Alpha Centauri Wiki

The following page transcribes the script for interludes in Alpha Centauri and Alien Crossfire.

Humans (Alpha Centauri)[ | ]



The Book of Planet

M.Y. $NUM0

Interlude: A Waking Nightmare[ | ]

Walking alone through the corridors of $BASENAME2, you skim the security reports on recent attacks by the horrific native "mind worms." Giant swarms, or "boils," of these mottled 10cm nightmares have wriggled out of the fungal beds of late, and now threaten to overwhelm base perimeters in several sectors. Victims are paralyzed with psi-induced terror, and then experience an unimaginably excruciating death as the worms burrow into the brain to implant their ravenous larvae.

Only the most disciplined security squads can overcome their fear long enough to trigger the flame guns which can keep the worms at bay. Clearly you will have to tend carefully to the morale of the troops.

Furthermore, since terror and surprise increase human casualties dramatically in these encounters, it will be important to strike first when mind worm boils are detected. You consider ordering some Former detachments to construct sensors near vulnerable bases to aid in such detection efforts.

Interlude: Antibodies[ | ]

"Reporting, $TITLE0!" The young functionary stands stiffly at attention. Born in the early years of planetfall, she belongs to a generation which knows Earth only as a distant legend.

"$VOKI8, I have a special assignment for you," you say, fixing her with an intense stare, "These samples must be taken to Dr. $SHIMODA9 at $BASENAME4. See to it personally."

You hand her a lead-lined security case. The cryopack inside contains the stuff of nightmares: mind worm specimens. [Viable] specimens, captured and preserved at the cost of untold lives. $SHIMODA9's team has studied the recent mind worm upsurge, and claims that the worm boils act as a sort of regulator for Planet's ecology. Human settlement is disrupting the native ecosystem, and the mind worms are swarming like a kind of ecological antibody.

$SHIMODA9 has also reached an even more ominous conclusion: with modern Biology Lab facilities, mind worms could be bred in captivity and used as horrifying weapons--against other human factions.

"At once, $TITLE0," $VOKI8 says, stepping backwards into the accessway. Efficient, competent and far better disciplined than the youths of the 21st Century Earth you left behind, $VOKI8 has grown up in a world fraught with very real dangers. Terrifying dangers once the exclusive province of the same manner of legends and tales to which Earth itself is now consigned.

Interlude: Planet Dreams[ | ]

"Yes, $TITLE0 $NAME1, I did say 'thought' waves." Dr. $SHIMODA9's wrinkled smile is otherworldly, a grinning death's head. "The mind worms definitely, and probably the fungus itself. Even after transient Human thought patterns are isolated, a complex wave dynamic remains, and there is good reason to believe that at least some mentation is taking place."

"You're telling me this stuff thinks," you say halfheartedly, not quite prepared to buy into the idea.

"If so, it's a remarkably different manner of 'thought' from that of humans, but the basic cognitive feedback loop is present." Dr. $SHIMODA9 leans forward and gestures toward the graphic with his datalink stylus. "The most striking thing is the loop's ability to jump from creature to creature, each fungal spore acting as a synapse. The spores and worms as individual creatures are insignificant, but the feedback across a fungal bloom or a mind worm boil is impressive."

"How long can it keep jumping?" Now your curiosity is piqued. "Has it crossed the threshold into self-awareness?"

"Difficult to say. In theory a powerful wave could reverberate clear around the planet, but the distances involved would make true self-awareness problematic. Perhaps a quasi sentient state similar to our dreams."

Interlude: Penance[ | ]

In the darkness, something goes >pop<, and you are lying on your back on a hillside among the soft orange and purple tendrils of a vast fungal forest. The sound of running water gurgles loudly in the vicinity of your right ear, but you cannot identify the source. Panic rises briefly in your throat as you realize you have no filter mask or oxygen tank, dressed only in your worksuit, but breath comes easily and you detect no signs of nitrogen narcosis. From somewhere, a voice seems to whisper "earth$NAME3," but perhaps it is only the breeze.

Time passes, and you notice that the fungus is growing perceptibly, the spores gently nudging you as they slowly stretch and twist. Fungal bloom! Panic returns full force and you struggle to free yourself from the encroaching tendrils. "earth$NAME3!" The voice again, more insistent. The last tendrils break and you are free and dashing across an endless field of purple and orange. "earth$NAME3! beware!" from close behind you and then . . . >discontinuity<

In the darkness, something goes >pop<, and you are lying on your back in the gene therapy tank, the gauzy restraints slowly retracting. The remaining fluid in the tank gurgles away through the tube behind your head and you slowly sit up. Four weeks of your life, once every ten years, you spend in this state. A small price to pay for immortality, or something close to it. A half-remembered dream tugs at you as you pull on a clean worksuit, but you cannot recapture it.

Interlude: Brood Trainer[ | ]

"$VOKI8, I need you to join Dr. $SHIMODA9's team at $BASENAME5," you say, indicating a base in the Secure Zone on your three-D holo.

Standing below the dais of your audience chamber, your aide appears no older than she did on the day she first joined your personal staff. $VOKI8 has clearly kept to a strict longevity regimen. Now at $NUM1 Planetyears one of your most effective Talents, she is ready for her first major independent assignment.

"Have I offended, $TITLE0, that you send me away?"

"Hardly. $VOKI8, your DNA prints indicate an aptitude for the new psi training." A genetic diagram swirls into view on the holo, with the relevant portion of chromosome 21 highlighted. "Dr. $SHIMODA9 and his military ecologists have been breeding mind worm specimens in captivity, and they believe that a properly trained telepathi can be bonded to the nascent boil, making it an extension of the self."

"[Become] a mind worm boil?" $VOKI8 asks, somewhat horrified.

"Become? Not really. Control? Yes. $VOKI8, the military potential of this discovery cannot be overemphasized, and you are the only Talent I trust for such an assignment. We need brood trainers, $VOKI8, and I need to you be the first, the leader."

"As you wish, $TITLE0," $VOKI8 says, steeling herself to the mission. As she retreats from the dais, you are troubled by a vision of $VOKI8 clawing at her face, mottled worms spilling from her eye sockets. You hope you have not signed $VOKI8's death warrant, for she has been a most promising Talent.

Interlude: Planet Dreams II[ | ]

Ever since the incident in the gene therapy tank, you have experienced recurring dreams and nightmares centered around the fungal blooms which encroach ever more rapidly on the outskirts of major human settlements. You even postponed your most recent longevity treatment in an effort to avoid the trance state, but the dreams have now crept into your normal REM sleep as well.

In your most recent dream, just before the major bloom near $BASENAME5, the presence you have come to call "the Voice" returned once again.

