The Journey, Part IV - Here There Be Dragons

It times most ancient, when our ancestors set out in leaky boats of wood, hide and tar, the world seemed nearly endlessly large to them. Every day was fraught with perils they could only imagine - and imagine they did. Ancient texts are riddles with tales of "monsters" and all manner of embodiments of their fears. So too are the ancient records of humanity's ventures into space. Though they did not envision great and terrible beasts as their own ancestors did. Their fears, some more justifiable than others, were based on rudimentary scientific understandings, but always with them, their fears followed - fears of the unknown. It is that unknown that pushes me ever onward. The search for something unknown that drives me.

And while each of these new worlds I uncover is unknown to me, there is also a marked familiarity to each of them. Worlds of water, worlds of ice, of rock, of metals... each unique in their composition, their position within the galaxy itself, yet so many times so much like so many others I have seen.

Darker, lighter, larger, smaller, illuminated by some other spectral type of star, yet still so much like so many others.

Tilted higher, or lower, longer days, longer years, shorter days, shorter years, gravity higher or lower than Earth's own gravity, and yet still not unlike each other to be truly different either.

Like Earth, yet not Earth. The continents are different - larger, smaller, more islands north of the equator, or south. Larger or smaller polar ice caps, but still with an atmosphere that is more nitrogen than oxygen, varied trace gasses, but still continents of rock and sand and soil, separated by water.

Each different, unique in its own way, much like the people spread across inhabited space. Carbon-based, organic, bipedal, biological organisms. They may disagree on matters of organization, on matters of leadership, on which side of a station they should enter and exit, but for all their differences, they are still the same.

Some are more exceptional than others, some traits more rare. Much like this Class IV Gas Giant, with its ring system larger than the orbital distance of some planets.

The coloration and patterns of storms may be unlike those seen anywhere else, yet at the same time, for all this difference, it is still little more than a massive ball of gas, held together by its massive gravity and atmospheric density.

Like Earth, yet unlike Earth. Like Imperials, like Federals, like Independents and Allied peoples - for all those differences, they still have the same things in common, yet rarely will they acknowledge this, especially when, for whatever reasons, they've made up their collective minds to argue or fight over these minor differences with such intensity that they forget what it is that makes them more the same than they're willing to admit.

I don't know, perhaps it would be less of a headache for me to simply stop trying to understand people. It seems unlikely they'll ever really do it for themselves, understand themselves, and accept that each of them is different, just like everyone else, and they are far more alike than they are different. Like this icy moon - like so many other icy moons.

While they may not all have the same hues and spectrum of coloration, or feature geysers of carbon dioxide ice, they are all still balls of ice, adrift in a vast galaxy together. Perhaps it would simply be easier to explore the galaxy instead of my own thoughts, for here there be dragons indeed.

Perhaps, some day, I'll visit this "Earth". It is, if nothing else, the birthplace of humanity and the human race's venture into space. From what I've been told and what I've read, we're lucky really that the planet is still capable of supporting any kind of life. In many ways it's something of a wonder that the human race is even still around. Granted we have, collectively, learned quite a bit, but always it seems we wait to learn these lessons until the absolute last minute.

While we've yet to see any evidence of any space-faring races originating from aquatic worlds, I wonder if this is due to the lack of space-faring races originating from water worlds, or if it is due to such races being clever enough to simply avoid us. For all our accomplishments, we've paid some very heavy prices, and yet somehow managed to stay just far enough of our destructive tendencies to not wipe ourselves out in the process.

Perhaps whatever strange twist of fate that has kept us from exterminating ourselves has also kept us from being exterminated by other races. I have had some encounters with the only documented space-faring race we know of, the Thargoids. I've uncovered a number of records of our encounters with them, dating back to the conflict between us and them, which ended when we harnessed our destructive tendencies and dark impulses, and the INRA organization launched a counter-offensive using biological weapons against them.

Of course, there was backlash we could not, or did not want to, anticipate. Perhaps we meant to shield ourselves from the terrible knowledge of what we had done, or perhaps even darker forces were at work. It's hard to know, as so little information survived that time. And then, after some time, we cross paths with these beings once again, and once again there is conflict. Only history, some day, may know the real reason behind it, or perhaps it will not - it is, after all, the victors who write the histories.

And all of this makes me think of the time I spent picking among the ruins of another space-faring race that met a fate we have been able, so far, to avoid. A race dubbed "The Guardians". I delved further into their history than I really have our own, as it has only been recently that I've began investigating human history in depth. In far too many ways we are more like these "Guardians" than we might want to think. Much in the same ways vastly distant worlds are so much like close and familiar ones.

