Terra Nueva

Even in the depths of space, life
Diplomatic Dispatches 1 x 03

Dispatch from Companion to Coral Bloom

This is my first report as an actual member of the Triad space force.

[Memory, Terra Nueva as seen from Freedom in orbit at Gaspia] I have been on Gaspia in training and I have seen video of our world from orbit. Freedom has actual windows (ports?). I can see our world with my own eyes. My duties are routine for now – a communications officer. I was able to schedule my watches so I could see Freedom pull away from Gaspia and begin our fall towards the smaller sun.

You would find the air flat, sterile. There are few scents of anything but machines, and, the old wood of the hull. The crew mostly wears bioplas, which contains our scents. The filters scrub the rest. Once Terra Nueva becomes just another point of light, we settle into routine.

Chief Engineer Samman leads the mission, although Captain Joradottir is in command of Freedom. Samman is an Uatsu male. I find him deliberate, mission-focused. He would be most satisfied if the mission had remained an engineering problem.

Pilot Kr’tn is our most skilled pilot, also an Uatsu male. Again, he seems calm, deliberate, and focused. He offers suggestions about the broader aspects of the mission and has some intrinsic curiosity about the problem we discover.

Specialist Mercury is the third of my portion of the team. He is a bio-engineered human – a machine telepath with a group of Echo-like intelligences. I think you know his parents.

The other two members of the team – Engineer Stoneham and Marine Grignak spent much of the travel portion of the mission planning their separate part of the repair mission – I did not get a chance to speak with them much.

[Memory, a briefing] Engineer Samman explained the problem. All of the Triad’s fast space ships (not the Pegasi) are fueled by antimatter, which is collected by ten automated satellites around the smaller of our system’s suns. This is our sole source of antimatter – if it fails, then the Triad space program would quickly fail as well. Recently, five of the ten stations have stopped responding to signals and are invisible to our sensors. We are being sent to find out what went wrong and fix it.

This problem occurred shortly after two large comets passed close to the smaller sun as part of their normal orbits. The Triad tracks space objects to make sure they are not a danger. The comets seemed routine. Once the satellites went dark, their astronomers looked at their records and found the comets had lost more mass than is normal in their pass. There were dark nodules visible as the comets approached that are not there as the comets head back into the Oort Cloud. The nodules were made of things like silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and iron – building blocks of life. The Uatsu warned about a silicon life form in the asteroids; early explorers had also found silicon proto-life. Could there be something that lives on comets.

Engineer Samman’s plan is to send the Alloy (a smaller ship) with a team to repair and inspect the intact arrays while we begin with the first dark asteroid. In their past, the Star People used glass lenses to make telescope. They long since replaced these with more powerful sensors, but some Star People have small telescopes as a hobby. We have borrowed one. It will be mounted on the hull so someone. Me, it turns out, will be able to look through it.

[Memory, approaching the asteroid] This is my first time in a vacc suit outside of training. Freedom has gravity in the airlock, which makes this possible. But there is no horizon, no ground, nothing but space. It is terrifying. I can see the asteroid. It looks like a grey rock, but it is a couple of kilometers long. [strong emotional overtones of curiosity, wonder] There is life here. Four fragile fluid creatures, something like jellyfish, float around the asteroid. I can see them. Freedom’s sensors cannot. They keep position near what I’ll call the north pole of the asteroid. They are huge – the size of the grove guardian communicators.

We stop and observe. They absorb almost all electromagnetic radiation from nearly 600 kilometers around themselves. Thus, they shield the asteroid from our sensors. We can see them. They glow very slightly. Engineer Samman calculates when Freedom’s energy signature would seem greater to them than the small sun. That is the inner limit of how close we can go.

I suggest we try to send radio pulses at them. The same sorts of simple pulses the Star People used to talk to the Uatsu AI they call Rocky. Engineer Samman does not want to attract the jellyfish to Freedom. We start preparing a comm buoy instead. Meanwhile Engineer Samman has us use Freedom’s laser to heat the south pole of the asteroid to see if the jellyfish are attracted to energy.

[strong emotion, surprise, wonder] The jellyfish closest to the south pole moves rapidly away. Two more appear suddenly. We couldn’t see them until they moved and they are fast. Faster than Freedom. Pilot Ky’rn and Engineer Samman think they use energy as a sort of solar sail. There is a burst of energy when they move. But there may be dozens of them around that we cannot see.

These are creatures of space. Freedom’s tractor beam would probably hurt them. Why are they around the asteroid then?

Simple pulses attract a couple of jellyfish to our buoy. They play with it, moving close enough to silence it, then moving away. I try more complicated patterns. Music. That brings more from elsewhere. Now there are ten. Always four near the asteroid. Why? Eventually we spot a structure in a crater – biological. An egg mass. Periodically, one of the four passes over the egg mass and directs energy at it. They are feeding it. Are they guarding it. Are the predators out here?

Strong emotion overwhelms the air filters — now I can smell my nest-mates concern, fear, and frustration. We suspect this has also happened to our arrays. They gather energy and would probably seem like good egg sites. So we turn off the buoy, let them lose interest, pick it up, and head for the closest array.

[Memory, approaching the array] As suspected, there are four more jellyfish here. And eggs filling all 13 collectors. We need to get closer. Specialist Mercury has greater range than I do. (I am jealous of his echoes.) They can talk to the station from 50 miles away. We heat up a small rock and send it past the station at about that range. The jellyfish ignore it. So we send in Specialist Mercury and Pilot Kr’tn in a small mining bug. The jellyfish ignore them. The satellite is functioning. They pass close enough to listen to the jellyfish. They are not machine life. There are many eggs. Too many to clear by hand, ignoring how the jellyfish might respond.

We cannot afford to just wait and let them hatch. We don’t know how long it would take, if it would damage the arrays (the structure might, for example, explode to push the young jellyfish away from the microgravity of an asteroid), and we need the antimatter. These are vermin.