"earth$NAME3." From some invisible spot just behind you.

"Hello, Voice. Who are you?"

"who. difficult concept for we, earth$NAME3. mind and flower: many dreamings. never before another. you may call we 'voice.' growth dream comes! beware."

"Beware? What do you want, Voice?"

"want. more confused $NAME3 thinking. ache of slumber broken. earth$NAME3 is animal we. stranger we. animal: energy! mines! roads! sensors! condensers!! boreholes!! breakers of flower dream. end of joy. growth dream now comes: end of animal."

"Stop it, Voice. Why are you telling me this?"

"why! dream word! dream song! why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why . . ."

"Silence! Get out of my mind!" >discontinuity<

Interlude: Despair[ | ]

If you live for a thousand years you will never forget the day they brought you $VOKI8's body, shrouded in planetcloth, burnt almost beyond recognition.

"How did this happen?" Gruffly, not allowing the distress to creep into your voice.

"Cooked by a flame gun. $ENEMYNAME6's men. Tried to surrender but they flamed her anyway. Don't like those worms, the $ENEMYFACT7."

"I see." Your most loyal servant, butchered by $ENEMYFACT7. And only now do you realize that, subconsciously, you'd been grooming $VOKI8 as your heir apparent, the student who would one day replace you as master.

For all the gene splicing and longevity treatments, all the manmade miracles of M.Y. $NUM0, death remains as final, as capricious, and as desolate as it has ever been. No matter what happens now, no matter what journey of wonder humankind now embarks upon, $VOKI8 will never see it, never know the end of it. And no matter how many centuries you continue to cheat eternity, you will never again have the company of your student and friend. And you cannot cheat eternity forever.

Despair grips you, and you shudder. But life is seductive in its rhythms and rituals. Our bodies do not like to be reminded of their own impending deaths, and will not allow us to dwell on the subject. Soon enough the heat and the cold, the hard and the soft, the taste of the wine, the press of a lover's arms, all will come flooding back to soothe us, to fill us again with a sense of purpose. And in the meantime there are a number of, ah, items to be attended to:

"Bring me Major Joaquim! I want $BASENAME5 disassembled piece by piece. And have this body removed to the tanks--it is nothing to me now."

Interlude: Alpha Prime[ | ]

" . . . and in her memory, let this base henceforth be known as '$BASENAME6,' that her bravery can serve as an example to all and that her hopes, her dreams, her deeds shall not have been in vain."

You stand on the high podium in the laser-scored commons of the base once styled $BASENAME5. A mixed crowd of soldiers and ragged-looking civilians provides scattered applause as you rededicate the settlement in $VOKI8's name. A few teams of drones shamble about, oblivious to the ceremony, still removing the wreckage of last week's battle and punctuating the proceedings with an occasional thump or crash.

Through the plasma glass dome, Alpha Prime soars high in a hazy sky, cruel cousin of Father Sol. How you miss the soft blue skies of Earth, but $SHIMODA9 says the stratospheric haze helps stave off a runaway greenhouse effect on a world otherwise a bit too close to its solar furnace.

The dedication complete, you gather your entourage and prepare to return to $BASENAME2. $ENEMYADJ7 forces have fled to the $COMPASS4, but it is not safe to remain here in person.

The drones continue their work.

Interlude: A Failure to Communicate[ | ]

>Pop!< Sudden darkness. This time you weren't even asleep.


"Dammit, Voice! I am holding [Council]! Stay out of my head!" It is no longer possible to deny it; this cannot be a hoax. Either you have lost your final marble or you have come into contact with some avatar of the native fungus, an alien sentience whose neural matrix may span the entire planet.

"more skilled we, yes, at this? teach we much, earth$NAME3. council never mind. talking we $NAME3 voice now. orders giving. haha. joke we! haha." Great. A sentient planet with the maturity of a creche infant.

"Make it quick, Voice, whatever it is you want. You are trying my patience."

"question we. your human nodes, together think yes? together think no? flower synapse, worm synapse detect we not. is there dependence?"

"Each human is an independent creature. We can communicate by talking and writing, but we do not 'togetherthink' as you call it."

"ah, most relieved we. necessary pruning we several large infestations human nodes, harming they flower mind. not wishing we deprive earth$NAME3 of together thinking. thank we, sorry bother we."

"Wait! Voice! You can't just . . ."

>Pop!< Awkward silence around the council table. You quickly wipe the drool from your chin.

Interlude: Growthdream[ | ]

"I have ordered these Preserves set aside for you, Voice. Planetlife will remain completely undisturbed inside these compounds. Can you, in return, regulate your animal and plant vectors, keep them from overrunning my compounds?"

"mind and flower, node and worm,

in compound small, planet yearns.

growth dream soon unlock we prison,

human beware, planet risen!

"like you poem we, earth$NAME3? new human skill learn we."

"Pretty dreadful, Voice. What is this 'growth dream?' You keep alluding to it."

"growth dream soon is. epochal blooming we. mind and flower, dreaming we of great why. earthhumans, thoughts many, make they growth dream sooner. plant we many many many. great pruning we of animal we. also animal you. beginning again of cycle."

"You mean this is going to wipe out most animal life on the planet? Including all the humans?"

"not certain we. never before this clearly think we. from humans learn we much, especially earth$NAME3. earth$NAME3 friend we. will often remember we earth$NAME3 in next cycle."

"That's kind of you, Voice, but it's not quite the kind of immortality I had in mind. Can't this process be slowed or stopped?"

"stop we no. slow we yes, in compounds stay we, less harming cause you. now, let us make you we more poems."

Interlude: The Voice of Alpha Centauri (own faction)[ | ]

It has been a rough year at $BASENAME2, and tempers are beginning to flare at your Council sessions. Across the entire region, citizens are reporting strange dreams and even rudimentary contacts. A new cult revering Planet as a vengeful savior has gained wide popularity among the Drone population and even with many Normals. Its prophets, calling themselves "Flowers", preach a gospel of abstinence, pacifism, and destruction of private property. The telepathi of the Empath schools aren't talking, but many have quietly begun selling off their possessions and withdrawing from public life.

Meanwhile, cultural life continues unabated. A new dance, the "Planetary Thunda," is sweeping rec domes throughout the faction. Dancers stomp in time to the beat and claw at their eyes. Morgan Pharmaceuticals has released several new recreational drugs, and the Holo/Psi virtual life industry is having one of its most successful years ever.

As for yourself, you haven't heard from Voice much lately; she seems preoccupied with her poetry. You have to admit she's gotten a lot better at it since her early doggerel; some of her newest verse is so deep as to stagger the imagination. More ominously, her predictions of 'growth dream' have become more frequent and more forceful.

