Terra Nueva

A Handwritten Note in the Care Package
Upon the Sending of the First Care Package

Cousins, Kith and Kin:

This Rocket Gift is for you, our family on the other side of this new world system. Was the Del-San Tree spared the asteroid – along with Janus III – so that we could send it and these gifts to you?

Even so it is clearly not enough.

With the Tree we send hope, biologicals and proto-pharmaceuticals. The rescue of the Janus III included the opportunity to develop these new strains of ancient aurea. They should grow in their new homes well (raising instructions have been included) and help provide important nutrients and vitamins for the Aute diet. We will develop better ones, especially if you cite specific needs.

We also included key new developments from the labs on and around Terra Nueva. May they help someday.

If you have specific needs or requests, send them right away. We will get to work. You got the raw hand of Fate. Amazing. Auto’s spirit runs deep within you all. And you are not alone.

Virgil Agricola Vicinius

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An Unexpected Guest
Doctor's Log 1x14, Standard Personal Encryption

Now
“Open New Patient Record”
“Name: Speaker”
“Species: Biological Construct”
“Date of Birth: Today”
“Override Age Calculator. Age: Apparent age 3"
“Gender: None”
Physical Examination results to follow
Medical Test results to follow

Two weeks earlier.
We successfully returned the Hands to the Westernmost Fisher-King Nest. Surviving Hands have minor injuries, dehydration, and malnutrition, successfully treated and stable. Records attached. Fisher-Kings mentioned a local plant that they use to treat suppurating wounds – preliminary analysis shows it is highly alcoholic. The local water is, of course, full of life. Marak cobbled together a solar still to boil it. I’ll try to check in on them in a few weeks. We talked about a rudimentary communicator so they can signal us if something goes drastically wrong. These Fisher-Kings have not seen the ThinkerBugs. New amphibious herd animals spotted, images and stool samples taken. Homeward bound.

I’ve asked Vicinius to sequence the Steak Vine and a couple of the other really weird stuff in the West – is it natural or a product of ThinkerBug tinkering?

At home, politics and politicing. That’s Adams’ métier, with help from AUD1, Marak, Marcus, and Vicinius. I’ve been circulating around listening. The plan seems to be elections for two additional council representatives from the Janus III and a later Convention to create the framework for the colony going forwards. Sounds like the ancient Compact Council that formed the Alloy Empire.

Vicinius has results from Ozone’s pod. It isn’t a microfac, it is more a microlab and AI – non-volitional, we think. It has analysis compartments – we interrupted it looking at some foil, a bio-plas contact lens, and other junk. We’ve suggested a more controlled excavation of the nest and the bugs’ trash heap to see what they’ve been looking at. Maybe Dr. Gala has some experience with outdoor crime scenes that might help. She hates me – maybe someone else should ask.

I’ve got a few research projects of my own – what is it about the dinoboars that Claw was using diseases rather than something overt to kill them. Also starting to compile everything we know on psi and psi-genetics. At the first Psi Core breakfast, everyone but Viviana agreed to my giving Vicinius the patient codes to look at their DNA and to letting me look at their biomonitor results to see if there are any characteristic changes when psis use their abilities. And I have to get back to that other project – we don’t have any trips scheduled, I’ll prep the mice.

Last Week
Campaign day is full of speeches and briefings. Julia Lucinta Septima from J3 got into a coldly pointed debate with Merek, Marcus, and AUD1 about the Unity and our relationship with the bots. Both sides scored some points – AUD1’s getting good at deadpan snark. J3 vote will be in a week.

We were all on point for trouble, and sadly not in vain. AUD1 spotted a sniper. Someone shot Lyra. Marcus and AUD1 ran him down – he surrendered when confronted. If he’d given Marcus any excuse, I think he’d be dead. I know him. We’ve talked slightly about raising the minidons. “We’re better than this.” Marak and AUD1 repaired Lyra, but damn it. This is the second public gathering to end in tragedy.

Marak’s new ship did a circuit of the colony – and she’s a beauty. A few more tests and she should be ready for a maiden voyage.

Last Night
Has it really been over a year (subjective) since we left Aute? Has it been that long since the departure parties? The Anteros and Venus bots outdid themselves for this. An amazing gathering — music, fresh fruit, a woodland theme. Cailean came as my date and…it was quite a night. I wasn’t intending to have that much to drink – either that fruit packs more of a punch than I thought or Adams refilled my glass a couple of times. But for the first time since I left home, I wasn’t scared to relax, wasn’t worried that I’d forget and get caught using TK. I haven’t had that much fun since fumbling around with Cousin Leonadis in my parent’s barn. Hopefully I didn’t scare Cailean off, but being able to reach/touch without arms getting in the way is just, well, handy.
Cleared up my hangover in the morning, then Cailean’s, and found the dregs something interesting in my system – I’ll have to ask the bots about that psycho-active compound. Relaxed. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I feel comfortable, safe. Do the bots feel physical pleasure? Or just psychological satisfaction? I’ll have to ask AUD1. I was about to suggest a shower and round two when the phone pinged. I’m off shift today but for some paperwork and emergencies….

Now
There’s a video. The containment lab. The lab-pod. Then suddenly something else. A much larger pod appeared out of nowhere. We are not the dominant tech on this planet, maybe a tie! Extra hands are great when you’re trying to quickly wash up, get dressed, and grab a ration bar while running out the door.

The rest of the team is arriving, somewhat worse for the night before. The pod. It’s wriggling. I can read it. Mammal? Human? Human-ish? In distress. I’m in the room before I think about it, scalpel out to cut the pod open. It’s…a child. A mix of human and … Thinkerbug? Holy Son of Leto! Its aura is washing over me faster than I can process it – human structure, hair..ish?, simplified digestion, something circulating that has some resemblance to blood, too many joints in the fingers, tongue far too long and flexible. Sexless. It looks to be about three. Damn. I’ve seen this metabolism – it’s going to age fast, die young. A few years. Immune system looks intact, so it isn’t in danger from us.

