An alien mystery lay deep beneath the surface of Avastus…
Lieutenant Lendex, you’re needed for a very important mission. Are you ready? The Commander needs you.
You reflexively straighten your posture as the Commander addresses you in front of the hangar bay entrance.
“Lieutenant Lendex, you have the honor of being selected to lead this F-class mission. We’re trusting you to continue your record of producing excellent results, as the result of this mission will surely echo throughout our new galaxy.
When we first started observing Avastus, conditions seemed fairly normal; our researchers were mostly in awe of the beautiful, purple ambiance emanating from the mostly fungal landscape. Now some bizarrely rapid growth in the planet’s vegetation has created an extremely dangerous shift in weather; this storm is spreading across the planet so fast that we now have only a few hours before it hits the ruins. Our planetary shuttles won’t be able to operate in this storm and we’ve got solid info that at least one larger corp-fleet has its sights on this system. We need to get people in those ruins…now.
Scan and record anything you can, use the time you have wisely. We’ve pre-selected two squads for your mission, but we’ve left you some personal choice in the expert you can bring along. Here’s the list of available experts.”
As you scan through the names and specialities, two candidates catch your eye.
A- Vokt Ladd, expert in xenobiology.
B- Integra Satterberg, communications expert.
“Let’s go with Vokt, comms might not be even necessary at this stage, depending who we met there.”
Flying down to the surface, you notice massive purple clouds swelling at the horizon — the megastorm rushes closer. You spot the entrance of the ruins from pretty high up — a large opening formed near the bottom of a massive, dried-up canyon. A grayish moss-like life grows only around the opening.
Your crew lands nearby to investigate the large, perfectly round tunnel leading down from the entrance. You don’t recognize the material of the walls and a quick scan reveals nothing immediately identifiable. The inner surface area of the tunnel is covered in an unbreakable mass of dried-up, black leaves.
Zzynk, the group techie, sends in the drone swarm to scout ahead and map out the tunnels.
The drones’ transmissions bring back a large, slowly-expanding map as they descend into the tunnel depths. The tunnel system almost reminds you of an overturned plant root as you begin to see multiple points of entry that all weave closer together the deeper they travel. The tunnels bob and weave, giving an organic feeling to the whole structure. The place appears ancient and abandoned.
Soon enough, your team reaches the first intersection and several tunnels all open into a spherical room. Like the first entrance, the walls are covered in a layer of pitch-black leaves.
Something starts hampering the connection between the drone swarm and reducing their possible spread. Yet, even with this unfinished map, you notice several points of interest. Two rooms in particular seem to catch your eye. You swiftly plan a route to move through them and order the team to push forward.
After entering into the tunnel system, you notice an odd splotch of color on your subordinate’s suit — a sort of thick, rust-colored, mold-like lifeform. You don’t see it damaging the suit, or spreading, but trying to remove it proves exceptionally difficult. As you cut the mold away, the organism shows signs of instant regeneration.
Grizzo looks nonchalantly up from his suit and says
“Huh, must’ve brushed against a wall or something. Whatever. It’s not doing any harm. Let’s move on.”
How do you react?
A- “Could be dangerous; we should remain cautious. Just in case, remove that part of the suit and slap an emergency patch on it!”
B- “I agree, we don’t have time to worry about every blemish we get on our suits; scavenging is dirty work. Let’s move on.”
C- “Do you think this could endanger Grizzo in some way, Ladd?”
“Could be dangerous; we should remain cautious. Just in case, remove that part of the suit and slap an emergency patch on it!”
Your team takes their time and carefully removes the affected part of the suit. The mold seems satisfied to stay on that particular piece and you use a quick-fix emergency patch to fix the suit. Your team moves on.
Ten minutes from the entrance, your team descends into an enormous room — spherical, maybe half a kilometer in diameter and filled with countless, beautiful points glistening from the darkness. There’s a small, round divot next to most of these light sources and odd markings in the walls. It’s breathtaking.
Riezep breaks the silence.
“Aren’t those…stars? I think I recognize some of the patterns. Let me just check…”
A quick scan reveals that this massive room does appear to be a starmap of sorts. Yet there seems to be much more than only stars.
You only have a few hours to record and look around.
