Thursday, June 14, 2012

Traveller worlds again: an enigma wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in a woogy story.

Ashigillii -4 (aka Croatoan )
E766000-0 -RSc

Ashigillii -4 is a potential gem for colonization: A standard atmosphere, ample Hydrosphere and slightly lower gravity all make it a classic and ideal garden world. Well situated in the primary star's habitable zone, its overall temperature is essentially earth normal; a minimal axial tilt and orbital eccentricity makes the planet;s seasons mild, varying from mildly cool to temperate across most of the globe. The local biosphere is at least 45% compatible with Terran metabolism, and numerous transplant species are found; very little of the non-compatible biosphere is toxic, but is simply non-metabolizable

The biosphere is well developed on both land and sea, and is reasonably diverse. No sentient life or sign of sentient life has been found

The system contains no belts, but two gas giants for refueling.

It is also completely empty of human life. Every colony placed on it has failed.
Early History

Available records and evidence suggests that Ashigillii was initially settled in the pre first imperial expansion phase, and possibly a second time in the early consolidation wars period by Vilani fleeing the New Empire. Regardless, when contacted by the first Imperium, it was found to be uninhabited, and enters the eternal Vilani archives as we know it today. Initial scouting reports suggest that the most recent colony had flourished for perhaps 20 years, but was been abandoned as the Imperium caught up with the settlers; however, no further colony has been conclusively traced to a migration from Ashigillii. Additionally, Archeological evidence suggested a previous colonization of the planet had occurred at least 100 years prior to the arrival of the refugees.
At this point, the world was left fallow as a potential site for later expansion, its records filed away, and the scouting teams moved on.

At some point immediately prior to the interstellar wars period, the planet was opened up for colonization by the first Imperium; the subsequent collapse of the first Imperium interrupted the effort, and the colony was isolated from contact with the remains of the Vilani Imperium. When contacted again by the Terran scout service, it was found to be uninhabited, and it was assumed that with the disruption of the colonizing effort, the population had been evacuated, and while no record of such was ever found, the final records of the Villani Imperium are especially fragmentary from this period, and this was simply written off as a failed colony and filed as a potential colony world.
A later attempt at setting up a colony to exploit the world  failed financially within the first year, and the initial colonization and construction teams were all relocated. The world remained fallow throughout the remainder of the second Imperium.

Later History (3rd Imperium)

Ashigillii was recontacted by the IISS of the third Imperium, and was logged as an undiscovered garden world - no significant records of previous colonization were found at that time. Again, Ashigillii was logged and filed, and essentially forgotten for several hundred years.
Eventually, the planet was identified as an ideal colonization venture and further surveyed by private corporations; political and financial wrangling resulted in it being opened to colonization by . The initial construction and settlement went extremely well, and the planet was found to have extensive exploitable resources, especially petrochemicals and rare earths. However, when the colonists and surveyors reported finding signs of previous habitation the parent corporation suppressed the news due to worries about previous claims or IISS intervention. At that point, the colony was on a semi-annual private communications route, approximately 8 parsecs from the nearest xboat link. The colony seemed to be prospering and had a permanent population of approximately 14000 until sometime in post colonization year 15, when all communications stopped.
The Event

The blackout was sudden enough that it was initially assumed that the courier (a private charter) had been lost and several months were wasted until it was confirmed that the courier was not the cause. A corporate investigation of the planet was then begun as soon as was feasible.
Subsequent findings indicated that:

1. The colony was in fact completely empty; there were no physical remains of the colonists; however some feral animals brought by the colonists were found, as were remains of other domesticated animals.

2. There was no sign of evacuation or civil disturbance; some disorder was evident, but it was unclear if it occurred as automated systems gradually failed or as a direct result of whatever happened to the colony.

3. All records were intact up to a period several days before the courier visit previous to the blackout; traffic analysis of that run indicates a sharp drop-off in communications across approximately 24 hours with absolutely no activity except for automated data dumps past that point. This unusual termination of the courier records was close enough to the normal end of file that it was not noticed until well after the fact. Interestingly, no messages were truncated; they simply became shorter, and less frequent.

4. No changes in the ecosystem/biosphere were noted. There were no novel or altered pathogens identified, and the few system capable ships were all cleanly hangared, and in one case prepped and fueled for takeoff.

5. Existing records of on planet communication show a sudden drop-off in communication with outlying areas, essentially co-incidental with the overall silence of the planetary grid.

It must be noted that despite no colonists or remains ever being identified, all investigation teams returned safely, and a semi-permanent research station was set up successfully for 18 months attempting to locate the cause of what was simply referred to as "The Event".

