Unexplained disappearances, also sometimes called vanishings

Image from Steve Bowers
The naturally-ringed terrestrial world Mozart in the Outer Volumes. In 10544 AT all ten thousand colonists on this world vanished entirely, leaving behind their empty towns. Theories put forward to explain this event range from mass transcendence or suicide to xenosophont abduction.

Since the start of Terragen history, cases of unexplained disappearance have been recorded. Most of these cases are associated with the chaotic and poorly recorded dark ages that followed the Great Expulsion, the Consolidation Wars and the Version War; others date from the semi-mythical eras before Old Earth's Solsys Era, or from the earliest days of developing colonies far from mainstream civilisation. There have always been cases of people going missing, some of whom have simply left their former lives for reasons of their own, while others have been victims of various forms of crime. But some disappearances are more mysterious, especially when they seem to defy any rational explanation.

Although one quite common term used for these mysterious disappearances is 'evanescence', the Zetetic Institute at Millennium uses the term 'vanishments' for these disappearances, a term which encompasses the possibility that these disappearances are the result of an active, deliberate process.

Sometimes whole groups of people have disappeared, quite often on board a craft of some sort. Many early interstellar ships, and quite a few interplanetary ones, were lost en route, with no trace found at the time. With improved search techniques most of these lost ships were recovered, but not all. For instance no wreckage from the lost Nightlark, en route to Delta Pavonis, was ever found.

Even more mysterious are the tales of deserted ships and even habitats found empty of crew, passengers and inhabitants, generally with few clues to explain their absence. The story of the sea-vessel Mary Celeste from pre-spaceflight Old Earth is still remembered, although several different versions of the tale have survived. More detail is available about the vanishing of the inhabitants of Klarawappen habitat, Barawatten, all 201 of them, and all their datafiles, in 1644 AT. In this case some historians believe the members of this semi- reclusive culture may have simply migrated into the local Oort cloud to become Hiders.

Because of the lack of good data from these eras and locations, generally these disappearances must be regarded as insoluble, although a number of very plausible explanations have been put forward. Institutes such as the Millennium Zetetic Institute, the Institute of applied Hermeneutics on Polyanna and the Centre for Galactic Folklore and Mythopoesis, Hyeidon IV collect and collate stories of vanishing, and to various degrees these institutes also collect and advance explanations of these disappearances.

Due to the extent of the Terragen Sphere in the present era, and the vast distances involved, there are a multitude of spacecraft in flight at any one time, trillions of interplanetary missions as well as billions of interstellar flights. In the Periphery and the Outer Volumes, these spacecraft are lost quite frequently to the largely unknown hazards of those regions; reports of new losses are received every standard day. A smaller, but still significant, number of habitat vanishings occur, and a few lost colonies which have disappeared without trace.

Unexplained disappearances in hi-tech or ultratech systems are much less common, since such systems invariably have comprehensive monitoring systems and detection sensors for traffic control and protection against rogue asteroids and space junk. In a well-regulated system in the Current era, it is practically impossible for a spacecraft to vanish without leaving a trace of some sort, unless transapient technology is involved. Interstellar ships are also closely monitored by the Argus Array and other sensitive telescopes, and in the Inner sphere the disappearance of a moderate sized interstellar vessel would be detected quite rapidly (allowing for the light speed delay, of course).

Despite this, people of various clades, ships and other objects both natural and artificial do occasionally vanish, even in the Inner Sphere. Investigators into such mysteries are able to use cliological records to examine the exact circumstances of each disappearance. These records involve the use and integration of records from vast numbers of databanks, and recordings from sensors, many of which are of very advanced design. Some surveillance systems, such as angelnets and guardwebs, are partly or wholly beyond modosophont understanding, but are very comprehensive records of events within their purview. Despite the very high level of watchfulness attained by transapientech sensors, it is still the case that individuals, groups and artefacts do sometimes go missing.