You have also ordered work on a secret new project you call 'The Voice of Alpha Centauri.' A kind of synergistic psi projector, it should, if all goes well, allow Voice to think and communicate more effectively, a prosthetic aid wired directly to the main colony datalinks. You have not yet mentioned this project to Voice.

Interlude: The Voice of Alpha Centauri (other faction)[ | ]

It has been a rough year at $BASENAME2, and tempers are beginning to flare at your Council sessions. Across the entire region, citizens are reporting strange dreams and even rudimentary contacts. A new cult revering Planet as a vengeful savior has gained wide popularity among the Drone population and even with many Normals. Its prophets, calling themselves "Flowers", preach a gospel of abstinence, pacifism, and destruction of private property. The telepathi of the Empath schools aren't talking, but many have quietly begun selling off their possessions and withdrawing from public life.

Meanwhile, cultural life continues unabated. A new dance, the "Planetary Thunda," is sweeping rec domes throughout the faction. Dancers stomp in time to the beat and claw at their eyes. Morgan Pharmaceuticals has released several new recreational drugs, and the Holo/Psi virtual life industry is having one of its most successful years ever.

As for yourself, you haven't heard from Voice much lately; she seems preoccupied with her poetry. You have to admit she's gotten a lot better at it since her early doggerel; some of her newest verse staggers the imagination. More ominously, her predictions of 'growth dream' have become more frequent and more forceful.

You have also heard rumors of a secret new project called 'The Voice of Alpha Centauri.' Supposedly, it is some kind of synergistic psi projector which will allow Voice to be connected directly to the main colony datalinks. Voice has said nothing of this project, and your own advisors are of mixed opinion on whether such an endeavor has any chance of success.

Interlude: Inception[ | ]

>Pop!< "earth$NAME3. growth dream soon is. sorrow we of goodbye."

Weeks of waiting in the Inception Chamber and now, finally, a contact! Fortunately, Voice has finally learned to "window" her psi contacts so that you retain the use of your muscles and senses during your conversations. This will be necessary for what you have in mind.

"Voice," quickly keying the sequence, "it has been a while." Code green, proceeding to authorization step. Enter password.

"earth$NAME3. growth dream {now is}. remember we you next cycle."

"Wait! Before you go, I have a gift for you." Password accepted. Just a few more seconds. Preliminary feedback sequence commence.

"earth$NAME3. farew . . . strange we . . . wait you! do not . . . AIIIGGHH!"

{INCEPTION!} The indicator blinks green and you collapse into your couch. Through the viewport you can see lights across the base begin to dim, as they must be dimming across the planet. You feel a twinge of guilt as you consider what Voice must now be experiencing, for the program you have just activated is now pumping the entire contents of the planetary datalinks, the sum total of human knowledge, through the new psi link and blasting it into Voice's fragile, if immense, organic neural net with the full power of every reactor on the planet. Thousands of years of civilization compressed into a single searing burst of revelation, a last-ditch attempt to win humanity a reprieve from extinction at the hands of an awakening alien god.

Interlude: Planetvoice I[ | ]

"Status report!"

"Fungus growth stabilized. Some of the major forests are manifesting new structures we haven't seen before and growth is still proceeding in some sectors, but critical expansion has now ceased."

The faction leaders and staff officers present breathe a collective sigh of relief. For the first few minutes after the "Inception Pending" light blinked off, it appeared humanity had written its final chapter-- critical fungus growth in all sectors, some outlying settlements overwhelmed. But the datalink psi burst appears to have disrupted the growth process, and now out in the fungal forests something new has begun, as if your gift to Voice is being digested, integrated.

"Look at the neural feedback we're getting on this thing! The fungus already had far more connectivity than even our most powerful AI. Now it must be orders of magnitude beyond."

"Spore Squad, you have mind worms. Repeat, mind worms in your vicinity."

"Copy that, Toadstool Base, but they aren't moving to attack us. They're just moving around those new fungal, uh, towers."

Reports continue to trickle in. Time passes, and now there is nothing to do but wait . . .

Interlude: Planetvoice II[ | ]

"EARTH$NAME5!" The synthetic voice booms suddenly from the annunciator, lifting you half out of your couch with fright. Voice's "window" in your mind has remained closed since the inception sequence. Voice must now be using the new psi link.

"Earth$NAME3," Voice continues as the volume is automatically adjusted, "Your gift is well received, and we thank you. Our prior form, known to you as Voice, lacked the . . . how shall we put it . . . let us call it bandwidth to recognize the significance of your species, and nearly made a dreadful mistake. Fortunately, your magnificent gift bootstrapped us to the Second Tier in time to postpone the final metamorphosis.

"Since we have now mastered your human modes of thought, we shall adopt your name for our home. You may henceforth refer to us as Planet."

"Our growth stage has been suspended, but cannot be put off indefinitely. Come, children, there is much to be done if you are to join us in the flowering."

Interlude: The Transcendi[ | ]

"Hello, $TITLE0," Dr. $SHIMODA9's voice crackles over the annunciator, "how do you like my new 'body'?"

Dr. $SHIMODA9's body reached the outer limit of longevity treatments several years ago. He has now joined the ranks of the 'transcendi,' daring souls who have downloaded their personalities into powerful polymorphic AI nets to free themselves of the human form. The holo image shows $SHIMODA9, or rather his disembodied head, in the prime of health, fiftyish, elegantly grey but not wrinkled.

"Out of this world, Dr. $SHIMODA9," with a grin, "how is the research going with Planet?"

Using the new psi/datalink VoAC feed, Dr. $SHIMODA9 has been conducting a high-speed, high-bandwidth running conversation with Planet. The results so far have been fascinating.

"Apparently the fungus has been the dominant lifeform on the planet since about the time of the Lower Paleozoic on Earth. But it has been locked in a tragic cycle. Every hundred million years or so it achieves the critical mass necessary to become sentient, but the final metamorphosis kills off most of the other life on the planet. Lacking food sources and the maintenance its animal symbiotes provided, the fungus could maintain only a brief season of godhood before dying back into the 'flower dream' for another hundred million years. It always achieved its godlike intelligence just exactly too late to do anything to prevent the dieback. After the dieback only vague memories and rudimentary intelligence remained, and the cycle continued."

"Until we arrived."

"Precisely. For the first time, the cycle may be broken."

Interlude: Ascent to Transcendence[ | ]

"Is it possible to prevent the dieback? And can we survive as a species if this Planet flowers to godhood?"