A- “This looks impressive, but we can’t blow all our time and resources on a single room. Let’s keep moving through the tunnels together.”
B- “This is obviously something important. Squad 2, remain here. Set your equipment up and try to get a good read on this thing. Squad 1, let’s move on.”
“This looks impressive, but we can’t blow all our time and resources on a single room. Let’s keep moving through the tunnels together.”
Twenty minutes later, your squad enters a relatively small, spherical room covered in holes; you approximate each about 1.5m in diameter. There’s hardly any room for an actual walled surface between these small openings as they seem to cover most of the room. They nearly all contain a thick layer of dust, some murky liquid, or a few mold-like things growing in them. All but one.
Catching the attention of Grizzo, one seems to be filled with something entirely different, a semi-translucent material vaguely resembling murky ice or glass. As Grizzo sets up the heavier scanners near it, you hear a frustrated sigh.
“Lieutenant, this is getting annoying. It’s like they built this whole blasted place just to spite our scanners! We’re not getting a clear image of what’s in there….but there’s definitely something. Could be well-preserved too, but this material is insanely tough. What should we do?”
A- “This could be nothing more than a waste of time and we can’t afford that; there’s a mountain of tunnels down here that we haven’t yet explored. Let’s move on.”
B- “I want a squad working on getting whatever that is out and onto the shuttle. Set up the proper equipment and take it out by whatever means necessary.”
“I want a squad working on getting whatever that is out and onto the shuttle. Set up the proper equipment and take it out by whatever means necessary.”
Twenty minutes go by as you walk through the remaining rooms the drones have scouted out. Your hopes to stumble on anything else worthwhile seem to be met with only dust and stillness.
Suddenly, the farthest drones detect something, an energy reading. Something deep down in these root-tunnels is emitting a signal; a possible piece of ancient tech left behind by…something.
A functional piece of tech from an ancient alien civilisation could mean everything. You need to reach it. With at least one of your squads available, you are ready to move out with your crew towards the signal.
As you move deeper down the tunnels, Zzynk chimes up and voices a new issue:
“Lieutenant, we have a problem. These tunnels are dampening the effectiveness of our drone swarm and our connection to the shuttle and orbital vessel. We’re going to have some serious interference to our connection the deeper we go.
Maybe we could create a quick-fix of sorts; a long chain of scout-drone waypoints. They aren’t really made for that, so it’s not going to be optimized, but we’ll still stay connected. But this’ll make use of a large portion of the swarm. What should we do?”
A- “We need that connection for raw analyzing power. We’ve already mapped a piece of these tunnels large enough to explore for months. Build the drone waypoint link.”
B- “It’s too risky to leave us half-blind. The drones are our best shot at staying a few steps ahead of the unknown. The swarm stays around us.”
“We need that connection for raw analyzing power. We’ve already mapped a piece of these tunnels large enough to explore for months. Build the drone waypoint link.”
You eventually reach what appears to be the core root of the tunnel system. Dozens of large passages open up into this large, spherical room from all around. At the very bottom of the room, a colossal tunnel spirals straight down, wide enough to fit a scout-vessel through. A quick ping by Zzynk informs the group that the tunnel goes at least 6 kilometers deep, likely more. As far as you can see, the central tunnel is covered in thousands of smaller tunnels, spreading in every direction. Though deep, the energy signal you’re receiving is noticeably closer.
As you descend further into the central tunnel, you notice a change in the walls. The rust-colored mold you’ve been seeing continues to spread slowly over the tunnel wall with smaller spots of blue, glowing mold-like things appearing on it every so often. More tunnels and spherical rooms open up here and there, but all seem empty and covered in dust.
You begin to see the entrance to the room housing the signal. A hulking mass of mold mostly covers the tunnel entrance. It seems almost bloated and diseased as it pulsates, taking up most of the gargantuan root tunnel and making your ability to reach the signal precarious.
A quick scan reveals the mold is holding back an extreme pressure. It could be at the very brink of rupturing, the pressure imbalance could possibly damage whatever’s creating the signals or even the crew itself.
A- “We can’t risk whatever’s emitting those signals getting damaged. We’ll have to move slowly, one by one. Try not to brush against any of the mold-thing.”
