Gatecrasher’s Almanac #14

Name: AX-909 (Ember)

Location: Approximately 7300 ly spinward of Sol

Atmosphere: Minimal

Gravity: N/A

Body Type: Black Dwarf

Technically, the gate in the Ember system resides on the residual cinder of a close-orbiting world, rather than on Ember itself; the first-in team thought that they were on a rogue planet at first, flung into the void of space, but the conditions on the planet were unusual; almost warm enough for liquid water and signs of a massive heating event in the past made them scan the sky across a wide spectral band.

Ember is the corpse of a star; originally a white dwarf, it has long since cooled enough that what radiation it emits is mostly in the infrared band. Were the planet at a distance similar to that of Earth from Sol, it would be little more than a dim blip of infrared light in the sky. As it is, with the planet close enough that it must have skimmed near the star’s surface before it died, the stellar remnant is visible as a very faint red glow in the darkness.

Astrophysicists and astronomers alike are clamoring for gate time to travel to the Ember system, both to study the remnants of the system and to peer into the sky unobstructed by the usual noise the Sol system produces. Other planets in the system – mostly burned just as bare as Ember I – already have small autonomist outposts under construction with radio telescopes and massive optical structures planned.

Ember IV is under quarantine by group consensus; the first team to land there lasted roughly thirty minutes before they and their equipment began reporting inexplicable system failures, followed by dropping out of contact one by one. The last active team member begged everyone in the system to embargo the planet, swearing that the others had simply dissolved into a dark mist.

Firewall, of course, is aware of Ember IV, and has a cell assembling to go investigate and, if need be, look into finding a way to launch the gate at Ember itself, where the extreme gravity of the dwarf should render even the exotic metamaterials a thin and useless film. So far, examination from extreme high orbit shows signs of ruined structures, the presence of frozen water, and several anomalous hot spots that may indicate reactors of some kind.

More troubling is that, in the month since the landing team was lost, there have been bursts of radio activity from the surface using the frequencies the lost crew and their gear was using. So far the transmissions have been nothing but garbage, with even high-power analysis software failing to find anything resembling a pattern. It may be that the suits and gear are still active and just activating due to changes in their environment; while everyone in the system is hoping that’s the case, rumors are starting to circulate about the planet being haunted.

Firewall is more concerned that there’s some kind of learning AI on the planet experimenting with the technology the crew had on them. On the plus side, the pattern-finding asyncs who’ve been given the transmission data haven’t had any better luck at finding information buried in it than the analysis engines have, so no one is reaching for the antimatter weapons yet.

It’s just as well that people are being cautious, as the actual nature of Ember IV is that some past civilization screwed up the manufacture of a particularly volatile exotic compound that makes quite a magnificent corrosive. While stable and solid when within a few tens of degrees of absolute zero, anything much warmer than this causes it to dramatically sublimate in a cloud of dark gas that begins happily eating through most substances, converting organic compounds into more of itself as much as it can. Since Ember IV used to be a world with a rather impressive biosphere, the resulting disaster created an impressive amount of the material that weathered the death of the local star fairly well, pooling near the surface while the upper atmosphere was blown away.

The gaseous compound condensing out on the exposed metal of the team’s gear causes electrical currents that can kick-start the systems, resulting in the radio bursts that have spread rumors of a haunted planet, and the hot spots are underground pockets of radioactive elements, set loose in the initial disaster.

As such, while Ember IV is certainly a world that should be embargoed, it isn’t an active x-threat; someone acquiring some of the material to smuggle to a populated world certainly might be, though!

Gatecrasher’s Almanac #14

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