It talks. In Fisher-King: “Hi!” – understatement of the day. It speaks Fisher-King better than I do. (I NEED to make time to practice.) It is hear to learn, about us, Fisher-King lacks the words. Pictures not enough. It can contact the others, but it is not like a gestalt’s voice. Their language is scent and gesture (which it speaks). I mute containment’s speakers, pipe the group’s audio to my headset and to AUD1’s. Responding by text. Speaker doesn’t need the distraction, or to hear Adams speculating about fissionables and just how big a set of rocks we’d need to take out the west and whether we could survive the impacts over here.

It’s hungry, and can eat vat paste. (Which reminds me, I haven’t had breakfast either – maybe there’s some strawberries left from the party that someone can pass to me.) My hands are on automatic – a standard physical, a DNA swab, a tube of “blood”. Need to set up imaging. We can MRI it in here, but I don’t know what I’m going to use for a contrast agent. Vicinius reminds me to get samples from the pod too. Why send the pod and have Speaker hatch? Why not send Speaker it/her/himself? What does that tell us about the limits of their bio-tech and teleportation? This is cool and terrifying – is there even a word for that? Oh, find it a covering, Counselor Bahiti [Seri]’s on her way.

Speaker tells us more about the ThinkerBugs. Ozone’s queen’s male/drone sent it. There’s a queen of the Thinkerbugs, a bunch of lesser queens (mostly on the western continent), and whatever caste Ozone is. There’s only one queen somewhere on this continent – Ozone’s – and she’s young. Claw isn’t a caste, it is a concept, and the western Queens are scared of us. (That’s worth a chuckle – they created a humanoid bio-construct in two weeks, programed it with Fisher-King (which implies they’ve been studying them for a while), and teleported it into a containment unit. That’s amazing. If they wanted to overtly strike, we’d never see it coming.)

My phone beeps. I’ve got rounds soon, paperwork to clean up before the wedding. Crap. Text to Gala that I’m in containment due to an unexpected arrival – new patient file in progress – someone needs to cover. Counselor Bahiti can brief her further. Text to Cailean that I’m sorry I ran off this morning, bit of an emergency, and I’m going to miss the wedding. We can decontaminate AUD1, but I came into containment in street clothes…Maybe not entirely…

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The Curiosity of Strangers
Doctor's Log 1x13, Personal, Encrypted

Our mysterious foe has a name. It is Claw, the military house/faction/caste of our newest neighbors, the ThinkerBugs. We know who, and how, but not yet why. Progress.

It started with that bit of the nest. We started running, with Delanne blocking it from calling for help. Sadly, that didn’t last long. We had only gotten a few yards when Delanne lost it – the bugs – dozens of them – size of dachshunds– started chasing us and they were fast. It started prying at my head, but couldn’t get it. Marak ran a few over with the backhoe. Marcus shot a few more with a flamer. Adams and Vicinius killed a few more. They seem immune to AUD1’s shout.

The bugs kept gaining. Marak and the others kept reducing their numbers. On its third try it got into my head. An image – a single planet circling a sun – or a hydrogen atom. It’s trying to talk. I have to give it a chance – it may be our only chance to keep it from attacking again. I let it in. An image in return – DNA. It responds with the same. We stop. The bugs briefly swarm over the armor, then back off, all but one. I send it the most important thing – the elegant DNA of the Party Flu.

It responds with a smell that I can’t place and a series of images – an ascending series of elements and a claw surrounded by a circle with a slash around it. More images, hydrogen, carbon, water maybe, grass, wavelengths of visible light. Basic things for growing plants? I try images from evolution, single celled life towards mammals, then remember that those links don’t exist here. We try images of the evolution of plants. Adams and Ruby suggest this is a sort of mental hieroglyphics. A language for telepaths based on scents and images, not sound. We get an image along with the smell – an insect like nothing we’ve ever seen. Human sized. Progress, but I’m missing something and it is hard to keep relaying things to the team. We switch – Marak’s turn to talk to it.

Eventually, we figure it out. The smell is Ozone – its smell. The rapid images of the periodic table are its house/faction/caste – the scientists. The local trash bugs are its tools. The thing I’m holding is a relay and controlling device. We need to study it. It won’t tell us where it is, but Akila says it is to the northeast. The Claw is the military faction – it controls the termite mound ants, the formation stingers, the prairie bugs, and the flu bugs. It created the party flu. It is somewhere on the western continent. There are two other factions – food producers and builders, and something above it that all four factions report to. The scientist and the military use the big walking fungi. The local psi-shrooms are not one of theirs.

We ask about the purple sand and the silica layers – they’re related. Something really old, geologic time old. Crystal plants – trees, desert rock plans, coral – that bloom every thousand years. We’re at the end of a cycle. So much more I want to know, but that’s for another time. I understand more why my parents feared the gestalts. After only a few minutes speaking mind to mind, speech seems so slow and cumbersome. That could get addictive.

It is time to talk to the council. Fortunately, that’s Adams’ job and he does it well. Tiberius has news for us too – the formation bugs are another engineered creature – essentially a smart poisonous missile. Broad spectrum poison. Nasty, but one we can treat. Likely there’s another bio-fac in their nest to create and maintain them – probably much bigger. The formation bugs are bat-sized, not mosquito-ish.

The Council is reluctant to send us out after the Hands, but agrees to a very limited mission. In and out, rescue the Hands and drop a reconnaissance Eagle to gather information about the formation bugs. Too dangerous to try to get our hands on another bio-fac and risk stirring Claw up more.

Vicinius took a look at Patient T. Very odd DNA – old. 500 years old. Like she’d been locked away and woke up in that big shake. A mystery, but not an urgent one.

Council gave us the green light. We go to the western Kings, convince some to come with us for their Hands. Then off to the old nest. The Formation Bugs are cautious – only two come out to our recorded FK village call. The Murder Maples don’t look good – they are starving. When did Murder Maples become sympathetic? No Hands here. We split up – AUD1 and the FKs flying a search pattern. Vicinius thinks they went deeper into the forest, so we look on the ground. AUD1 and the FKs find them at the beach. Marcus and I move to cover coaxing them into the Pegasus. Vicinius and Adams lag behind in the forest and get attacked by a pair of Formation Bugs, which quickly fall to shock gloves and point-blank electro-laser. More samples to see if they are adapting to our last visit.

We’re on our way back to the village then home. The curiosity of a stranger (Ozone) has given us insights into our newest neighbors. Our curiosity as strangers led us to help the Fisher King refugees. It has been a heck of a few days.

