Fringeworlds

Being A Blend Of Fringeworthy (1982), GURPS, And My Own Concepts

The Official Backstory

The news broke on July 17, 2009. After a year of study and whispered rumors, it was confirmed that an alien base had been found buried deep under the ice in Antarctica, revealed via a mix of thinning polar caps and ever-greater satellite imagery. While it was never outright stated as such, it’s commonly believed the only reason the announcement was made by the UN and the base was not kept secret by the Americans who discovered it was that some of the scientists had rigged “dead man switches” on hundreds of Internet servers and sites, threatening to reveal the truth if any attempt was made to cover it up after a deadline had passed. This theory is fed by the fact that the first batch of rumors, spontaneously appearing on a hundred different boards, occurred three weeks prior to the announcement, and shortly after a well-publicized accident in which Doctor Janet Kim was killed due to a fuel explosion at an Argentinean naval base while on leave.

The next few months revealed a flood of new information, demonstrating many different alien devices, unknown technologies, and strange materials. Most of the equipment was nearly impossible to reverse-engineer, but simply trying was opening up new pathways and ideas. The UN Security Council held joint patents on any inventions derived from the technology revealed by the base, which was officially “UN Extraterrestrial Research Station One”, but which had been informally dubbed Carpenter Station by American nerds, a term picked up and popularized in the press in a desperate attempt to seem hip.

As of April, 2011, the global impact of the discovery has been very slight. The utopian dreams that man would unite once it was proven he was not alone in the galaxy failed to materialize, and technological progress based on the artifacts has been small. Many have commented that the most they can learn from the machines is how much remains to be known, offering comparisons like handing polycarbon laminate steel to a medieval smith and asking him to duplicate its manufacture, or trying to make a radio work in 1800, before there was any broadcast infrastructure. Enthusiastic research continues, of course, and no one with any brains seriously believed there would be instant, miraculous, discoveries. Still, for most people, life goes on much as it has before, with the occasional dribble of new information being generally relegated to secondary status, and the conspiracy theorists spinning wild stories of super-weapons being found and manufactured by military contractors, or immortality drugs being sold to the world’s super-wealthy, or oil companies suppressing free energy devices. Nothing beyond the fervent wish that these things must be true, simply because they’re denied, seems to substantiate these or a thousand similar claims.

In terms of the aliens themselves, no living or preserved specimens have been found, but their images are well known. The base’s life-support systems show their homeworld, wherever it was, was with a few fractional percentages of Earth in terms of atmosphere, temperature, and gravity. Linguistic analysis of recorded audio indicated they called themselves Tehrmelern, though some think that may be just the name of a group, faction, or organization of some kind. They were slightly taller than humans, six-limbed, lightly furred, and possess senses relatively close to human norms. (This has set off a lot of debate as well, with some arguing this proves humanity is the “norm” for the universe, and others saying all it proves is that a race evolved to a world like Earth would be most likely to build a base on Earth.)

Carpenter Station held probably 200 of the aliens, and was abandoned about 1200 years ago. There is no leading theory as to why; the base showed no signs of warfare or damage, but neither was it stripped and abandoned. The first report on the condition of the base said, “It seems that, one day, they cleaned up, shut all the doors, flipped off the main lights, and walked out, with everything left running and stocked for their return. It’s like they left their summer house in September but never came back.” With no idea of the Tehrmelern lifespan, it’s impossible to say if a 1200 year wait means they’re gone for good.

There’s a permanent scientific staff of 100 assigned to the base, and there are NATO, Russian, and Chinese military bases nearby to provide security and to keep a watchful eye on each other. The vast majority of the base’s technology has yet to be categorized, and no one wants the other guy to get their hands on it first.

In early 2010, a worldwide tour began of some of the artifacts from the base, mostly what seemed to be decorative items or common tools and gear, along with recordings, a live “walkthrough” tour, and the like. The displays make a long, rotating, trip around the world, with new items being added as they’re declassified, and the revenue raised is used to help support non-profit research projects and to provide grants and loans for students interested in the xeno-fields.

The primary purpose of the base remains unknown.

The Truth

Nearly all of the above is true, except for one tiny addendum: The alien base contained within it a ring-like structure some 25 feet in diameter, with a pylon-shaped control console. The device seemed inert, until Robert Morrigan, an ice-core specialist, happened to look into the room and asked about the swirling rainbow lights that filled the ring, lights no one else could see. After verifying he wasn’t suffering hallucinations, it became obvious that the ring, and the controls, responded to him and him alone. When he went to examine the ring more closely, he touched the inner space, and was pulled forward into the light. He vanished. A few seconds later, he reappeared, stunned — the ring had teleported him to a large platform, 600 feet across, which contain 7 other rings and two pathways leading away.