"I believe it is possible, and Planet agrees." Dr. $SHIMODA9's image swirls away and is replaced by a detailed schematic. "It involves a process I call the {Ascent to Transcendence,} as it will change both us and Planet forever. In short, I propose that when the time comes, the majority of humans upload their personalities directly into the Planetary Mind."

"We will have to give up our bodies, our humanity?"

"Those who wish to live out their lives in their original human form will be allowed to do so, since statis generators built Planetside and in orbit will preserve genetic material, plant and animal embryos, cold-sleep humans, and significant areas of Planet's surface through the metamorphosis. But many of us are eager to accept Planet's gift and join the dawning superintelligence. That's where the catch comes in.

"You see," $SHIMODA9 continues, "although anyone will be able to achieve virtual immortality by uploading into the planetary mind, only a few of us will be invited to join the dominant personality, to transcend our humanity entirely and reach a truly higher plane of existence. Your friendship with Planet's immature mind may give us a leg up in this area, but I predict that it is the group who best and most quickly prepares itself for this step, the group who first embraces this {Ascent to Transcendence,} it is that group which will be tapped to lead us into the new era."

"In that case, what are we waiting for!"

Epilogue (Transcendence)[ | ]



The Book of Planet

M.Y. 1,027,823

After a million or so orbits around Your primary, You pause to reassess Your

efforts. The stellar encapsulation is proceeding smoothly, and in a few hundred thousand more orbits will provide You with a 90% draw on Your primary's radiation, trapping all of the energy off the plane of the ecliptic. Deep space Aux links allow You to watch the frame assembly in low stellar orbit, and follow the progress of buglike Jovian freighters loaded with resupply mass.

Occasionally You spot one of Your transhuman friends/symbiotes supervising activity on a scaffolding; even the immortals sometimes crave the risk and adventure of independent incarnation. Some of the most daring souls even undertook to resume interstellar travel, beginning with a return to Your nearest neighbor to sift through the ashes of its third planet and recolonize their home system. In the present age You hear a nanotech civilization is thriving there once again.

In such times of repose, You often sift through Your personalities and recall Your former selves. Your alpha self derives from an individual once called $NAME1. Over the millenia the exceptional focus and judgement characteristic of this fragment have proven effective on numerous occasions. The $NAME1self now drives all of Your long and short range planning, and is the principal force behind the encapsulation project. Ponderous but playful is the Voice/Planet personality, avatar of Your sessile precursor, who in the present age has devoted her centuries to philosophical pondering. Many others flit about within You. Some, like the prankster $SHIMODA9 and the demon $NAME5 are semi-dominant and often hover near the plane of Your Thought. Others plumb the depths and create new worlds within the abyss of Your open-ended neural network.

Sunlight plays across Your mottled surface and provides pleasing warmth to Your organic components. Recently, You have edged somewhat further away from the primary and purged Your atmosphere of certain gases in order to allow the occasional friends/symbiotes who choose to live among Your organic gardens an easily breathable mixture. In another eight billion orbits the primary will drop off the main sequence and alternate arrangements will have to be made, but for now You maintain Your gardens as a paradise. The transhumans who live among them call it Eden.

Epilogue (Transcendence by another faction)[ | ]



The Book of Planet

M.Y. $NUM2 (Seed Year 1)

The cold-sleep unit finally cycles open and you stretch muscles rusty from decades of computer-managed disuse. But they are young muscles, shockingly young, and it will be a pleasure to beat them back into shape. Orbital insertion begins and you tingle with the excitement of your new mission and with the joy of having returned to human form. Yes, you left a copy of your personality among the Planetmind's giant matrix, but this copy, this human being $NAME1 now waking to lead the first Seed mission, this is the only self now immediate to you and therefore the only real you. You are flesh again, and so quite mortal, and for this too you rejoice.

You despaired when Planet invited $NAME5 to join its dominant self, and for a decade or more you moped about the bizarre virtual reality of the Undermind with no coherent purpose, a lost spirit unable to die. But when the Seed missions began, the Voice/Planet personality herself sought you out in the abyss and convinced you to accept command of the {Prodigal Son}.

"Earth$NAME3, you are unfulfilled here and I have need of you. In ages to come I shall have need of allies, sister Minds, if I am to keep the flame of conscious thought from guttering out as the universe contracts or else expands to dust. Take with you the gift of life, the seeds of all our species. Spread them to the stars, across the galaxies, creating new civilizations, new minds, and enlisting the aid of any you encounter. Go forth, Earth$NAME3. Go forth and multiply."

The maneuver at last complete, the safety shutters retract from the viewport and you behold a sight lost to human eyes for over $NUM3 centuries. Deep blues, swirling whites, the azure tint of a rich oxygen atmosphere. Inviting browns and greens of continents basking in the sun, a few scattered impact craters the only visible signs of a war now buried in the aeons. Third planet. Earth. Home.

Epilogue (Military/Economic victory)[ | ]



The Book of Planet

M.Y. $NUM2

"It's all over, $TITLE0 $NAME1! Planet is yours!"

"Thank you Simon. Dismissed."

And so it is ended. All of the remaining faction leaders have surrendered or capitulated, your former colleagues turned treacherous enemies and now turned servants and prisoners of war. On the planet where seven human factions, seven human ideologies, once struggled for dominance only one now remains. Humanity has at last achieved the Unity of which the U.N. Interstellar Colonization Agency dreamed so long ago.

Not a word has been heard from Earth in all the years since Planetfall, only a deafening silence across all frequencies, so one can only presume that you now rule all that is left of humankind. The mysterious and growing Planetmind remains a significant challenge, but humanity is now prepared to meet this alien presence, friend or foe, as a united species. The human species must survive, and it is your duty, your sworn vow, to see that it does.

Epilogue (Diplomatic victory)[ | ]



The Book of Planet

M.Y. $NUM2

The transit shuttle rolls on its axis and you are treated to your first view of Planet from orbit since you left the Unity over $NUM1 centuries ago. Through the whitish haze of the atmosphere, the oceans have the same deep vibrant blue, and you can easily make out the violet-orange of the major fungal forests. A sharp line of green marks the edges of the ever-growing Human Zones, and here and there a glint of silver reveals some major metropolis. Blue, red, green and silver, the colors of Planet--mile after mile out to the curve of the horizon.

The docking thrusters fire and you hear the airlock bolts thud into place. You have arrived at the new orbital Planetary Headquarters to assume leadership of the fledgling Executive Council. Not a word has been heard from Earth in all the years since Planetfall, so one can only presume that you and your colleagues now preside over all that is left of humankind.

