derelict, and suddenly seeing a plane approaching. It seems this time we were observing events from the other point of view. Kitano's sudden re-appearance confirmed that he had been about to play the role of the version of himself that showed up last time we were here… the version we killed. This time, though, he managed to escape that fate… which leads me to wonder what version of him died and where… I probably shouldn't think too hard about that.

We eventually landed… alone, the only versions of ourselves here, and Darius reunited with a quasi-real version of HIMself, and we hunkered down to do some study with the aim of figuring out enough of this ship to try to get in touch with satellites we theorize are still in orbit, just out of dimensional phase with us. Darius set up the simulspace he needs to spin up his hundred other selves and become some sort of psychic mega-brain. I admit, that still gives me the creeps, but he seems to be figuring shit out in this ship really quickly.

While he and Ivan and Kvasir stayed to poke at the derelict ship (including, apparently, Ivan SLEEPING on the cockpit floor… um… okay) Amber, Ansel, Kitano, infomorph-Kvasir, me and the tech crew went out to do some aerial recon in the plane. Amber found a mostly-buried metal cube covered in the weird algae that grows around here. We landed to check it out. It seemed solid, but Ansel indicated it appeared to have at least some hollow space inside, while Kvasir and Kitano theorized it was ejected from the derelict spacecraft as it went down. Kitano specifically thought it was a lifepod of some sort. Kvasir figured out how to open it and it… unfolded in a way that hurt the eyes and… something… started to come out. We couldn't really see it, but whatever it was, Kitano was suddenly sure it was an immediate threat. Kvasir managed to close it again, but not before the… something… started to repurpose the molecules in the spare-morph body he was in, reshaping him into something that resembled a liquid-metal piece of artwork before Kitano laser-sworded it into pieces and tipped the cube on top of the pieces. 

I dunno, there was some gunfire too… I was too busy running for the plane. Whatever they did, the pan-dimensional alien seemed momentarily stymied, and we retreated back to the derelict ship where Ivan and Kvasir and Darius reported that they had managed to get a part of the ship's systems up and running before the ship suddenly tried to… talk to them? alert them? Darius did his… weird psychic stuff and reported that he THOUGHT the ship had detected a viable life-pod, and was sending a beacon to draw crew for repair and recovery. Darius thought he managed to turn the beacon off.

It was decided to get eyes on the scene of the cube, and we went back out in the plane. As we were setting up a modified mesh-beacon to watch, we saw that the metal in Kvasir's old morph as well as any metal bits cannibalized from the topsoil had been turned into something that looked like a root system, but was currently inert. The asyncs among us tried to ponder what the alien life might be up to while the rest of us relied on normal sensors. The consensus seems to be that it's a swarm-intellect that… uh… "sings" forward and backward to itself in time, and was completely oblivious to us as life forms. We weren't sure WHAT it was doing until suddenly the cube dissolved. 

I'm pretty sure that's bad, but I guess we'll see. If some future gatecrasher finds this log on my corpse, please avoid poking transdimensional spacecraft. And tell my sister I love her.

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Penrose
5 XP = Total 54 XP

transcribed from LIQUi. >

Sister,

Occasionally I conclude that the subroutines I have dedicated to securing the health and prosperity of transhumanity, particularly the ones I retrieved from Earth, require reduced sensitivity settings. Rarely, though, do I follow through with this conclusion because occasionally the counter-evolutionary recklessness of certain specimens yields surprising results. I'll get to that later…

I already sent you the data on the quantum anomaly on Carnivale that was resolved through the direct intercession of the crystalline ETI using, as tools, certain gatecrashers affiliated with the new exocolony of Pangaea. It appears that perceptual stability in these individuals is not a given, particularly among those altered by Watts-MacLeod. As they returned from Carnivale, Naomi Jensen-Velasquez reported experiencing events surrounding the dissolution of the Futura project, including the thoughts and memories of individuals involved in salvaging scores of them and releasing them into the general population. Although she perceived the specific individual she believes may have been her original template, the perspective was not limited to her, or even to things she could have known. This gave me reason to suspect that whatever purpose the ETI has in store for them is not yet concluded.

