Tuesday, August 27, 2013

239: Dreamgate

ENTRY 239: Dreamgate

Dial the right coordinates on the Martian Gate, and you step through to a red world, eerily familiar. Not Mars-as-it-is, but Mars-as-it-was—a planet made in the image of old Mars by some long-vanished race of planet shapers, who liked the dryness and the dust, and built cities like convoluted flutes the color of raw pink bone, inlaid with veins of metal that crackle with electricity. Now all they have left behind are dusty cities that hum with ancient power sources, and dream.

The first probes noticed it the second they came in, the heavy wireless signals in the air—an alien Mesh, active and alive even if the extraterrestrials that built it seem long dead. Gatecrashers found the first terminals when they breached the towers: sonar/audio systems for creatures that sensed the world primarily though sound, and shell-backed cuirasses presumed to be nonhuman neural interfaces. The engineers back on Mars began reverse-engineering them immediately.

Now the red world, this twin-Mars is known as Dreamgate, and each group of gatecrashers comes through bearing the latest versions of interface augmentations designed to allow them to experience and explore the alien computer network. Crews have spent hours and days mapping sensory palaces like dry windblown caverns of the mind, artificial dreamscapes of pink and purple beaches that fade into ink-black oceans swimming with wriggling tadpole-things. All of it might be real, or none of it. Some people bring back snatches of alien music, XP recordings unlike anything ever seen, fragments of science databanks, and millions of lines of alien scripts—at least two dozen separate languages and half a dozen alphabets with different variations, all waiting to be translated and read.

Others never come back at all, their egos lost in the vast XenoMesh, or fallen prey to still-active defenses or the bizarre AIs that might live there. Others ask why the Martian Gate would link to this particular world—did something or someone try to cross over to Mars from the Dreamgate? Or was it the other way around? What stopped them? Where did they go? For all of these questions, many are sure the answers lie in that alien Mesh of sonic contours and bone-chattering base rhythms, and fluted towers that stab up at the pale sun like the skeletal fingers of some buried giant…


Physically, Dreamgate’s environment is nearly identical to Mars, right down to the gravity, and the landscape is strongly reminiscent of Mars as well, though explorations further afield uncover several vast salt pans that used to be shallow inland seas teaming with invertebrate life.

Accessing the XenoMesh requires specialized non-standard mesh inserts; these Custom Mesh Inserts cost at least 50,000 credits, but are usually provided to gatecrashers headed to Dreamgate as essential equipment for their job. In the alien city or outpost on the other side, users can tune the mesh inserts to experience augmented reality or to explore the full virtual space. However, the XenoMesh is a very alien sensual experience, and PCs often find it difficult to navigate the exotic information architecture.

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