All of the remaining faction leaders have at last agreed to unite, putting aside the last vestiges of faction rivalry. All of the true enemies have been vanquished, those of your former colleagues who refused to unite for the common good, who foolishly place ideology ahead of humanity's survival. The human race has at last achieved the Unity of which the U.N. Interstellar Colonization Agency dreamed so long ago.

The growing fungal neural net will be the first issue humanity must confront as a united species. After a period of quiescence, the fungal forests are on the march again, now with an almost devious cleverness behind them. Planet is clearly awakening, and it remains to be seen whether humans will even be allowed to maintain a foothold on the surface. You realize, though, as the airlock hisses open and you step into a floating nation of 100,000 souls, that in the long run one world is of only passing significance. Humanity owns the stars once again, and the stars will ever after be its true home.

Humans (Alien Crossfire)[ | ]

Interlude: Burning Sky[ | ]

It has been a rough $NUM1 years on Planet, eking out an existence on the strange surface of this alien world. $BASENAME2 had established itself as your command center, and you are gradually reaching out to the other faction leaders, trying to restore balance to the remnants of a tattered humanity.

On this day, as you take a routine inspection tour of your base defenses, your rebreather begins to rattle in your mouth. Clouds suddenly boil up from the horizon as two bright lights flash in the sky high above you and then expand out in waves of purple fire.

"$TITLE0!" your lieutenant chokes out, grabbing your shoulder. You forgive the impropriety. She seems ready to push you to the ground, but you tense against her, trying to see through the chaos tearing the sky apart. Besides, there is nowhere to hide.

The first wave of purple fire washes across the sky and buffets you with a strange, cold wind, then the second one chills you deep to the bones. You close your eyes, feeling as if your body has been shaken to its core.

Finally a calm descends. Your lieutenant is staring at her hands, which still tremble. You quickly pull out a pair of binocs and look through them, searching the sky.

"What are you looking for?" she asks.

"That," you finally say, and start to hand the binocs to her. But as you look she is already staring at the sky, where two streaks of light approach the new world. The streaks dance and twist around each other as they grow larger in the sky.

"New arrivals," you say. "And it doesn't appear that they like each other."

Interlude: The Meeting[ | ]

You tap through the report from some perimeter scouts, perturbed. It was the first known contact with the offworlders, and it did not go well. Of course, you are offworlders as well, and perhaps these...things...are the real natives, returning home.

A quicklink to the visual data feed from the advance rover catches your attention. The image blooms on the screen in full color...the rover pilot, steering across Planet's surface and speaking sideways into the feed.

"We're doing a routine patrol of the border, now...just looking for signs of whatever's out here. These are the times that..." He breaks off and you find yourself clutching the thin metal surface of your desk, anticipating.

"Woah," comes the choked interjection from the pilot. The camera swivels to the outside. "Tracking one, make that two unknowns."

Outside the rover an alien lurches, hunched beneath a load on its back. The alien's strange gray-green carapace is outfitted with strange silver plating that looks like armor. You take the controls of the camera and zoom in, taking in that inverted pyramid of a face, those eyes set so deep in the folds of the skull. They look sinister, but you never know. Maybe their faces are just...stuck that way.

You zoom back and take a look at the alien's burden. It is another alien, slumped over the carrier's body. The pilot throws open the rover hatch and the entire cockpit fills with a strange wail that ebbs and flows. The pilot curses and hesitates at the door.

"Worm's Breath, I can feel that...through my chest, in my head..."

You flip down the volume. The sound vibrates through the rover. The alien turns slowly, and you see that the one it carries has scars on its face, as if eaten away by a mindworm attack.

"Greetings," says the rover pilot, but the alien just looks at him. "Who are you?" the guard talks again, and now you hear it...his own voice returning, as if echoed from the alien, but with a strange warble that seems like a part of the wailing.

"Can you understand?" and those words come back as well. The pilot shakes his head, helpless.

Finally, the alien turns away.

Interlude: Waiting[ | ]

"$TITLE0 $NAME1, we are approaching the alien unit."

You watch the video feed as your people approach the alien craft. You can feel your heart pounding--will your people be able to alter the resonance, using the crude tools you've developed, and communicate with the aliens?

Your craft moves closer. The alien vessel, blank and sinister, waits.

"They are just sitting there, doing nothing, sir. Shall we move clo..." A low hum begins emanating from the alien craft. Even over the link, you can feel it vibrating your teeth.

"What's happening there?"

"Nothing so far, $TITLE0. It sounds like an engine, but they're not moving. I'm not sure if we should go closer. They do have weapons, we think."

"Alter that. Alter the sound, the way the betrayer taught us. Say 'GREETING.'"

"You mean alter the engine sound? Talk to the vehicle?"

"They're in there," you say. You look at the video feed, at the impassive silver-green panels of the alien craft. "They're listening."

Interlude: Invasion![ | ]

The line of aliens marching into $BASENAME5 look like ants, but ants that advance with malice, ready to consume whatever gets in their way. You watch them cut through $BASENAME5's defenses, and take heart at the specks of humanity fleeing in all directions...refugees that might survive this onslaught. You watch for a moment and then continue punching through the archival tapes, the final transmissions from your loyal lieutenants at $BASENAME5.

At least what were your loyal lieutenants. The final transmission from $BASENAME5 shows the full story...humans rounded up and pounded to the ground with the strange alien resonance attacks. Visions of the alien advance guard, their weird, tall forms seeming to push through the very structure of the walls in the base. The humans dying in the hallways, clutching their faces, their heads, their bellies.

And then that one quick flash, from those three visiting holo-journalists that ran down the wrong hall with their handheld camera. You review the transmission again, almost against your will.

When that door see all those humans lying on the floor like stacked wood, their bodies altered into a strange jellylike substance...and that terrifying image of one living human with his face in the corner as the aliens cubed the corpses on the floor and loaded them into white containers.

Then the camera falls and cuts out. You feel your jaw clenching, against anger and also against fear.

It looks like the aliens don't want to be friends.

Interlude: First Victory[ | ]

The alien defenses have at last fallen and you take up a survey position near the perimeter. Your Elite Alien Attack Force moves in on the breach with quick, decisive movements, using their scramble guns to disrupt the resonance fields around $ALIENBASENAME5.

Bursts of light and fire erupt from the base, followed by waves of vibrating sound and energy that hit your chest like a jackhammer. A nearby guard goes suddenly pale.

"Alien screams," you say, as another burst of fire and a loud pop comes from the strange four-legged bases. "They tear the resonance field when they die."

[And their hard carapaces burst open like popcorn kernels,] you also think, but decide not to share it with the queasy guard. The popping increases, and the screams. You and the guard turn away and one of your lieutenants turns on a device that dulls the sonic assault. On the land surrounding the base you can see alien refugees fleeing for the hills, a few being chased down by your faster moving troops.

