Gatecrasher’s Almanac #33

Name: PXC-1013 (Beetle)

Location: 12300 ly antispinward/rimward of Sol

Gravity: 1.3G

Atmosphere: Hydrocarbon Smog

Body Type: Terrestrial

Beetle, as the unofficial name goes, is a world that might look like a primordial Earth at first glance. A thick blanket of greenhouse gas wraps the planet, the shallow oceans are thick with biological scum, and the entire star system is fairly young – only a billion or so years in age, according to estimates done by satellite survey. This initial appearance is what led to a six-month gap between the initial first-in team and the return of a survey crew, who eventually gave the planet its nickname.

Life on Beetle has yet to figure out the trick of using oxygen as an energy source or a waste product, but it figured out the secret of complex cells and multicellular life much faster than Earth’s biosphere did. Methane and other hydrocarbons serve as the basis of the chain of life here, and if free oxygen were a thing the whole planet would be at risk of catching fire. As it is, the rivers, lakes, and oceans all shimmer with oily rainbows, plant-like life rarely grow more than a meter in height and often has a gelatinous texture, and the dominant motile form of life is comprised of insect analogues.

The first-in team can be forgiven for missing all of this; the Gate sits nestled atop a mountain that rises above much of the atmospheric murk, nestled into place in a shallow valley too high for the local biosphere to colonize with anything but a handful of extremeophilic xenobacteria that get by on what the occasional storm drives far enough up the slope. It isn’t until halfway down the mountainside that the jelly-like lichen analogues begin to appear, plastered across rocks that have been slowly dissolving for centuries under their touch.

Naturally, Beetle is a xenobiologist’s dream – a deeply alien biosphere, divergent from the familiar course of Earth’s phylogenetic tree from the very earliest days. The divergence from terrestrial life is sufficient that there’s little fear of cross-contamination, either – the biosphere on Beetle is corrosive to terrestrial life and researchers venturing into the murk are generally either well-protected synthmorph or riding inside a veritable tank for protection. Those who undertake field trips swear it’s worth it, returning with a pile of undiscovered species and data recordings each time.

The truth of the matter is that Beetle should, at this point, still be a planet of microbes, at best; the source of the unexpected biodiversity is sunken in a shallow ocean a third of the way around the planet, all but unrecognizable beneath millions of years of sediment and slow decay. A slower-than-light spacecraft – a sleeper colony ship – of an unknown and undoubtedly extinct civilization is buried in the oceanic muck; while all the colonists died before the ship crashed, they were anaerobic and the bacteria and other simple organisms that infested them found the primordial ocean a welcoming place.

Even if someone eventually finds the ship, it’s going to be a disappointment. It’s less advanced than transhuman technology, all the systems have long since decayed away, and only the vague shape of the ship itself remains to give a clue about the creatures that once inhabited it. Still, if nothing else it might be a little heartening to those who look into the void and wonder if every race other than the Factors has died before leaving their home system. Somewhere, at least one race made it out of their system, een if they’re probably long gone by now.

Maybe transhumanity can survive past their own eclipse phase, too.

Gatecrasher’s Almanac #33

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