Eclipse Phase - Uncharted

Into the Sphere
4XP = Total 32 XP

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.

 

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The Citadel
4 XP = Total: 34 XP

Internal Log 00×343AX

Visitors have arrived. My contemplation was perturbed by shifting probability on the charm axis suggesting potential waveform shift in my immediate vicinity. The perspective variant being affected was one in which the Citadel and its vast machineries were in decay. The visitors, transhumans from the solar system equipped with a fusion-powered jet aircraft, had landed. I could not help but feel a twinge of remorse that we hadn't waited for the resources to construct one of those ourselves. We would have saved ourselves a good deal of pain and tribulation in the fungal forest.

They explored the sun towers, inadvertently activating self-repair in one of them before venturing to the entrance of the Citadel itself. Much to my surprise, one of them was touched by the sphere-builders sufficiently to activate the sun gate. I opted to immanentize in the entry to greet them.

They recognized the physical form I manifested, which was a useful data point as it suggested familiarity with the Olaf expedition. Verbal engagement confirmed this hypothesis with additional data. Apparently, the expedition I was a part of was recalled while the corporate powers-that-be hashed out ownership and exploitation rights from their shadowy rooms. These explorers were from a subsequent expedition possessing the data from the first.

I engaged them affably enough, although a certain lack of immediate trust was to be expected. The one touched by the sphere builders, Ivan, seemed willing to accept my invitation to enter the Citadel but the others were hesitant. The neo-crow and the corporate security android were cautious, but the warrior in the exotic winged biomorph seemed the most overtly hostile in a quiet way. Still, I think I intrigued them enough with the simplest explanation I could manage of this sphere's function and purpose that we will be able to engage in tentative mutual trust. 

They want to either return me to their base camp, or arrange a line of communication from there to the Citadel. The fungal forest prevents conventional communication across the vast surface of Olaf. Fortunately I am well aware of less conventional options. If these new visitors can be convinced to work with me, I look forward to showing them some of the possibilities available to one who has scratched the surface of this sphere's potential.

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Mercenary Murder
4XP = Total 28 XP

Xenolinguist's Log, Entry 3112
Cailey Macek 

Goddamnit Marco, why couldn't you have gone into a nice career like xenobotany or genehacking. I mean, don't get me wrong, you're a pretty good ego hunter, but nobody wins them all, and sometimes bad luck comes home to roost.

Apparently, according to Astraeus, your little 3-way dance with Carillo Wu and Karim Jalal come to something of a conclusion. Our companions noticed you'd been missing while they prepared to investigate this news of a dyson sphere and made some inquiries. They eventually found some evidence that Jalal had jumped you with the help of some shady colonists, stole Chloelia's shuttle, and absconded with you to parts unknown. Despite the fact that it's a big fucking planet, some good guesswork and Alexi Oda's talents for overland tracking and exploration found Jalal's hidden base where he had been building (thanks to a fabber stolen from the colony) a field-psychosurgery suite. 

The assault took the life of Venus. Luna's  posse of grenadiers is smaller by one until we can get her resleeved. The assault also took out Karim, fortunately. They found you, sort of. They recovered you. Sort of.

I can't really imagine the months of adaptive torment your ego underwent, each time your mind would break the system would map weaknesses and psychological strengths and reboot you from the cortical stack to try again. By the time it was done, it was a program custom-created to extract the maximum amount of information from your brain. I'm glad they deleted what was left. It would have broken my heart to see that version of you.

The cortical stack itself was recovered, and ultimately sleeved into one of Astraeus' synthmorphs. I know how much this must suck for you. Sources of biomorphs are few and far between, but hey, I've adjusted to my synth, you can too, and at least this way you're still alive, mind intact and unbroken. Whatever that asshole was trying to learn from you it's not worth obsessing over revenge. Hell, Karim's in Naomi's pocket anyway, so we'll have to wait until they get back from their trip to that dyson sphere that other gatecrashing team was talking about. According to that raven in charge, Sanjay, their home base has access to biomorphs, so maybe there will be some good news in a few days.

