Casualties are treated and stable. The Tikket are headed back to their homes. Senate sent us to take the Helios to sample the volcano’s ash cloud before prevailing winds bring it over Aurora. While Marak and Marcus modify Helios for high-altitudes (we want to be above the ash, not in it), the rest of us get boot camp on glacier survival and taking ice cores. Senate finally green-lit Vicinius’ proposal to take ice cores and get a better idea what the purple prion pollen and the black vampire crystals have been doing. Given the altitude and temperatures, we’ll living in suits or shelter. Still, I need to bone up on high-altitude medicine.
Helios is light on lab space, but we could get samples from the ash. Found what we expected – carbon, silica, fine glass (fused silica) – and black vampire crystals in “L” shapes. We tried applying energy – (sunlight, electricity) – they fuse into larger/thicker L shapes. We put the whole lot into freezers to go back to Vicinius’ labs at House Vitarium.
First look at the South Continent. It’s colder than the others and more mountainous. Satellites show at least three large mammals – something seal-like, something bear-like, and something goat-like. There’s the usual bugaloo and some sort of semi-aquatic elephant with flippers that lives at sea and on land. Once we’re closer we can take samples by drone. More green plants than we’re used to.
At the landing site, there’s bushes. On a glacier. 15’ diameter crystal bushes with 6” blue insects living in them and some sort of web or mesh in the ice. Helios dusts off as soon as we’re out the cargo bay doors. G’tard puts us to work setting up camp – there’s a storm to our east. Then we take the ATV to pester the plants. This thing is weird, but it isn’t trying to kill us. The spiders react when we touch the web, but don’t attack. AUD1 says the tree has scents like the Tikket and Prairie Bugs, but the scents don’t make sense to him.
Adams grabbed a spider – the others ran to the other side of the bush to hide. So far so good. When he got a dozen feet from the bush, the spider got agitated and began spewing acid. Ate right through the container and straight down. Marak managed to tag it with a tracker before it vanished into the ice. Adams grabbed another one. I euthanized it for dissection – weird internal structures – it has a seed within it. Somebody dubbed it a Spiderberry.
Lost the next day to the storm and digging out on and off in the night. Marak strained himself, but nothing that some rest and anti-inflammatories can’t handle. The stress seems to be getting to Marner (one of the miners with us). [Patient notes attached, medical encryption] Finally, the weather clears and we get some cores.
Just in time for another storm. We’re better prepared this time. The tagged Spiderberry stopped about 25’ down. Looking at our cores – sure enough a layer of purple and black at about that level. The black crystals are a different pattern, a blocky “8”. Looks like black crystal layers every 100 years or so, purple pollen every 1,000. Some changes in the atmosphere over time – that’s going to need better labs and tests than we have.
Adams suggests digging for more purple/black so he can try to grow the dissected Spiderberry seed. Either he or Marak asked Janus for an orbital scan. Marak did some work on the data. Crap. The crustals are forming layers, patterns, over and over again, in the ice. Letters are 1/8 to 1/2" tall aligned with the planet magnosphere. A single letter (or portion of one) every 1,000 years when the pollen and crystals coincide, laid down for tens of thousands of years. Janus looks at ice and glaciers across the world – this is the most complete but there are fragments everywhere.
[The tan is the pattern. Thirteen shapes: (1) horizontal line, (2) vertical line, (3) classic right angle (L), (4) reversed L, (5) inverted right angle, (6) inverted reversed right angle, (7) square, (8) squiggly horizontal bracket, (9) hairpin, (10) squiggly K, (11) oval with top and bottom pixels, (12) blocky 8, (13) blocky right bracket with projection on top. Eventually, we’ll conclude something has been laying this pattern for 60,000 years. ]
That settles it – the planet is being actively terraformed and has ben for a long, long time. Senate is going to send out another expedition to take more samples, but we’ve got to get ours home to Vicinius to study.
I’m starting to miss the days when the TIkket were the weirdest thing we faced.