Before we try to clear the eggs, Captain Joradottor suggests we experiment with the asteroid so we don’t damage the station. So we throw a rock at the egg mass. The jellyfish ignore it. It destroys the eggs. Many of them gather for a time, then drift off. What sensors we have show an energy spike when the eggs broke. That’s a problem for the satellite. Once the jellyfish are gone, we use the tractor to take samples.

Engineer Samman and Specialist Mercury devise a plan. Engineer Samman and Pilot Kr’tn take a bug to the satellite. They collect the antimatter, secure its electrical systems, and reel in the solar panels. Then we use Freedom’s tractor beam to spin it – the resulting force will push the eggs out of the tubes or break them. Satellite is sturdy – it should take spinning at 1 to 1.5 G, but we expect the eggs to break away at far less. Meanwhile, we’ll use a comm buoy to broadcast a signal when the spin begins. If the jellyfish are smart enough to learn, we hope they’ll associate the signal with the spin, not Freedom.

[Memory, spinning satellite] It works. At about .3G the eggs begin to detach. Then some explode. About 20% of the vermin eggs survive. Many jellyfish gather. Some take the surviving eggs, probable to another rock. Samman then goes back to the station, puts the pail back, re-sets the solar panels, and does the maintenance. We repeat on the other four stations and take an egg sample at the third. (Sealed container, with its own grav plate to protect the egg.) More jellyfish gather at each satellite. There are at least 30 in this area.

We move our optical satellite to watch the other dark asteroid and set its comm laser to send data back to Terra Nueva. I expect Scientist Ozone to be very busy with the new data. Energy-vores. They don’t seem to have consumed the arrays — where does the mass for the eggs come from? Why so many — are there predators or are many lost in deep space in their journey back to the Oort Cloud. The Uatsu can convert mass and energy, can the jellyfish? If we can learn how the jellyfish absorb energy and move so quickly, that may solve the Captain’s concern about alternative propulsion, at least close to a star.

View
The Mighty Jungle
Brei’s Letters Home 1x02

Dear Dad and Mom

We’re safely back at Gaspia from Kr-axal Nox. Your Care Package of dried fruit and peppers arrived while we were gone – Thanks. The new generation of peppers is better, but I think we can get them even hotter.

Terra Nueva continues to surprise. In addition to the Great Slinkers, we’ve found a new species of butterfly, of bird, and of insects.

I’ll start with the butterflies – neon blue, nocturnal ones that landed on our dome while we were catching and sampling the Tree Ghost. When startled, they left behind a dust. Sen and Felger’s initial tests suggest it’s psychoactive. Later, we saw but didn’t sample some neon pink butterflies near the Great Slinkers’ clearning. The Slinkers hid from them, but we don’t know what they do.

We found the insects next. Heading towards the Great Slinker grove, we found a large cocoon hanging from a branch. Hawk cut it down – scans showed a person inside, alive, but suspended. While waiting for evac, we found old, corroded hunter’s gear– he’s been in that web for a while. Hawk found a broken cocoon, slashed open by something. Old feathers in it from those prismatic-feather birds we saw but hadn’t investigated. Hawk found another intact cocoon. We opened that up and found a suspended prismatic bird. I dug out a welt on it and found insect larvae. Sen took samples – its not in the database – something new. The bird started to come around. I’d have either dug out the larvae or put it out of its misery, but we though Medical would want the comparison data. Cold packs to sooth and quiet the larvae were the best I could do. We heard later that the Hunter had been evac’d to Aurora and is recovering. Hawk played bait – the webmeisters are tiny insects that live under the bark of a particular tree. Breathing what’s on the web probably puts their prey to sleep. Nasty, and below the threshhold for perimeter sensors. I’ll send out a notice on the Hunting boards.

We trudged through the swamp. About half my team doesn’t know how to swim. Felger seemed shocked at the very idea of voluntarily immersing himself in water. Swamp never got more than hip deep or so, but slow and hard going. Saw some sort of slime/gas bags at a distance. Might be related to the things the Tikket made to change the Maples into data trees. Didn’t investigate. Centurion Adams is very mission-focused. I guess it’ll get left to a follow-up survey.

When we camped at the edge of the swamp near the Slinkers grove, those Snitch Birds decided our domes might be dinner and set up a ruckus. A couple of Steakvines showed up. Hawk shot one to bits. The other decided we weren’t worth the trouble. Hawk took down some birds until the rest got the idea we’re not food. Wondering what they hunt by – is it as simple as the domes were new in their territory, or something about our smell, or heat. More for the follow-up survey.

I spent the next few days in hunting blind watching the Slinkers. Like the hands, dominant adult male, a couple of young males, females and young. Alarm signals, some grunts, but no true language. Some basic tool use, but likely proto-sentient. You did warn me how much wilderness biology involves scat.

We talked a bit to the Uatsu about why they want the data. Apparently, they plan to release nanobots to make themselves and the predators harmonious – the predators would ignore them. Nobody asked my opinion – it’s dumb. They said that’s how everything was on their world – everything talked to everything. No wonder they’re not a warrior people – they neutered their natural dangers and forgot how to be afraid or be prepared for it. When I go out, I know that hunter could have been me. That’s why I don’t just trust to perimeter sensors. That’s why Bayside has patrols that actually look for trouble and check in with settlers and camps. I don’t just wander out there trusting to tech to keep me safe. No wonder Felger doesn’t like the outdoors – it isn’t safe.

Yes, I got mom a couple of rocks – they’ll be on the next supply run down to you. Not sure how long we’ll be at Gaspia. Are there strawberries yet?