I can't tell you this to your face right now because your revenge settings are still maxed out, but I care about you. You're alive, but you could easily have not been, all because some psycho asshole was trying to get closer to Naomi. I don't know why she's so important to you, why she stopped being just another job, nor do I understand why Carillo seems to be doing something similar, but she's trouble. I like her well enough, but you need to re-evaluate your existence a bit. Maybe some time in a synth will be good for you.

Here's hoping.

 

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The Black Signal
2 XP = 30 XP Total

Mistress,

The first trial came upon me and I have emerged if not unscathed, then at least still moving to your Purpose. I live still thanks to the great power you channeled through me, your humble servant. The source and origin of the alien transmissions that hijacked the mesh umbilical remain a mystery only insofar as Kitano and his companions remain tight-lipped about precisely what it was they uncovered in the dense fungal forests to the northeast. Whatever it was, it possessed vast intelligence restricted only, and ironically, by the technical limits of our mesh infrastructure. I can only presume its target was the gate, our only means of escaping this increasingly dangerous planet. Rather than allow an unknown intelligence to entirely overwhelm us, I re-directed the efforts of myself and my Century to seeking the cracks in the alien code, spreading the black signal throughout it, causing it ultimately to crumble and fail. I then left a delta fork of myself in Gunderson's remote data-cache at the edge of the fungal forest in hopes that it might stand as a bastion against further attack.

Kitano's party, unbeknownst to me, was spending that time returning over the forest, destroying the mesh umbilicals they had previously deployed to further weaken the alien transmission's reach and power. In this way we unwittingly supported each other in removing the threat.

Unfortunately, every sentient being at our base camp was mysteriously absent. It would seem that whatever Kitano and his companions uncovered, it caused a second ripple in reality, effectively erasing over fifty people. Meals were left half-eaten, beds unmade, supplies un-stowed. I do not yet know what became of them, but it has lent urgency to my work on the dimensional derelict. 

I sent the copy of Kvasir that opted to stay with me through the mesh umbilical to my delta fork once our mesh was cleared to act as ambassador to Kitano's returning expedition. I accepted your wisdom and your advice and changed tactics, offering blunt honesty in place of obfuscation. They took the extra days to return here, to the derelict, where we spoke at some length. I told them of the glory of the Black Signal, its power, its ultimate purpose. I leavened my conviction with the necessary dry humor and pragmatism for which you value me so highly. I, essentially, "came clean" about my nature and purpose here. While I know that Kitano still waits for an excuse and opportunity to detach my head from my body, the others at least seem willing to reach an accord. We are not at cross purposes, and with the vanishing of the majority of our expedition here to Olaf, it seems ever more important that we work together. 

It may well come to pass that one or more of them will opt to accept the sacrament of unity, to join with our Community, bringing us ever closer to full Comprehension. I have explained the risks, as well as the difficulty of a cure should they regret the decision. The matter lies in their hands. 

I believe they intend to take the dormant copy of Kvasir that I have Touched and return to the fungal forest, continuing on to the mysterious coastal ruins that were the objective of the mysterious Gunderson expedition. Aside from the Black Signal's ability to communicate through the Touched copy of Kvasir, they will be utterly out of contact with my small team as well as the team at the planetary airlock.

Sanjay Rhys' gatecrashing team returned to find an empty base camp. They are doing everything they can to investigate the disappearances, but I anticipate they will remain a mystery, for I fear they were victims of a ripple in reality rather than some more visible or apparent catastrophe. Nevertheless, it may well be that by the time Kitano's team returns to general communication we may have a better answer.

In any event, my Century continues pondering the abstract mathematics of this derelict. I hope to have the beginnings of a theoretical physics of dimensional travel relatively soon. Our Brothers and Sisters throughout the galaxy can begin gathering the necessary R&D resources once I have delivered the theory.

I remain your faithful servant, O Soul of Humanity. May my service find favor in your eternal eyes.

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Clash of the TITANs
5xp = 28 Total

Self Reflection Log of Kirsty “Leviathan” Channard, Entry 006xb

I can see why Kitano-sama brought me this time. It appears my travelling companions, Noah among them, have never met a mind-crushing truth they did not immediately seek to consume. The damage to self-integration I saw in Ivan Kuro after their last expedition is nothing compared to the damage I'll probably have to repair after today's revelations.