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Automaton United Digital Integrity
Doctor's Log 1x12, Personal, Encrypted.

[In tonight’s episode, AUD1, Denhar, and Adams step outside their personal comfort zones.]

Janus II
I had expected to get back to the western continent and resolve the Fisher King refugee issue, but things got complicated. When we returned to the Janus II, Captain Guthar had gathered seven psis willing to meet and proposed a meeting on Janus IV. (At least one of the was from his crew and had only recently been defrosted.)

Father, Mother, I’m sorry. I know you would disapprove. I can hear your warning to be careful, to stay hidden. But it is time for me to talk to my team. I’m not ready to do more, but they need to know. AUD1 … I hope he can keep a secret, at least for a time.

It went easier than I feared. AUD1 would like me to trust Venus, but he’s willing to keep it to himself for now. Vicinius had that gleam in his eye, like he’s pondering whether he can get actual brain samples. I am not going to be a lab rat. Adams is right – we’re too public – this is going to come out and being open will help encourage other psis to come out. I’m not ready for that yet. Marak understands. There’s a risk of a backlash given our psychic fungal foe. He’s going to work on that.

Marak also took the opportunity to brief AUD1 on Project Orpheus.

Janus IV
And so we went to meet the others on Janus IV. Gladionus and Delanne mentioned tensions in the colony – I’ve been up to my neck in the Party Flu and hadn’t been paying attention. Janus III wants a new election – they were supposed to go to Oceanus and didn’t get a say in the current council. Adams will look into this – politics is his field. Something down there damn near killed us and we’re busy bickering among ourselves about who should be in charge.

When we got there, several of the cargo ‘bots had prominent badges with AUDI. Our AUD1 was invited to a meeting. Looks like the ‘bot’s rights issue is coming to a head faster than I expected. AUD1 has been an inspiration to Janus IV at least to create a “unity”. Janus III worried them. “There are set rules for our service that includes things like maintenance. If we are damaged in service, we expect to be maintained. There must be down time, access to certain facilities, etc. We have put together a bank of skill chips so that we all have access to them.” AUD1 seems amazed by it all.

I should have spoken up in the meeting. I could give a dozen rationalizations for staying next to Delanne and avoiding Akila, but the truth is I’m terrified and I’m ashamed that I’m terrified. So I kept my mouth shut. We’ve got a group of seven, all different talents, none from Janus III. One of them’s a puzzle – Tara Willowbrook – an amnesiac teen who might have some power. Captain Guthar monitored the meeting – not sure why he’s interested – but he and Adams will talk to the council about making something more formal.

Then on to the next meeting – what to do about the ants and our rare earths shortage. We’re in a bind. The black crystals mean we can’t use bots for mining, not before we can get the ISP wet-fac up to make bioplas. So we’re down to picks, axes, and explosives, and we don’t have enough explosives. We’ve got long-term plans – we can send a Pegasus out to the belt to fling back some rocks to mine. We can trade with Oceana – again flinging cargo out and back. Both of those are going to take time. And we’re going to hit a crisis in about six months. I suggested that maybe the termite mounds could be trading partners – we know there’s something big underground. They likely don’t use rare earths and might be willing to find/trade them to us. We don’t need much. The other problem is that this planet may not have heavier elements – nothing higher on the periodic table than lead so far. Looks like Janus IV is going to Bayside. Marak’s got support to get his cargo blimp off the ground. I am so looking forward to dairy again – milk, butter, cheese, maybe ice cream? After a year, local meat and vat gruel is getting old.

And one more meeting. I think Gracche may explode. AUD1 invited us along to meet Lyra, the leader of the AUDI unity. Her requests seem reasonable. I’ve worked with AUD1 for a year and treated at least one bot patient – can’t say they aren’t people. AUD1 considered, maybe for the first time, what he wants, not just how he can best be of use, and some deep philosophical questions about what it is to be a citizen or part of a community. Vicinius got the bright idea to have AUD1 apply for citizenship as a test case. Adams and Marak are right — this has to be his decision not because others want, need, or expect it of him. He thinks. He’ll do it. Gracche wants to join their Unity – Lyra says she’ll think about it. I’m going to have to be careful on this – one thing I learned in disaster relief was that a doctor should be neutral – but it’s pretty clear where my sympathies lie.

Aurora
Downside, Kawit has news – she’s grown the fungus from the nest and it makes nerve-like electrical connections. Tiberius says that the nest might have once had an insect-brain enhanced by the fungus into something much more. Tiberius also says they looked at the insects from the nests we recovered – all clones. We need to compare these to the original insect samples.

The prairie bug nests all had empty chambers above the queen for something – maybe something like this living bio-fac. We found the nest of the local bugs and imaged it with ground radar. It’s chamber is full. As soon as Akila comes down from Janus IV we’re going to investigate.

Adams was able to get colony approval for a psi “first response” team. And money for Marak’s blimp. And talked to Administrator Wexton about AUD1’s citizenship. Gracche notes that this will put AUD1 in some political, and maybe personal, cross-hairs, so we’re going to keep an eye on him. I suggested to Adams that he watch for reactions – this proposal will stir a response from the disaffected.

Finally, at long last, I get to the hospital. And what is waiting for me but a summons from Dr. Gala. What have I done now? Lee says there’s a big buzz about news from Janus IV – they’re experimenting with a mobile uterine replicator. That’s intriguing and yet more fuel on the pyre. Gala’s apparently on the warpath about my report on Hapu Min and on Wexton’s daughter. And she’s talking about shipping me to Bayside. Maybe if I sound like I want to go, she’ll keep me here. My team is here. On the other hand, Cailean will likely be there to help them set-up – Bayside Alpha pod has been his project – I need to talk to him.

But first, to brave the dragon. It doesn’t go well. I’m already frazzled, underslept (again), and on edge from the psi issues. I snap at her. She snaps back. I expect the whole hospital heard parts of that fight. She’s complaining that Min and Wexton survived unexpectedly an alien disease bio-engineered specifically to exterminate us when treated with an alien fish-liver. I did my job and kept them alive. We got thru a very well-engineered attack with zero deaths and she’s busting my ass. She wants to exile me to Bayside because my paperwork isn’t up to her specs. This is why I spent my time back home in disaster relief – nobody gives a damn about your paperwork if the patient survives. OK. I’ll do it her way as a peace offering – I’ll ask Adams to borrow Ruby for a few minutes to polish up my report on this, and on Vicinius’ results.