 — Brei

View
In the Jungle
Brei's Letters Home 1x01

Dear Dad and Mom

Just a quick field update. I’m in the midst of my first actual ISP mission. We left Gaspia for Kr-axal Nox to help the Uatsu cataloging local wildlife. Their hunters found a new large insectiod-herbavore (Harvesters), sign of a larger Hand-like creature (Great Slinkers), and traces of a tree-based predator (Tree Ghost).

We’re under command of Centurion Harrison Adams. I like him. He’s very clear about the mission goals and parameters. No nonsense and straight to business.

Rest of the team is

Sen Bahati Vicinius – Dr. Vicinius’ eldest I think.

Hawkwing Horus, a Fisher King from Aurora, with cyber arms – Marine/scout

Drake – a Marine who travels with a huge gun (I’m not sure that’s supposed to be sentient-portable). He’s surprisingly stealthy given that much gear and armor.

Felgercarb – an Utasu technician who seems really edgy with outdoors, mud, and muck.

So far we’ve been out a few days and have samples and recordings of at least three new species – the Harvesters, Nag Birds, and a Tree Ghost. We’ve seen signs of a prismatic bird which feeds from an unknown flower. The prismatic birds may have sonic effects – Centurion Adams has been keeping us on task. We’ve seen Steak Vine, but nothing has tried to eat us so far.

I’m glad you insisted I apprentice with House Bovine in veterinary – it’s been handy. Sen and I have lots of samples to bring back and I’ll attach the data we have so far.

We’ll likely spend another day or two trying to track and observe the Tree Ghost – it’s camouflage includes IR and makes a Snipe look lazy. Then we’ll see what we can find about these Great Slinkers.

All my love

Brei

View
Homecoming
Doctor's Log 2 x12

And so we return with Yd’rel Yod (anthropologist) as emissary to the colony. Yod seems willing to fly back in our ship, which must to him look like a biplane. Marak and Marcus have been rooting around in the Uatsu sofa cushions for loose tech to bring home, and have some. Rocky had detected something large impacting in the oceans around the time the Refugee Ring went silent, so there may be more survivors down there. We’ll need the Tikket’s help to check it out.

The Uatsu are quite long-lived. Their nanite/replicator tech means they effectively don’t age, they have chosen as a society a life-span of about 600 years. They are deliberate in their speech and actions, and talk things out before making a decision.

The Council asks us to fly back slowly. It seems that we needed supplies from Oceana to build the drop ship and suits. When Oceana asked what was up, Adams and Marak lied to them. This has not made Governor Hadrian at all happy. He’s coming to TN to meet with Yod, but the flight even at a fast Pegasus burn will take time. (Freedom used up a lot of its fuel – its taking time to make/gather more antimatter.) Their doctor and I talk about the various diseases of TN – none should be a challenge to their biology. Nor should the vampire crystals, which turn out to be some of Rocky’s terraformer tech.

Meanwhile, Virgil and I have borrowed mini holographic file readers – his is on their history, mine is about their art and music. We talk with Yod about their homeworld and how it relates to what we see on TN. Yod is concerned by the active role that Rocky took in developing the Tikket and the Fisher Kings, but unlike the Hoth they don’t seem to feel any responsibility for their children. Yod has many questions about us – the Uatsu may have encountered the Hoth or something like them – he thinks their use of intelligent life to spawn was not ethical. We talk about our relationship to the Hoth and our efforts to uplift the Fisher Kings. Yod seems to disagree and feel that we should leave the Fisher Kings to figure things out themselves, no matter how long that takes. I vehemently disagree about information and techniques that can save lives. AUD1 Yod treats like a person – the base AI (which seems volitional) it treats like an intelligent servant. Later, I hear that both Marak and Vicinius sent messages home to bring Rocky under our wings so he isn’t just shut down or reprogrammed. By the time we’re at Gaspia station, the Senate has recognized Rocky as a unique species, negotiated mining rights, and protective rules.

Yod settles in at House Vitarum while we wait for Hadrian. I’m barely back home when both Brooke and she-who-hates-me arrive. I expected this. Dressing down for injecting “two of our most valuable citizens” with alien tech. They aren’t wrong about the risk and that it was ethically questionable. It was, however, the only option for mission success. And, it shouldn’t matter who was injected – ethics are not relative. She-who-hates-me disagrees – yet another dig at my getting a slot on the trip that her friend did not.
Yod talks with the Tikket, the Fisher Kings, and the Golden Ants that visit Aurora and Bayside. The Uatsu knew multiple empathic races, but not ones that use psi the way that the Tikket and Ants do. Marak invites him over for dinner; Yod asks about our families and children. Meanwhile, Vicinius offered Rocky a membership in his House.

Adams settles in to negotiations. Even from the press vids, it’s clear that President Seri and Governor Hadrian are not getting along. This is the first time they’ve met face to face since we left Aute. Eventually Adams asks me for some psychological advice. Neither of them are my current patients, so it would be unethical to look at their records (and I don’t, thank you.) But I’ve spent a fair amount of time with Seri and I have seen her medical records at times. This feels like a family dispute. From the pre-launch press, we can see that Hadrian rose thru the ranks on his own and has no acknowledged father. It seems from his remarks that he and Seri are related – not half-siblings, maybe first cousins? There’s some old family dispute and it is coming out in resentment that neither Seri nor Adams told Oceana about the Uatsu expedition. (Marak, it seems, he expected to lie – he’s a merchant.)