Myself, I subscribe to a different philosophy of self-improvement characterized by reliable, incremental gains. We are effectively immortal. The only constraint to the length of our lives is our capacity to remain sane. Therefore, one's sanity, one's sense of self, is the single most important consideration when planning one's self-evolution. For all the physical perfections reflected in Kitano-sama, I fear he does not adequately understand this fundamental idea, for he threw his mind to the proverbial wolves with as much abandon as any of them.

Fortunately, as a bystander and observer, my own sanity was inoculated by hearing of their experiences second hand. The direct horror of mind-to-mind communication with a TITAN-level intelligence was not something I directly experienced and yet those truths deemed paltry enough for us to understand were relayed to all. 

At our first landing site in this new, expansive biosphere the team spent a considerable amount of time analyzing the complex, seemingly symbiotic relationships between the megafauna, the immense, fungus-like trees, and the highly aggressive parasitic spores emanating from the megafauna. Kitano-sama chose to expose himself to the spores, perhaps confident that the Barabbas strain and his medichines would ward him from the near-certain death that afflicted Ivan and Kvasir. Rather the opposite was the case. Apparently the mutability of his flesh rendered his body the perfect host for these spores and they parasitized and colonized him extremely rapidly. 

Kvasir engaged in some… highly unorthodox medical treatments involving stripping the safety housing from the plane's fusion engines and exposing Noah to intense radiation. This did effectively kill the spores, and Noah's natural healing did the rest. Still, it was a good lesson to us all that the Barabbas strain is an unpredictable force. After some experimentation with infected blood and flesh samples taken from Noah, as well as some of the insect-samples taken one biome over, it became clear that these spores seek to convert animal life into small versions of the megafauna we observed peacefully tending the fungus-trees. When Ivan touched the results of Noah's flesh infected by these spores, he claims to have seen a vision of an immense fungus-tree wrapped around an open and functioning Pandora gate.

I was skeptical of Ivan's random visions, but after a few more days of flying, Amber Jin Feng did indeed find such a tree. It took a while to find a landing zone in a lake that resembled more a greenish slime than water. We sent he plane back into the air rather than trust it to the lake, for good reason. It seems to be highly acidic to refined alloys. We hiked overland through the dense fungal forest where sure enough we found the gate from Ivan's vision.

The gate was open, the singularity blacker than black, and an enormous fungal tree grew atop it, "roots" encasing the open gate. The tree was enveloped in electromagnetic energies that only occasionally bled into the ultraviolet parts of the visible spectrum. It was siphoning vast power from the gate in some fashion. Clearly no tree evolved to drain gate power. This tree, and possibly the entire ecosystem was looking more and more to be the product of design.

Noah sough to commune with the tree. He appears to be developing his intuitive senses, or maybe he is unlocking deeper aspects of the Barabbas strain, for he also saw visions of the forest, shrinking rapidly in reverse time-lapse, until only a single megafaune emerged from the gate, crawled atop it, and morphed into the tree that even now, apparently is holding the gate open for more and more spores and other creatures to arrive. This gate, then, was clearly the origin of the entire biome we had traversed.

An empty spare morph was tele-operated through the gate. Upon its return, it showed another world that looked very much like this side of the gate. Another immense tree holding the gate open, another fungal forest. Amber then chose to pass through. 

While she was gone, one of the megafauna approached, apparently in response to the damage Noah had done to the radiant tree. It seemed particularly interested in Ansel Ness. It kept trying to wrap Ansel in its face-tentacles, and Ansel kept repulsing it with warning shots from his hand-laser. It grudgingly tried the same with Ivan, then Noah, before Ansel (clearly its first choice for some reason) relented. St. Elmo's Fire engulfed the enormous beast, and then it let Ansel go, none the worse for wear… physically.