On the subject of close and familiar, this binary star pair serves a great example. While these stars are both free-standing, self-sustaining fusion reactions, they are also different. Different spectral classes, different reactions, different sizes and masses, yet they are still both stars, both massive nuclear furnaces, joining atoms of one material into atoms of another, until they exhaust their resources. I suspect many binary pairs like this will reach a point where their hunger for resources pits them against each other, much in the same manner we have pitted ourselves against each other, in squabbles and wars for resources.

Some would believe it wise to stay far from such conflicts, tend to one's own concerns. But there are times when such conflicts have such far-reaching consequences, that remaining distant from them only prolongs the inevitable. Stars swell when their fuel supplies diminish, and that swelling consumes worlds as well. Even those that are not consumed are transformed. Worlds of water may boil away, leaving and exposing the deep rock, once covered, exposed. Atmospheres are burned away, and thriving planets die.

It is the natural cycle of things, to come into being, to live, to grow, to wither and to die. Planets, solar systems, galaxies, universes - all that is once was not, and will in time, cease again to be, leaving only nothing behind.

Like and unlike, in the end, will become the same - they will become nothing. Nothing is a fascinating concept as well. Nothing is something that cannot exist, as its existence is the antithesis of existence. As long as there is something, there cannot be nothing, and when there is nothing, something cannot exist.

These are ancient debates and thoughts, thought by minds most ancient. I suspect even among The Guardians, there were philosophers, asking the kinds of questions that defy answers. I only wish there were more of their records to find and study. I suspect too, among the Thargoids, are philosophical minds, asking similar questions. They may or may not ponder the nature of existence themselves, but I suspect they have to have poised their own impossible questions. I remember when I was I child, I saw on display a colony of ground-dwelling insects. Simple creatures really, making their burrows, gathering food, tending their broods, defending their burrows from their enemies, but more so, I remember watching those few fringe insects, who would stray from familiar paths and routes, to seek food from other places, to find new locations to construct new burrows, to look for enemies in places no others dared to venture. In their own way, they were the philosophers of their own kind - asking questions, testing boundaries, seeking unknowable answers.

Life is trouble, troubling, always pushing, seeking, learning, and sometimes learning a too late that the answers to some questions are dangerous, deadly, more trouble than they are worth to know. Here there be dragons, and we are they.

An ammonia ice geyser, the perfect treatment for a dirty canopy, and a clean canopy gives one a fresh outlook. A review of our course shows we will be leaving this sector soon, entering a region fully unknown to us.

We bid farewell to familiar friends and sights, though I know full well that what lies ahead is not all that different from what lies behind. The old and familiar become the new and unusual. I find myself wondering what differences will be found in familiar types of stellar bodies. Will this next region feature more of one particular type of world than another?

Will there be an significant differences? It's probably safe to assume there won't be, as to the best I can tell, the laws of physics and nature do not vary. Yet I also know that variation is a part of everything. Differences and sameness are largely determined only by small variations in the vastness of space.

Each wonder, so like so many others, yet so different as well, each unique in its own way. I find a certain comfort in the certainty that, with only the slightest of chances, the unfamiliar will be familiar, the unknown known, or at least within the realm of comprehension.

So farewell to the old and familiar, and welcome to the new and unfamiliar. That I can still fathom the forms and functions I am sure to encounter along the way reassures me that some greater measure of sanity and reason exist in the fundamental laws of the known universe, even in unknown space.

Our crossing into Dryman's Point was not uneventful. Owing to the extreme distances traveled so far, still only a fraction of the distances remaining, all this travel has taken a toll on the ship's systems. A malfunction in the Frame Shift Drive lead to a sever heat buildup, and made it necessary to set down to affect repairs. It just so happens that the first available place to do so also has a familiar but new feature to share.

Geysers of carbon dioxide ice, that may some day form a thick atmosphere around this moon, sealing in solar energies, warming this frozen ball of ice, transforming it into something new.

For now, there is a different kind of exploration to take place - the exploration of the systems aboard this ship and the diminishing supply of spare or spare-able parts to keep those systems operational.
It's been 34 weeks since we set out, and while we've discovered more and seen more of space than most will, I have to confess a lot of it is very much like the rest of it. But space has a way of taking you by surprise, and this little gem is an amazing example. In a proto-lagrange cloud, far out in the uncharted regions of Dryman's Point, we found a space-dwelling life form.

Dubbed a Peduncle Tree, this organism thrives and propagates entirely in the vacuum of space.

It has some bioluminous properties, but does not react to the proximity of either my ship or fighter.