Mid-way thru the conversation, Adams looks suddenly concerned, frightened? Ruby, his AI/familiar, has gone dark. All of Ruby goes down, not just the part he had digging into Seri and Hadrian’s past. This is not good. Adams tries to cut me out – I think he’s trying to be protective. That’s not going to work – he’s my friend. I’m not going to leave him hanging. Keeping a patient’s secrets is part of the oath. But he ducks out to handle it on his own. The best I can do is extract a promise that he’ll check in with me, face to face, within 24 hours. I move his biomonitor result to the top of my side screen –heartbeat fast, breathing fast. I check for Marcus – he’s apparently out drinking with Seri. So I send a message to Marak to check in with me in either a day or if my monitor goes silent.
Whatever is up, it is serious. So I sober Marcus up – whether he likes it or not. He, Seri, and Adams go into a room to talk. Whatever it is, Adams stays on edge for a while, then starts to calm. Then the biomonitor turns off. I look at Marcus’ feed – steady. If something was wrong, he’d have reacted. Not sure what’s up with Adams – maybe he doesn’t want to risk the feed being used to hack? When he comes out, I try to ask him flat out if he is still himself. He’s evasive, annoyingly so. I guess that’s an answer. Whatever it is, the storm seems to pass from the negotiations. Not my business and I’m in no position to complain about other peoples’ secrets.

End of Season Two epilog:

Negotiations are good. The Uatsu want to come to TN – they’d be most comfortable in the jungle – somewhere without Tikket, Ants, or Fisher Kings. There’s lots of room for that. They know we are covetous of their tech and they are concerned about its effects on us. They’re willing to teach, but not to just hand things over. That’s not what we want. Marak and I had both set as ground-rules with the Fisher Kings that we shared equipment and knowledge in fair trade for the help the Kings have given us, for their help in creating new data groves, and their help with new medicinal plants and knowledge about TN. Marcus is concerned about the dangerous neighborhood we live in – the tech would help us defend. Apparently it will also make us more visible to people with the same advanced tech. The Uatsu have sensors in the belt and the Oort Cloud that need repairs – with that they’ll know more about what’s around us. It’s weird to be on the other end of the patronizing conversation, but Seri has been concerned about so many changes that the Colonists have faced just in the past few years – maybe slowing down a bit is a good idea.

After a bunch of meetings, I head home. Cailean and I head into the yard with the kids, Eilena is nearly ready for actual school. We sit under the stars around a fire. I point out one tiny dot among the stars and begin. “Once upon a time, there was a crowded world on the edge of transformation….”

View
The Uatsu -- Part II
Doctor's Log 2x11

Mission elapsed time 8 hours. 60 hours to shuttle failure.

We can make the nanos. I think I have a grasp of how Uatsu brain structure differs from ours. We just don’t have the power to revive the base doctor and chief engineer. Using their bed to scan Marak, I can compare our brains to Uatsu. Will it work – probably. But it will re-write the patient’s brain – side effects could be anything from minimal to catastrophic.

Meanwhile, we check the rest of the base. There are some humanoids in status and spiderlike creatures in status as well. NO idea what they are. We think the humanoids are something like AUD1 – no sign of damage to them or of fighting in this room. The fog is thinner – it is making little spider bots which are very hard to see. The bots are watching us – if we move into a blind spot, they move to follow. AUD1 thinks this is part of the base AI as it boots up. Doors that we could easily open are now locked, the creditials Rocky provided can get us back into the nano-fac, but it takes a bit of work to get back to the Total Conversion Plant and what turns out to be life support. Sadly, AUD1 says that without the main plant, we can only get the base AI to 30% — probably need at least 67% to get detailed info and help with the plant.

The humanoids stir, and they are on the other side of a huge hall from sick bay. Marcus comes running when Virgil spots them. I start to get back into the HEX suit, but it will take far too much time. Adams and Marcus talk to the humanoids – after some mis-steps we can talk to them. They are security. They’re mollified a bit that we are friends of the Terraformer (Rocky). They don’t have the skills to restore power and can’t use insta-skill nano. They’re willing to watch us and let us proceed.

Marak figures out how to make the engineering insta-skill and makes 2 doses. Time to decide. He’s willing. He knows the risks. I hate this idea but I’m not seeing other options. We’ve started a reboot and potentially made things unstable. We can’t just leave it. We can’t learn enough to restore power on our own without months or years of study. A long pause. A longer pause. OK.

We make a shelter around him so I can scan him. The neural inhibitor will keep him still, but I can’t risk it interfering with his brain while the nanites work. I can see it as it works – it is terrifying and elegant all at once. And it hurts. I can fix some damage as it happens, but I can’t stop the pain. But it works. He knows. He rests.

Now that he understands, he thinks he may need an assistant to make this work. That’s Adams. He saw what happened to Marak and he’s still willing. And for him, it works much more easily. Again, terrifying and elegant to see the brain being changed. So much potential. So many things I could fix with this – and more, this could do much of what I do with psi, making it possible for an ordinary doctor to, well, be me.
Together, AUD1, Marak, and Adams bring up main power. As it comes up, the AI begins to respond. It’s concerned about us. We suggest it talk to Rocky, which reassures it. We can get the protective dome up over the ship. Shuttle decay stops at T-52 hours. We get rest.
The Hall of Rememberance comes up. Temperature returns to normal. The AI can talk to us. It shows us a map – the last map of the Uatsu. There is a vast, vast amount of space. Aute and TN’s system are tiny, tiny parts of it. Tens of thousands of years out of date, but many, many intelligent races were once there. Suddenly, I realize how small I am and how much there is to see. And I want to see it all.

We talk. The AI (dubbed Bullwinkle) restores their doctor, who can restore the engineer and their head of security. Watching the bed rebuild a body, then restore memories replaces the insta-skill nanites as the most terrifying and elegant things I have seen. Their doctor becomes conscious. It sees me, the security AIs, and asks what has happened. It takes the news that its been asleep for 60k years and that it and the 50 others in storage are likely the last of its kind with surprising calm.

Watching the process a second time for their security head is no less amazing and terrifying. This one has some hitches, but works. And so we talk. Their security head wants to know more about us and what we want. Frankly, we want the tech. We’re willing to trade for it. We want to learn from them. We may have things to teach them. We mention the Tikket, who have their own bio-tech with similar capacity. We, like they are concerned about survival and have our own hostile, alien group to fear.