Mentally was another matter. Apparently the radiant tree, the megafauna, every plant and animal in this biome is an enormous computation system, an ASI. It apparently already knew all about Amber, which implied that it had scanned her in some capacity when she went through the gate. Ansel reported that, insofar as he was able to interpret enormous impulses of data poured directly into his cyberbrain, this enormous biological artificial intelligence is the Factor's TITAN equivalent, or at least it was developed by the Factors on the Factors' homeworld. 

As we discussed this, Amber returned after her agreed half-hour. She reported direct brain-bending exposure to the ASI as well, wherein she apparently taught it the tolerances of our paltry minds. This implied she took the brunt of the neural damage to teach it how best to talk to Ansel. I'll have to do a full work-up when we get back to the plane. She also reported that this biological computer spanned multiple planets, connected through gates that are held open like this. 

Noah, not to be outdone, sought communion with the forest-computer. He wanted to know what Olaf was to it. He learned (pursuant to the requisite brain-melting) that vast crystalline intelligences orbit the red star in the interior of the sphere, that they built the sphere, and that the forest had an "accommodation" with these sphere-builders. The forest was apparently extremely interested in the Barabbas strain, and Noah, ever the straighforward sort, told it all about the TITANs. 

Kvasir, not to be outdone, sought communion with the forest-computer. He wanted to know about the async Factors we had encountered. He learned (pursuant to the requisite brain-melting) that the forest sought to save its makers, sought to alter them so they would be capable of understanding their true, terrible place in the universe, but that such understanding inevitably broke limited intelligences like theirs. The forest also revealed that apparently Watts-MacLeod was the strain that wiped out the Iktomi, which might be why it's relatively benign in humans. 

Ivan, not to be outdone, sought communion with the forest-computer. He wanted to know about the nature of the crystalline intelligences orbiting within Olaf. He learned (pursuant to the requisite brain-melting) that the crystals he has worked into his shock gloves are the "spores" of these intelligences, and the forest was surprised Ivan had not yet succumbed to their infection, their desire to expand their awareness and reach.

I decided I would eschew brain-melting communion with a biological TITAN. Call me crazy. The rest of us, I think, felt similarly. 

We need to leave this gate and this tree before we all catch cancer from the radiation. Well, except for the synthmorphs of course. 

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Crystalline Consequences
4xp = Total 24 XP

Damn it. I finally get a sweet new neo-orca morph after more than a decade stuck in bipedal-mode and I get myself infected with some weird alien crystal-plague. I mean, I guess it's better to know about it. I gotta say, those gatecrashers from "Lassiter" (wherever that actually is) are pretty on top of their game. At this rate, they may even beat Andy Westingbrooke as the most famous Gatecrasher of them all.

Alexi Oda and her team did an aerial survey over the shallow seas of the planet… I imagine that was pretty boring until they found a weird zone that sucked all the power out of their shuttle. I've seen bits of the XP, that Chloelia Octavia sure can fly. She saved all their asses from a watery grave. What little they could discover indicated undersea alien tech of some sort that eats the power out of any vehicle or even synthmorph that goes near it. Suddenly we aquatic uplifts are in demand!

One problem, none of us actually have the aquatic bodies we were born with. No problem! Apparently. Oda's team just stepped off through some gates where they happened to have Rael Duvalier on tap (!!) and he handed over two cherry-new neo-orca morphs and a neo-dolphin for Hank and Lucy and me. I have no idea what they must have given him in exchange. It was a bit of a production moving the morphs to water, and getting us installed. We obviously backed ourselves up first. After all, we were going to swim out into an alien sea to poke at alien artifacts… 

A couple weeks later we made it out to the scene. Oda's team was in a shuttle hovering nearby (but not TOO nearby… or splash). We headed down.

We hit it with sonar and everything. It looked like an undersea wreck of a spacecraft. It seems like it deployed a system of tethered buoys which seems to be the tech draining electromagnetic energy from everything above it. Probably some sort of emergency self-repair system. We poked around and I found a hole in the side of the ship and swam inside. The interior was all glowing with this lemon-yellow light and I could see these enormous crystal formations growing all throughout the ship. They were clearly invasive, as they were punching through bulkheads, and otherwise did not seem to be the intended cargo. The crystals were glowing, and I figured they were probably leeching energy from ship-systems that were in turn leeching that energy from everything that came too close. I booped a crystal with my nose, but it felt solid like any other rock… but then I was awash in a weird vision.