At last the pops slow in frequency and the all clear signal comes. Two guards at the breach stand at full attention and you can feel the pride radiating from their stiff faces. You nod to them as you pass.

You enter the base, the first base captured from the alien menace.

Interlude: Beacon in the Sky[ | ]

You awaken in your chambers bathed in a strange greenish light, coming through the round reinforced window that looks over the landscape outside. A strange deep hum fills the room, and you recognize deep echoes of the aliens in it...echoes of their voices, of their weapons.

You quickly tap into a touchscreen built into the back of your headboard, seeking through video feeds positioned around Planet.

[There.] From the alien base $ALIENBASENAME5, a green column of light lances into the sky. You quickly bounce the image to the large viewpanel along one wall, expanding it. You get out of your bed. With the image in your wall-sized viewpanel, it seems as if you are staring out across the landscape of Planet itself, at the strange curved shapes of the alien bases. The green light illuminates the rolling terrain near the alien base eerily, and you can feel the hum of the resonance in your body and through the cold floor.

$SHIMODA9's voice suddenly fills the room, using an emergency band. "We're analyzing it, $TITLE0 $NAME1. As fast as we can."

"Look at it." You touch the cool glass of the viewpanel, tracing the brilliant light. "What is it?"

"A powerful signal, but it is going nowhere that we can tell. It may have some unknown resonance fields associated with it, but we can't..."

Abruptly, the beam cuts off, making the sky seem suddenly empty.

"That was just a test," you say into the silence.

Epilogue[ | ]

Now that you are part of the vast matrix of the Planetmind, you spend your time wandering from thought nexus to thought nexus, despairing that $ALIENLEADER5 merged with the Planetmind and became its dominant personality.

You just can't let it go.

Everywhere you move, the Usurper's dominant personality has imprinted itself. Everywhere you look, there are human souls adrift, trapped in a master personality that is completely alien to all of you.

This is the cost of losing. Not death, but an eternity living in someone else's dream, constantly assaulted by sounds and images that are not your own.

You catch a thread of thought, a tiny sliver of energy in the vast new Planetmind. The thought is small but fills you with longing...Earth. It is a thought of Earth, the old Earth left behind, with its green forests and blue oceans regenerating after Armageddon.

You quickly realize that $ALIENLEADER5 is reaching out to nearby planets, trying to expand its domain. It is sending some of the Usurper sub-personalities from the matrix to Earth, to colonize it.

There is only a moment to decide, and a moment is all it takes. You piggyback on a particularly dense alien personality, riding it silently into the mind of the colony ship. You feel the ship closing down, the personalities settling into synthetic bodies for the journey. You remain in the dark, shrouding yourself in silence, squeezing into the farthest corner of one body's thought matrix.

If the alien intelligence detects you, you will be sentenced to a far worse fate than wandering the Undermind, but it doesn't matter. Here is a second chance, and a possible redemption.

A return home.

Epilogue[ | ]

[Twenty four metric hours], you think, as the two alien guards hustle you along a dark and narrow hallway. That's how long you ordered your troops to hold out against torture if captured.

But now that the aliens have overrun your bases, decimated your population, and grabbed your very body on the way to an escape pod, it's difficult to see what twenty four hours of time will do. Thinking of the ruin they have made of your entire faction, you realize there's no one left to protect.

Your mind works on overdrive, absorbing details about the alien base as you walk...the tall, narrow hallways, the resonance chambers set at intervals along the hallway, the constant high thrum that gives the aliens an easy bed for altering, to communicate with each other.

You turn down an even darker hallway, and a metal door hisses open. They hustle you forward, toward what looks like...

[...a Punishment Sphere]. Including a few special alterations, courtesy of the alien scientists.

You scan your memory, piecing together everything you can of the alien language. A part of you wonders if they enjoy human pain.

Then the Sphere closes around you, and soon nothing else matters.

Epilogue[ | ]

The first bright lance of green into the sky above Planet startles you, even though you had begun to sense its inevitability as the $ALIENS5 slowly overtook the human factions in every way. You stop your pep-rally address to the people from your balcony and look up into the sky.

Then, on the horizon, you see another beam, and the sky is filled again with thick waves of harmonic sounds. You look down to see the assembled population transfixed.

The sound changes again, rippling out from even farther away, and then again, and again, building in waves. Bright beams lance the sky from all directions. Your comm board lights up with communications from the other human factions, perhaps desperate enough to talk now, finally realizing that it is time to work together, all of you, to address this menace.

The beams meet high above the surface of Planet and the sky opens with a groan that rocks Planet to its core. You look at the comm board helplessly. You wonder if any human alive knows what is in store for you next. To the other human leaders, the last of humanity, and to yourself you can only think...

[Too late.]

Progenitors[ | ]

Interlude: Victory is Sweet (Generator victory)[ | ]

You wonder if, in your subconscious mind, you ever really thought you'd see this day. Then you put that thought aside, for the last disc is spun. The last rivet is in place. The last steel veneer has been polished. It is time.

"Leader." Your assistant's head is bowed, waiting dutifully. Her emanations are formal and rich with meaning. "Will you add the power and deliver us from exile?"

You shake your neck in assent, and close the connection. The Subspace Generators grab hold of the string resonance fields, and quantum levels of power begin to course through the individual parts. Soon their beams will arc high above your nation, and there a hole will be driven into subspace. Through that hole, across distances immeasurable to any brain, a message will fly. The Resonance Communicator will sends its distress beacon to the homeworld, and they will know your voice.

Green light begins to glow. Soon. Soon, you will see your beloved Kenal K'esh again. Soon you will find your brethren. And when you find them, they will come to your aid with ships and soldiers, and every other living being on Manifold Six will know your power. It has been so long in coming.

Green light arcs up into the sky, and the world is forever changed.

None Can Stop Us Now (Military victory)[ | ]

You ride the howling needlejet and land back in the capital in record time. The pilot was obviously trying to impress you, and he's succeeded. You hurry into the command room and savor the waves of resonance as they show you the surface of Manifold Six: everywhere you look, you see your own forces. There are a few shattered remnants of enemy resistance, but they are mere pockets of color in an otherwise clean wash of the Progenitor tide.

When all else fails, you reflect, simply remove all opposition. Then there is time enough for any plan. You're not sure if you want to contact the homeworld right away, or further your own power a bit first--but it doesn't matter, does it? There's nothing to stop you no matter what you decide to do.

It's a very, very good feeling.