The Defense Chief is worried about us. We’re reckless. It seem horrified that we used their nanintes to re-write our own brains to mess with a delicate power system. (They bring an Engineer up to check things – we didn’t screw it up.) We didn’t have much choice – we couldn’t revive someone qualified to use the nanites or bring full power on line without restoring power. The upshot is they’ll revive a diplomat (or perhaps an anthropologist) to come back to TN and negotiate.

View
The Uatsu -- Part I
Doctor's Log 2x10

Three years, three days since our first response from Rocky. Aurora and Bayside are up to about 7,500 sentients, including 500 young Medynn. We’ve got another 1,000 or so between Janus 2 and Gaspia, and another 1,500 in the belt. Things are going well so far.
Marcus is testing the lander for Ammonia-world. It’s very shiny – gold plated in fact. So far, so good, considering that if it fails, there’s no rescue. The rest of us are learning how to use the armored HEX suits without tripping over our own feet – these things are 8’ tall and weigh a couple of tons. Looks like Virgil will be staying in orbit with the Pegasus – we need his seat for Marak’s min-fac.

We’re learning Uatsu from Rocky. There’s some sort of translator program there if we can get it running. Rocky can give us some access codes – it should help. Vicinius looked at the Uatsu DNA – it looks a lot (about 85%) like the Fisher King Hands.

I’ve been busy with the Tikket relief efforts. The Fire ant don’t have psi healing, so they’ve had to develop actual medicine for that physiology. It’s brilliant. Wrong in many places. But brilliant. Scorpion Bane and Coral Bloom are both interested in creating Tikket physical medicine – carapace repair is their biggest problem. Marak’s negotiating with Oceana to send some Tikket to consult on their terraforming – we’ll need to make them some space suits, but Marak has ideas. One of the elderly queens has died. The others are doing fine so far. The Tikket aren’t interested in adapting the anti-aging nanites, given Desert Bloom’s unhealthy life extension. I find the nanites a bit weird – I can hear them when I scan myself. Given time, I should be able to duplicate what they’re doing myself.

The Fisher King shaman looked at that spiral grove. It’s their First Nest, a sort of Eden where they were at their best. The Bayside nest came from the outer wing, less than the First, but more than the scattered feathers. This needs more study, but we’re headed out.

Trip is as uneventful as space travel gets. It is always a thrill to see the stars and float free. Then, of course, Adams’ stomach starts to turn. <sigh> Once we’re under thrust, he’s better. Of course, I’ve been saddled with paperwork. I swear that woman hates me.

And then we’re there. Near feature-less ice with swirling clouds of ammonia. Deadly, but pretty. The lander descends without a hitch. We dock with the Uatsu base and pump out the airlock. It seals, which is a good sign that the base may be intact. Then down the ladder in the suits. Rocks and the remains of our probe at the bottom. There’s an outer airlock door – gone – no debris just missing. We eventually figure out how to open the inner airlock door and make our way into some sort of suiting-up space. There’s a fog of nanites on the floor – they don’t seem to be doing anything. Temperature is -40, some oxygen – breathable but not great. We get out of the big suits into the sealed bioplas.

As we try to go down the next hall, the gravity shifts to 4G. We retreat. After some discussion and testing, we figure out that the corridor gravity has re-set and it’s triggered by pressure on the floor. Marak crosses in his Gekko gear and opens the far door. We cross into the outer control room. Gravity is normal here. And we see what the nanites do – they make useful stuff like chairs.

There are control panels – the communications panel is shot out. Otherwise the base is empty. There are signs of a fight here – damage to the walls in places – but no bodies. Maybe the fog ate the dead? The security office has a defensive wall of energy, but I can just barely reach past it to turn it off. More panels, most we can’t use until the base has more power. Possibly an armory. We head downstairs to the lover levels.

There’s a garden. The planets are in a nanite-status. Some of them look like TN-plants, but nanites are part of their structure. Eventually we find the black hole generator. Yes, a microscopic black hole. And they used it to send messages and for back-up power. Someone shut it down neatly. Marak and AUD1 figure it out well enough to restore it to full power, but the main plant – something called a total power converter – is a whole new level of difficulty. Marak says he feels like monkeys banging on tech with rocks. The generator has the backup for their comms – some partial logs about the attack. AUD1 also finds some mention of “insta-skill” nanos. There are places by the stations where they should be, but are missing or destroyed. As best we can tell, the nanos re-write the brain to provide the basics in some skill. There is a nanite fac – we could make them.

And so a bad idea is born. If we can find or make the nanites, we could inject them into someone and get actual skill. AUD1 can’t use them. Marcus is mission critical – we need him to get home. Marak’s got the best repair skills, might have the best shot at using the skill. Adams and I are least critical and I need to keep whoever takes the nanos alive. Crap! These are my patients, my friends. If this goes wrong I’ve got to tell their wives and children that I injected their kin with alien mind-rewriting tech. It’s not right, but it may be necessary. First, let’s see if there’s another way.

So we start looking at the library and the sick bay for more information. There’s power to six treatment tables – some sort of autodoc. As best I can tell from the logs, the Uatsu are also partly nanite. They downloaded their memories using the tables, which can rebuilt their bodies. And so bad idea number two is born. We could download the base engineer’s memories and skills into someone. It would re-write them. This is a desperation move. If I had a TN hospital and neurosurgical team, we could repair the damage. Here, with the contents of my medical duffle – I can keep him alive, I’m sure.

There is a third bad idea. The system might be able to restore an Uatsu. AUD1 is all for it. I’m more concerned about trying to revive an extinct race right now. They might be powerful allies and we owe them a lot – the very life of TN – but that’s a huge step. The tables can auto-revive, but they need more power. Main power needs to be restored first.

