Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Twelve Bleak Worlds
Some of these worlds that have been massively interrupted and terribly disrupted recover. In time. With effort. Solar mirrors get deployed, asteroidal debris gets restructured and nudged into new orbits to provide protection, oceans get re-established, atmospheres get replaced, domes and polymer sheaths get erected. The Automated Construction Systems of the Infrastructure go to work and get these worlds on track to being livable habitats, employing whatever measures or methods they have in their databases, for however long it takes.
But even then, after hundreds, even thousands of years of invested effort and contrivance, despite all the herculean efforts of the ACS, some worlds just won't budge. For whatever reasons there are those worlds that are seemingly bound and determined to remain inimical to life. Some of these are classified as Hellworlds and are closed off from the regular access levels of Civilization. They are dangerous, brutal, harsh and unforgiving places where life is vastly unwelcome and often violently expunged with extreme prejudice. Others of these worlds are borderline Badlands, just at the very threshold of supporting life in the most meager, miserly and miserable conditions possible or imaginable. Then there are the Bleak Worlds. Life is barely able to hold on to its tenuous toehold on these planets. Their ecologies are incomplete, wild and unpredictable, but not in the brutal honesty of the Badlands nor the terrifying hostility of the Hellworlds. The Bleak Worlds are cold, mostly barren and patient. They mislead visitors into cruel predicaments and deadly circumstances with the sly subtlety worthy of an Amortal meta-chess master. There are good reasons that these worlds are closed off from the rest of Civilization, sealed and monitored by background systems that match the patience of these worlds as nanoscale efforts continue to process the atmospheres, enrich the soils, and work towards providing an ever-expanding niche for life to take root and take up the battle on its own behalf. Lichens, mosses, algae and a host of microorganisms dominate the fragile, besieged micro-biomes scattered across these places. Nothing more complex has been able to take up the fight, yet. And few, if any visitors ever come to these places. They remain mostly pristine and wild, virginal ecologies just at the very threshold of becoming feral wildernesses. But not quite yet.
Most of these worlds are simply rocky masses with some water and a very marginal atmosphere. Few have anything more advanced or complex than fungi, bacteria or algae growing on the bare rocks. Short visits are usually fairly uneventful, but long-term settlement is deemed unlikely, despite a few individuals or small groups who've tried to make a go of it anyhow. None have succeeded. These worlds are just not ready or able to sustain the sort of robust ecosystems required for humans to thrive upon them, and some of them might never achieve that goal despite the best efforts of the Deep Infrastructure. Below are some examples of the more memorable (such as they are) Bleak Worlds reachable from Riskail with the appropriate gate tokens.
(13) Twelve Bleak Worlds
Radiant azure skies and rich, sapphire snows combine to create an intense blue radiance that overwhelms unprotected eyesight with a lingering lapis glow that has inspired several poets over the course of the last few centuries. A handful of warm-spots can be found atop the dense blue icepack which encloses the oceans of this world, most of them the result of minute cracks reaching down to undersea vents where a profusion of sulfur-metabolism lifeforms are busily expanding their elegant unseen empires of smokestacks, tube-worms and microflora. The cracked ice is treacherous, prone to collapsing and re-freezing in a matter of minutes. Yes, it is that cold. Unprotected, your average visitor has the life expectancy of a naked newt dropped onto the peak of Everest.
Dim, smoldering red skies filled with billowing red clouds, a tortured surface wracked with constant upheavals of red ice, red rocks and generally as red an environment as can be managed, all of it just this side of the kind of cold that usually burns the life out of things. Zangliss has an eccentric, tidally-locked orbit that keeps it caught in the perpetual eclipse of its massive red sun caused by its parent gas giant. What life there is can be found in the inconstant meltwater zones girdling the incredibly salt-saturated seas of slush that sluggishly jumble and tumble the myriads of jagged icebergs and ice floes that freeze out from the super-saturated mineral-solution that makes up the majority of what passes for water on this world. In the meltwater zones there are over a hundred different micro-climates that form under the steady, regular cyclic phases of heating and cooling brought about by the tidal effect of the gas giant that no one has bothered to name beyond its registration number and icon sequence within the ACS databases. Aside from some shrimp and a few red-tinged protozoa there's not much to see here. Except for the ring of colossal stone faces that hang brooding solemnly in a perfect circle around the equatorial zone, each one the masterpiece of a single robotic sculptor who has since left for other venues. But why was it ever built in the first place?