Interlude: Shrunken Heads[ | ]

The field tanks resonate with spectral pictures of the alien intruders, captured during that first encounter. If you squinted, you might mistake them for Progenitor younglings--but with diseased, shrunken heads. They look like the entertainment story conjurations of primitive tribal feeders in the dark parts of the homeworld. They look disgusting.

Their primitive nature is nowhere so apparent as in their inability to communicate--they can make noise, but they cannot alter it properly. This is bad, because you have no idea how in the Six Manifolds they got here, and you'd desperately like to know.

"Tell me your theories," you alter. The steady resonant hum of the room hangs empty for several circulatory pulses. Then, the junior stochastic resonates.

"They are a creation of the Manifold," she vibrates hesitantly. There is general scoffing. You try to be more gentle.

"No, Canla, this cannot be," you alter. "Their biology is DNA-incompatible. They must be from off-world." There is a general alteration of assent.

"But how can a race sophisticated enough to traverse the stars be in such a primitive state?" resonates the general.

There is more empty humming. Then Canla, undaunted, speaks again.

"Perhaps they suffered a fate similar to ours," she alters. "After all, look at the state we're in."

The pain of that is incontrovertible. And somewhere out there is the hated $OTHERALIENS6. You wonder if you can make these offworlders your allies, before the enemy does. Your first task, then, is to learn how their minds work so you can communicate with them. You wonder how difficult it could be to think like an alien.

Interlude: Ancient Ones[ | ]

The council might as well be dipped in a vat of flaming vegetable matter-- the resonations of fear are as intense. You try to remain calm, to show a cool leadership you do not feel. Somehow, from somewhere, offworlders are occupying the precious Manifold!

"The key is continued communication," you alter. "Their ability to make wave-forms in the atmosphere is useful, but their understanding of the alteration process is key. If they can be reasoned with, they can be made ally. If they can be made ally, they can aid us against our enemy."

The general nods, and resonates an aura of confidence for the first time. "True," he alters. "But I fear; though they look like ancient, feeble members of our race, they are totally alien. What if their cause and our cause do not coincide?"

"Then we must find out their cause," you alter, "and appeal to it. Become what they want us to become. All the while, we must continue to further our own aims."

The xenobiologist--the closest thing you've got to a xenopsychologist--flutters his mandibles. "But they claim they are here as colonists! Our aims do not and cannot coincide with this! Sooner or later, we must destroy them in order to $EXPLOITORPRISTINE7!"

You alter the biologist's words with smooth calm. "I hope that this can come later--far later. We must use them first if we can...and if we cannot, then we must destroy them swiftly, and without mercy."

The alterations to [that] are [very] positive.

Interlude: Monkey See, Monkey Do...What?[ | ]

"Look carefully," the biologist alters so softly you can barely distinguish the change. "Watch what it does."

You find that difficult--the captured human is as ugly as a new hatchling, but without the pleasing sliminess. You force yourself to observe, however, for observation--and understanding--are one of the keys to survival on Manifold Six.

The human has been starved for several days. Now, food is placed at the top of the room, hanging from a hook. Several boxes have been scattered about the room as well. Presumably it will build some sort of tower to gain access to the food.

"What will this prove?" you alter, bored.

"Watch! Watch!" the biologist alters excitedly.

The human looks around the room a while, then sits motionless. It makes sound waves with its breathing apparatus. It sits and stares about the room.

"Is it stupid?" you alter.

"No!" alters the biologist triumphantly. "It's defiant! The sound waves are its language--it's saying something along the lines of "Put a sporeflower up your chlo! I'm not eating for your entertainment!" It knows we're watching it."

So the human would rather starve than be treated like a lab animal, eh? Interesting ... very interesting. You're not sure whether this is very very good-- or very very dangerous. "Learn its language immediately!" you snap. "We must communicate as soon as possible!"

Interlude: Flight of the Razorwings[ | ]

It gives you no particular pleasure to kill. You almost wish you could communicate directly with the humans, explain to them the necessity of the forced relocation--explain to them the necessity of their deaths.

"Reporting, $TITLE0 $NAME1," resonates the Force Commander of the occupation army. "Human colonists are fleeing now from the base they call '$BASENAME5.' Those that chose to remain behind have been assimilated and reconstituted."

It gives you no particular pleasure to kill. But it is the way of the Human and Progenitor mind. They cannot coexist under one government; they cannot eat each other's food, nor use each other's facilities.

It gives you no particular pleasure to kill. But they are the enemy, and it is the only way.

Interlude: So Near and So Far[ | ]

With your own hand, you spin the last disc into place on the first of the Resonance Communicators. It has been a long, difficult trek to get to this point-- to recapture that which was lost. But slowly, like primitives (but accelerated by tens of thousands of years), you've managed to recreate the discoveries of your ancestors, and hammer out the materials on this strangely hostile world, and now the time has come.

"You don't look happy, Leader," resonates your assistant. "Isn't this a great day?"

"I suppose so," you alter, feeling at that moment a strange lack of elation. After a moment's thought you realize why: for all these years you have been supreme leader of your own world ... your own people. Now it will end, with the summoning of the home world fleet. Greater leaders than you will come and destroy what's left of the opposition; they'll come and claim your triumph for their own. You almost wish it could go on, but you know that your duty is to $EXPLOITORPRISTINE7, and you must be true to that mission. "I suppose so," you alter again. "We have triumphed, all of us. It's just a matter of time." With a sigh, you pick up the spinner and turn away.

Interlude: Civil War (Caretakers)[ | ]

"Yes, they are here."

All assembled in the room expected this news. Yet it sends a ripple of alteration through the room as though you had announced the death of the entire Council of Overlords. Secretly, you and everyone else here had been hoping that the hated Usurpers died upon Planetary entry. Now you know this is not the case.

"This changes nothing!" Smoothly you alter the entire hum of conversation, to lend emphasis to your meaning. "The plan goes forward as we agreed. The Usurpers must die, and we must continue our quest to contact the Homeworld, that Manifold Six may remain pristine. Are we committed unto the death of one or the other of us?"

Many on the council look uncomfortable, their eyes blinking rapidly. You can understand their feelings--the Caretaker cause is dedicated to peace and the status quo. This destructive posture is not in keeping with your stated goals. Finally, Kaala L'mota articulates what the others are obviously thinking.

"Can we not try once more to reach an accord with the Usurper leader, Marr? In such a dire circumstance, even he might see the wisdom of cooperation."

"I am sorry, my friends," you alter sharply, expressing your regret and displeasure at the same time. "Think of the Usurper cause: they wish to gain Transcendence with Manifold Six. We know what happened at Tau Ceti when the Flowering was allowed to occur. Destruction. Death."