Of the 30 people in the original polar expedition, he was the only one who could see the “rainbow lights” or pass into the ring. He found the other portals were either dead or linked to badly broken bases elsewhere on Earth. He also found that electricity didn’t flow on the other side of the ring, that all batteries instantly drained, and that magnetic media was blanked out. Fortunately, a National Geographic photographer was part of the Antarctic expedition that found the base in the first place, and he was a luddite who still had an analog, purely mechanical, camera, allowing a record to be made of what Robert found. Robert took food and water, and set out to what he called the “North” pathway. After ten days, he returned, dragging behind him a bundle of fresh plant matter and the corpse of a two-foot long insect.

He explained that the path ran for 50 miles, straight, through a grey void, and terminated in a platform similar to the one in Antarctica, but with four exiting roads instead of two. He found he could activate the pylons and step through the gates, and found two completely different worlds. One seemed to be a huge maze, like a corn maze on Earth, but made of unknown plants. The other seemed to be a hive, inhabited by gargantuan insects; he stabbed one as it came upon him before he could plunge back through the portal. A swarm of others were chasing him, but seemed unable to follow, though he could bring the corpse back. Robert was, fairly wisely, unwilling to keep wandering alone, but the mystery of what was beyond the ring was too great to ignore.

It’s not certain who first started calling the area beyond the portal “the fringe”. Most agree the term seemed to come from a mix of “fringes of sanity” and “fringes of reality”, but it’s unknown who said it first. Like any good meme, it just appeared in their vocabulary overnight. The explorers and scientists agreed they needed more people, and that this was also a dangerous secret that could be destroyed if nations went to war over it. The base alone was amazing; this was a thousand times more so. Over a few days, they hammered out a plan and all bought into it. This was when the deadman switches were established and scattered across the Internet, hundreds of them, on private and public servers, set up through VPN, encrypted by multiple levels of code and with auto-replication and mutation protocols set up. So long as one remained, anywhere, it could reproduce all of them in a short period of time. Many were stored in locations that had no permanent net connection, protecting them from any search, scan, or virus until a human physically wired the server back into the net. Then they went to the nearest US military base.

Colonel Gregory Steinway was the commander, and while he was somewhat skeptical of the stories told, he was also not going to let them go uninvestigated, especially given the evidence brought back, which included a crystal “key” that Morrigan had found in one of the pylons. It was during the two days that the team was recuperating at the military base that they learned of one of the other properties of the key… it would glow when another “traveler” was nearby. Morrigan had always been near the key, so they’d never seen it not glowing, until it was passed along for closer examination, and then it glowed again, when Cpl. Helena Gonzalez happened to pass near it. She accompanied the small military team back to the base, and she and Morrigan both passed into the portal. A month was spent mapping the nearest platforms, and slowly grasping the immensity of what they’d found, especially when they ventured “East” from the “North” platform and then “South”, finding another “eight and two” platform which led to several locations on a world which was very similar to Earth, but with an altered history. An early conclusion was that the “Eight and Two” platforms, later called “Prime” platforms, were the only ones that led to alternate Earths, but further exploration showed that this was not true; many of the worlds linked to on the first series of “eight and four” platforms, eventually termed “Alternate” platforms, were also Earths of one sort or another, while some were completely alien worlds or even artificial “pocket realities”. It was often impossible to tell simply by exiting the portal what kind of world you might be standing in.

See Platform Guide for details on the layout of the fringepaths.

Gonzalez and Morrigan returned with photographs, artifacts, and not a few physical and psychological scars. A desperate hunt was on for more “travelers”, though that term was soon forgotten as the “Fringe-” prefix came to dominate all discussion of the portals. “Fringeworthy” became the new term of choice, though both of the original two explorers would wince at the idea they were in some way special or superior, especially once the first crop of Fringeworthy were found and which consisted of a completely random cross-section of humanity.

The decision to reveal the location of the alien base… but to keep the existence of the Fringes quiet until they were better explored… was, as noted above, somewhat forced on the authorities. No one has any doubt that Dr. Kim was killed as a way of finding out if the original team had been bluffing, and they all knew that was a likely possibility, it was just a matter of who. No one on the team knew where any of the others had established their dead drops or what codes were used, and they were all coded to constantly check other locations and to “fire” if there were signs of tampering or deletion, even if such changes were seemingly “authorized”.

Fringeworlds

DMAKron TheCatWrites