The thorny growths at the base may be the shoots of more tendrils, or a defensive mechanism against predators, though I have to admit a certain dread at the thought of what might feed on something like this, given its size.

I also discovered these curious metallic crystals among the trees.

And is some cases, the crystals and trees can be found in very close proximity.

This could be simple random convergence, but it could also be indicative of a relation between these two. These crystal structures are formed by primordial microoganisms, so it is possible there is some relation between the crystals and the trees.

Between the trees I noted globules of an unidentified substance. Perhaps some form of pollen?

The trees produce pods, assumed to be part of their reproductive cycle. Like the trees themselves, the pods do not react to the presence of my ship. At least, that's what I thought.

Until I brought my ship's lights to bare on one of these pods. At first, there was no reaction, until the lights shone upon the small projection of the face of the pod, at which time it emitted a jet of some manner of caustic fluid, propelling the pod away from my ship. I should note this fluid is highly caustic, and caused my shields to fail and caused some minor hull damage as well. Further testing indicates these pods all react in the same manner - emitting jets of caustic fluid and retreating from the ship lights.

The following footage shows this reaction:

This jet propels the pod just a little over a kilometer, and they do not appear to be able to generate another possibly for some time after. This reaction suggests some manner of either defensive response, or perhaps to prevent the pods from falling into stars by reacting to strong light sources. It's hard to draw any definitive conclusions, as my research equipment is still extremely limited. I found these pods also react to a fighter's lights, though being caught in the jet emitted does not appear to have any adverse effects on the fighter's shields. Further research is required.

Addendum: It appears the jet of fluid itself is not actually caustic, and the minor hull and shield damage was caused by collision with another pod reacting. I've also found the pods can produce another discharge, though it takes a few minutes before the pod is capable of another blast.
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The metallic crystals, are they something new other than one of the four known types?
EDIT: They are NOT the same as the silicate crystal forms, they are indeed different. Interestingly I did note a new entry in the Codex I had not noticed before "Xenological" which holds Thargoid and Guardian data. Even more interesting, this entry appears in a region I had previously crossed and was not present at that time.
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We made a scenic stop for lunch and review the data we'd collected. One of the most prominent bits of data I turned up is that prolong exposure to deep space, even with a young woman as company, makes one easily amused, and I have definitely been amused by these pods. I spent the better part of an hour chasing a couple of them around, watching them jet away.

This Ammonia World is interesting for either its incredibly thick, dense atmosphere, or it's complete lack of any terrain features.

This is a region I've come to call the "soupy zone", thick with interstellar gasses and dust, like one massive nebula spanning hundreds, possibly thousands of light years.

Fumaroles are always interesting, be they ammonia or water ice.

A few jumps later, we found another system, this one remarkable for not one or two, but three proto-lagrange clouds, featuring more of these trees and their pods, as well as accompanying crystal formations. One of these features two distinct species of tree.

While these trees may be different, they all seem to spawn the same pods, and I have not been able to differentiate these pods from one another. Perhaps with better equipment I could match pods and trees by their genetic makeup. Unfortunately I do not have the sort of equipment to conduct this sort of analysis.

Fumaroles of nitrogen ice, aglow in the dim light of a distant star. I believe all the kinks have been worked out of the ship's system, though our makeshift repairs will certainly either impress or horrify maintenance teams for quite some time when we are able to dock up somewhere and put in for repairs.

This icy moon features some methane ice geysers at the bottom of a very deep chasm. The contrast between the icy walls of the chasm and the frozen soil at the base and the jets of the geysers, back lit by the star make for a very striking scene.

This water world shows vast undersea continents just below the surface of the water. Is this indicative of water loss, or the growth of land masses? Again, the limited equipment I carry makes it impossible to determine, but it is interesting nonetheless.

More trees and pods, in another system featuring three proto-lagrange clouds. I suspect the "soupy region" of Dryman's Point to be somewhat ideal for this particular form of life.

As it does seem to feature more than a few of these "forests" of Peduncle trees and their pods.

Lava spouts of searing silicon magma makes for a nice, soothing backdrop for a late dinner. It also prompted a question from Sai that I haven't considered in quite some time.
"If fire is a chemical reaction fueled by the oxidization of a fuel source, how is it that we have fire burning outside, on a moon with no atmosphere?"

I recalled asking a similar question quite some time ago, when there was a fire in the tungsten mines of Achenar 3. Sai's question made me smile a little as I gave nearly the same answer I was given.

"It's far simpler than it seems. That lava spout allows molten silicon to escape from deep below ground. While it makes it way to the surface, it either absorbs or breaks down bound oxygen present in other minerals, and as it reaches the surface, the temperature differentials cause that oxygen to be released, allowing fire to burn in that weak oxygenated envelop created."