Speaking of which, by Apollo, we have a treatment that doesn’t depend on fish liver. Vicinius finished sequencing the flu. It’s related to a disease carried by the prairie bugs that only affects the big lizards in Grassland. Targeted specifically to us. Missed a few people with shellfish allergies because the target proteins are different. Vicinius has a treatment. We can turn it over to the medics to test it and make sure. That’s the best news I’ve had in days.

Grache heard, or heard about the row. He wants to get Dr. Nighthawk to lean on Dr. Gala. Can’t do that – Gala’s not wrong and I need to work out how to work with her. Dr. Nighthawk can’t fight my battles for me. I need to sleep on this. I’m too wired to think clearly.

At least I get sleep. The next morning-cycle Adams shows up looking like hell. Fortunately, hangover cures are easy. Not sure what happened last night between him and Kawit, but if he wants to talk about it, I’m here. I’m distracted while working and listening to Marak’s new Radio Aurora show. He and Delanne are talking politics. There’s a guy from Janus III, Lorn, making a pretty good case for a new election. Maybe he’s right and that would help settle things.

I get one more distraction. Akila is finally down and it’s time to take on the nest. Akila sniffs it out. (Again, I’m standing in Delanne’s coat-tails and feeling guilty about it.) Win uses clairvoyance to confirm that the nest is there and how big it is. My turn to step up – I pull it out after Marak mostly excavates it. Gently. Like delivering a baby – that might be able to kill me with its’ brain. Calm, reassuring thoughts – don’t know if it can read me, but let’s see if it will talk to us.

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“Freaking psychic fungus!”
Doctor's Log 1x11

[Personal, Encrypted, Mentions Patient Information]

Back on Janus 2 after a long week – just catching up on my log after a much-needed shower. Showering in low-G is a pain, but beats stinking up the Pegasus.

Pandemic Aftermath
It is becoming increasingly clear that the party flu was an attack. Vicinius has started to sequence the virus – it doesn’t look like anything we’ve seen. It’s clean of the usual “junk” DNA, elegant, sparse. That’s not good. We don’t know what tried to kill us, or why. But I know one thing. It is afraid. Disease and poisons are weapons of the weak, not the strong. It went to great effort to hide its tracks and make this look like a natural disaster. It fears our response. Good. Perhaps if we can find it, talk to it, we can reach a truce rather than risk mutual destruction.

Adams, Kawit, and Tiberius were working on Nests 1, 2, and 3. [Nest 3 is missing the same part as Nest 1, must have broken off before Marak got the isolation tent over it.] They started with Nests 1 and 3, not wanting to damage 2 until they knew more. Seemed reasonable at the time. Nothing makes sense – it is one creature – but an odd one. Then, Adams (or maybe Vicinius) realized that we were looking at a living biological microfac. That’s when things started to go wrong. Adams suddenly attacked Nest 2 and broke it. The damned thing was manipulating all of them, first to protect it, then to destroy it. That’s very sophisticated work, more so than the psi-shroom manipulations. Implies intelligence. Fortunately, I had some baseline brain chemistry and pattern readings from Adams and Kawit – I can see changes. They should be temporary. I don’t have a baseline for Tiberius. Had Anteros-3 look at the vid records – looks like the first effects stared a day-to-a-day and a half after Nest 2 went into the lab. First Tiberius started being more careful around Nest 2, then Kawit seemed protective/territorial about it. Adams wasn’t in the lab as much. Just before he destroyed it, they all had a brief confused expression. Adams got inexplicably angry at it, Kawi and Tiberius were suddenly frustrated.

[ Send to Medical Team – Copy of above test results, summary of incident, and recommendation to take brain scans as part of the randomized testing for mutations and compare with baselines where we have them. Also compare routinely to available baselines whenever brain scans can be plausibly taken without straining our resources – I don’t want to pull time/effort from the party flu research as I don’t expect this to come up often, but the randomized testing might catch someone being or recently influenced. Also flag the research paper on psi manipulation to the psychiatric team – keep an eye out for changes in behavior and, if so, refer for brain scans.]

We’re still working on sequencing and looking for a less drastic cure than fish livers. Marak’s rigging up an ultrasonic fence to keep the biting insects at bay. But we need to know what attacked us and why.

We’ve talked to a couple of psis in the colony – a Vigil with a bit of Empathy, ESP, and Mind-Shield and Delanne, who is a rare anti-psi. Need to check and see what else we have among the three ships.

The Vigil has had a bad feeling about the prarie-bug counterparts that are around the garbage heap. We looked at them once, but got some new samples. Tiberius can tell us if they’ve changed. Send text to Vigil, have someone take the ground penetrating radar and look for the nest.]

Note to self – Now that I’m making progress with Pteri, talk to Kelinn about the snipes. Can they be trained? They will eat prairie beetle, let’s encourage some around the garbage dump.]

But there is no rest for the weary. We had a meeting scheduled on Janus 2 about Janus 4 and the scans of the desert. Legate Guthar, commander of the Janus 4, was a surprise. There was an accident early in the voyage, his mind was loaded into a modified Venus-bot. Fascinating. He’s deferring his position on the Council in favor of Capt. Smith. Good political move. Janus 4 is looking at a position near Lakeside, closer to the Lake, so we can be mutually supportive. Given an active foe, it feels too much to me like too many eggs in a single basket, but that’s a council decision. Best I can do is make a recommendation later and let them sort it out. Janus 3 is looking to more an asteroid into orbit to mine it, and then make a habitat of it – “heirloom humanity”, suggest Vicinius.

The Bad

We’re not alone. Orbital scans show huge (3 story tall) termite mounds on islands around the desert and on the desert continent where the desert meets the savanna. There are also insects herding bugalo near the desert oasis. Can’t get a good enough reading on the mounds to know what lives there. There is lots of geothermal energy in the mountains under the desert and two hotspots in the ocean. Not fusion power, but immense power potential. There are spots where something’s jamming out scans of what’s underground. Plan is for a closer overflight, let’s see what’s there.