I was back at the Somatek Hawai'ian research facility with my birth-pod and the scientists who created me but the lead scientist was clearly not any memory of him I have… something was speaking through him, asking me why I allowed myself, a created entity, to subordinate my desires to those who created me. I told him that I super don't, I blew that joint and joined the anarchists years ago. He seemed pleased… and then I came out of the vision.

I realized that the crystal had somehow talked to me and freaked the fuck out. We three fled the wreck. Sadly, our mesh inserts and other tech were all drained and powerless, but Lucy had decent transgenic vocal chords and was able to give something of a verbal report to Oda's team. They airlifted me back to shore while the others started the long swim so I could get my implants recharged and report what I saw. Oda's team vanished again, but when they came back a few hours later they had somehow procured XP from some black-ops team infiltrating a Fa Jing black laboratory on Mars where these crystal things were being experimented on. Apparently it's a crystal intelligence that can infect other intelligent beings, and it looks like I'm infected. They restored me from backup, so I guess I have an alpha fork here in my old bipedal body just in case this infection should prove fatal. 

Shit. This body was so sweet, too. I've missed being me. It will really suck if I die of crystal poisoning.

View
Trail of Breadcrumbs
5 XP = 23 XP Total

Mistress,

I cast forth these thoughts in full faith that they will be received, and in full knowledge that you perceive all lies and truth, punishing completely attempts at the former while rewarding the latter with eventual power and enlightenment.

I have been patient, as you have instructed me. I have watched the agents of Firewall and Ozma embedded in this mission as they circle one another seeking to bend the expedition to their purposes. I have watched as wild-card elements position themselves against future possibility, and above all I have carefully sifted the many amazing discoveries sent back by our forward exploration team and analyzed by our scientists. 

Your wisdom and perception, as always, leave me in awe. I can only believe that you knew what we might discover, what universe-bending principles we might obliquely glimpse in this place. 

After many days of no contact, our forward exploration team repaired the communication umbilical on their way back to base camp. Their experiences were sufficiently traumatic that they felt it worth returning to report their findings as well as to repair their psyches before heading back out on their long-term mission to find Gunderson's missing expedition and the city ruins tentatively believed to be some 300,000 kilometers away. They reported that the smaller ruins found by Dr. Byers during his previous expedition were, in fact, the remains of a unique derelict craft, one meant not to travel through space, but meant to travel through layers of dimensional reality. Once our scientists came to grips with the reports, supplemented by extensive XP, and began to analyze the extensive calculations scrawled all over the craft by Gunderson and his team, the more they came to realize the potential and the danger of this vehicle. 

It created dimensional echoes of the team members who, perhaps recklessly, attempted to prod the broken technology to life. One such echo had enough reality to physically attack its original, and subsequently to share exploration and theorycrafting before being executed. The control mechanism for this vessel appears to respond to those blessed to be receivers for the Black Signal. From all that you have told me, this makes sense, for the Signal comes to us from beyond conventionally-understood four-dimensional space-time. If this technology, even shattered as it might be, contains enough functionality to respond to the Black Signal, I have every expectation that with some personal, hands-on study I will be one step closer to achieving your aims.

To this end, I proposed, and found rapid approval for, a plan to establish a small base-camp at the vessel. Myself, two theoretical physicists and two security personnel loyal to me (as Oversight agent) accompanied by two of of Kitano's accursed cult were dropped off at the site by the forward exploration team on their way back out. The presence of the cultists constrains me somewhat, as does my cover as an Oversight agent, but as you taught me patience on the plains of Mars, you taught me the long view. Kitano's suspicions cannot be everywhere, and as dangerous as they are, the underlings he left are still only two, and we are far from reinforcements or vengeance. 