We’ve got some time before we need to either leave or send the drop ship back to the Pegasus so it is safe from the atmosphere. For now, we eat, read their manuals and logs, and study to see what we can do. The base is slowly powering up around us.

View
Aftermath of the War
Doctor's Log 2x09

A month has passed in a blur. When the War of the Queens ended, the surviving Blossoms asked for our aid and asylum. Scorpion Bane, Golden Sand, and Black Sand seem to be in charge of the victors. The mega-hive is damaged. There are wounded Tikket, starvation, and confusion. We’ve got protocols for disaster relief that we can adapt. Volunteers only – relief operations are dangerous enough. Add-in an alien species and there’s no telling what we’ll encounter. Marcus button-holes me before we go to make sure I listen to my security team. That’s a given – I’m not selfish enough to put someone else in danger to protect me.

Mr. Dulin asked for briefing on the Council’s behalf. I sent over the proposals I’ve been fiddling with while we’ve been sitting on our hands watching this war. Marcus sent along the security plan. Adams is surprisingly thorough at logistical planning and support for not having been involved in a disaster relief op. Agritech is supplying food relief (and building markets, no doubt.) We put out a public call to donate resources and Fab-time. Most of the problem is what we expected – starvation and injuries. Surprising lack of opportunistic disease. On the other hand, added psych trauma when they shut down the communal dreamscape.

The Tikket don’t have hospitals and medical staff – their healing is all by the Queens and their Echoes. And that was already stretched in the mega-hives because the life-extended Queens had lost their Echoes. Blossoms don’t heal. The Fire Ants do have some medicine – it’s primitive, but promising, and adapted to a similar biology. Their triage protocols are very different – all about preserving those most useful to the Hive.
I don’t like it, but it looks like most of the medical work will be long distance – field stations with medical waldos, bots with medical chips, and the actual medical team in a safe hive under Scorpion Bane’s protection. I don’t like it – I’m much better when I can touch and see a patient – but they’ve got psi healing, what they need is old-fashioned doctoring. Some Tikket can borrow skills. I can’t lend – security issues with that level of telepathic contact – but others can. The main fungal tree network is down.

A lot of discussion of what will become of Desert Bloom’s hive and the mega-hives. The Tikket aren’t sure what to do with defeated foes. Scorpion Bane is feeding three of the mega-hives, scavenging Desert Bloom’s for what’s useful, and leaving what’s left abandoned as an object-lesson to future generations. Harsh. But they’ll pull out the Tikket to other hives. We do want to make sure Desert Bloom is dead – Vicinius will take a team in to the queen chamber, examine, and get samples of the oldest of Tikket and the oldest of the fungus. Appears the Tikket are not at all sentimental about the dead – they just get recycled into fungus food.

Scorpion Bane’s hive is big. Different from Coral Blooms. Uses actual stone buildings more than membranes. It’s old, from the days when hives fought each other. We set up base camp – it’ll be home for the next couple of months. Then the work begins. Tending the dying and the wounded. Disposing of the dead so they don’t build up and spark disease. Getting food in. Re-starting fungal gardens. It’s a long grind. I miss the sun, the stars, being able to get out of camp and look at something natural and normal. Nightly vid-calls to Cailean and the kids help, but make me miss them more. Sadly, I’m not footloose and 20 anymore.

Finally it is done, or as done as it gets. Scorpion Bane and the others have a lot to sort out. We’re here to be neighbors, but the Tikket need to work this out. Home and a party to help my team decompress. Seems that I’ve gotten promoted and given paperwork to do.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Contact Team has been busy trying to communicate with the planet – dubbed Rocky. I’ve got patients to tend, work to do, a family to actually have time to see. Eventually, I have a routine. A couple of weeks at home, then out to the Fisher King nest for a visit, from there to the outlying Bayside settlements with a field team for check-ups and care, then to Aurora for the same – check-ups and care at their outlying settlements, then home again. Bovine has some horses up – I had missed riding.

Finally, over the course of a year, they learn to send a message. “Hello! This is us! What are you.” We get back “Hello. I am of the Uatsu.” It’s a creation of the Uatsu – a spacefaring race that came here 60k years ago – there’s an Uatsu base on one of the outer planets that Rocky wants to reconnect with. It was intended to terraform TN for the Uatsu who had come here hiding from some bigger foe — Hurku. They had refugees in a ring around the planet, long silent, now gone. The planet has evolved past that expected point – eventually Rocky started working on intelligent life in hopes of evolving a way to reconnect to the base. It’s time consuming. I insist they get out now and then to see their families, get some sun, and stop talking in advanced mathematical jargon at each other. The pattern in the snow was a simple message “I exist. I function.”

The Senate wants to know more before committing resources, but a base with alien tech is a rich temptation. We send a probe – there’s something there, but an atmosphere that will burn thru a ship unless we specially shield it – and even then it will last a couple of days at most. The remains of the base look breached – something broke it.

This will take some time to plan and build equipment, but the Contact Team is going.

View
War of the Queens -- Part II
Doctor's Log 2x08

[Encrypted where needed for the war prep discussions]

There are sentients suffering and dying during this war, and I can do nothing to help. Instead, I go from Bayside hospital to the outlying outposts and the Fisher King nest to Aurora and then its outlying outposts, to a short stint in orbit, and back again. Two weeks with Cailean and the kids out of every six. I’m tired, a bit saddle-sore, but hustling about keeps my mind off the war I can’t intervene in. It is somewhat a blessing that we hear the news by “telephone” from Scorpion Bane. It is not like Aute where there would have been pictures and interviews on every news link. And it must be far worse to be in the midst of battle in a city of telepaths, even if their data networks are down. The Tikket have not gone to war in two centuries – since Desert Bloom took control – I don’t know how they’ll maintain morale on any of the sides. Most of what we hear is about fighting in Radiant – a key city near the central mega-hives. When it falls, it cuts Desert Bloom off from a line of allies.