First, tho, we are going to visit the Fisher Kings. Orbital spotted three nests, two on the north continent, one near the termite islands. The Kings are mostly solitary colonies – little interaction, even for mating.

At the first village, we have to unruffle an irked tree mother’s feathers. “Bad” is Fisher King for all sorts of misfortune – from storms to megaraptors to whatever is to the west. They can’t settle near Bayside because of the megaraptors. She mentions an abandoned nest to the west on a point of land. AUD1 does most of the talking, it is hard for my throat to make the right sounds and I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the grammar. They don’t have the medicine fish – not the right geography on the north continent. “We have tails of the Trail that led us here. Some nests have been abandoned. Some are still there.”

The second nest is more active, and more friendly. They’ve recently (past four months) taken in refugees from the site nearer the mounds. Driven off by stinging insects. This nest has not faced danger for a while. It is overcrowded, not enough trees for all, but they seem to be ok on food. The refugees left behind their companions – lizard lemurs trained as hands. The refugees had nets and perhaps other tools.

The refugees do know the story of the Bad. “A sickness came to the trees. The trees all died. And then the fire ants came. And that which was not dead then burned.”

The “termite mounds” are the home of the fire ants, which are medium dog sized (about the size of a collie). (Don’t know if the ants project fire or just use it.)

So on to nest three. Abandoned. We feed the murder maples some fish. The “hands” will peer out when we call to them, but won’t come down. We’ll need to bring some refugees to coax them out. No sign of the insects. We try making the sounds of a wing. Nothing. The refugees had mentioned that the insects attacked most often when the wings were out – so we try those sounds. Sure enough, a formation(!) of bugs appears. Too small for the murder maples to notice. Gracche flames some. Adams and AUD1 kill a few more. When they realize they can’t hurt those in bioplastic, they retreat. We’ve got samples. More stuff for Vicinius’ ever-growing list. We try again, but they are smart enough not to be lured twice.

We overfly the nearest mounds. Vicinius sees something, odd by TN standards. When we go back thru the vid there’s something the size as the top of these mounds (barn sized) that resembles the top of a mushroom – with spider or crab legs. “On the plus side, not as disturbing anymore.” Vicinius calls it Magnus cancraticus or great crab becoming mushroom. He wants to go back for another pass. Gracche doesn’t dump him out the airlock to get his own samples. Lots of jerky flight – Gracche isn’t taking chances – fast with random movements. From the nests, there’s emissions, signs of TL5 below.

We do a quick overflight of the herders. Ant-like creatures around and mixed into the bugalo herds. The expected little guard like bugalo are not there. There might be one of them. It does not have the aggressive posture. Looks like the ants have domesticated the bugalo. (Could be a time-saver if they can teach us that trick.) No contact yet.

And up to Janus 2 to report in. I’m still not sleeping well. I’ll do better when we have a handle on the party flu. If things settle down, I’ve promised to meet Kelinn at Bayside for a beach picnic.

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Year One
Author: Virgil Agricola Vicinius

It’s been one Aute year and one Terra Nueva day since we made landfall. I’ve been out of a freeze tube for a year and a half. If the planet hadn’t hatched, and I was back in Waregon Arcology, I’d be 126 years old. I’m not. I’m 26. Although I’m not really sure anymore nor can I wrap my head around the calendar. These are good problems to have. I think it’s time to put down a rambling little reminiscence of our first year.

Just now Doc started yelling at Marcus – because it’s been a rough couple days and wow is she stressed who wouldn’t be? – so I decided to retreat to write. We need both of them. Marcus is a crazy, lucky pilot who could be his own vid series and the Doc just makes people better all the time. Can’t think of life without them now. Funny how I only saw them briefly during training before we left Aute. Never thought they’d be on a team I couldn’t do without.

When I think about it, the past year is crazy. I should be writing an epic about this place – and I’ll get back to it! – but I’ve been so busy. Happy busy. Crazy busy. Never ending busy. On top of a bizarre planetary day and a sleep cycle that I’m not sure I’ll ever quite get used to, there’s been a challenge every time we turn around. Recently it has been epic having someone warm to comfort and murmur to at the end of another day’s insanity of progress. Until a zoonotic virus that we couldn’t expect jumps across species barriers and nearly kills hundreds of people. Might have been more too if we hadn’t been smart.

Landing Day the Second was almost Death Day. I’m glad it wasn’t. Since we survived it, we have to thrive. We learned more in three days about viral life and medicine on Terra Nueva than we did in the past year. Except for the selenium virus learning curve. (Maybe that’s geology?) Well we are damned lucky that AUD-1 is on the mission but didn’t get infected by that shit. That little bot is amazing with the Aquila. And their knowledge saved people. Sure the Party Flu victimes felt like they were dying, but then they didn’t. Thanks Medicine Fish! So it’s all good.

Not really.

It was rough.

Then we all lived. Now we go on, with better knowledge than before.

It’s been like that almost every day. Every week. Well there were a few quiet months where it seemed like the New Normal was quiet, but the next excitement was just lurking around the corner.

So let me try to summarize a bit.

I’m an evolutionary biologist turned xenologist turned colonist, spacer, reality vid star, writer, smart guy, smartass, boyfriend and member of one damned fine team of people making a go of it on the weirdest planet I’ve ever seen. I’ve only seen three planets. I never spent more than a few minutes on Mars.

Let me just put down a few highlights about moving to Terra Nueva. It’s been scary and yet I goddamn love it. I wouldn’t trade my life, my work, my friends or my new girlfriend for anything. (I would like to have a passel of kids though.)

After we got here, we found out Terra Nueva is full of life. Like bursting at the seams full of life. Like we are the newest recruits for the Coliseum games and we’re surrounded by scarred, maimed, skilled veteran warriors who don’t remember to kill us yet. Even the right kind of tree will try to destroy you if you get to close. If they could talk, would you like to gamble that the murder maples are nervous too? Because when you see what gets trees pregnant, you better watch your bowels.

I keep my laser handy, and it’s probably not enough.

So I have my brain and my friends.

That may not be enough.

Worked well this year anyway.