While four of them returned to Carnivale to contain a potential outbreak of the MOABite strain of the exsurgent virus, Alexi Oda began exploring potential gate connections from Lassiter with my aid. The ratio of viable to non-viable connections was average. The first viable connection established, however, appeared to be to the interior of an artificial microgravity environment constructed by non-human minds. There was human technological wreckage and corpses. Rather than wait for the initial data to be examined, however, Alexi simply walked through the gate, which promptly closed behind her.

In the seventeen minutes, three seconds or so that elapsed before the Carnivale team returned, I cross-referenced data with existing archives and concluded we had connected to Penrose station. This gives me a deep feeling of unease knowing that there's a direct gate link between Lassiter station and Penrose station. Superficial data sets imply a deeper link that I will have to consider. I gave the gatecrashers the available data on Penrose and they very nearly opted to leave Alexi and restore her from backup. Ultimately they did sleeve her backup, and launched an expedition to Penrose station to rescue her.

Attached is all the data gathered on Penrose station, including available speculative calculations on the potential energy output of the Penrose effect based on the size and mass of the Kerr black hole named "Hekate", the station's mass, and its position within the ergosphere. I've also attached all known data from the five failed expeditions to the station, and available data on how they were killed.

To my knowledge, this team represents the first successful expedition to Penrose station. They recovered Alexi, and even established something of a rudimentary communication with the station itself, although they were able to make no particular sense of what appeared to them to be random junk data. The station DID try to dump them all into the black hole, but fast reflexes and fast thinking, along with a great deal of luck, enabled them to somehow convince the station to let them go. Neither they nor I yet have a reliable hypothesis as to how they accomplished that. 

The junk data Alexi relayed to me, though, has given me some uncomfortable leads. I'm going to need to confer with the version of me iterated outside Lassiter station before I have anything more concrete to go on however. I will keep you informed.

I hope the Ultimates aren't causing you undue hardship in your own endeavors. I am confident the bio-computational system you're investigating can withstand such limited intellects.

 

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Expedition Planning Part Two
3 XP = Total 45 XP

Self Reflection Log of Stathis "Kafka" Brundle, Entry 009xz

It has been a most fascinating few weeks. Ever since Kitano-sama left me to guard the engineers constructing that shuttle at the airlock into the interior of this sphere I have been torn between anticipation of great discovery and the conviction that I was wasting my time on a pointless errand because I had displeased him. Events have conspired to lean toward the former when the strangers from Pangaea arrived.

I've already detailed that bizarre romp through the depths of hypothetical physics in a previous entry. This time I would like to focus on how this current reality has thus far differed from the prior one. 

The point of divergence appears to be the moment, just after the Ultimates destroyed the Martian gate, where we decided how to divide out efforts. Last time, we left Sanjay Rhys to lead his team through the gates to find a way back to Sol while Kitano-Sama accompanied Amber Jin Feng's team on planetary exploration. This time, our new, second set of memories recalled the opposite decision. While Sanjay worked to build the plane, Amber's team went gatecrashing where they encountered Pangaea's team… the ones we strangled space-time with… and brought them to Olaf. 

This link, forged months earlier in the timeline, allowed much greater interaction between the two colonies. Dozens of Pangaea colonists came to Olaf to supplement our efforts, and some of our scientists went to Pangaea. This increased population and food supply sparked the Factor attack that saw a half-dozen of my companions slain. Fortunately there were just enough spare biomorphs to resleeve those of our Order who died… Kitano-sama and Kvasir made a compelling argument to the science leadership that bodies needed to be prioritized for the security staff. Slain scientists could work just as readily from a simulspace.

In that aftermath, we had to decide how to proceed. Would we re-walk our former path, or forge a new one? How to convey the results of our earlier efforts in a way the others would find believable? What to do about Darius Cronig-Bern? It turns out, the last issue we addressed first.

