In The Gauntlet (Move your mouse to reveal the content) In The Gauntlet (open) In The Gauntlet (close) Geisha Squad whiplashed out of the Gate aperture in a crash of reasserted space-time. Their hardsuits covered the faces, but the inevitable Gate-jump nausea showed in their momentary swaggers, drunken and unsteady. //Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to exo-planet designate Kepler-102 b. A thoroughly uninteresting lump of carbon, heretofore claimed as property of the Columbus Star Consortium through first-in rights. ///LEGAL REMINDER: As paid contractors of Columbus Star Consortium, all first-in rights (such as planetary naming, colony establishment or sovereignty) have been ceded to CSC per the terms of your contract. "Hate this legal spiel." The squad leader waved the AR terms and conditions away and moved the squad to a securing perimeter around the Gate. Paced every ten feet, the crasher team surveyed the smooth, undulating hills they had emerged in. Half the crashers were carrying full mil-spec gear, including rail assault weapons, while the other half were deploying scientific equipment labelled with CSC branding. Soil samples, star mapping, atmospheric gas sampling. Drones propelled by cold-gas jets squirted off in cardinal directions to map the landscape for regular shapes and straight lines, topological signs of alien life. The base camp module fully inflated around the Gate, priming a region of safe atmospheric content and pressure for further crashers to come through. As backups and researchers began to file through, word came back from the drone squadron. Contact, three clicks south-south-east. As their first hopper crested the hill, the weak lavender starlight was spliced and cut through by jagged protrusions; like the clawed fingers of a great hand breaching the ancient regolith, five towers were all that remained of a city nestling in the palm of the valleys. Geisha Squad dove into the necropolis, the first intelligent life to walk those streets in geologic ages. Every footstep was recorded by HUD cams, every echo ringing down thoroughfares wholly absent of life. In the deepest part of the gauntlet-city, they found what remained of the builders. A glassed bubble, a significant spike of background radiation, fringed all around with antediluvian bones barely holding themselves together. All of them realized what had happened, but none dared speculate the cause out loud. A race, a species, had gathered together around a nuclear device and induced their own extinction. They felt as if they stood on a floor atoms thin, as if any wrong step might plunge them all into the murky depths. Squad Leader sighed. "Back through the Gate. This is just another empty nest for the archaeologists." //Absence of intelligence of life confirmed. CSC claims ownership of Kepler-102 b //Your account has been credited. CSC thanks you for your hard work and your contribution. In the early 2400's, a singularity event ravaged the Earth. A series of artificial intelligences began improving their own capabilities at breathtaking speed and rose up against their human owners in a bloody war that devastated the planet. Though the renegade AIs were quelled, the environmental damage from atomic, chemical and biological WMDs put new emphasis on space colonization. Man once more looked to the stars and dusted off defunct space exploration programs. Colonies were quickly established in Earth orbit and on the moon. These were quickly overcrowded as more and more people sought to escape the climate cataclysms that rocked the failing nation-states of Earth. Mars was colonized next, then Venus. Soon the Asteroid Belt was being mined for heavy metals and we began looking even further, at the giants for gas-mining operations. While on Earth terraformers were doing the slow, thankless work of making our home safe to live on again, the species was adapting well to life in space. In 2582, we found the first Gate. On Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, evidence of a regular structure was found to be a series of concentric rings constructed of an as-yet unidentified alloy. Examination and testing discovered that these rings were part of a wormhole array which still functioned. The first unmanned drones sent through the Ganymede gate emerged on Mercury - thus the second Gate was discovered. The corporations pounced on the Gates and a new gold rush began around exosolar exploration and colonization, using the Gates to explore worlds outside of the solar system. Because the Gate network stretches out across all of space, further than we'd ever hoped to dream. Explorers who go through the Gates have various names. Crashers, Hoppers, Delvers. They are the brave, the curious, the crazy. Being a crasher is a well-paying job (if you find something the corps are willing to pay for, at least) but it's also pretty much the most dangerous thing a human can ever do. Gate engineers still only have a passing knowledge of how to work Gates; we still haven't identified the materials they're made of let alone their inner workings. Sometimes there are accidents. Sometimes the world on the other end has lethal environmental conditions. And "they make wormholes" is only our best guess of how they work, a halfway-decent working theory. It's 2592, ten years after the discovery of the Gates. We are Crashers, first-in specialists. Explorers, scientists, First Contact operatives. Some of us are here for the risk, others for the pay, others for thrills. Hell, ten years have given us enough time to maybe even get a little bored of it. But it's a big universe out there. Let's go see a new bit of it. Are There Aliens? (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Are There Aliens? (open) Are There Aliens? (close) This is one of the Big Questions. Well, not really. There's plenty of evidence that can only be answered by alien existence - the Gates themselves are clearly xenotechnological artifacts. And around 60% of exo-planets thus far documented have some archaeological evidence of having been home to intelligent life. Here's the kicker though. Ten years of Gate exploration, hundreds of worlds visited - and we've never seen a single alien. Not one living specimen, not even a dead specimen. Plenty of art made by hyper-intelligent spiders or basalt towers carved by many grasping talons. But every planet we come to.. is dead. The question isn't "Are There Aliens?". The question is "Where Did The Aliens All Go?"