Much of my timing, however, depends on Kitano himself. So long as he maintains communication to his underlings via the microwave mesh umbilical they're creating as they extend their journeys the more risk is involved in taking any direct action. It is a double-edged sword, however. This same communication permits me to monitor their activities and mesh communication. About 90,000 kilometers further out from this derelict craft they encountered the border between the fairly benign ecosphere we have become accustomed to and a dramatically different one. The borderlands where these two evolutionarily dissimilar biospheres collide has proven a dangerous place where evolution has run amok. Within this zone they discovered another of Gunderson's camps. This one had an AI guardian of a data cache. The forward team was able to discover three other camps established as data caches by Gunderson in addition to that one and the math-scrawled derelict ship. These locations will prove useful sources of information and resources for the expedition.

They moved on into an alien biosphere. This one apparently populated by exotic megafauna and unusually parasitic spores of some sort. Two of their number nearly succumbed, although sadly Kitano was neither of them. His infection preserves him even there it seems. I will continue to monitor their progress, waiting patiently for my moment. There is always the chance, after all, that the fragile umbilical between my camp and their expedition will become severed. Should that happen, I will commune with you once more, hopefully with far better news and transcendent insight.

I remain your faithful servant, O Soul of Humanity. May my service find favor in your eternal eyes.

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Dimensional Parasites
3 XP = 20 XP Total

Pangaea Colony Journal, Entry 72
Luis Acosta

Our arrangement with "Danielle Astra" continues to bear fruit. The colony takes shape and soon we will start receiving the synthmorphs to resleeve our companions who died on our journey to this place. I am reminded, however, of the constant dangers that abound when seeking to establish a colony on an alien world far from the Sol system. I'm a gatecrasher and a scout, not a politician or leader, but these people look to me and I must do what I can. Some challenges, though, tax me greatly.

Astra's team, who were once part of my team back on Carnivale, continue to seek out these challenges. I should be grateful to them for finding them and warning me of them, but sometimes I wonder if they are somehow magnets for this sort of trouble. First, they informed me that Marigold, our resident mad cultist from the Church of Luminous Saints, might be infected with some sort of TITAN STD, and that she and any prior sexual partners she may have received should be quarantined and investigated. They said something about "moon spiders" and mutation. I did the best I could to avoid a panic and mentioned only that they may have picked up something from one of the planets we passed through, and I asked them to consent to some blood tests. Those tests are still being analyzed. Fortunately, Marigold is not a particularly appealing sexual partner (unless you like burn-scarred adolescents), and so any potential vectors were limited at best.

Later, they took a vehicle constructed for them by Astra through the gates back along the route that we took to get here. As they passed through the gate to the icy world we navigated prior to finding this place, they found themselves accompanied by a companion named "Aletheia Thompson", a gatecrasher they all remembered, albeit vaguely, as being a useful and friendly companion. Naomi, however, had cause for suspicion, and as they traveled the icy wastes looking for useful resources, that suspicion spread. Despite clearly remembering Aletheia's prior companionship, they started to doubt their own memories. When Alexi and Aquila noticed signs of data-corruption in their ego-emulations as if their minds had been hacked, they began to fear their new companion.

Sadly, they drove their new vehicle into a crevasse. As they sought to climb out, Marco kneecapped Altheia whereupon she deliquesced into greenish goo. Somehow, some sort of psychic parasite hitched a ride out of the gate with them, implanting memories or co-opting existing ones. They walked back to the gate, wounded and confused, but they did find the corpse of James, along with his frozen supplies. I thought we'd lost him when we came that way. I'm sure Johann will be pleased that his husband was recovered. My concern is the possibility that one or more of these parasites hitched a ride with US when we came through that very gate. How many of my hundred-plus companions are really human? I'll need to come up with some way to implement blood testing for potential xenofloral infection or some such excuse.

In the wake of these unfortunate events, the gatecrashing team opted to spend the last month surveying Pangaea by shuttle. On one of the ocean archipelagoes they discovered a second gate. It was apparently (somehow) inactive, but Alexi managed to power it up whereupon another gatecrashing team stumbled out! It's Andy Westingbrooke! I had feared I'd never see her again. She and her entire team were somehow trapped between worlds for a week and a half before the archipelago gate's activation drew them through. There was some… "gate weirdness" but we may actually have a route back to the Pandora gate now, dangerous though it may be! I should have known I could rely on Andy to find a way though. She's one of the finest I've ever worked with.