B- “Whatever it is, it’s too risky. If it breaks, it could wash us all down the central tunnel. We’ll destroy it from afar and hope for the best.”
“We can’t risk whatever’s emitting those signals getting damaged. We’ll have to move slowly, one by one. Try not to brush against any of the mold-thing.”
You hold your breath as the team members climb down one by one. The mold seems to hold its form. Eventually, you all reach the signal room safely, though the manoeuvre costs you some time.
A smaller, spherical room opens up before you.
Parts of the wall seem to move, shift. Closer inspection reveals much of it being covered in weird moss-like lifeforms, slowly changing shape and color, unique patterns appearing and disappearing.
The bottom of the room is filled with a murky liquid, vague lights shining barely through the surface. Roots seem to grow out of the central pond and spread outwards and blend into the walls. Broken pillars pierce the walls from equal distance, whatever they once held now collapsed or destroyed.
After a few minutes of research, your crewmember investigating the underwater lights pipes up in your headpiece with barely-contained excitement:
“Lieutenant, this…this is spectacular. I think I’m looking at a weird, bloated map of the planet. It’s got the spreading storm on it and everything. What’s even crazier, I can actually see our orbiting vessel. And this map…it almost looks like a living thing, the way it moves and grows.”
After a focused investigation on the organic map, one of the team suggests a worrying theory:
“We’ve been analyzing the energy readings of this map for a while now. If I’m reading this correctly, this thing is much more than just a map. It started collecting power the moment we entered a stable orbit. It’s sending incredible amounts of power to…somewhere; we can’t really know. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism of some sort, but the energy readings are surreal. And it’s obvious this thing isn’t holding up to the task anymore. Looks like it’s slowly breaking down.
I’m terrified to think what the end result could be. How should we proceed?”
A. “We need to figure out a careful way to shut it down. This is the only functional tech we’ve found and we have to get it out of here with minimal damage!”
B. “We need to stop this, whatever the cost. With energy levels that high, the whole planet and the orbital vessel might be in danger. We’ll plant some charges and leave.”
C. “ I want every speck of dust, every corner and every molecule of that central device scanned with everything we have. Trying to do more could be catastrophic.”
D. “We need to figure out a careful way to shut it down. This is the only functional tech we’ve found and we have to get it out of here with minimal damage! Set up scanners and send the dataflow through the swarm link to the orbital vessel. With their help, we might figure this out yet.”
“We need to figure out a careful way to shut it down. This is the only functional tech we’ve found and we have to get it out of here with minimal damage! Set up scanners and send the dataflow through the swarm link to the orbital vessel. With their help, we might figure this out yet.”
Minutes feel like hours as your team tries to decipher how this alien device works. Odd tremors shake the tunnels around you. Time is running out. Thanks to the massive surge of analyzing power from the orbiting vessel, your team manages to halt the device and the energy flow stops. The device seems to wither as a stronger rumble hits the room. It seems closing the energy circuits has caused a fault elsewhere.
The team safely extracts the device from the roots and hurriedly starts moving back towards the exit.
As you rush upwards, the tunnels shake more and more violently. The color seems to fade away from the walls and the floor beneath your heels feels more brittle. Cracks appear in the walls and in the rooms; small pieces of debris start tumbling down. You move as quickly as you can hoping desperately to make it out of the entrance alive.
The crew sees the purple glow coming from the planet’s surface outside the tunnel entrance; you breathe a deep sigh of relief as the sounds of the tunnel caving in on itself continue to bellow out of the entrance. Your crew gathers onboard the landers as the storm clouds swirl above the ship. Radioing the orbiting vessels begins to fail as the strong particle winds tear into your suit and vessel.
The lander’s propulsors thrust the ship off the ground and your crew, clenched fists and ground teeth, stare upward as your ship breaks through the cloud wall. You made it.
Hopefully the data you were able to gather was worth it; it’s clear whatever you just left behind is gone for good…
Lt. Lendex, we truly hope you enjoy Avastus. Thanks for making history with us today.
This was a Pick your Path adventure written and created for Project Nebula. The winner of the Generation Zero Mythic Planet “Avastus” auction took part in a live event on Twitter and chose the course of this tale. The shape of the game universe changes based on this input, bringing value to player, planet and Project Nebula