Blackness knows a whole new meaning in this cold, barren place where the rocks have complete authority and the snow is tainted black from volcanic ash. The many active volcanoes are all deep under water and their eruptions rip through the black-tinted ice with spectacular violence. Vast plumes of smoldering acid, smoke and ash rise into the heavily overcast skies finally settling out of the black clouds as dark hail, smoldering rain or mingled black ash-snows. A thick, viscous oil-like sludge covers everything, accumulating in superchilled pools and leaving a thick skrim across the fractured ice. The air is almost breathable, unless one ingests the ash which is highly acidic, and of course it is extremely cold, and the pressure is rather intense, often forcing an accumulation of black gunk in the seams and joints of anything that spends very long exposed to the dark winds of Mazeeva, not to mention the condensation of acid that tends to happen as well. No fewer than three master spell-fighters have erected attunement psycholiths at secret locations on Mazeeva. Each one is said to impart a different and very powerful attack spell to those who find one and carry out the appropriate rituals. Needless to say, few make this particular journey as it is extremely dangerous, difficult and demanding, as were each of the three master spell-fighters themselves.
The gentle, supple surface of Grosk appears to have very little variation in elevation and almost no tectonic activity. No volcanism. The air is breathable and clean, the light streaming through the slowly undulating clouds is bright and even warm on one's exposed skin. It isn't until after you've spent a few minutes walking around the place that you might realize that the whole surface of this world is covered by a colony of microorganisms that extends downwards for miles. But then, people tend not to notice such things until after they've had the surface tension disrupted and the colony has swallowed them whole. The Sowers of Grosk cultists are very friendly people who would love nothing more than to show you around this world. Each one of them has already voluntarily submitted to the colony and allowed it to consume their brains so that they might achieve union with the colony. Welcome to Grosk.
Dim, quiet and sluggish, this world takes centuries to rotate around its axis, making it for all intents and purposes a one-face world, sort of. Low mountains jumble together along the few faultlines, appearing more like melted lumps dripped into place as an after-thought by a lazy creator-deity who couldn't be bothered to put in the extra effort required to make them look like proper mountains. Those cracked and crumbling faces of the exposed rock which receive sunlight are spotted with sporadic lichens, mosses and a few million different slime-molds all trying to break the rocks down into soil and finding it a tedious, slow process. The atmosphere is just tolerable, the temperature is mild and only fluctuates a few degrees at any given moment, and the weather is mostly a slow motion mistiness that drifts counter-clockwise across the sunlit polar region that points almost dead-on to its sun. The darkside is a place of shimmering aurorae and infrequent snowfalls, most of which are of little consequence as the surface is generally just a slight bit too warm for them to accumulate. Eventually snails and slugs might find a home here, but for now it barely supports the few low-order life forms that have been able to find a mostly viable foothold. No one has any record of who built the cyclopean stepped pyramid at the south pole, nor why the structure is encircled by irregular elliptical patterns of tall, black featureless monoliths.
Cold, barren, rocky and bereft of any redeeming features aside from rugged coastlines battered by constantly agitated waves and furious storms full of lightning, hail and severe winds. The only life in this place is deep below the surface and far below the most turbulent waters where a strange pseudo-mechanical ecology derives its energy from temperature shifts and the motion of the waters stirred-up by the perpetual storms above. The storms of Othrys are legendary and to be marooned or exiled to this place is usually a death-sentence, unless there is some truth to the rumors of some sort of sentient coral-colony deep below the waves that has taken an interest in the goings on around it.