After we got to this planet, we found trees that are colonies of plants and animals and anything else that wants interspecies sex or cuddling. We found hunting vines that are part animal, part vegetable and part…something else. There are amazing sentient birds on the edge of a grand civilization that we’re starting to hang out with. (They call themselves the Fisher Kings. We named them the Aquila.) There are animals that are biological batteries and insects with solar powered shells that ooze honey and taste like lobster. Bugs up on the prairies have bacterial software built into them. Who in heck is in charge of them I wonder? River plants grow a mile wide and try to eat boats. The sawtoothed wonders of this place are endless. We’re only scratching the surface. The surface may yet scratch back. Don’t get me started on mushrooms.

Along the way, the second colony ship destined for Oceania got into trouble. And Marek was smart enough to figure this out so we all went to help. We got lucky – yeah it’s Oceania’s loss and boy do I hope we can help those folks someday – saving Janus III and getting her to our new home. Don’t know what we would have done without George to talk them all down off their survivalist ledge. (I still keep thinking I can improve his weed’s yield but my list of Really Frigging Important Things keeps growing faster than I can get things off of it.) Or Marek who is the first guy to reload an antimatter drive that wasn’t supposed to be reloaded. Those folks on III weren’t so lucky on their voyage. I’m totally glad we could help them.

And now Janus IV is here. Felt like yesterday I pulled off my bioplas and just dove into an ocean again.

It was so warm and nice.

Would we have stayed if we had any idea how weird and wonderful the life was?

Yes.

We had no choice.

Wonder who the funny bastards are who thought “let’s evac the best and the brightest from Aute at the last minute and just make popcorn while they set up shop on a new world?” Wanna bet they said “This is too easy!” and keep one-upping each other with fucked up insect and reptile monsters that might eat you for breakfast and have the keys to a new technology we didn’t even dream about before? If there are any gods left are they laughing? Crying? Taking wagers?

Would I do it again?

I would.

Am I glad I’m here?

Yes I am.

Is it all a bit crazy?

It’s damn crazy.

You can’t make up the things we’ve all seen and done. I liked life at home, while I was studying. There was something missing though. I’ve found it here. I can’t imagine life without the team. I’m starting to imagine a really bright future, hopefully with Seri. (Auntie Venus, if you’re reading this, either give me your blessing or get out of the way please.)

We have to live through it.

We have no idea what’s coming next.

Whatever it is might be right around the corner, invisible, look like a unicorn and be hatched from a fungus that had sex with a shark. Either way it will be hungry and lethal.

At least we know what we’re up against.

Year Two, it’s nice to meet you.

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Pandemic
Doctor's Log 1x10

[Dictated. Personal. Encrypted. Contains Patient Information]

The stim antidote should kick in soon. I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been awake. Landing Day evening, that’s when it started. I was on call. An urgent page called me from the dance floor. Dr. Willowbrook’s son, Tamriel, arrived with flu-like symptoms. Initial lab reports show a new virus, multiplying fast. No response to our standard antibiotics. Nurses report an uptick in patients in the clinic recently for minor fevers and aches. Vicinius also paged. He finds virus in Tamriel’s sweat and nasal droplets. Dr. Willowbrook isn’t showing symptoms yet, but she’s got it. Our first Terra Nueva disease and it’s shaping up to be a bad one.

AUD1 has been spending time with our Fisher King emissaries. On Aute, flu could infect avians and humans – it is a longshot, but maybe they’ve seen something like this. We can support Tamriel’s symptoms, but unless his immune system rallies I don’t have many options.
Hours pass. The Fisher-Kings do have a local fish they use for disease. AUD1 and Gracche go with them to get some. Trying not to start a panic, but nobody can miss Pegasus headed out. Leave their feed from a secure channel on in the background. Something about jungle pond, singing frogs, steak-vine – the hiss of a flamer, the crackle of an electro-laser.
Adams and Marak start quietly sending the folks who were recently seen back for a re-check and looking for those with fever using multiscanner contacts. As patients trickle in, more are infected. All of them have bug bites – the local mosquito cognate. And it is not affecting anyone who was not in the colony for the past couple of days. Adams has it, but in Stage 1 (not contageous yet.) So Adams and Marak are on a bug hunt. After a bit of fuss, they eventually come back with three sample nests. Mosquito-like creature. No actual queen, but a living nest with some sort of tissue in it. May have a relation to a local bird that was found near the insect nest.
Patients continue to get worse. Nothing is working. Tamriel continues to weaken. Another child comes in – Administrator Wexton’s daughter Jeanne. Counselor Min as well. Nobody seems to be able to fight it off. Nothing to work with for a vaccine yet. All I can do is supportive care. Finally Pegasus returns. Vicinius says that a smear of the fish liver kills the virus in culture. But will it kill our patients. Can’t create an animal model – snipes, mice, goats, tree shrew all potential carriers, but not infected. Only thing we can do is try it – I’d offer a prayer if I thought anyone still listened.
George volunteers – he’s early Stage 2. It’s bad. Something in the liver flushes everything out of his system – good and bad alike. But we can treat dehydration and repopulating his gut. A couple of Doctors, one Stage 2, one Stage 3, are next at half dosage. It helps, but doesn’t flush the virus. It’ll be all or nothing.
Running out of time for Tamriel, Jeanne, and Min. Pegasus goes out for more fish. I catnap – need to be awake for the worst of the patients. Tamriel next. Goes fine. Jeanne and Min are touch-n-go. Min nearly goes into cardiac arrest. But hell live. 350 primary infections, another 200 secondaries. That’s half the colony. Zero fatalities. This time.
Notes to self – need to sequence the virus, make it visible to our immune systems, need a second arrow beyond the fish liver. How is it invisible. So fast, so deadly, could it be created? Need to talk to Vicinius. Need to…
[Log automatically closed when snoring detected.]

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The Dryads on this Planet are Ugly!
Doctor's Log 1x09

Safety Advisory – Attention Lumber Teams – Life Cycle of the Tree Shrimp Identified. Tree Shrimp are the female/egg form of the creature. The male, Sluggathor [file attached] can grow to ATV sized. Eats trees and impregnates others. (Which explains the Mobile Maples’ mobility.) ATV-sized ones are rare, but even a person-sized one may be dangerous. Sluggathor has no eyes, but some sort of targeting sense and a sonic attack that knocks foes down/over. Fisher Kings use Tree Shrimp ooze to protect their trees from bugs and disease – may be useful for our crops, at the risk of attracting Sluggathors.

