June 27, 2020
What follows is a playthrough of Alone Among the Stars by Takuma Okada. It was played in a 40 page pocket notebook. Generally speaking, each card I played filled a half a page to a page. Learn more about this on episode 161.
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A journal of the planets I have visited on my vacation I decided to take a few years to do an old-fashioned road trip. I bought myself an old interstellar science ship and a camera. I plugged in some parameters into the ship's computer and let it decide each next stop. Basically, I have it taking me to planets I can survive while in an old pair of jeans and a light jacket. Oh yeah, and the planet hopefully the planet is so far not visited by humans.
2♠️: The first planet I visited is a rocky landscape of craggy cliffs and deep trenches. I landed the ship on a flat plain near the edge of some cliffs. At night, the valley is pitch black. Under the moonlight, the ground is a deep red. The night is quiet.
10♠️: I slept well. The next morning I spent some time taking notes and studying the rocks in my vicinity. The ship sensors showed the ground was highly crystallized.
High noon came quickly. The valley was well lit and I could see rivers down below at about 150 meters. The cliff walls were littered with waterfalls.
Q♠️: I used a winch to lower myself. The water was flowing at a gentle pace and quite comfortably cool. I spent some time swimming in the waters. I found the river was quite deep and worn smooth over countless millennia. Deep down, I could see caves, dark caves. It left me uneasy and I swam back to my rope.
8♦️: As I reached my rope, I was startled by a giant worm that broke the water surface where I had been swimming. I raised myself out quickly.
Omni Ruins II
3♥️: The second planet I visited had once had a civilization. I know this because I found ruins next to a lazy river. I spent some time studying the ruins and taking pictures.
The ruins were low and went into the ground. My best guess and I am no xeno-anthropologist, were tall at maybe 3-4 meters. They were likely humanoid. The structures were metallic and plastic. I assume they were an advanced society.
I could not figure out much else and found no other ruins. I spent a few weeks here.
9♣️: The third planet I visited was a strange one. I had no idea why the ship picked it for me at first. The planet was barren and lifeless. It was flat with empty plains of grey dirt as far as I could see. It was a mystery I wanted to solve. I spent a couple of days working the ship computers & sensors. As a bonus, I learned much about how to control the old equipment and what it was capable of.
Turns out this planet is teaming with life but deep underground. The sensors show what may be vast forests or grasslands maybe 400 meters down. How could this be?
A♠️: I kept at the sensors and eventually realized/learned that the vegetation had buried itself upon my arrival. It was a marvelous defense mechanism.
Once I understood it better, I was able to coax a small field up to the surface. What an extraordinary experience!! I watched the plants "grow" 4 meters in the span of 15 seconds.
These were a kind of grass, thick and stiff and barbed with waving fin-like growths. Really, a plant or an animal?
6♣️: Once I understood the ecosystem better, I realized the planet was not flat but covered with peaks & valleys. The soil just hid all the details.
The highest peak was only 3000 meters but was covered in a thick layer of snow. I was able to sled down for a distance of 5 kilometres with a total drop of only 400 meters.
3♣️: I stopped at the edge of a gentle river! Yes a river but of loose sand, not water. I wonder if it contained any fish. I never thought to check.
4♥️: I realized it was time to leave when I found another ship. It had not been here long, maybe two months. It was mostly buried in sand. Probably a storm had covered it.
It seems I had been quite lucky to be here during nice weather. Who knows how long that luck might hold. Best not found out.
10♥️: The next planet I visited was not a pleasant experience. Overall, it seemed to support pleasant weather but I arrived during a storm. Turns out the rain here is somewhat acidic. The ship could not stay longer than a few days before the corrosion would start to set in. It doesn't mean the acid was strong, per se, but even microscopic damage could be catastrophic on a space faring vessel.
On the planet surface, I had to wear goggles to protect my eyes from the stinging humidity. The plant life was well adapted and seemed to have love it. It was a thriving jungle. High up on overgrown cliffs, I found signs of a decayed tower. The bad weather had taken its tool. The structure was collapsed. How did people live here?