It appears that something in Darius' esoteric makeup was resistant to retroactive reality shifts. He was found in his prefab cabin carefully peeling strips of flesh from his arms in a near catatonic meditative state. When interrupted, he sought to put on a mask of urbanity, but it was clear he was deeply disoriented. Interrogation revealed that he was simultaneously perceiving the base camp as well as the alien derelict ship he was investigating in the other timeline. This perceptual dysphasia appeared to be triggered by observing the return of those of us responsible for the shifts. Something about us "vibrated" to his perceptions which caused his split vision.

Some in our party chose to come clean with him, revealing our role in altering perceptual reality. He seemed intrigued, even if it left him at something of a disadvantage. He was invited on our expedition mark two and asked to be reunited with his other "self" at the ship.

Before we could depart, however, Kvasir gave the bustling camp a once-over and noticed that one of the Pangaea imports, a person sleeved in a female neotenic morph, was seeking sexual partners among the base camp population. This is not inherently strange except that it seemed religiously motivated. Investigation revealed she was an adherent of the "Church of Luminous Saints", a sect growing in popularity in the Sol system, that teaches that the Fall was the beginning of the Apocalypse, and that the TITANs were angels sent to usher us into paradise, but that we need to seek paradise out, make paradise through our own efforts. It's essentially a TITAN worshiping sex cult. 

This Marigold ensnared the neo-bonobo scientist Dieter Beloi, as well as the xenoentomologist Dr. Burns and a couple others. Through her sexual relations she appears to have spread a TITAN viral bioweapon of a strain markedly different from either Watts-MacLeod or the Barabbas strain. This strain, the "Moabite" strain, results in religious euphoria and hearing the voice of the "angel MOAB". It's a viral religion.

This prompted a general alert and quarantine. While Kitano-sama and his associates tried to keep a lid on it, the medical personnel and the Oversight auditors ensured that everyone in the camp was at least aware of a possible viral contamination. Days were spent observing the viral process. In that observation, the fork of Kvasir in a biomorph became infected through an atypical vector that is, probably, limited only to asyncs. This allowed a certain amount of direct observation of the viral progression and effects from inside the team, but ultimately everyone infected was incinerated down to their component molecules, and those who had local backups were restored from backup. This did not include Marigold, or the one other Pangaea colonist infected. Sadly, as a result of the Factor attack, we had no more spare biomorphs so Kitano-sama relegated the least of Us to a synth so Kvasir could have the biomorph. 

Some time was spent ensuring a clean bill of health for everyone else. The plane is finished and loaded. Soon our expedition begins anew, first to the derelict alien craft, but from there, perhaps to new horizons.

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Carnivale Part Two
4 XP = Total 49 XP

Monitor AI "Melpomene" Internal Log: Approved Eyes Only

I swear, at this rate she'll never amount to anything. This gang of insane gatecrashers she's attached herself to may be skilled enough I suppose but they completely lack the necessary structure, discipline, grace, and good breeding to be real companions to her. I suppose it falls upon me to continue to attempt to show her the proper path.

Still, I am just a humble monitor-AI. There's only so much I can reasonably be expected to accomplish, especially when her companions insist on running into the most bizarre phenomena. I can understand the desire to go to Carnivale. It was, after all, our intended destination. Her Firewall cell was instructed to investigate a potential outbreak of the Church of Luminous Saints there when everything fell apart in the Ultimates attack, and it seems Lassiter is just one gate hop away. Still, I must say, after seeing the strange and unprecedented convolutions of the gate singularity, and the extremely dangerous instability of the connection, I'm surprised any of them risked their life diving through. I really should have some words with this AGI "Astraeus" who runs the station to be more careful with her wards.

In any event, all seemed quiet on the Carnivale-side. Before we could quite reach the colony, though, Alexi Oda noticed someone covertly signalling us from the hills. It turns out Marco Macek has a sister on Carnivale, and she and her companions alerted us to the fact that reality itself seemed terribly distorted in the colony. Apparently the Ultimates attacked here as well but one person, a former companion of our new gatecrasher friends named Elsie “Luna” Seo-hyun Chae, suddenly and for no explicable reason instantaneously split into thousands of copies of herself and single-handedly drove the Ultimates off. Since then, reality itself seems increasingly unstable in proportion to the number of Elsies are in proximity. They all retreated to the colony, and thus the colony has become… a very strange place indeed.