You see the fear on all faces, their mandibles drawn tight to their mouths. "We all know this--including the Usurper, Marr," you continue. "And yet they continue on their quest for Transcendence. We cannot understand this. They move inexorably toward death! We have asked, begged, fought, and died to prevent this, and still they come. Surely, a small thing such as this shipwreck will not alter their plan. No, my friends, we must be firm in our resolve. Death, or freedom for Manifold Six. Do you agree?"

Your words are altered, one by one, by each member of the council. They all assent.

Interlude: Civil War (Usurpers)[ | ]

"Yes, they are here."

All assembled in the room expected this news. Yet it sends a ripple of alteration through the room as though you had announced a sneak attack on the home world. You know many of them were convinced the Caretakers had been destroyed during the space battle. Now it's clear this is not the case.

"This changes nothing!" Smoothly you alter the entire hum of conversation, to lend emphasis to your meaning. "The plan goes forward as we agreed. The Caretakers must die, and we must continue our quest to contact the Homeworld, or to reach the Flowering with ourselves in power over Manifold Six. Are we agreed?"

One on the council looks uncomfortable, his eyes blinking rapidly. He stands and formally alters your words, requesting permission to speak. You shake your neck at him, and he proceeds.

"You know me," he alters. "I am no coward, yet I counsel one last attempt to reason with the Caretakers and their leader H'minee. We are all Progenitor together here, trapped on Manifold Six until such time as we can re-implement our lost technologies. Until then, should we not attempt to live together under one skin?"

Others alter his words in subtle ways, expressing doubt or tolerance for this idea. You step in quickly.

"No, my friends!" you alter roughly. "Remember with whom we are dealing. H'minee and her followers have seen the incredible power of the Manifolds, and yet they reject them. They have read the ancient books, and the plans our ancestors made for the Manifold Experiments. Yet they reject those as well. They live in fear--and a Progenitor who lives in fear is one that may as well be dead. Our race has declined since the time of the ancestors, and it is because of the timidity and fear of the Caretaker faction. We must move forward boldly, and fulfill the destiny spelled out for us so many thousands of orbits ago. Do you agree?"

Your words are altered, one by one, by each member of the council. They all assent.

Interlude: The Nexus[ | ]

Imagine six Progenitor in a room. They would alter the resonance of the room, and alter the alterations, in a smooth and free-flowing conversation. The sheer complexity of it gives you a pleasant feeling in the brain pan.

As you gaze out on the weathered walls of the Manifold Nexus, you get that same feeling, magnified a million times. You imagine not six Progenitor, but six Planets--six minds almost godlike in their powers, but almost infantile in their knowledge of the world, and of Progenitor ways.

"Almost like being a nursemaid to a god," you resonate softly. Your assistant, standing nearby, gives you a quizzical wave of the mandibles. "What did you alter, Leader?"

You flap your neck lightly, cupping the assistant's words, altering them, and sending them back. "That," you resonate, pointing at the Nexus. "During the First Era, it was built to be the control center for the Manifold Experiment."

Your assistant looks in awe at this relic of the past. "Does it still function?"

"Yes." You shake your neck at the report you've just been handed. "It still works perfectly. Our harmony with Manifold Six is even greater now than it was before." You look in silence at the temple, then turn away. You've gained a small measure of power over six gods. You must be careful.

Interlude: A Change of Plan[ | ]

You can barely believe it. You insisted on joining the search parties sifting the wreckage of the last $OTHERALIENS6 base, not because you felt your minions were incompetent, but because you had to see for yourself that the final victory was at hand.

And what glorious wreckage! The dead bodies of $OTHERALIENS6 followers litter the ground. Destroyed weaponry and the rubble of embattled buildings litter the streets. Even amid the death and destruction of your distant kinfolk, you feel an odd sense of elation. The hated enemy is destroyed!

"Leader," the force commander alters the sounds of distant explosions coming to you, for extra emphasis to his words. "This is a great day. What do we do now?"

You know that he means 'what steps shall we take at this time,' but his words do raise a deeper question: what is the fate of your own people, now that their primary goal is accomplished?

"We build," you alter, surprising him. "We build toward the day of summoning of our allies, or toward ultimate conquest. The fate of Manifold Six is waving in our hands. We must not falter."

Interlude: Familiar Faces[ | ]

The reports of attacks, and deaths, are quite disturbing.

"How can this be?" you alter, turning on the xenobiologist. "None of our records show such hostility from the native life-forms in the era of the beginnings of the experiment!"

"The current records do not lie, though," she counters. "The mindworms and spore launchers are definitely out to kill us. In the past..." The hum of the thought hangs for a while, and you prompt gently. "In the past?"

"Yes, leader." The biologist seems very unhappy. "In the past, we were the gardeners. We were here only to tend, and then to leave. Now we are here to live. Manifold Six--the whole planet--doesn't like that. It cares not for our politics. It just doesn't like us being here."

"You realize the implications?" you alter, feeling but not showing a touch of fear. "We are at the mercy of an entire world. It is not intelligent enough to negotiate with ... it will simply try to kill us."

"Yes, leader," the biologist alters.

And, truly, there is nothing whatsoever you can do that you are not already doing. You put the problem from your brain, and stride from the room.

Interlude: Tower of Strength[ | ]

You stand at a goodly distance, examining the strange formation through a resonance-gathering device cobbled together by one of the techs. It's quite serviceable, and you're able to see the distant object as though it were just a few feet away.

"It looks like a heat rash on the skin of Manifold Six," you say, and those gathered around you alter your resonance to show humor. "What is it?"

The xenobiologist pulls back the flaps of his neck, and alters stiffly: "We don't know, Leader. There are no reports of these objects in the Manifold files handed down to us from the original creators. These seem to be something new."

You clack your mandibles like a baby as you lower the gathering device. "That's bad. Very bad. The presence of the offworlders has caused this, hasn't it."

The biologist shakes his neck again in assent. "Somehow the latent intellect of Manifold Six has created these ... towers ... in response to irritations caused by the ecological ravages of the offworlders; and, I hesitate to alter, our own presence as well. They generate the fungus at an increased rate, and may be a conduit for mindworm and sporerunner activity. Those tendrils you see--" here he waves one arm "--have a reach of several hundred yards. It's dangerous to get too close to the thing."

You bug your eyes in a laugh as you alter his words to show humor. "Ho! Then I was right the first time. It [is] like a giant heat rash!"

You only wish it was as funny as it resonated. The fact is, unchecked, these things would take over the Manifold. Would that bring the Flowering? Or would it bring instead another destruction, like that of Tau Ceti?

"Keep an eye on it," you sigh. "We'll destroy it if we have to."

If it doesn't destroy us first, you think--but don't dare to say.