Medical Staff Meeting Requested – Dr. Denhar requests a meeting of medical staff, with medical secure link to Janus 2 medical staff to discuss a development and further research. Case Notes Follow.
Case Notes [High Medical Encryption, Contains Patient Data] Patient Alpha is has been on Terra Nueva for __ days. Pre-departure medical scans and most recent medical scan attached. Note differences in brain structures. [Scans, identified only as Patient Alpha, attached] This may be a result of a prion/virus like silica substance. [file on Purple attached]

As some of you know, the Lumber/Mining Survey encountered two layers of sub-surface silica life [Vampire crystals] that infected two digger bots and re-wrote their programs. The Black Sand is dormant outside of temperature extremes. When active it consumes electricity and/or life energy to survive. One of our local digger swarms showed similar malfunctions, but at a much lower level. The threat had been believed mostly confined to bots and sophisticated tech. The Fisher-Kings, it turns out, collect a purple silica and pack it around their eggs. Their stories imply that it has effects on embryo development – possibly boosting intelligence – effects differ on each individual. On a hunch, Patient Alpha agreed to be scanned. Patient Alpha has fully adapted to TN’s hostile atmosphere and has been subject to high levels of stress recently. Comparison was made with Patient Alpha’s pre-departure medical testing. Changes are noted. Neurological review requested.

Theory: Purple Silica is in the air and environment. It is potentially changing us as we adapt to this place. Risks, unknown.

Proposed:
• Randomized testing of on-ground colony personnel looking for similar changes.
• Incubation of two mini-don eggs (estimated incubation time 35 days), one with Purple around it, one isolated as control. Comparisons made during hatching.
• Randomized testing of any mammals incubated since landfall for developmental changes

Council briefing to follow within 6 weeks (as soon as we have enough data to- avoid a panic- make a reasoned decision).
[Case Note Ends]

Survey Log: Summary of Janus 3 mission. Successful return. Janus 3 survivors – 151 awake, many elderly with serious bone loss and other health issues. 692 in hibernation tanks. Venus 3 functional. Only a few bots still functional. Medical Summary Appended.

Aurora developments: Counselor Siri has successfully documented the life cycle of the Buggalo. Hemp crop grown. Potatoes less successful. A few new pests found including a dangerous wasp-like creature [Piranha Wasps]. One lumberjack badly injured, still in serious condition in the Medical Hut. (Hospital construction in progress.)

Survey Log: Fisher King Expedition successful. Team arrived in time to stop an attack by a previously unknown aggressive herbivore on the nest thanks to quick work by AUD1, Marak and his drone, and Gracchie. Communications eventually made with Fisher Kings, thanks to groundwork by Councilor Hapu Min and Dr. Flanagan. The creature, Slugathor, is the mobile male of the tree shrimp we encountered in the Lumber/Mining Survey. It is technically edible, but low in nutrients and with little flavor.

Social Structure – Each Mobile Maple is home to three breeding females, the eldest of which governs matters for the Trees. The fishing group is a Wing, divided into Talons. The strongest of the Talons makes decisions as needed for the Wing. The Shaman is outside this structure and tends the trees. Fisher Kings have an oral tradition, use some local plants [note to introduce our guests to Willowbrook] for healing and plant care. More importantly, the Shamans tend the Purple Sand, which they pack around their eggs to incubate them.
History: The Fisher Kings have immigrated to this Continent from islands to the west. They left because of “The Bad” – Shaman indicates the desert. Older/larger colonies may have more information about The Bad. They have not encountered any other life that can talk. They are unfamiliar with mammals. The Shaman cannot see the Snipe. When asked about things that talk in your head, the Shaman vaguely recalls something about The Bad.

New Threat: The Leaping Lizards – brachiating lizards, the Fisher Kings consider them pests. Have not seen ourselves.

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This Mission Just Keeps Getting Better
Doctor's Log 1x07

Doctor’s Log

Personal, encrypted_
We are met on our return from the mining expedition by Project Manager Quintus Cornelius Felix Varro [Felix] with a hover jeep to take Counselor Talbot back to the colony. He has concerns about the lapse in our data feed on the way up. I respect the position he is in, but even his nephew is agreed, albeit reluctantly. After discussion, the matter is being tabled pending further study – heading Orpheus] Marak does not like or trust Manager Varro.

Personal log
Vicinius reports that the digger bot circuit boards show signs of damage similar to that on the mining bots. Related phenomena. Warning circulated to maintance staff and bots.

The Council says that they have some news from Ocean. Their fuel supply is low and they have had problems finding a suitable location given the volcanic activity. (They have not found signs of the 1,000 year layers.) Their intent is to land Janus 1 on their moonlet and build a moonbase.

Janus 3 is overdue for its check it. It is arriving more slowly than expected. We make contact with Venus 3. By mid-transit they had a problem. Most of their bots are non-functional, which meant that many of the ISP crew and technicians have spent most of the voyage awake and are quite elderly. They are training replacements (children). They are nearly out of fuel to brake, have made substantial changes to their habitat to support the extra awake personnel. Sensors are minimally functional. Tank loss is 50%. 156 crew awake. Venus reports that prior to launch the Captain decided that the bots should not engage in self-repair, thus they eventually malfunctioned. Without their help, the awake crew could not handle all tasks. We talk with the council and with Oceana – best solution is for an immediate rescue mission in the Pegasus, refuel Janus 3 with a six month supply of antimatter, and bring it to Terra Nueva. Oceana can’t handle an influx of either the elderly awake crew or newly-defrosted colonists.

Packing ensues. I’m entrusting my living samples — the minidon and snipe to Kaylin Flanagen at Bayside.

So we are off, along with Nurse __ (medic with specialty in cryonics/hibernation equipment), an astronomer, a junior engineer, and 2 unskilled youths (Brittons) from House Willowbrook as extra labor. Three and half- weeks of high G acceleration to look forward to. Uncomfortable is a serious understatement. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic; the acceleration couches help! Adams does not do well – previously undiagnosed weakness to G forces. Current plan is to refuel Janus 3 and bring it in to Terra Nueva. It’ll take a couple of months. I’m looking forward to some time to spend in a Janus lab and actually process some of our samples.