Boulder-strewn and dusty, the surface of Phiarus is impressively uneven and broken-up by craters, ridges and the scars of innumerable impacts from asteroidal debris and even some comets. The surface is mostly airless and blasted with harsh radiation. All life, such as it is, lurks deep below the rugged surface, mostly in the form of oozing pools of protoplasm inhabited and infested by hundreds of microorganisms and simple life forms all living together in a peculiar form of symbiosis. Each protoplasmic mass is a unique autonomous ecology filled with flagella, protozoa, pseudo-mitochondria, and a host of other lower-order forms of life suspended within a gelatinous soup sheathed in a crust made up from masses of bacteria and viruses and an interlocking mesh of quasi-crystalline minerals in a half-digested stew of enzymes which these things use to slowly migrate about the depths of the planet. More than one clever prospector and at least two seperate settlements have attempted to form dome-structures in selected craters or crevasses in order to attempt to tap into the immense and literally fluid mineral wealth oozing around beneath the crust of this world. So far all such attempts have failed. Some more spectacularly than others.
Cold, dark, covered with continental-scale bioluminescent fungal colonies that are mostly petrified. The worlds' surface is rough and fairly inactive seismically. The one and only visitor to this place reported a series of blisters, possibly domes of some sort, had been raised along those ridges and few small-scale hills that received the faint light of the perpetually lingering dawn. They didn't investigate the blisters, so nothing more is known regarding them.
Frozen, rocky, and dark--the perfect place for high-altitude tombs and necrotats. The harsh ultraviolet rays of the sun scour the life from all exposed surfaces, driving all the survivors into the deep, dark waters of the three polar seas. It is suspected that more than one tribe or sect of undead have laid covert claims upon the steep pinnacles of Valdiv and that they may be engaged in a bitter, mostly discrete and invisible war amongst themselves over who gets access to what locations. So far seven apprentice Kitain from Kapht have failed to return from ill-advised hunting expeditions to this desolate world of dry fjords, deep ravines and knife-like peaks that jut out of the thin atmosphere.
The air is so filled with wind-driven particulate matter that it is impossible to determine where the skies end and the ground begins. Literally. The violent winds of Karlom have uprooted billions of tons of boulders, gravel and dust, all of it swirling around in complex patterns of turbulence, smashing into one another and causing a stupendous uproar that is only matched by the thunder following the impressive electrical discharges that erupt through all the dust, precipitating spectacular cascading series of explosions. It's a noisy, highly agitated place likely to crush the unwary visitor before they recover from the noise that manages to penetrate even the best noise-suppression gear. The vibrations echo on through the rocks and the flayed crust just as much as through the atmosphere. The only thing that manages to grow here are some tough, pernicious weeds that feed as much on the constant vibrations of all the impacts and the rushing winds as they do on the inconstant, flickering sunlight that filters down through the massive duststorms, eventually. What exactly is C'Len the Withdrawn's interest in this place?
The three-armed Trivardik acheironists bring the bony-remains of their dead to this place, often tossing them into the greenish seas and lakes with the usual tripartite rites of their kind. The air is breathable, but the rest of the rocky surface of this place is barren and devoid of life, except along the shores of the major bodies of water where a greenish scum has accumulated from the vast masses of algae that fill the seas, lakes and pools of Bidasoa. Short-term exposure doesn't appear to be life-threatening, though it is also the source of the algae that infest the majority of Trivadiks. It is unclear what, if any, benefit this infestation provides aside from the cultural significance of the individual Trivardik having made the bone pilgrimage and personally carrying out the burial rites associated with such a journey. Trivardiks are creatures of ritual and this Bleak World has become something of a sacred site for them.
Moist and misty gray skies loom ominously over rich black soil writhing with purplish-gray masses of undead worms set to till the soil of this Bleak World by none other than Haelon himself. It is highly recommended to avoid this world unless under the express protection of one of the Elder Dead.
Mountainous, rainy and cold with lichens covering nearly every surface and occupying nearly every available niche of the thin, fragile ecology of this world. A tribe of Renunciates tried to establish a village on one of the steeple-like islands protruding from the various high tarns (mountain-lakes) near the middle of the main continent, but they were forced to leave after their hydroponics farms failed and their crops were infected with a peculiar red blight.