Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book 1, Chapter 2: the Dark Plant and the Crayolians

Shifting Horizon
Book 1, Chapter 2

(Joining the group is Julian Tarvis, a pilot and communications officer.)

Exploring jumpspace is, frankly, boring. There are long stints of doing absolutely nothing in jumpspace, followed by short stints of doing absolutely nothing while calculating where you actually are. After about a week of exploration, during which nothing but empty space or basic rocks-around-a-star solar systems were found, the team found something interesting.

The system itself was quite interesting; it was a binary star system, with a very small red dwarf, and a very large brown dwarf. The brown dwarf was far too large, and yet had not reached fusion; it was large enough to block the light from the red dwarf. The surface temperature of the brown dwarf is a balmy 200 degrees F, and surface gravity is roughly 250 times that of Earth.

Orbiting the binary stars are two objects of interest: first, an Earth-like world, and second, a strange ship. The team quickly decided to take a look at the ship first.

A drifting ship: the Crayolians

The ship was not of Earth design... or from any other known systems for that matter. In fact, the ship was ancient beyond ancient; it has only reached this system a few hundred years ago, but spent much more time than that floating through space. How much time? Well, when the team breached the airlock, they found that every organic material on board had decayed completely. The doors, precision-formed metal, still managed to hold some atmosphere, but the fine dust in the air was the crew, as well as anything else remotely organic, even plastic. The entire ship was nothing but metal and inert solids. A few attempts at reconstructing the computers proved to be a complete failure - the insulating plastic was gone, leaving nothing but thin bare wires.

Tina and Frosty discovered a huge bookshelf full of books - books written in gold, on synthetic sapphire pages. While life on the ship may have died off, the books were designed to last forever. After much caution, followed by Tina shooting the books her sonic pistol, the two decided the books might be valuable and began hauling them to the shuttle. Frosty got bored and went looking for the rest of the crew, leaving Tina to drag the last of the books herself.

Julian found the engine, or at least what was left of it, appeared to be a basic nuclear design; however, the nuclear fuel tubes were filled with lead rods, as the Android discovered. Whatever this ship was, it was really, really old.

Giving up on the books, Tina Fey helped the rest of the crew uncover a small glass and metal object that held a small lock of hair. The hair was scanned, and traces of DNA were discovered, trapped in the glass: a four-column strand, utterly alien.

Having discovered everything of value in the ship, the crew loaded the rest of the books, then set out for the planet below.

Eventual translation of the books revealed that the race that lived on the ship left their home system when life on the planet was no longer possible. They traveled for thousands of years in the ship, their population slowly declining. They traveled so far, they lost sight of their own galaxy - the sky was completely black. After almost 10,000 years in space, the last being alive wrote the last line: "Will anyone remember us?"

Clues from the books place the aliens' origin in a completely different galaxy. They traveled the distance between the systems fully in realspace, taking over two million years to end up in our system. The books were scanned into the UEA library, and sent back to be studied. The aliens would not be forgotten; even though the last of their species had died millions of years ago, their story was still alive.

Meanwhile, Frosty was shocked to his core. He is absolutely certain that everyone is really an insectoid, just with body modifications or maybe some weird mutation. These beings, however, show that there really is another sentient creature out there. The Duul'Tlak and the humans weren't exactly impressed.

Dark Planet

The Earth-like world with a breathable atmosphere (which the UEA eventually decided to name "Placidus." The planet is roughly 2/3 land and 1/3 water, mostly lakes. That which could be scanned was revealed to be covered in plant life and small lifeforms, with absolutely no technology. However, the dark area in the center was completely unmappable. No scanning methods could penetrate into that area, as if it were a complete void.

Upon landing, no one was brave enough to breathe the air, except the android, who technically doesn't breathe anyway. After testing it with his olfactory sensors, he reported it had a sweet, fragrant smell, something between iris and rose. Not that it convinced anyone else to try it, the cowards. I didn't think anyone took the Yellow hindrance...

A few animals moved around in the low brush; there were no trees, or really anything taller than a hill to block their view, though lovely emerald green grass grew everywhere. The air was warm, and a light breeze was blowing. While it looked like dusk on Earth, the suns were actually high in the sky; there just isn't a whole lot of sunlight to go around. Tina caught a bug in a jar, scowling at Frosty while shaking the jar. She was still a bit upset about being left to load the heavy books, and took it out on the poor bug.

It took quite a bit of cautious poking and prodding to discover that the strange black thing was actually a plant with fractal microtendrils that absorb everything: sound, radio waves, radiation, light. The foragers nearby eat it like candy. Tina, using her ever-handy biology skills, worked out the cycle: the foragers eat almost all the dark-plant, increasing like crazy. With plentiful prey, the natural predators also increase. As the plant gets harder to find, the foragers are quickly wiped out by the predators, which in turn starve out. The plants rebound, and the cycle starts again. The plant also absorbs incredible amounts of energy; if the plant growth is unchecked by foragers, it will cause the planet to heat too quickly, but if it grows too slowly, the planet will rapidly cool. The plants release the heat they absorb through their roots, heating the earth; the plants themselves feel cool to the touch.

Several experiments were performed on the black plant, including, but not limited to:
  • Shooting it (first Frosty, then Tina)
  • Picking it (Julian was the first to try that)
  • Walking in it (Julian tried it and got dizzy; Tina used a blanket and managed to get a few hundred feet inside before giving up)
  • Flying over it (the instruments went haywire, and Tina nearly crashed)
  • Burning it (Tina and Frosty again)
Frosty correctly likened the plant to Vantablack; so little light was reflected from them that it looked as if the ground was a flat, black, featureless plane. The truth is that the ground was as lumpy and full of holes and hills as any other ground, as Tina and Julian discovered.

On her return trip from flying over the plants, Tina discovered a small cave with a door; Frosty, ever cautious (ha ha!) yanked open the door and waltzed right in. Inside, they found a comfortable home, complete with chairs, dishes, and a Chinese flag draped over a chest that contained two EVA suits. Julian faintly remembered the markings as being about 400 years old, fairly standard for Chinese pioneering expeditions at the time.

At the back of the cave, sunken in the sand, were two glass-covered coffins. A small placard notes that they were husband and wife, and died at ages 93 and 98, respectively. They were survived by their son. This caused quite a bit of speculation; where was the son? More investigation of the black plant was called for, even as far as getting the bomber to nuke the plants. Thankfully, they decided the son had probably fled the planet.

Meanwhile, plenty of the plant was grabbed for investigation. The android suggested using it like a ghillie suit - which is, indeed, possible. A bit of research will net him a stealth suit that provides +4 to stealth. Frosty, meanwhile, had a much larger plan (of course): covering the ship entirely in the stuff. It will take a little longer, but the plant is being adapted for external use, which will make the ship a harder target to hit: a -2 to anyone else's shooting roll against the ship. There are probably other uses for the plant, but I'll leave those to the intrepid explorers to discover.

The team received 1 XP for decoding the books, and as mentioned, will get some nice bonus technology from the plants.

Next: the second half of this session! It certainly moves faster when there are only four people.

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