10♦️: The fourth planet, I again had some noteworthy cliffs. This time, I found a living civilization. The place was colonized by small beings each about 25 centimetres tall. The people were three legged and waled prone to the ground. Using my ship's computer I was able to communicate but found their thought processes too alien to truly correspond. They spent much of the time doing nothing and then after a few days would enter a state of intense productivity; food gathering, construction, cleaning, etc. I found them to be very a very unique race.
2♦️: After a few days it was apparent they did not want me around. It seems i Had overstayed my welcome and yet I did not leave. I regret my actions now but I was determined to learn more. I made it clear with threats that I would be staying. At that point they ceased all interactions with me.
Two nights later I witnessed a most amazing ritual. I believe it was a mating ritual but honestly, I am not sure. It definitely seemed religious too.
The seriousness with which they took it, it was obvious I was intruding. I left and did not witness the end. I left what apology I could. I don't know that it was enough.
8♣️: The next planet I visited was cold, so cold. I stayed briefly. The planet was full of mountains and valleys. It was covred in snow & ice. While exploring, I came across a, an um, dent in the landscape. It was odd. It was a deep bowl shape of ice. Down at the center was a plant. It almost caught me. It seems the plant had made the bowl by leting the ice around it so it could create a trap, much like a sand lion on Earth. Anything trapped in teh bowl would have a hard time escaping the slick surface.
8♠️: The next planet I visited was a tropical paradise - I think. I am no longer so sure. While resting on a green hill, having a lunch of alien fruits, I spotted an area of whiteness. It looked like ice, like most of Lionel IX. I headed there and sure enough, I was on a glacier. As I entered the icy terrain the temperature dropped twenty, thirty, forty degrees down below 0°C. The area was about 500 meters across. At the center was a machine, still functioning but much damaged. It was maintaining the zone of cold. Had this planet once been deliberately frozen?
10♣️: I started looking for more signs of manipulation. I thought I had found it on a cliff, high up there was something strange and dark, maybe metallic. It was all these but it was also a living plant. Its branches writhed and seemed like segmented metal. It was segmented metal and yet looking under a microscope I could see cell structures. Nothing indicated it was artificial.
J♣️: In the desert, I found a forrest of mushrooms. Really? Don't these things require more moisture? Don't they thrive on decay? This desert was otherwise barren. Again, I suspected deliberate manipulation but could find no more evidence of that.
3♦️: Near a river, I found critters that seemed like some sort of pet. Their look was very pet-like, I mean, cute & cuddly. They didn't behave so pet-like. They were quite aggressive.
Doh! Of course, all the stuff I found had been created. It had just evolved since the civilization declined. Wait, they became alive?
3♣️: I found something else by that river. The "pets" had overtime made caves to live in. They had dug into the clay ground and had created large spacious tunnels. The tunnels were low in the banks of the river. Over time, the river had flooded and drained. Minerals in the water had coated the caves, making them quite solid and pearlescent in colors of blue, pink and violet. It was quite amazing. I think it was one of the most beautiful things I encountered on my trip.
J♦️: I first landed on this planet at the edge of a vast desert. This desert was high in the mountains cold and rugged. I found an insect-like race of people living here with a society that revolved mostly around musics. I quite enjoyed my time here with them. It was more than a month before I moved on.
2♣️: My last nights there under the light of a dark blue moon, the desert was still. In the nearby village I could hear the heartbeat of the music and the velvety sounds of wind instruments, both low and long as well as short high pitched twittering. The music was beautiful. In the blue moonlight, the plants seamed to sway and bob to the music. I thought it was a trick of the night but no, they really were dancing to the music coming from the village. I spent hours there just mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the desert night.
6♥️: One of the crazy things about the people of Koh-I-Noor is that they had colonized a few planets in their solar system. The system consisted of two stars and multiple habitable planets. I did not visit them all - not yet.
On the planet they called M+R, they had told me existed a remote temple on a snowy mountain. The name of the temple translated roughly to the Heart of the Beat. The weather there made it impossible to land nearby. I was able to form a team with some of the locals and we climbed the snowy mountain. Up there, we found a long abandoned temple. The place was long in ruins. Anything that could be taken had been, long since. The place had a strange beatific feeling to it. It must have been just amazing when it was still inhabited. Even with all the effort to get there, with so little to see, I am glad I took the journey. I am the better for it.
