ENTRY 162: The Secret Forest
Skirting the southern edge of the TITAN Quarantine Zone is a thirteen-kilometer-long arboreal habitat—the officials who drew the map designating the Zone actually argued about whether to place it inside or out, but settled for placing the southern border at the habitat’s northern wall. Ownership and origin of the habitat remains a matter of dispute; records are either lost or contradictory, and officially the habitat remains locked until the matter of ownership has been resolved, though that doesn’t stop tourists, explorers, and scroungers and from wandering in at their own risk.
The vast majority of the Secret Forest habitat is a recreation of a bamboo forest, with buried marscrete barriers preventing uncontrolled spread of rhizomes and aerogel walls marking the passage between the four climatic zones, which begin temperate at the eastern entrance and grow more tropical as a visitor moves west, the bamboo species and soil types changing to suit. The quick-growing perennial grasses brush the 12-meter ceiling in many places, and aside from various fungi and invertebrates that break down any fallen bamboo there is no direct evidence of animal life in the habitat. Access to the core habitat systems has not yet been made, but the habitat appears self-sufficient and entirely automated.
However, anecdotal evidence from visitors suggests that the Secret Forest is not as uninhabitated as it first appears. Stories vary in details, but generally fall into two categories: the living trees and the predator.
The Living Trees are a number of bamboo plants spread throughout the habitat which have been augmented with transhuman-style implants, including something similar to a cortical implant or cyberbrain. Some accounts record attempts at contacting these egos, which range from incommunicative to accounts of a monastic sect attempting to escape human desires by resleeving into the tree-like forms, or of a TITAN prison where the subject is forced to grow and die, grow and die, over and over… Efforts to locate the “living trees” on planned expeditions have so far met with failure.
The Predator is supposed to be a large mammal—perhaps an uplifted panda—which lives in the Secret Forest. Multiple expeditions have failed to find any trace of the predator, though they have found the remains of certain “victims” that appear to have died violently in the bamboo forest, perhaps after having become lost. “Survivor” accounts of the predator attacks suggest the animal can become invisible, or nearly so, and the heat signature is indistinguishable from the surrounding environment. The predator is most often blamed for the failure of any concerted operation to harvest the material of the Secret Forest, though since all such operations are illegal according to all Martian habitats and the Planetary Consortium, such reports are few and unsubstantiated.
- A research team is planning a week-long expedition into the Secret Forest, using drones equipped with radar, sonar, and lidar to map the whole structure. Conscious of the habitat’s reputation, they are planning a minimal-impact trip—take only scans, leave only footprints. However, given the rumors of the predator they invite the PCs to come along with them to provide protection and insight. Legends of invisible deadly panda bears aside, the more immediate problem when they arrive is the crew of illegal bamboo-harvesting botanists already there…and who cannot afford any witnesses.