Some investigators into the Evanescence phenomenon consider that only another transapient could possibly cause such a disappearance from under the oversight of godtech surveillance. Some indeed question whether the data supplied by the Archai in such matters is to be trusted at all; these rare vanishings may be entirely due to the whim of the Gods. Alternately they may be the result of hidden conflicts or disputes between transapients, or even jokes or messages from one archai to another that no modosophont can hope to decipher. But the end result is the same; a steady trickle of disappearances, involving modosophonts, ships, minor asteroids and generally insignificant hardware.

Significant Vanishings

Some of the more significant vanishings have occurred well outside the scope of close observation by transapientech; of the many Lost Colonies that have been rediscovered over the millennia, some have vanished leaving no trace whatsoever. The quite substantial Fragan Sphere empire disappeared in its entirely over a very short period, and although some remains were found, no explanation for their extinction has been forthcoming. The Tanaka Cluster was apparently deliberately erased on a whim of the local transapient. More recently a detailed examination of the planet Mozart in the outer Circinus volumes has failed to find any explanation for the vanishing of the inhabitants, some ten thousand of whom seem to have left in a single day.

One particularly intriguing disappearance was that of Phileos IV, the Autarch of Kanaan on Dionysos, an ancient Inner Sphere world with efficient cliological surveillance. The Autarch entered his basilica alone at Agape-tide 7790 (as was the custom) but did not leave at the appointed time, and was, indeed, never seen again. Some conspiracy theorists note that the Autarch was a potential embarrassment to the local Dionysian Transaps, and may have been planning to expose or discredit them in some way; but most historians discount this, as no evidence for such a possibility has been found. Undeterred the conspiracists state that such evidence that existed has been removed as efficiently as the Autarch himself.

In 9881 astronomers using the Argus Array noted the disappearance of an entire terrestrial planet in the uninhabited system YTS 0886-100-7889-TY, four thousand light years below the galactic plane. A long-range explorer ship from the Communion of Worlds was contacted and diverted into the system, arriving in 10055, but no trace of, and no debris from, the planet was found. Although smaller objects occasionally go missing, particularly from systems with incomplete or unreliable records, this planet was well established observationally and had been observed many times by long range mapping telescopes. Some commentators blamed the disappearance on the Oracle Machines or their human followers, the Mystery Cult; but their closest known outpost was at that time a thousand light years away.

Theories concerning Evanescence

Skeptics point out that almost all cases of evanescence have mundane explanations, and some explanations are not forthcoming until many standard years have passed. In some cases individuals and groups go to great lengths to hide the details of their disappearance, even to the extent of obtaining clarketech devices which allow apparently miraculous events to occur. If the explanation for a particular vanishing cannot be found, then perhaps it never will be, but that does not imply that there was no mundane explanation.

One set of mundane explanations which borders on paranoia blames some or many disappearances on Terragen factions from outside the Sephirotic empires. A-human AIs or stealthy Hider pirates may have been the cause of some of the most puzzling vanishings, but conclusive evidence usually cannot be found.

Conspiracists tend to place the blame for evanescence on transapient action, either by the local gods or by factions among the Sephira who may be antagonistic to them for whatever reason. Some conspiracists have constructed elaborate alternate histories of internecine disputes between the Archai on the basis of these unexplained events, and although most appear to be nonsense, a very few have been accepted by mainstream Archailectology as plausible explanations for the observed actions of the Gods.

Esotericists suggest that some, or many, of the most puzzling vanishings are caused by mysterious entities that dwell outside the normal realm of experience of Sephirotic citizens. These entities may be associated with powerful but unknown xenosophonts, who are apparently capable of concealing themselves even from the Archailects. Or these entities may originate from another plane of existence altogether, perhaps an adjacent brane or alternate world, or from artificial basement universes created by unknown ancient civilisations.

One possible source of such entities is the theoretical inverse Mho Kold-transform of our own universe, which has been investigated by the Reality Intertextualisation Project. Detailed information about the conditions within this transform is not forthcoming, although the facts are supposedly well-known among the higher Archai. But if any interaction is possible between hypothetical entities in that transform and entities that dwell in the universe as we perceive it, then it is conceivable that some of the most intriguing disappearances are caused by interactions of this kind.

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Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 25 June 2012.