9♥️: Descending the mountain, we came across an easily missed cairn. The moss covered stones, it turned out, were the entrance to deep caves. The path underground was well trodden. I could tell by the damage to the stalagmites and the rubble on the ground. I could not tell if it had been recently used. None of my companions had ever heard of these caves.
The path down was long but not difficult. Eventually we reached a large expansive area that was obviously the destination. I have promised my friends not to say more than this. What we found answered a lot of the questions the visit to the snowy mountaintop had lead us to ask. The questions will be answered but it will take time.
K♣️: This trip wasn't all about ruins and exploration. One night, back at the village, it suddenly started to snow. I was quite startled as it was a warm summer. I avoided embarrassing myself by holding my tongue for a minute. Just as the flakes were about to land, the wind caught them and they fluttered away. They were in fact a swarm of small insects. They would float down and feed on pollen from the trees as it fell. As they reached the ground, they swarmed to the next tree and floated down again as the swarm chased the pollen.
6♠️: There were only a few nights left on this planet. I was with my new friends celebrating our friendship. We all heard, no, felt. We felt a loud noise. Running outside, it was obvious what was going on. The mountain with the ancient ruins was erupting. Lava was flowing from the distant peak. That night the ruins were lost forever. I left the planet heavy with sadness at the loss but grateful I had been able to experience the temple.
7♦️: The planet HB-#2 is a planet full of highly active volcanoes, yet it is already beginning to form an ecosystem. That is what brought me here. A species of small lizard-like rodents live here. Really, the only way to study them is to lay back on a rocky slope and wait their arrival. They are fast skittish critters. If you wait long enough, they will come near you as they are also curious.
What makes them most interesting is that they can fly using leathery wings. Their look and their proximity to volcanoes has led to the nickname "dragon-rats". When they ado get close, make a sudden move and then watch all the dragon-rats take flight as one.
A♥️: The regular volcanic activity has led to fast growing grasses. There are few trees. There are many lush fields of grass growing on beds of ash and lava. Few last longer than a few decades before another eruption.
In one of these fields I found an abandoned interstellar cruiser. It was obviously long abandoned. I managed to hack the ship computers. It seems entries stopped suddenly about 5 years back. The crew was headed west to study a nearby lava field. Readings indicated that right about then there was another eruption in that area.
As this ship was better than mine, I decided to claim it. I set it on autopilot shooting it out into orbit, then followed in my ship In a couple of weeks, I was able to learn & reprogram the new computer and tie communication between ships so my old one would follow. I left behind the planet and all its convulsive life.
5♦️: The large ships computer brought me next to a gargantuan planet. Everything about it was BIG. I landed my ship in a hole carved a kilometre up into a tree. It appeared to have been the nest of a massive woodpecker of some kind - whatever comparable species lived on this planet. I have never spent time in the canopy of a tree. This was quite interesting. Here there was a constant humming of insect life. I never left my ship as any of these insects could have eaten me. Still, it was an amazing view from here. So many things were flying and crawling about. My favorite were the giant butterflies. At that size, the haphazard flying was scary.
2♥️: While flying over the land looking fro something else to explore, I flew over a ridge. The moon lit up a valley below and I could make out geometric shapes dotting the river. Closer inspection brought me to ruins. It appeared to be a village. Not much was left other than stones outlining the square shape of houses. These were simple one room structures. Existence here was apparently subsistence based. It still took me a full minute to cruise the length of one of these small huts. I am still in awe at the size of this planet.
I've no idea how long it had been deserted/abandoned, but I didn't see any debris or artifacts from the inhabitants.
Q♣️: My last "stop" on this planet was a fast trip through a field of flowers. Flying through giant plants was actually pretty cool. Petals as tall as my ship waved in teh breeze as I flew past them. Pollen gathering insects buzzed around and a few times I nearly crashed into them. Their giant bodies wheezing & weaving around the field and bobbing about were so hard to avoid.
6♦️: The next planet I visited was lush and Earth-like. It had vast oceans, sweeping deserts, ancient forests, granite peaks and frozen tundra. Life forms here even seemed vaguely earth-like. In a green grassy valley, I found a herd of grazing creatures. They were strong like horses but ran and leaped like gazelles. They were smaller than either, bout the size of a large dog. If it wasn't for the size of the herd - maybe 5000 animals, I would have said they were some sort of dog.
