Medical Technician's Log – Angel – Entry 51
We've arrived on a new continent, this one full of a jungle-like, tropical biosphere. The ground is riddled with caves and cenote from the constant erosion of the water cycle and the jungle is full of carnivorous megafauna. It looks like competition for prey is fierce among the various species, and we all imagine that the biomorphs among us would be high on the menu regardless of whether or not the beasts could actually digest us.
Kitano sensed something… odd… about one of the cenote and so we found a nearby river big enough to land the plane on and began an expedition. We fought off angry carnivores as we traipsed through the jungle. Ivan and Amber both, respectively, noticed signs that the entire jungle was growing over what may have once been an extensive city, although now only worn stones buried by vegetation survived. Still, there were degraded deposits of worked metals that, if extracted, could provide the feedstock necessary to fully repair the plane, and so we set some of Kitano's people on the task of excavating it while we pushed on.
We had about 12 hours of daylight left when we arrived at the cenote. The deep pit with murky water was eerie enough, but Ansel detected the presence of hundreds of large bat-like predators clinging to the underhand just out of sight. Amber relied on her stealth tech and synthmorph to fly down past the slumbering beasts and noticed… an amazing underground city of clearly alien architecture.
After some hours spent exploring we found other cave entrances and spelunked our way into the cavern system containing the city. The bat creatures stayed asleep high above. The buildings of this city were formed in a columnar way, appearing to hold the ceiling up. Indeed, they were crafted from some sort of oxidation-neutral alloy with a patina that resembled closely the stone of the cave system around them to give the impression that they were carved from natural rock columns even though they aren't. Ansel's T-ray emitter discovered the building-columns were, in fact, hollow and probably buildings, and he found a likely entrance. Touching what may have been the door, though, resulted in his hand nearly being dissolved. It seems the column-buildings are coated in a sophisticated nanotechnology that keeps the buildings in good repair and seeks to attack and cannibalize any other matter that touches the buildings that doesn't send the right friend-or-foe signal.
The fact that these clearly ancient ruins had active, sophisticated nanotech still functioning was of great interest to all of us. Ivan was able to fine-tune Ansel's sensors to see at a nanoscopic scale, and between him and Kvasir they were able to map the nanotech system well enough to send a dummy signal to open the door and let us pass without difficulty. The inside of the building was… stark. In contrast to the elaborate exteriors, the interiors were extremely sterile and plain, all surfaces were coated with what appeared to be luminescent paint, but on examination was actually a coating of bioluminescent nanites. We formed a hypothesis that over the past countless centuries the nanotech maintaining the buildings cannibalized all the contents of the buildings for raw materials. This seemed to be confirmed when we found the hive-generator at the top of the building.
We spent the rest of our daylight hours exploring the other buildings, one of which appeared to have a non-functional nanotech system which permitted the contents to survive after a fashion. Most of the old machines and furnishings and whatever were nearly entirely decayed, but we did find a couple mummified corpses. We were able to hypothesize that the aliens who built this civilization evolved on a world of savage carnivorous megafauna and developed a particularly aggressive natural defense system, namely a crude nano-scale defense that would attack the nervous systems of anything that tried to eat them. Armed with this natural defense, they evolved sapience and ultimately a technology-base founded on their natural nano-tech glands. We also noticed that the creatures strongly resembled the bat-creatures hanging from the ceiling.
There was some speculation by Ivan based on no information I could see that the society was highly stratified, with only the higher castes permitted in the underground buildings while the lower castes stayed above, and Kitano speculated that there was a class-rebellion that set off a nanotechnological weapon of mass destruction that killed the upper echelons in their beds.
By this time, however, the sun had gone down and the bat creatures were stirring, so we rushed to one of the functional buildings intending to spend the night. Nights here on Olaf are very long, however, and seeking to reassure our companions back at the plane, Amber chose to risk the fact that she's not intrinsically delicious to fly out and communicate our intentions. On her way out of the cenote, she encountered a number of the bat creatures who seemed quite curious about her, and had the sonar to detect her despite her aerial invisibility. They body checked her a few times whereupon she began to experience system degradation as if she was being cyberbrain hacked. She was able to fly free and shake the infection, transmitting data to the plane, before returning at emergency speeds. She reported a bat-creature lurking above the door, was was swift enough to duck inside while Kvasir was swift enough to slam the door shut behind her.
Analysis of the attack on her systems seemed to show a sophisticated nanotechnological attack seeking to subvert her electronic systems. This seemed well out of keeping with creatures that had appeared to be mere animals. We speculated that, perhaps, the bat creatures were actually savage descendents of the original builders, and may in fact be sapient, if primitive. We determined to try to capture one.
I hid out in a back room, but monitored via mesh as best I could while they prepared to open the door, let one inside, and slam the door behind it. The creatures didn't play along, however, landing just outside the door and congregating, appearing for all the world like they were curious, wary, or even in religious awe of us. Ivan speculated that they did, in fact, hold these building with a certain degree of religious respect, but that the nanotech systems of the buildings didn't recognize their credentials and had been closed to them for millenia. In that context, our ability to open the door would represent a revelation.
What ensued was a tentative and cumbersome attempt at establishing something akin to communication. Ansel was able to emulate their ultra-high frequency vocalizations to at least demonstrate we were capable of mimicry. Ivan began using his skinflex tech to look as much like one as possible. Ultimately, though, it came to Amber, who allowed herself to once more become infected by their nanotech. With Kvasir monitoring her systems and trying to keep damage to a minimum, she was eventually able to open a data link.
I suspect turning this link into anything resembling real communication will take a lot of time, but for now the danger of imminent attack has diminished.