Sai pondered my explanation.

"There's often much more at work, but that is the most common explanation."
"So how is it you wound up a pilot? You seem to have such a wide berth of knowledge on many subjects, and a knack for research."
I laughed a little. "I was encouraged many times, by many people to follow quite a few of those paths, but truth be told... well, I can't really say. I do enjoy research, and study of all manner of subjects, and as a pilot I often have plenty of time for study, and opportunities for conducting research. But I needed to make credits, and, well, being a pilot was a pretty quick way to do it. Research may be interesting, useful, fascinating even, but it can take years for it to be profitable. Study doesn't really make credits - it usually winds up costing credits, so what better options were there?"

Sai nodded. "Not really all that different from me then."
"Not really, no. In fact, it's one of the main reasons most pilots become pilots - we need credits, and piloting earns credits."

Another system, full of proto-lagrange clouds, and more proto-lagrange clouds filled with trees and pods.

This has to be the densest "forest" of trees I've seen yet.

Life on Earth is believed to have originated in the Earth's oceans. How life began in the oceans though, now there's an interesting question. Cyanobacteria, blue-green prokaryote algae, is said to be the earliest known form of life, and is not only still present, but one of the major components used in terraforming other planets. And how did the cyanobacteria begin? Random proteins and other proto-organic materials present in the precambrian seas, a bit of random convergence, perhaps a random stroke of lighting in just the right place at just the right time - all valid theories, but even to this day, these are the best theories we have.

There is, of course, another school of thought on the matter, one that my findings here lend credence to - that life on Earth began elsewhere, deep in space. I wonder what the outcome might be, if one of these pods were to land on a planet, like one of these many water worlds. Would it grow into something that would eventually become the ancestor of life on that world? Would it break down over time, dissolved into the waters of that world, and its trace elements become the seeds of life for that world? Certainly within the realm of possible. Or perhaps one of these pods might find itself embedded in the ice of a comet, carried far across space, and that comet might impact some distant world, seeding that world with both water and organic materials that would, in time, become the catalysts of life.

All still speculation and theory-craft, but certainly plausible.

The final jump on this leg of our trip lands us at an impressively large gas giant, teeming with ammonia-based life. Weighing in at 381.7064 Earth masses, with a radius of 68,481 km, and an atmospheric makeup of 75.2% hydrogen, 24.8% helium, this is one of the largest gas giants we've seen in quite some time. I also can't help but wonder if, if there is credence to the "seed theory", if this might not account for other forms of life as well, including the Thargoids. Could we ultimately have some common ancestor from the stars? Might all life throughout the galaxy, even throughout the universe itself, have some ancient-beyond-time ancestor? Ultimately, DNA is DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, itself made up of adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. Adenine is, chemically, C5H5N5. Thymine is, chemically, C5H6N2O2. Guanine is, chemically, C5H5N5O. Cytosine is, chemically, C4H5N3O. Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen and Oxygen, the five ingredients that make up life. It is possible that life could be made of some other elements. Silicon is not outside the realm of possible as a base, instead of Carbon, but we know of no silicon-based life forms to this point. It is rather incredible though that so much variety can be made from so few ingredients.

The increased stellar density and Sai's tinkering with the routing computer have allowed me to plot the longest single course yet, 582 jumps, clear across Dryman's Point, and nearly completely across Sagittarius-Carina Arm, 19,962.63 light years, to what may actually be the one-quarter mark of our journey. Looking beyond, I suspect our time in some sectors ahead may be rather short, as stellar density begins to drop sharply once more. It will become imperative to plot accordingly in these regions to avoid any more back-tracking.
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Water giants are something of a rarity, and this one is no exception. With an atmosphere of 98.4% water, .5% ammonia, and .5% methane, weighing in at 38.3231 Earth Masses, and a comfy 2.86 G of gravity, this is definitely a giant. The inner, metal-rich ring holds rich deposits of painite, platimum, Rhodplumsite and Serendibite, while the outer icy ring has deposits of Alexanderite.

There are also 3 proto-lagrange clouds in the system. I fully expect to find more forests of Pedunkle trees and pods.

As expected, these proto-lagrange clouds do contain forests of Peduncle trees, including a species I have not previously encountered. The paler trees have fewer tendrils than the others, but I see no other differences in them from the others. They do not react to my ship, or lights, though the pods here still exhibit the same behavior as the pods in other locations, retreating from my ship's lights, propelled by a fluid jet expelled from the nozzle end of the pod.

