Vaskania Prime

Vaskania Prime is one of many exoplanets that was targeted for colonization from Earth in the late 23rd century. To reach other habitable systems, humans designed large-scale, self-replicating robotic fleets. Modeled on Von Neumann probes, the ships of the fleet were built with minimal resources in the inner Sol system. They mined raw materials, hydrocarbons, water, and other resources from asteroids and Kuiper belt objects as they traveled through the outer system on the way to interstellar space. These fleets were operated by distributed AI systems, and were capable of self-repair and complex planning. They carried a seed vault and multiple copies of all information networks from Earth.

The most precious cargo was the store of human embryos. No adult humans were present for the thousand year voyage to Vaskania Prime. While the fleet terraformed the new world, the embryos were genetically modified to be viable in their new environment. The embryos were then “birthed” from incubated fluid sacs, with the genetic engineering and upbringing process improving iteratively over the generations.

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Tidal Lock

Vaskania Prime is an eyeball world, tidally locked to a class M star slightly smaller than Earth’s sun. Settled by a robotic fleet, all humans who dwell on the surface or in its orbit were brought to the Vaskania system as embryos and raised there. A narrow, terraformed strip marks the surface, divided by two rivers. The rivers form a boundary between light and burning heat on one side and a vast darkness on the other. The majority of the planet’s surface is in the light or dark and completely sterile. The terraforming process on the strip started hundreds of years earlier, when the fleet first entered the system, but there are signs the planet may have been habitable before and possibly inhabited then.

Comet Bombardment

When the fleet entered the Vaskania system, they had known for some time their target world no longer had water on its surface. Crossing from interstellar space into the system’s heliosphere, automated harvesters mined comets and small icy worlds in the outer belt for propellent and affixed small thrusters to many of these bodies. Over the next few hundred years, short burns from those thrusters adjusted the orbits of these small bodies so that they would collide with the surface of Vaskania Prime. The earliest machines to colonize the world had already landed and restructured much of the ground surface to force the flow of the incoming water into two large rivers that would form a new boundary around the habitable strip.

Alien Gaze

On Vaskania Prime sleep doesn’t work like in the simulations of Earth of old. Instead, people experience a shared hallucination, like plugging into a virtual reality through a hidden interface. In the dream world, people appear as distorted shadows of themselves. You can’t identify them unless truly intimate, and even then, you can go wrong. And things can happen to the real you. No one seems to have died in the dream world, but they’ve been trapped, drained, tortured. People harmed in the dream world may wake up with extreme personality changes, as if their mind has been shattered into fragments and hastily reassembled. And it seems as something else is there, observing and waiting. Enough of the old human gene line has been preserved that the inhabitants of Vaskania Prime can feel the biological machinery of prey behavior kicking in: the sense of being stared at.

Two Rivers Flow

With water flowing, terraforming could begin in earnest. Patches of green popped up as the fleet sorted out various genetic engineering problems, adapting the plant life in the seed vaults to the fixed day/night boundary on Vaskania Prime. This growth spread gradually over the next decades, filling the space between the two vast rivers the diggers had engineered: a new Tigris and Euphrates for a new human world.

Tidal Resonance

Plants could be quickly readied for the thin, turbulent atmosphere on Vaskania Prime, but human beings take a bit more work. The first round of embryos were brought to gestation in fluid-filled, synthetic sacs, then birthed in incubators and raised in domes on the planet surface. Taking their first steps on Vaskania Prime, rather than in orbit, ensured that their musculoskeletal systems would be ideally adapted to the gravity they would have to live in. For the first years, naturally, there were only children, splitting time between robotic caretakers, virtual reality classrooms, and short trips out of the domes in lightweight EV suits. Their every need was provided for through near-flawless engineering, but there was still an inescapable sense that this was all just one elaborate orphanage.

Echoes Before Our Kind

When the children on Vaskania Prime first started experiencing the dream world, no one knew it was a shared reality. Because they appeared so differently from their physical selves, they could not identify one another, or even know for certain they were encountering other humans. The landscape of the dream world was filled with empty structures, certainly not built for humans, but for something with an altogether different way of being in the world.

At first the children were isolated and only saw others at distances, unable to make speech happen normally or words carry, and they wondered if this land was inhabited by these strange shadow creatures they kept seeing at a distance. Only after more and more stories of the dream world were told, and the machines were able to unify these accounts together, did it become apparent that what the children were seeing as shadows were their own dreaming friends.

Low Gravity Judo

In low gravity environments hand-to-hand combat changes. A strike requires an equal and opposite reaction from a surface on which combatants can firmly plant. When you punch someone on Earth, you’re also punching them with the Earth. Striking and grappling are both effective in their own ways in normal gravity, but in space, throws and joint-locks reign supreme.

Dream Exit

When trapped too long in the dream world on Vaskania Prime, the ego no longer coheres. A meditator’s goal, perhaps, but a state difficult to shake off when you have another reality to return to. It takes a strong fixed point focus to pull the ego back together and to escape the dream world with one’s identity intact.

Reality Anchor

The fleet used numerical models to understand and predict the human brain and the behaviors it produced. None of these, however, was helpful for understanding the shared reality of the dream world. The fleet was caught off guard by the reports. With these models, it could piece together a picture of this other reality, could correlate the human testimony about it, but there was no particle or neural state that could be measured to unlock its secrets.

The fleet AI was as close to perfect rational inquiry as the human species could manage. When it could not explain the dream world, superstitions cropped up instead. Of those superstitions, the one that rose to prominence was that of the ancient evil eye curse, and the prophylactic talismans meant to ward it off. When the inhabitants crafted and wore these talismans, they found they could project them into the dream world. With time and practice, they would use these projections to shield and protect themselves.

The Eternal Sun

In the habitable band of Vaskania Prime, the red sun remains fixed when seen from any point on the surface. Many thought the persistent dreams were a psychological coping mechanism, or an unintended side effect of the genetic hacks that disabled and modified the circadian signaling throughout the human body so that it could cope with an unwavering light source. Despite the vast size of the star and the planet compared to such small, mammalian bodies, the fixed relation between the two produces a sort of claustrophobia, a sense that the sun is inescapable.

Sublimate Into Clouds

As the machines bring additional water from the outer belt to Vaskania Prime, the hydrological cycle does its work, pushing more and more of that water into the atmosphere. The water works as a stabilizing influence as stronger convection currents develop, moderating temperatures over the entire planet, cooling the light side and warming the dark side in turn.

Despite its troubles, the nascent human community continues to grow. The danger of the dream world seems to be easing as well. Still, the feeling of some unmistakable other presence lingers.

About PatternShift

PatternShift makes sci-fi inspired cinematic synthwave. When not writing music he can be found slinging code from one of his favorite haunts, Oneiri station, in orbit at Vaskania Prime Lagrange 5.

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