July 12th 2017
Today’s Discovered pulls an excerpt from the Imperial Cartography Center archives to share a story from the fledgling days of the organization (when it was still known as the Government Cartography Agency.) We’ll hear firsthand from expedition leader Seline Novikov on the mysteries uncovered during the initial charting of Hades II.
After eighty-five hours of silence, I finally got word from the home office. Turns out there’s a reason the comm drones have been so spotty. Seems the initial jump charts aren’t proving as stable as first thought. Real comforting to hear that after you’ve already gone through, right? Donovan’s attempting to rechart a more secure path, but it’s going to take time. We should be fine with limited communications and we definitely have enough supplies to last till they can get a shipment through — even if there might be a few complaints about having to eat nothing but heat-em-ups for the last week or so. No, our biggest problem is that we won’t get the extra equipment we need to start doing the detailed surface scans of the third and second planet. Not quite the start I was hoping for my first time as lead.
Out of curiosity, I had Jans rig up two of our normal scan-packages with some extra environmental protections to see if we could get any worthwhile information while we waited. However, the package dropped onto world two got clogged within a few minutes and stopped broadcasting, and the world three package didn’t even make it to the surface. Guess we’ll have to leave the reports as “ash” and “craters” respectively for now. It’s going to put the resource analysis way behind schedule, but I’m hoping the brass will understand.
On the brighter side, until the jump gets sorted, we will have a legitimate excuse to focus significant additional resources on the data returns from the split world. Who knows, maybe before any of the other teams arrive we’ll be able to figure out what caused the fourth planet to break in half.
Jans just nearly took my hatch off its hinges trying to wake me up. I was going to start yelling about bothering me off-shift, when I saw the datapad that he was excitedly shoving in my face. The world two probe had survived. It’s a weak signal, but it’s there. The best theory that we’ve put together is that the atmospheric ash has traces of kherium in it and as the storm moves, it disrupts the broadcast signal. We didn’t get much this time before the ash bank blocked the signal again, but the weather forecast shows that we might have another break in about four hours.
I’m absolutely exhausted, but am still too wired to sleep. The forecast was right and we were able to get another burst of data before the window closed again. When we took a quick glance through the packet, Gibson pointed out that what we had initially taken for land deformations in the orbital scans actually had a pattern to them. Fast forward through three hours of intense arguing and analysis, and Gibs had convinced all of us — they’re not naturally occurring. Which means whatever’s down there is probably manmade. Well, not “man” made. I mean, unless we found where the Artemis crashed, we’re potentially talking about a sapient xeno-species.
Jans wanted to pull together a team to go down and have a look, but no way we’re cleared for that. I pointed out that we’ve been listening since we got here and haven’t heard a single peep from the surface, so if anything is down there, they don’t exactly seem eager to talk. Plus, after what happened with the Xi’an aliens, I’m pretty sure we’d not only lose our jobs, but possibly be jailed for making unauthorized first contact. Both Gibson and Jans gave impassioned speeches about how this was our once-in-a-lifetime chance to make history. Even Lace said that we should go, and Lace won’t even listen to music on shift because it’s against policy.
I held firm. As much as I want to go check out what’s down there, our job is data analysis. Maybe once the surface team arrives and has a chance to do a full sec by sec, we’ll get the green light to check it out ourselves.
I’ve been looking at the scans. The pattern creates almost a network. You can start to see hubs and branches that connect and spin off. I wonder if they’re some sort of mine? Perhaps they’re a massive earthworks project that’s used for transportation? Agriculture? To be honest they remind me of how our town was arranged around the initial colony outpost at its hub, but if this is a settlement or a city of some kind then —
I really need to stop sitting here speculating. It’s not getting me anywhere and I’m sure once someone goes down there they can figure it out. Not that it will be easy. You park anything down there for too long without the right shield and you can basically kiss it goodbye. You would probably have to set up —
And there I go again. Okay, I’m gonna grab a can of coffee and see where we are with the drone launch for this afternoon.
I just realized that the surface team will need to really hurry when they arrive to try to preserve anything at risk. I mean, imagine finding out that we missed being able to study important alien artifacts because the caustic atmosphere got to it before we could. It’s probably not a huge risk. Who knows? Maybe it’s all been there for centuries. But on the other hand, maybe there’s a clock counting down and we just don’t know it yet. Hopefully, the jump point will open soon.
Screw it. We’re going to go take a look. What’s the point of exploring the unknown if you don’t actually go explore the unknown?
Definitely not first contact. It was like we had accidentally wandered into some forgotten pit of hell. Ash everywhere. Everything in ruins. Nothing alive.
We had waited for another break in the storm, and set down near the package drop site. Jans had hoped to be able to do some maintenance on the scanner before we left. We knew at most we’d have three or four hours down there. Our suits’ oxygen wasn’t the problem, it was the corrosive ash. Stepping out of the shuttle, we had almost no visibility through the dense atmosphere. Our lights penetrated only a few meters before they were swallowed by the darkness. It didn’t help that our comm range was a tenth of what it should be thanks to residual kherium. We tied a lifeline to make sure no one got lost, and set an excruciatingly slow pace.
Even with those constraints, we came upon signs of life almost immediately, but not any life itself. The surface was terribly scarred, seemingly torn apart by impact, but there was no mistaking the manufactured fragments that were littered throughout the debris. Initial scans of the pieces came up with question marks. We collected samples where we could. I found a smooth piece slightly bigger than my hand that had a peculiar non-repeating pattern etched into it. I stared at it the whole ride back and I couldn’t tell you if it’s some language, an intricate aesthetic design, a natural feature of the strange material or some combination of the three.
It was Lace who found the first intact entrance. The structure lead deep underground, but it had collapsed in on itself almost entirely. Standing there looking around at the size of the archway and the dimensions of the architecture made me feel like an alien for the first time in my life. It was clear that this was a world where Humans didn’t belong.
We were debating if we should proceed farther when Jans sprang a leak in his suit. We had to quickly reseal it and even with the patch in place and holding, we hurried back as fast as we could. It looked like enough things had died on that world without Jans needing to join them.
As I sit here, my head is spinning trying to process everything we saw. One question, though, keeps returning — how soon can we go back?
Seline Novikov, one of the first Humans to ever step foot inside a Hadesian ruin, was removed as expedition leader a week later when the jump point re-charting was finished and the GCA received word of the unauthorized landing party. When asked if the decision to go down to the planet was a mistake, Seline replied, “Oh, yeah. Best one I ever made, too.”