Name: PFC-977 (Protean)
Location: Unknown; star system still resides in gas cloud
Atmosphere: Primordial (Heavy CO2/N2 atmosphere)
Body Type: Terrestrial
Protean isn’t much to look at, at first glance. It’s got a sluggish ocean and active, belching volcanoes all around the globe, refreshing the unbreathable atmosphere with a steady output of volcanic gas. The temperature is high enough that the oceans are steadily evaporating, soaking the atmosphere in water vapor, but torrential storms wrack the atmosphere and drop most of the moisture back into the ocean. It’s a nasty, ugly place that no one looking for a vacation home would even consider.
On the other hand, xenobiologists are queued up for years on a waiting list to come to Protean, because this ugly globe is in the first moments of developing life; primitive self-replicating molecular chains and early proto-cells have been found in the primordial soup of the ocean, languidly going through the first tentative steps of life.
As the world can be reached from the Martian, Pandora, Discord, and Portal gates, it hosts several competing groups of scientific research teams who exist in something of a cold war, unwilling to move against each other in open war for fear of disturbing the nascent biology of the world. Only synthmorphs that have been rigorously decontaminated are permitted to visit the world, along with equally sterile supplies. While each research group has their own compound, carefully defended against intrusion, none of them impede access to the local ocean or access to the gate itself.
Already, evolution is starting to kick in; a few fluke twists in the proto-cells have created the first predators, which are happy to maintain the same lifestyle as their precursors unless they happen to bump into another, at which point they swallow their victim whole as a tidily concentrated package of nutrients. Some of the labs are keeping a close eye on these developments, hoping to see the moment when Protean’s first true predators evolve, while others have taken samples and begun experimenting on them, modifying them with genetic material from terrestrial cells and custom-built strings of alien RNA to see what results. So far, none of their creations have escaped into the wild thanks to sterilization efforts when entering or exiting the lab.
Unknown to pretty much anyone, one of the hypercorp research teams has a secretive exsurgent lurking among them, carefully testing the effects of the virus on these proto-cells. The results would alarm any sane transhuman, and have been carefully kept under wraps by the exsurgent as it masquerades as a synth. It’s waiting for an opportune time to slip away to where it can convert some of the smart materials making it up into a biofabricator to set the virus loose in the primordial soup, with hopes of creating a world of horrors to assault transhumanity from multiple gates.
The exsurgent might be surprised if it succeeds, as in the depths of the ocean there are already some evolving strains of the protolife capable of fighting the virus head to head; if a deep-sea sampler finds them, a vaccine for the exsurgent virus – or at least something that can evolve to keep it contained – might just be a possibility.
Of course, someone has to find them before the exsurgent turns the virus loose, otherwise the whole world might be lost to an evolutionary arms race sped up millions of times.