Unfortunately, the corporation’s final response was to cover up the expensive failure, and so, the research station was removed, and vague reports of non-compatible biosphere findings and excessive long term health risks were fabricated and reported to the (overworked) IISS, and the colony was reported closed and evacuated. It is believed that a final set of teams was placed on the planet to clean up the evidence of the event; in fact, the corporate colony was essentially erased.

Current History

Most recently, with the bankruptcy and breakup of the records of the world again became available; unfortunately, what were found were the bogus reports of the long term habitation risks, and the evidence that the colony was evacuated and closed down.
Marked as a low priority by the IISS, the planet was eventually resurveyed and found to be far more habitable than the corporate reports indicated. It was assumed that the reports were cooked by the corporation to keep it secret until it was possible to fully exploit the world. As a result, Ashigillii was again reopened for colonization in , this time by a consortium of small immigrant groups and business interests under IISS aegis.

Initially, the world seemed to prosper, and the locals again located signs of earlier habitation, which resulted in a small archaeological research station being set up on the planet. After 12 years, the colony had a population of perhaps 8000, when, once again, all communications ended. The IISS was able to respond far more quickly that the previous owners, (in part due to the IISS habit of setting up an off planet bases in systems under development). While the investigators were onsite within two weeks of the second event, the findings were essentially the same as from the corporate investigation, with the exception that far more of the imported livestock had survived. There were no signs of disorder, fighting, panic or flight. Records of the actual event do not seem to exist. There was a 24 hour period before blackout during which all monitoring or reporting devices were either shut down, failed, or suffered extensive memory degradation. Despite this, available data does not suggest any unusual power surges or EMP effects. Personal logs and diaries have either been unrecoverable, or have no useful information about the event.
A close examination of the colony indicated that the event may have had some precursor or warning. There were ample examples of vehicles pulled over and shut down, equipment shut off and stowed, etc. The power grids seem to have either been deactivated manually, or to have shut off via failsafe circuits when supervision was unavailable. There are a very few examples of damage attributed to guided vehicles or equipment suddenly losing control.
The planet was immediately red zoned, and placed under high quarantine; an extensive investigation uncovered the actual corporate information on the planet, and clues to its previous history were similarly located. In addition to exisiting record searches of the Villani and Terran periods, the onsite research station had logged evidence of at least two further small settlements during the long night, all failed. One such attempt was clearly by non-human sophonts,; Indeed, it was the investigation of these newly found settlements that had already begun unlocking the planet’s history when the Event reoccurred. Unfortunately, while the research station and its records were intact, the personnel had also vanished. Again the pattern was that of a slowdown of human initiated communication over perhaps 24 hours, followed by a complete cessation. Also, once again, the investigation teams all returned and have shown no ill effects. The planet is currently entirely interdicted by both IISS and Navy elements, and has been listed as highly toxic to human life in standard star data.

Referees notes:
This is pretty much up to you. I have a scenario for it, and if you think I’m going to blab, you’re sadly mistaken !

Some clues  have already been located:

  • As noted above, one colony failed early in its history and was successfully evacuated. Records of this attempt are available , although incomplete and hard to locate. Nonetheless, Villani obsessiveness pays off. The records are millennia old, but can be found.
  • One possibly significant fact found is that the proportion of Terran compatible local biosphere has clearly increased since the initial Villani survey. While unusual, this is not unheard-of, often the result of a poorly conducted initial survey being later updated.
  • A final oddity is that there are no human or remains found in any of the settlements: even recorded deaths and burials will be found to be missing…and no, not freshly opened graves, clawed open from inside, either…just empty caskets. Cremated remains have, however, been identified.

 Enjoy !  Theories welcomed !


richard said...

This is lovely. Games I've played in have tended to condense this sort of information to the point where I wonder what it would really look like: "the planet's been colonized several times but each time the colonists have disappeared. The records are vague enough that it's possible you're just missing the explanation in each case, still, it looks weird." To which the players say "huh, I guess we should check the place out, see what we can learn about the previous colonies." Fine but flavourless. What you've written here has a kind of cumulative horror to it. You know something's up, but what? Great stuff.

Gerall Kahla said...

You know, there is *plenty* of room in the Traveller Universe for horror. And I think we just found the coordinates to a whole planet of strangeness!

The difference between "ho-hum, let's play a horror game" and the shaking-in-your-boots "OMG! What the heck was that noise?!?" horror game is just what you've documented here. Well done, sir!

When expecting a direct attempt at being frightened, people clam up and prepare for it. When there's backstory, history, and other parts of the mystery which pull players (via their characters) out of themselves... That's when you get to see the looks on their faces change. Thanks, Doc!