Also, having a dozen trained combat-capable exoplanetary explorers will not go amiss in defending the colony from the next weird or alien threat to arise. 

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Transdimensional Theory
5 XP = Total 18 XP

Reflection Journal of Allegra Nourish
Entry 232

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.

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Hyperintelligent Shade of the Color Blue
4 XP = Total 17 XP

Xenolinguist's Log, Entry 2075
Cailey Macek

Finally, after all my training and theoretical modeling, I've encountered and begun developing a grammar and vocabulary for my first alien language… and it's the color-language of the Giant Pacific Octopus. Sigh.

I'm actually being facetious to cover for the incredible awe at actually encountering an alien sentience for the first time. Sure, I've studied all the interactions with the Factors back in the Sol system, but this… this was beyond my greatest expectations when I started gatecrashing. Just because the aliens ended up learning one of OUR languages doesn't mean I won't eventually figure out how to talk to them in theirs.

So… yeah… backstory: We, the Lassiter team employed by Danielle Astra, spent most of a week helping Acosta organize the new colony on the exoplanet that has been dubbed "Pangaea." We provided the microfacturing technology and finished goods, they provided manpower in collecting raw materials from the exoplanet that lies between Lassiter and Pangaea, which we should probably name something other than "radioactive giant crater world." The plan was a mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services to help Pangaea become something more viable than a castaway squatter's camp while also helping Astra with her goals, and simultaneously, eventually, getting enough spare feedstock and production capacity to build an orbital rocket capable of getting an exploration team up to one of the big alien satellites circling radioactive giant crater world.

My brother and his creepy friends wandered around getting to know the colonists, Chloelia Octavia palled around with the other uplifts and shady sorts, Luna even gave an amazing concert as a morale booster, even convincing Acosta and Alexi Oda to be backup dancers, to much catastrophic comic relief. Eventually things started to look more like a colony and less like a catastrophe. 

I stayed at Pangaea while my brother and his team went back to radioactive giant crater world to more thoroughly check out the ruins of that TITAN war factory they found. Unfortunately, they found a handful of active TITAN headhunter bots that they had to destroy, and something… even more awful buried deep. They left it buried. After a lengthy quarantine with Astra, they reported their findings and she sent a specialist. I think we should just leave it buried and not poke at it, but hey, I'm not a hyperintelligent computer program.

One benefit of poking at the TITAN factory was Alexi found a storage room filled with carefully-stored exotic metals which boosted our rocket ship production timetable dramatically. It's a modular design so we could get the pieces through the gate, and so there's lots of points of potential failure, but it slotted together nicely enough. It's surprisingly large, probably in case there's plunder to bring back from the satellites… or maybe it's to fit enough thug-types to ensure the safety of the explorers. Whatever the reason, I was super happy there was plenty of room for an exolinguist!

So we blasted off and found the satellite. It was… bigger than I imagined. More like an orbital space station than a satellite. We docked, donned our suits and ventured inside. There was atmosphere, although it was an odd mix of gasses. There was enough oxygen that the biomorphs among us could theoretically breathe for about twenty minutes before getting lightheaded and eventually passing out… but the trace gasses were really weird. Lots of noble gasses and more exotic ones in trace amounts. 

At first it looked like we were going to be disappointed. The whole thing seemed abandoned. There was tons of inscrutable machinery, and it was pretty clear it wasn't built by the Factors or the Iktomi or any of the other alien civilizations whose ruins we've found, but there was zero trace of any biological material. As we wandered, though, we started to notice that the interior lighting was following us, and even weirder, the light spectra being emitted was precisely calibrated for transhuman eyes. There were no wavelengths outside of that spectrum being emitted by the interior lights, even though those lights seemed capable of extraordinary precision and an incredibly diverse range.

This prompted some experimentation. Chloelia learned that if she wandered off by herself, the interior lights only emitted spectra visible to her octopus morph, which isn't quite the same range as the biomorphs. When Alexi or I shifted our visual sensors to pick up wavelengths into the infrared or ultraviolet, the interior lights shifted to accommodate. Some intelligence within the station was capable of reading our biological and synthetic visual sensors accurately, in real time, and project appropriate wavelengths of light.

