Planet 4 (Alone Among The Stars)
It's been a minute since I've tucked into a game of Takuma Okada's Alone Among The Stars. This is the last of the photos floating around from the last time that I played, so I figured it was time to dig it up and explore this planet that has been left uncharted for so long now. If this is your first exposure to Alone Among The Stars, the game's premise is simple, and in that simplicity, there is beauty. The basic mechanic is that you combine die rolling and card drawing to get prompts for the exploration of alien worlds. It's essentially a solo journaling game, encouraging the player to write out their own story with a few basic, randomly generated seeds to work from.
In setting up play, I decided to use my Alien Dice and a Star Trek Adventures figure I made in CAD along with my deck of cyberpunk cards (Bicycle - Synthesis.) In rolling for the number of points of interest on the fourth planet, I got four cards to prompt my exploration narrative.
Exploration Log for Planet 4
Planet Four of my survey is one the science committee selected specifically because it was likely to have complex animal life. It's a garden world, or near to it, with impressive, towering mountains and a chain of volcanoes that have created a thick greenhouse layer. The vegetation on the planet is hardy and likely thrives because of the warmer, carbon-rich atmosphere.
It's too hot for my tastes, though. 45c is almost unbearable in this uniform, but I trudge along the animal trails that cut through the basalt gravel anyway, hoping to spot some sign of something other than just this planet's lush plant life. What I didn't expect to come upon quite so soon, however, were ruins, the remains of a small settlement or village in a little divot halfway up the slope of a dormant volcano. Scans of the materials turn up nothing familiar, no metals or traces associated with any space-faring species on record. In fact, the composition of the materials is entirely native, even primitive, and imprecise in design. Whoever made these crumbling hovels was likely from here, meaning these ruins could be all the evidence I need to mark this planet for quarantine so that any civilization here might have a chance to grow without the interference of other space-faring species.
Still, without definitive proof, and not keen to call my survey short, I pitch my tent in the ruins and wait for the morning to come. Maybe I'll find more interesting things to note in my log in the morning.
I awaken to the sound of squawking, but by the time I emerge from my tent, the source is long gone. Since the source seems to have retreated down the slope, I pack up my gear and pick my way down the scree toward the green-brown patch of a field spread out in the valley below. Only when I come up on the field do I realize what I've found- plants taller than me, grains, or something like them. Grasses heavy with woody fruits. I do some quick scans, curious about whether the monoculture around me is natural or intentional, but the results are only inconclusive. Only when I discover another set of ruins lost in the depths of the field do I start to lean toward the field being possibly intentionally cultivated.
The ruins are similar to the ones I spent the night sheltering in. Crude hovels made from local materials, but this time, I find jars. The clay is crumbly, unfired, and etched with patterns of wavy lines, but it is what I find inside the jars that intrigues me the most. Seeds, thousands of them, and all from the plants outside. Evidence of agriculture then, maybe in its most basic form.
But why was this place abandoned? Why was this field left with all of its cereals unharvested?
Perhaps the answer will come in time. For now, I settle down inside one of the hovels, and wait to see if any of the locals return.
The field goes on for what seems like miles and miles. I can't see over the plants, so I pick my way in a vaguely easterly direction, hoping for a break in the field. What I find instead are more plants, different ones, and all of these look sickly. Something is encroaching on the field. A disease, something fuzzy and purplish that is steadily eating at the crops. Unwilling to touch it or push into the oddly humming depths of the diseased part of the field, I turn back, resolve to start out in a new direction come the morning.
I finally find my way out of the field on Day 4, and follow a loose, gravel-choked trail up to the snowy peak of what must be the largest mountain in the area. The trail is well-defined, and along the sides I periodically spot chunks of broken, unfired clay pots that have been left for the planet to reclaim. When I pass the snowline, I start to see more and more shards, then bones, then piles and piles of the dead.
They were like us, I surmise as I look through the piles. Humanoid, industrious, but their bones show the scarring of malnutrition and disease. In the ruins near the top of the peak, I find what must have been the last survivors, mummified by the cold, but still with traces of that purplish corruption clinging to their rough-woven clothes and their silently howling mouths. The grain, it seems, was not the only thing that the corruption had a taste for.
I brush at the sleeves of my uniform as if I could knock loose any spores there, but I know only a full decon procedure is going to ensure I don't end up like these poor people. Quarantine is definitely in order. Quarantine, and a hope that maybe, somewhere, there are others who have survived, who have developed an immunity to the corruption, or who have no knowledge of it at all.
Only time will tell. For now, I signal my ship and prepare to move on.
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