While stellar density is much higher here, so are long stretches of systems consisting of one or more stars, and little or nothing else. Some times there might be a gas giant, or some balls of ice with fairly common features, or balls of rock, or balls of metal. Every so often though, something like this water world breaks up the otherwise monotonous background.

For a change of pace, I've found Pedunkle pods in the icy rings of gas giant.

And like all these pods, they retreat from my ship's lights. I do wonder though, were these pods simply caught in the planet's gravity, or is this the sort of place these pods prefer? I'd love to find one of these early in its development, somewhere between a pod and a tree, just to know more about them.

A little slingshot maneuver around a high metal world, not because it's really all that practical, but because it is fun once in a while.

And we're flung right between a pair of tight binary stars. My fuel tank would like to thank you for the top-off.

Another forest of Pedunkle trees. Here the star illuminates the matter of this proto-lagrange cloud nicely.

Twin, co-orbital water worlds. Certainly not a rarity, but always an interesting find.

This massive forest took me as unusual, due to its proximity to the star. Pods are present here, though they do not appear to react to the light of the star in the same manner as they do the lights of my ship. I suspect though that there is some relation between the trees and the star here, a rather small M-class red dwarf star of just .3125 solar masses, with a solar radius of .4731 and a surface temperature of 2,952 K.

This particular forest lies within the local asteroid belt, one of two such belts along the inner orbit of this system. The inner most belt here is metal rich, while the outermost belt is icy. I've found a nice clearing here, so I believe I'll stay a while and observe.

The Unusual is what many go exploring to find, and this fully qualifies. This planet and the proto-langrange cloud that is home to the Pedunkle trees and these pods are in extremely close proximity. So much so, that it was nearly impossible to enter the cloud proper. Regardless of my angle of approach or super cruise disengage distance, the cloud was perpetually moving away from me. A few attempts landed me close enough, however, to spot these pods. I suspect, at some point, they will fall into the planet's gravity - but then what? Will lie dormant? Will they sprout? Will they seed this world with some manner of life derived from their own genetic materials?

I'm glad I didn't come out here in search of answers, because all I find are more and more questions. But since I came seeking questions, I am rich indeed.
This particular world, a small moon of a class 1 Gas Giant, is a largely unremarkable ball of ice, weighing in at .0046 Earth Masses with a radius of 1,463 km, .09 G, composed of 82.5% ice, 16% rock and 1.6% metal.Minerals detected on the surface include sulfur, carbon, phosphorus, iron, nickle, manganese, selenium, germanium, cadmium, molybdenum, and technetium.

There are no detected geological or biological points of interest detected. Wholly unremarkable over all.

I save these rarely, but at 75 bodies in this system, along with 3 Notable Stellar Phenomena, I felt the need to capture this. This is one of the largest systems I have seen, and the collection of bodies here is impressive.

This water world numbers among the worlds in this massive system. I anticipate the Notable Stellar Phenomena to be Pedunkle tree forests, as that is the trend I have noticed - in any given sector, only one sort of curiosity is found. In Dryman's Point it seems to be Pedunkle Trees and their pods. I also say trend, as I have seen instances where Pedunkle forests are also home to metallic crystalline formations, but I have not seen such an occurrence in some time now, and suspect this to be an anomaly of its own.

Trees and pods, just as I suspected. I did happen to notice that the trees here appear surrounded by clouds of, well, something. My sensors cannot pick up what these stellar gasses are, but they do seem to either surround the trees or are emitted by them. I suspect this may be how they are nourished, as it seems unlikely they sustain themselves by photosynthesis, though again, my equipment is too limited to make an accurate determination.

A pair of nearly identical, neighboring water worlds seemed this systems initial highlight. Until I picked up on not one but two additional signals in this system.

The first was a fairly thick forest of trees and pods.

Ice worlds often have some of the nicest ring formations, but this one has one more little feature of note.

Nestled down among the chunks of ice that make up these pristine rings is a thick forest of trees as well. Were it not for the rich argon atmosphere of this icy orb, I would set down here for the night. Instead, I will turn the helm over to Sai for the evening while I get some much needed rest and ponder tonight's discoveries.
tl,dr Beluga in front of things 😂

Some really nice pics there IndigoWyrd (y)
Only thing that would annoy me personally is the 0% paint. I like my stuff shiny and new.
tl,dr Beluga in front of things 😂

Some really nice pics there IndigoWyrd (y)
Only thing that would annoy me personally is the 0% paint. I like my stuff shiny and new.
I think at this point my paint is into the negatives, and I've still 3/4 of the galaxy to go, so I imagine it will be shiny (bare metal) by the time I dock up somewhere.
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