Each end-cap of the cylindrical station was a dome capable of being opaque or transparent. On one end, the dome room contained only six machines, equally spaced around the central shaft through which we entered. Each machine seemed to be extremely powerful emitters for electromagnetic radiation, much like the interior lighting but even more so. Alexi decided on a whim to push a random button and, luckily, it proved to be the right one. The entire apparatus turned on, the dome went opaque, and pulses of light began churning into the room at wavelengths even I couldn't see after the tiny flash from the machines. Clearly they were building to an intense amount of light deep below the ultraviolet spectrum… maybe even down to X-rays. I began to worry that my squishier companions might get cancer.

Then the Thing appeared. It looked something like brain cells fluorescing a deep, pulsing purple, and they appeared to be growing throughout the station, filling the central shaft and the various layer-cake levels… places we'd been physically walking without realizing we were… inside it. It seemed only quasi-real, not entirely solid, but it started flashing and pulsing at us.

This began a very unusual dialogue. Chloelia, having the natural capacity to shift colors dramatically and rapidly, began mimicking its pulses, and it in turn began mimicking her colors. After some time at this, it apparently got a good enough read of her neurology to start painstakingly learning the color-language of the giant pacific octopus. It was a very lengthy affair, but the time seemed to zip right by for me. I found the whole thing fascinating. I recorded all of it, and I've attached the XP to this log entry along with my notations. I had Chloelia speak out to provide translations for the color shifts and patterns. Unsurprisingly, the color-language of the octopus is fairly simple, focused on predator-prey notions and natural/survival concepts, but there was surprising nuance, mostly conveyed through surface patterns.

The alien brain-thing seemed to pick it up pretty quickly, and eventually we established a basic communication. The first thing it wanted to know is if we were the "same" as the creatures that came "on the dark current" before us. We inferred it meant the TITANS, and explained that we had "birthed our own predators" and that they were "no longer hunting us, but we can't see them." It seemed to accept this. Perhaps it had seem such cycles of self-destruction before. It seemed to view us as "infants" and held off destroying us when it sensed gate activity out of curiosity. We told it we were lost and trying to find our way back home. It seemed willing to let us continue to do so. It called itself the "Children of the Sun." It spoke in both singular and plural. Either it's one enormous entity, or a gestalt, or a hive mind or something. Hell, I don't know. That's not my area. 

It seems this intelligence evolved or belongs in this solar system. It seems (and again, I'm inferring a lot from relatively simple language) that something else built the gate, and the "Children of the Sun" have worked to keep it bottled up. Anytime something awful comes through, they throw an asteroid at it, like they did with the TITANS ten years ago. I kinda wonder how often they've had to do this over the years. It also had a negative reaction to Naomi, calling her "poisoned" and "possibly poisonous." I assume it meant her Watts-MacLeod infection. It seems this quasi-dimensional intelligence really has a thing against it and anything related to it (like the TITANS). Hey, at least it didn't bombard the planet just because she was down there, or airlock all of us because she came aboard.

It did express concern that we'd been poking in the TITAN ruins, but it did promise to warn us if it felt the need to throw an asteroid at the gate again. We asked what the warning would be. The dome went transparent and suddenly the sun turned purple.

Yeah. So… out on a limb… maybe that enormous artificial structure in the sun's corona is the … home base? central mind? Whatever? of this thing, and this intelligence has mastered stellar mechanics to the point where it can influence the spectra of light emitted by this system's sun. 

Kinda mind-blowing.

We figured that was plenty of crazy to absorb in one go. It indicated that communicating with us on our level was exhausting for it, but it was receptive to the idea of further talks later. We returned to our ship and back down to the planet where the miners confirmed the sun's brief color change. 

So, yeah! I've got an alien language! Octopus! Or, rather, the hyperintelligent quasi-dimensional being that can manifest to us under certain shades of deep ultraviolet radiation is capable of speaking octopus, and therefore so must we.

 

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