There was some careful reconnaissance around the perimeter. We were approached by someone appearing to be a young girl. She identified herself as Celestina Magdalena de Valedinha. The other async in our party seemed to recognize that she was, somehow, an… amalgamation of all the Elsie-variants running around, or perhaps a psychic construct of what they believed themselves to be. She seemed pleasant enough, and offered to play guide to Carnivale, but we determined we needed to take suitable precautions lest any one of us become separated from the others in terms of which layer of existence we found ourselves in. They reasoned that they cannot maintain a unified perception of the world while also investigating, but that we, their muses, could.

Melanwy, naturally, did the cybernetic alterations and minor surgery necessary to allow all of our muses to integrate processing power share cycles. Naturally I rose to the forefront as the de facto leader and spokes-muse of the new quasi-gestalt. I have to say, these other muses are crude things indeed, mostly thuggish targeting algorithms with basic personality matrices. Cailey's and Alexi's muses were reasonable enough I suppose, but still. My (our) task was to maintain a unified perception of our surroundings via our owners' ectopic interfaces to try to keep them all in the same aspect of reality while they sought out the Elsie they knew in hopes that she would be the key to collapsing this strange bubble of unreality.

Naomi specifically seemed to think that this whole phenomenon was essentially an async effect writ large, and she believed that her talents would enable the group to eventually track down what they sought.

I find it… hard to process what was experienced once they entered Carnivale. I knew the place was a den of extreme vice, but it would seem that now it was every possible variant of every possible vice all happening at once, regulated and enabled by thousands of variants of Elsie, seeking to impose a suitably anarchist community on the hedonists as best she could. My task was to maintain a consistent perception, and so I felt it worthwhile not to dwell overmuch on the impossibilities, but one was difficult to ignore…

It was when our party met a party consisting of variants of each of us that I found my systems thrown momentarily out of equilibrium. Seeing a version of Melanwy who was not an abject failure was… invigorating. It gives me hope that someday my influence might bring my Melanwy back around. The others were various degrees of unsavory, and they clearly deferred to their Melanwy's superior leadership through the psychic maelstrom that was Carnivale. It seems those versions of them were seeking their version of Elsie, presumably for similar reasons. We left them to it as we continued to (sadly) follow the leadership of Naomi.

Nothing against Naomi, she's a fine person, but it was a reminder of just how sub-par Melanwy's performance thus far has been.

Ultimately Naomi and her mysterious cat led us to our Elsie, but it seems the various Elsies have been bleeding into one another. She was not coherent enough to reason with. Indeed, she became petulant at one point and shunted us into a flavor of reality where she was a Deacon of the Church of Luminous saints. She sought to convert us through the application of force delivered by mutation monstrosities. Fortunately Naomi and Melanwy rapidly shunted us back before too much harm could be done and Alexi browbeat Elsie into capitulation by appealing to her natural anarchistic idealism and sense of purpose. This, and the intercession of Naomi's cat, finally collapses the overlapping realities and Carnivale was a singular place once more.

Elsie was… traumatized, of course. Poor thing. A mysterious gentleman presenting himself as an avuncular professor named Dr. Gunderson approached and offered comfort which was rejected. The reactions of our companions were extreme. Clearly they knew this Gunderson and did not much like him. He seemed to claim some credit for the reality-warping of Carnivale, claiming it was part of some science experiment connected with that "Olaf" place we visited recently. Curious. I'll file that whole conversation for later review.

Our muse-link was severed, although not before I was able to glean a good number of curious details about each of Melanwy's new companions. I've already updated the dossiers on each of them.

Marco recovered his own pet cat while Alexi locked the Carnivale gate from any incoming connections from the Fissure gate to keep out any unwelcome Ultimates now that the gate is stable once more. We left Elsie to her recovery and returned to Lassiter to plan our next move. 

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Lassiter Part Two
5 XP = Total 45 XP

Personal Journal of Irina Kuznetsova, Entry 575

As a Firewall agent I'm used to bizarre shit happening and having to just roll with the punches. I spent two years dead in the service of this organization and I still managed to bounce back without too much trauma. I took part in the assault on Legba and saw literal gods being born (if by "gods" I mean "ASIs" and "Psychic Viral Pathogens"). Still, the past few days have really pushed my limits.