There are new people. We’ve been waking Freedom’s refugees from nano-status. There’ a mixed-lot – those desperate enough to be willing to try an untested technology in hopes of an uncertain refuge. And, like all the newly awakened, they’re stumbling into Terra Nueva’s many natural hazards and having to adapt to our air and pollens.

Food is a bit tight – more fungus, less real meat and plants. Housing is tight. We’ve had fights over space. The Belters have their own psychological and health issues. They are two to four generations from the Shattered World – we slept enroute.

When I’m in orbit, I hear the hopeful discussions of the new station on the big asteroid we flung in. With the Freedom’s tech, it’ll have gravity plating – no need to spin it. The techs chatter and gossip about the new factory, space doc, and adapting Janus 3 into the new station. Then I look through a window down at Terra Nueva and at Adams’ rocks hanging in orbit waiting.

And I’ve got a side project. Coral Bloom has agreed to send us one of her Echoes and an elderly Tikket who no longer has echos to help work on the nanite project. This is mostly one for the engineers, but I’m consulting as best I can.

AUD1 remains obsessed with trying to talk to the planet. He’s right. It is cool. But it has waited five years, it can wait more if needed. Adams, on the other hand, is obsessed with using the Freedom’s tech to make a new business suit. AUD1, Adams, Marak, and Vicinius hole up working on this for weeks at a stretch – they make progress, then hit a wall where they need to develop new software to proceed.

Things come to a head. Radiant falls to Scorpion Bane for the second time. Two of the Blossoms on Understanding Island ask for diplomatic protection. Marcus flys in an extraction team and evacuates everyone to Aurora. Watching the data centers, we see struggles beginning between the giant telekenetic bugshrooms and Desert Bloom’s fire ants, with the bio-tanks as weapons on one side or the other. Marcus flies a strike team down. I watch, too late to go. (And suspect my brother intended that.) A second Pegasus drops a team at a different grove. We watch the fighting. Freedom’s fighters make strafing runs on the tanks controlled by ants. The ants fight to the last – they don’t give up; neither do the bugshrooms in the groves where they loose. We send the Freedom’s fighters to aid at other groves. When the dust settles, a quarter of the Tikket data groves are burned. No casualties among our people – minor injuries. The Blossom refugees were watching with us at the Aurora command center. They’re shocked and unhappy. This attack was not an acceptable thing. Desert Bloom falls. We’re told she’s dead. Vicinius suggests we offer humanitarian aid. I send Madame President the plan I’ve been working on for weeks.

I’ve spent more time in Fisher King groves than nearly anyone else. The one Marcus dropped his team at was weird – the trees were in a spiral pattern and much closer together than I’ve seen before. I need to talk to the Bayside nest shaman, and probably suggest a team go look.

Marak asks about the fate of Adams’ rocks. They’re obvious to anyone in orbit, and anyone on the ground who thinks to look. The program will be transferred from Adams to ISP.

Since I have Madame President’s ear and she’s in a planning-for-the future mood, I ask her again about the Senate’s plans for advising parents about the gene-modifying-prion and the potential to vaccinate against it. I’m frustrated that I can’t tell my patients what I know and let them make their own decisions. She agrees to put it to the Senate with a recommendation to tell the people what we know and let them know their options.

View
War of the Queens -- Part I
Doctor's Log 2x07

[Encrypted as heck for discussion about war preparations and hints of our diplomatic backchannel]

One injection and uncounted tiny robots swim into my body, it’s odd. I can tell they are there, but it’s ignorable. Like getting a new filling – it feels weird at first, then in a couple of weeks you can’t remember it being different. They’re hard wired for this one task and will someday have to be replaced. I’ll study them. Take notes. See how they feel and work. Adapting them to the Tikket is going to take a long time – the biology is very different and we don’t know much about their aging. But I’m starting on feasibility research.

The Janus Three is headed out to the Belt to be the Belters’ base. I’ve got a psychiatrist trained to help Venus 3 on site, but I’ll still be in touch for sessions.

Meanwhile AUD1 and most of the Contact Team are trying to talk to the planet. It’s slow going. I swing by the lab when I’m on Aurora rotations to see what’s up and whether they are getting enough rest, but I’m not a mathematician.

We’ve got a team back on the Island of Understanding. Desert Bloom sent three Blossoms (black, red, and purple). The black one does all the talking, the others are “yes” bugs. No sign of Scorpion Bane or the Sands.

There are rumors of war. Coral Bloom reports that Scorpion Bane and the Sands have gotten very quiet on the psi-nets and dream web. From other sources, we hear that the rebels are preparing to starve out Desert Bloom. Our source says this has been planned for a while, but after we arrived. It’s our fault. This is new, unprecedented in Tikket warfare.

We meet with Madame President and tell her what we’ve heard. Do we intervene? With much reluctance no – we’re treaty bound to let things play out on the desert continent. We watch the bugaloo herds from space.

They begin to move. Nine hives have gone silent and left the fungal network. Coral Bloom isolates herself. Our contact is through Ozone and his echoes in Coral Bloom’s hive, but we’ll send a radio to her. Desert Bloom has vastly reduced psi power available to her.

The Tikket on Understanding Island suddenly suspend negotiations and go to their dome, their ants are on alert and a bio-tank has come above ground in a defensive position. Two diplomats meet on open ground – it’s not clear they are in contact with Desert Bloom anymore. We hunker down and watch.

With some effort, we create a telephone tree of primes and echoes to reach from us to Coral Bloom to Scorpion Bane. Things are going well for the rebels. Casualties but less than expected. New tactics from the rebels are helping. Desert Bloom responds with traditional Tikket tactics. Some of her allies have been removed and replaced with Scorpion Bane’s ally queens. The big mega-hive is cut off.