Astronomical survey enroute shows no sign of an orbit crossing asteroid that could be the source of the 1,000 year silicon layers. However, we find a new problem. An asteroid in Janus 3’s path. AUD1 plots a course correction for Janus 3 and Pegasus, which we implement. As we approach, the hull is in decent shape. The sensor dish is damaged, which may be affecting communications.

Docking is successful; Gracche is very good at this. AUD1 crosses and opens the airlock, which leads to the main bridge. It is cold, low atmosphere, not habitable without a suit. Venus is piloting. Other systems are run from the secondary bridge. Venus greets AUD1 and thanks him for his help.

Oddly, there are no humans there to greet us. Or even to greet us when we get to the more habitable areas of the ship. We have to knock at the aux. bridge door, were we are met by Maxus – an old man using a walker for assistance. Adams does most of the talking to Maxus, and then asks to address the crew. When Gracche introduces himself, Maxus responds “’Be Good to have a human pilot again.” Adams gives a good speech, and he promises to keep everyone alive ‘til we get to Terra Nueva.

Marak heads for engineering with Gracche. AUD1 stays on the bridge to repair bots. We’ll need to shut down the antimatter plant long enough to refuel it – which it was never designed for. Marak spent almost all his time during the flight learning about the system and trying to work out a procedure for this. We can run most of the ship off the fusion plant, but we’ll have to make sure it doesn’t cause problems particularly for the tanks. Marak and Gracche plot the details of the EVA and loading. They bring some bots back on-line to make repairs to critical systems. Hives are sent to repair the ship’s hives. There are, so far, only six working bots, and two of those are in the medical section and teaching the kids. He also sends them to cannibalize the digger bots in the cargo hold – we can fix them later.

Nurse __ and I head off to examine the hibernation pods. One of the things I want to do is check all of them. Janus 3 has put a lot of wear-n-tear on their maintenance and diagnostic gear – best to make sure everything is properly calibrated and we aren’t due for any surprises. It is their ship and I’m here to help, not step on toes. (At least until I need to.) We have a near miss with a unit that fails unexpectedly. With help the patient is stabilized and waking up. Only another 339 tubes to check..

Vicinius settles into the lab space, around the food vats, and picks up some curious youths.

Adams negotiates with Venus – she wants her children to be treated as more than mere machines. Adams offers them the chance to join Janus 2. She’s taking the loss of over 100 of her children better than I expected, tho some of them might be able to be recovered. I need to schedule some time for counseling/evaluation while we’re in-bound.

Given the near-miss with the asteroid, we could use sensors. AUD1 could go out and repair the dish. Or maybe run cable to the Pegasus to use its sensors for now. There was an external repair hive, but it is off-line. Marek finds that the external hive is a part of the ship cut off from Venus. When asked Maxus says there was a time of civil unrest – some humans attacked the bots because Venus was shutting down hibernation pods for the good of the mission. Some of the tech bots have little lasers, the external hive has much bigger repair lasers.

Marak runs a connection to the isolated section.

Venus: Yes, I do have a connection. My son is not happy. He is scared and lonely.

Venus: Yes, people. He is scared of them. He is not right.”

Adams: “Can you turn him off?” “Or can you fix him?”

Venus: “Give me a moment. Some of my channels are damaged. My connection is weak.”

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It's life, but not as we know it
Doctor Log 1x06

Medical Log: So far no unexpected events. Muscle strain. Dehydration. Heat stroke. Sunburn. Nothing serious. Weather is starting to cool off, clouds on the horizon. Sky is unusually bright, recommend sunglasses to avoid cornea burns. Maybe we can add some public safety announcements to Marak’s proposed 52-hour news channel.

Observation – a Roman bathhouse could be useful for hygiene and community building. It will also be easier to filter water on a large scale than dome by dome. It would also be psychologically useful to start making some permanent places, built for the long-term.

Addendum: [Contains patient data, encrypted] Marak has asked me for help on a personal project regarding sleep cycles and metabolism. Records appended. He needs to delegate and find some managers for his projects.

Survey Log: Woods and Mines
The hover jeep can fly across the river. The ATV, on the other hand, has to cross the river. And, of course, there’s another river frond hidden in the mud. It is about 1,000 feet in diameter. Fish swim back and forth without it reacting. What do these things eat that look like ATVs? Vicinius asks Da Jing [a lumberjack] to fish up a sample.

Samples taken of nuts, berries, and local birds. New creature located, a four winged glider. [Files attached] Da Jing has seen signs of large game, later identified as a forest raptor. It’s scat has traces of bugaloo –the nearest prairie is a hundred or more miles away.

Da Jing asked Vicinius a yellow fluid oozing from a species of trees in the woods. It is mildly sticky, but the tree seems healthier than those around it. We locate a knot hole, about four inches in dimeter. George inspects the interior. It is disturbingly organic. We find a tree that has been split open and a cavity inside. We find another tree – no hole. Drilling into it, we find a creature that has merged into the wood. The tree rings are healthier after the creature got into it.

Eventually realize that the tree is infested with a large creature. It burrows inside, consumes the tree, and busts out. The hole leads to its reproductive track. The sap is likely an attractant for reproduction. (What does the male look like?] Egg and tissue samples obtained. Infection affects about 20% of the trees.
Along the river, we encountered a lone forest raptor. After investigation, have marked the area as dangerous due to dangerous fungal organism.

Bugaloo herd located in the forest, seem to be migrating. Location noted.

Eventually the trail ends, and we have to proceed on foot. We still see occasional oozing trees. Eventually, we get to the mining site and set up the drill. Surveying continues. The bots hit something. A cloud of dust files up and the bots stop. Marak sends Eagle over – the bots are frozen and the temperature is lower around them. Ice crystals are forming on them. Their cooling systems are causing it. Marak investigates. There is some odd dusting around the vents. Something reprogrammed the bots to overload their cooling systems. The circuit board has been reconfigured. After significant work, we hypnotize. We may have found silicone based life. Its an organic computer virus – and it consumes life energy. It ate a living plant sample – withered it. The samples are similar to the 1,000 year silica. We start theorizing.

This reminds me of something. A few days ago, Marak mentioned some problems with a digger swarm, looks like a damaged file. He uploaded a patch to the digger hive to fix new bots. If this is related, it may be worse that we thought.

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