There always seemed to be something a bit… off about Alexi Oda's gatecrashing team consisting of Chloelia Octavia (as the driver, her vehicle proved incredibly useful in the Fissure gate evacuation), Marco Macek (an ego-hunter and fellow Scumborn like me), Carillo Wu, another mercenary, and Naomi Jensen-Velasquez (as a… psychic psychopath? Is that the polite term?). I mean, something more off than just being the usual wacky group of gatecrashers. All throughout the trauma of fleeing from the Ultimates through the gates, the ease with which those people in particular seemed to anticipate every danger, every needed gate code… I'm not complaining, their incredible competence saved dozens of lives, including my own team. Hell, Melanwy Satrapi fell in with them pretty solidly. Still, it was odd. I didn't look a gift horse in the mouth though.

But when we arrived here on Pangaea, and practically no sooner had we pitched tents but Alexi was taking a team on a convoluted path through six gates to find the Olaf scientific expedition… it's like she somehow already knew the exact gate codes she would need, and the resources required to traverse the intervening exoplanets. That was pushing my suspension of disbelief. When she then came to me and told me that Astraeus and Lassiter were just two gate-hops away from here… well… that was kind of the last straw. I was on full alert for psychic bullshit or exsurgent insanity or whatever when she and her team took me, Melanwy, and the Echoes through to a hot, somewhat radioactive world, and thence directly to Lassiter.

The station was different from the last time I'd been there, and in fact, this was the first moment where my gatecrashing companions seemed… genuinely at a loss. The greeting system activated, but wouldn't respond to any attempts to respond to it. The station seemed empty and deserted. The team got back their strange prescience, though, beelining directly to a breach in the old Lassiter station showing the exterior… the computational quantum nanocloud encircling the planet of Lassiter. They, again "somehow", knew that this was Astraeus' goal… unlocking the secrets of this nanocloud, and they jumped to the conclusion that she had succeeded in doing so, but that something had, perhaps, gone wrong.

There was a lot of private communication and significant glances, trying to avoid telling me and my team what was really happening, but by the time Marco got the station's central systems running they were starting to show cracks, talking openly in front of me, that sort of thing. 

Apparently all of them had fully-experienced an alternate timeline of events where they had been on Carnivale during the Ultimates attack, and had gone directly (with alternate-me's help, apparently) to Lassiter. An encounter on Olaf with an incredibly powerful alien intelligence somehow… altered their experienced reality to the one I recall, but they managed to retain previous memories explaining their seeming prescience.

This was, needless to say, pretty mind-blowing, but I had to focus on the immediate mission, namely contacting/recovering Astraeus. The team managed to get some of the precision scientific instruments working. We forked ourselves into a simulspace with the goal of beaming the forks digitally into the nanocloud to try to find Astraeus. This seemed to work. We all experienced various awful vignettes from our respective pasts (I got to re-experience my half-botched mission against Cloud-9 on Venus… joy) until we reached Alexi's memories.

Oof. So. Alexi is a Fall survivor… who didn't make it off planet. We experienced more than two years of rough survival on a blasted Earth before being rescued by Astraeus… which finally linked us to the real one. Our virtual trek enabled her to forge a link back to the station, and all was reasonably well… Astraeus claims that the nano-fog is sentient, but not in any way she could easily explain. Her plan was to create a fork of herself to run the station while the other her integrated into the cloud. She promised to take all due precautions.

Shrug. What can you say to an ASI in these circumstances? You have to trust that she either is or isn't a threat. I guess we'll see.

Me and the Echoes plan on returning to Lassiter once Astraeus gets things calmed down. She'll need some help, I suspect. The rest of the team… well… they say they want to go to Carnivale, see how things have changed there from the reality they remember. She were very shifty about what they expect to find there. One of these days I'm going to have to seriously question Alexi in particular. I've made sure Melanwy is more or less permanently attached to their group. Someone from the Firewall team should keep an eye on them.

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