Do we take advantage of this to strike. No. We need to be sentients of our word. Instead, we watch, we wait, we prepare in case we are attacked. I start preparing for a humanitarian aid if we’re asked and can go. I don’t like sitting on my hands, but it’s not our fight.

Madame President has concerns that Desert Bloom might make a last-gasp attack on the data groves. They’re guarded by fire ants, who are loyal to her, one per grove. Marcus gets the job of planning a raid to defend the two oldest groves. He wants to fly it and probably will. I want to go – there’s no one better at getting field casualties back into the fight. It’s a risk, but it would be doing something.

For now, I need to be at Bayside and Aurora, working on the nanite project to see if it could be adapted in time to tempt some of the loyalists away. Eventually, we reach the end of what I can do with what we know. It’s feasible. We need to talk to Coral Bloom for more information on Tikket biology to see how to make it work.

View
Drums of War
Doctor's Log 2x06

[Encrypted as heck because of Rock Fall and other discussions]

It had been quite for a bit. Adams and Marak were busy with setting Freedom’s Belters in. Dr. Bow let me download a century or so’s worth of medical articles and manuals for the new equipment. I was in the midst of reading up on the anti-aging nanites, when the Senate wanted us to meet on Janus 2. This is the first time I had go through full decontamination and meet in paper coveralls. It is just wrong to see Adams in coveralls.

Coral Bloom told the Congress about a Tikket fungal network. They use it like wifi, but it can be used to spy. It could be nearly anywhere at Aurora and Bayside, but for places we keep scrupulously clean. Things are coming to a head with Desert Bloom.

The big problem is that the Tikket can’t handle dissenting thought. Coral Bloom expects Desert Bloom to start assassinating her foes. There’s nothing we can do about it – the cease-fire treaty requires us to stay out of her continent. That doesn’t mean that Desert Bloom might not strike at us, and that’s why the Contact Team is here – brainstorming.

Mass casualties are off the table – somebody finally understands the problems of killing one half of a telepathic link, never mind the backlash of many deaths on a race of telepaths. Vicinius and I pull together a status update on the psi-rat program. The rats were developed on Aute and scramble psi in a 2 meter radius. (I hate working around them.) They work for kibble and water, no rare earths needed. Easy to monitor. So far, it’s a pilot project, but anything that goes outside the lab is sterile. (The prion hasn’t started mutating them, but we need to watch out for it.)

There’s the usual updates – Medical’s post-Party-Flu randomized testing for surprises, post-Volcano emergency drills and training. Pairing key biological personnel with AIs to make sure no one gets nudged to, say, shut off the fusion planet’s coolant.

The anti-aging nanites should work, in theory, for Tikket, but it’ll take a long while to adapt them. It would give the elderly queens an option besides depending on Desert Bloom. I’ve been doing some back of the envelop math about how I suspect that anti-aging power works. If Desert Bloom is supplying all of the power behind it and isn’t teaching anyone else (so she can’t gestalt), it’s a pyramid scheme doomed to collapse.

If we offer the nanites, what then? We replace Desert Bloom as the source of extended life? Do we want to prolong the Tikket gentocracy? Do our allies want us to offer that? At least the nanites aren’t a pyramid scheme – with enough rare earths we could extend lives of everyone. And that has all its own issues. I think I’m going to have to try the nanites. I need to know whether having little robots running around adjusting my body all the time is going to be distracting or distressing. And I can’t in good conscience ask the Tikket to try something that I don’t trust on myself. I’ll have Marak take a look at the programing – I like Dr. Bow, but I want to check for Athenians in this gift from home.

After the Volcano, we abandoned the Island of Understanding and never re-opened negotations. The treaty doesn’t give any provisions for another site, and doesn’t have any provisions for withdrawal. After hours of our usual bander, AUD1 breaks in – what does “yes” look like. If we re-open negotiations with Desert Bloom what do we want? To be left alone. Coral Bloom and the Tikket nearby to be left alone. Ideally, the Tikket to settle their problems without ichor-shed.

Finally, a plan. Clear off the Island of Understanding. With a meteor. Adams has been busy getting rocks into place as they mine out the big asteroid. Damn, he’ll be able to do it.

Give notice to Desert Bloom under the treaty that we’re going to await further discussions there. Move a portion of the Senate off planet during the negotiations. And start pre-planning a demonstration in case this fails. Other options are discussed. I still hate all of them.

And I still can’t get back to reading. Marak asked the Medynn to let us try using their gravity wave communicator on the planet. We try sending pulses in primes. Nothing. For days. Then the black crystals in the lab shift, and shift again. Repeating a pattern of primes. It’s very, very slow. The “plant” we found in the volcano seems to amplify whatever it does to control the crystals.

Finally, a rock falls. The Island of Understanding is swept clear. The Vigils go in when things settle to put up some earth-quake proof shelter. A violet Blossom and some ants arrives. We think Desert Bloom sent her because she had to respond by treaty. But Violet doesn’t see any point in negotiating with us.

Adams: (boiled down): We think you’re ready to declare war. We’d rather you didn’t.”
Violet: Your question suggests you have concerns about our success.
Adams, through the on-site team, shows them a map of the selected atoll. “We don’t.”
Our view shifts to orbit as six big rocks enter the atmosphere. The atoll and a couple of miles of rock under it vanish. I watch as it falls. If only there were gods left to pray to. But now, it is just physics. If this doesn’t work, many Tikket will die at our hands.
Adams starts to say something, and stops. I think Marcus kicked him in the shin.
Violet: We appreciate your concern. We’d like some time to put together a more formal delegation for extended talks.
Planet: (later) Seven pulses.

Lastly, on the eve of war, and neigh onto our fifth Landing Day, Cailen and I welcome to the world Ronan Theodore Flannagan Denhar. His sister, Elani is nearly two — how fast the time has gone.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.