Saturday, December 28, 2013

362: Ghost Planet

ENTRY 362: Ghost Planet

"It's eating my fucking suit."
- Fon Zongying, gatecrasher

The Iktomi are the only extraterrestrial civilization known to have used the Pandora Gates - remnants of their civilization or explorations have been found on several worlds. Of the Iktomi themselves there is little record or remains; no indication of what had happened to them. Yet just recently, in an arid semi-desert planet under two suns, a group of gatecrashers have reported finding what might be the actual physical remains of the Iktomi.

The planet is called Zongying, and the gate stands in the center of an open pavilion of heavily abraded aluminum girders, arranged into the outline of a pentagonal prism with a floor of aluminum plates. Along the edges are an interlocking pattern of pentagons, formerly painted bright blue and yellow, which are recognized as Iktomi warning/danger/forbidden symbology now mostly faded and covered by dirt. If there were ever walls or ceiling, there is no sign of them now, though certain markers on the aluminum frame suggest they might have been meant to be climbed. Beyond this barrier is the dry valley.

The Iktomi - if that is what they are - stand like a grove of gnarled, dead trees in every direction. Dark grey twisted carapaces, pale white strands like branches of antlers growing out from within, breaking out at joints and intersection points between the semi-petrified chitinous plates. Many reach for the sky as still white limbs, while the others tangle on the ground like roots, sometimes intersecting or burying themselves in the soil.

Research on the site is in its infancy, and after the loss of researcher Fon Zongying (after whom the planet is named), biohazard status on travel to Zongying has been upgraded to Synthmorphs-Only. It is believed that the creatures around the site succumbed to a fungal parasitoid that replaced their inner tissues before bursting through their shells - which, in the extremely arid environment, managed to survive longer than on other worlds, though some evidence suggests that they and the gate might have been buried for a period and recently uncovered. Whatever the case, it is clear that the fungal parasitoid is still active, and that is spores (or possibly a symbiotic bacteria) are capable of metabolizing plastic - which is how they got to Zongying, whose remains now form a permanent part of the xenoarchaeological site.

Using Ghost Planet

Ghost Planet does not necessarily contain the final truth to the end of the Iktomi - but it might hold clues to one possible end. As a civilization that survived for some thousands of years and made use of the Pandora Gates, the Iktomi were in their own way explorers not like transhumanity - and like transhumans, they found strange dangers, and sometimes brought them with them. For the Iktomi, the fungal plague may have been their version of the exsurgent virus, and the destruction it wrought on the population so terrible that they quarantined the entire world. Beyond the strangely grim and silent forest, beyond the bounds of the valley lies what was once a thriving planet - and now is only a ghost world.

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