A♣️: In a field of tall grasses I came across a vine, long and thick. It writhed like a snake but green and leafy.
4♣️: I found a steep canyon with short and sparse trees growing on the almost vertical slopes. Okay, it wasn't quite "almost vertical" but climbing down to it, it may as well have been.
There wasn't much to this plant but it had a dark, rich bark sinuous and gnarled. I took a branch and turned it into a flute of sorts.
K♦️: High above in the sky, there were birds gliding over a valley. They were some sort of predatory bird but had long flowing tails that waved in the wind. From the distance, I could not tell if the tail assisted in flying or if the length was simply decorative - you know, to attract mates.
Later I saw another flying with it but without the tail. Yeah, that tail was probably part of its mating ritual.
This planet was strange but so familiar. I felt my trip coming to its end. I was feeling a bit homesick, I guess.
K♥️: I was able to gather information from my new ship's computer and used it to choose my next destination. In it's database I found a bureaucratic planet on the edges of the empire's expanse. The planet was known for its laid back nightlife, a stark contrast to a stiff workday culture.
On arrival, I found the planet a smoldering ruin. It had been destroyed in the last few years, or so it seemed. I could not find any sign of remaining sentient life.
I docked into the remains of a floating port station hoping to find out what happened.
4♦️: All the technology in the station was destroyed and I found nothing useful. I took a shuttle down to the planet surface and managed to find a canyon near some ruins. I parked there to examine the canyon before visiting the city.
Surprisingly, the canyon seemed verdant. The walls green, growing with a rumble of life seemed to be taking back a small bit of the planet.
I could here the chirps & shouts of animals. The sounds floated up the canyon and grew eerily cacophonous. I couldn't get a sense of what or how may creatures made those sounds.
The ruins were completely razed. The damage seems to have been done by both explosives and lasers. Whoever did this was still relatively early in the technology curve. This kind of weaponry was rarely used by space faring beings.
7♥️: I had learned nothing on Klarex VII to tell me what had happened, or I should say, nothing to tell me why the destruction had happened. Unfortunately, now I was morbidly curious. Doing a bit more digging, I chose another planet to visit on the opposite end of this empire's domain. Just how vast was the destruction?
I found a planet dedicated to education and it seemed worth a try. I spent much of the trip plowing the interstellar communication channels in the vicinity. I arrived hopeless because I heard nothing but silence.
I found a village, still smoldering, on the slopes of a mountain.
4♠️: South of the ruins I found a canyon, carved by the invaders. I could tell because they left some damaged equipment. They had been mind the planet for resources.
On the trip here, I had learned that Thalean was rich in Termaline deposits. They must be harvesting an immense quantity of weapons fuel. I couldn't imagine why other than to launch a massive war, but how could they win with their primitive technology. How had they been winning?
K♠️: I had completely lost track of my environment. The weather had been turning quickly worse. Rain started to pour down in powerful bursts. I ran for the cover of my ship.Suddenly, the wind started to blow quite loudly and debris banged on the outer hull. I realized I was in a tornado when the wind lifted the ship onto its side and tipped it over.
In that state, I could not access the navigation system to get me out. I hadn't figured out how to, not yet. Instead, I rode out the storm.
7♣️: Unfortunately, the storm also did a lot of damage to the alien machinery, all of it was covered in a landslide. I had not yet had a chance to study it to see what else I could learn about the invaders. There was nothing I could do about it. With luck, I could stumble upon more equipment.
5♠️: Just to be sure, I spent some time studying the area. With luck, the tornado had missed something useful.
I spotted something glittering in a tree. I climbed up and found a large Tremaline crystal. It's value was more than anything I'd ever encountered. I had no real desire for it, but it needed, it could be quite a useful bargaining chip. Hopefully it didn't come to that. I did not want to mix with the kind of crowd that would want this.
7♠️: I spent more time scanning and exploring the planet but did not manage to find anything else telling of the invaders. I found more ruing but nobody was left. I returned to what had become by base by the ruins on the mountain. I found nothing but destruction and chaos. These last few weeks had drained me. I was feeling hollow and lonely.
It was time to head home. Maybe I could leave this unknown war behind me, though I doubted it. I at least wanted to try. Maybe I could escape it or maybe those invaders would find my planet too. Either way, I would be with my family again.
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