Casual Play Astrogation

Nu Lieb-Janz Lehr 15c (Declinati)

The weathered face of a world emerges amid the retreating wash of between-space as you slide back into flat reality. Stony, brassy, large for a terrestrial planet, it sits at the extreme edge of its star's habitable zone, yet there's no indication of life or the ingredients necessary for it. Only a thin tuft of gritty, icy clouds hangs at the extreme edge of the thin, hydrogen sulfide atmosphere, perpetually locked in a cold, slow orbit of the surface.

Only when you send a mote-probe to cruise the surface do you realize that the planet is home to something more, has more to offer than stone and a putrid, unbreatheable atmosphere. A fly-by of a canyon turns up a flash of something metallic, something like thin, chrome roots lacing through dry, alien soil. Deeper scans turn up a network of these roots, a network with an organic flow to it that reminds you of veins or neurons. A ping dropped to a length of junction open to the sky returns an echo of your signal, garbled and hazy. Traces of the ping ring through the network, splinter and fade across resonant veins, and then the network is silent again, as dead as it was when you first glimpsed it.

But it only stays that way for a moment.

Like some great, slumbering giant, the planet wakes up suddenly. The network flares with electromagnetic energy, pulses just beneath the surface of the world. There's a rhythm to it, strong, regular, like a heartbeat, and then it reaches out to you, throbs a signal directly into your mind with enough force to leave you reeling, lost. The words are few, come simple.

Just dreams. Dreams of the future.

There's a flash of something. An image, strange and nonsensical. Oscillating lines and chrome-static colors distorted by waves of something else. The image, the words come strong, come imbued with a sense of significance so tangible that it sticks with you even after the signal withdraws, goes silent. In another instant, the world is empty and lifeless again. The roots or veins or neurons slip into sudden dormancy, and you're left floating alone again, your mote-probe silently cruising icy currents. Curious, you ping the planet's network again, get nothing in return. Only silence.

When you finally call for the mote-probe to return, you take a moment to log your notes on the world into the intergalactic network. At the edge of your mind, you're vaguely aware of the way the probe sweeps upward, the way it twists, so elegant, and then it is one with your ship again, snug and silent. Your ship's integrated intelligence spins up the phasedrive, and with one final glance back toward the planet's surface, you turn your tiny ship, slip out of flat reality and back into the between.

But even in the embrace of between-space, the dead world's final, enigmatic cry still clings to the back of your mind, echoing on endlessly, somehow so much more important than the words themselves seem to be.

Just dreams. Dreams of the future.


- - -