[The story begins here: [link]
. Or just skip to the bottom if you're not interested in all this.]
I wish to apologize for the delay in this report. Setting up base camp has been, paradoxically, both a slow and hectic process. The ecosystem of this world is outstanding in its voracious opportunism, and most of our cloth tents have already been devoured by the plant-fungal flora. We are investigating how the animal life here deals with the constant bombardment by eager spores of fungus. Hetfield is sure that most life here has a thin outer layer of symbiotic fungus that combats foreign spores. If only we were so lucky. Fortunately, our exosuits have so far been impervious, but...the fungus gets everywhere. Dickinson has advised everyone to shave their hair completely and apply daily antifungal treatments (you will see that I've requested a great deal more in the attached supply order), which several crew members have objected most strenuously to. I will wait to see how the situation develops before issuing an executive order on the matter. On a related note, because of the fungus problem, most of the crew has become aware that, whenever we return, we will have to undergo an even lengthier quarantine than usual. This has harmed overall morale and I think contributed to the difficulties in establishing base camp. They knew exactly the sort of risks they were taking on when they signed on for Sideslip exploration, and quarantine is the very least of them. The whiney...! I apologize for straying from the topic of this report. It seems that my own morale hasn't been spared.
In any case, we have begun organizing expeditions into the surrounding region. Base camp is situated near both our entrance point and the Mushroom Village, and is in an open forest environment. Though, of course, half of the trees are actually giant mushrooms. The forest thickens considerably as one goes north and thins quickly going south. There is open scrubland a mere dozen kilometers to the south. At Hetfield's request, I've sent the first cataloging expedition there. I half expected Lars to object, but he did not. We've fully reconnoitered the area surrounding base camp and the Mushroom Village and found nothing to suggest any immediate danger of attacks by dinosauroids, aliens, space Nazis, or any of the other of the classic boogeymen associated with Sideslip exploration. Furthermore, there are several security officers in the expedition team, in addition to the full complement of scientific disciplines. I've attached the expedition lead's own report.
There is no sign as of yet of what the company sent us here for. Even if we never find it, I hope the scientific bounty that the Mushroom People and their ecosystem represents is deemed a worthy return on their investment.
This is Rhoads, zoologist and scrubland expedition co-lead. We were lead for the first part of the way by a mushroom man we call Toad (short for toadstool, the type of mushroom he most resembles). He can't speak, of course, but he has been the most personable of the Mushroom folk aside from the shaman, and his gestures are generally easily decipherable. The only faunal life (I cannot rightly say animal life, for obvious reasons) we encountered on the forested leg of our journey were ghum bah. It seems that they are to the mushroom folk what apes are to us. They are placid mushrooms with legs, sometimes two, sometimes four--they are as variable as the mushroom folk themselves in their appearance--and don't have any apparent activities besides waddling around. True to their fungal nature, they are detritivores, as well as highly toxic. We've been advised through the mushroom shaman not to bump into the little fellas.
Toad left us to fend for ourselves once the trees started thinning out. This was not a surprise, for we were told that there were animals in the open terrain that prayed on mushroom folk. We were also told that we were large enough not to have to worry, but Becker--head security officer of the expedition, and my co-lead--and his men kept careful watch all the same.
It was not long before we spotted the creatures that gave the mushroom folk worry, and what spectacular beasts they were! Long-necked reptilian bipeds, theropod-like, horned, crested, and colored brilliant purple and orange. They strode and ambled in loose groups, the alpha individuals standing fully extended while the subordinate indivuals hunched down at half mast. It must be said that none of us quite trusted the mushroom folk's advice that we didn't have to fear them. Even though the tallest of them only came up to navel height on one of us, their long jaws and flashy colors made them intimidating. They turned out to be as placid as the goombas--sorry, ghum bah, according to Lars' official transcription--though. We apparently registered neither as predator nor pray to them, so they went about their business and ignored us.
Because of their dinosaurian appearance, we called them rexes. The mushroom folk have a name for them, probably, but none of us here know it, and it would probably have been more difficult to pronounce. They have a most anomolous feature: an extra pair of limbs. Both sets of forelimbs are vaguely avian in form, with reduced digits in the hand, and the upper set even has wing-like membranes of skin, which the dominant rexes use for display. We have observed numerous vaguely familiar vertebrates around base camp; moles, rodents, a suprising variety of turtles. But all of them have had the "normal" four limbs. Where did this extra set of limbs come from? Is it the result of some ancestral mutation, some accidental doubling of the genetic code that made its arms? Or is Hetfield's pet theory of a tailored ecosystem correct, and these stunted dragons are the result of some genetic engineer's whimsy? Who were the engineers, if they existed (or still exist)? Regardless as to whether it was created or evolved naturally, what is the Rex's ancestral stock? Is it truly a dinosaur, as it looks, or a gene-scrambled turkey, or some highly derived gosh-darned tuatara? The questions mount, and I am both thrilled and frustrated.
Just as flashy and perplexing is the critter we've named the dino-torch. It appears to be the hotheaded (literally!) smaller cousin of the dino-rhino, the dominant herbivore of the area. The dino-rhino is a bulky beast, four feet at the shoulder and surely weighing several hundred pounds. They are by far the largest animal we've yet met in thsi world, and for that reason we've only looked at them from afar yet. They are themselves a peculiar combination of characteristics, with a leathery mammalian body and fur-tassled tail and a dinosaurian head, like an Indian rhinoceros that borrowed the skull of a Protoceratops. That would be fascinating enough, but the dino-torch one-ups its big brother by breathing fire. It can apparently only muster a single puff of flame at a time, but it was enough to spook an attacking Rex, and earn the astonished admiration of the research team viewing the scene. Again I wonder if this is a naturally evolved feature or the product of some laboratory on this parallel Earth, and which explanation would be more remarkable.
Hetfield has many lines of evidence that he brings up during dinner conversations as he tries to convince us all that this is obviously an artificial habitat, sculpted by some unseen hand. The soil is unnaturally rich, packed with nutrients and sugars ("It's like a giant damned chocolate chip cookie!"). This is obviously, he says, engineered as a food source to the giant mushroom/plants, which are less efficient than leafy plants at photosynthesis and need a nutrient medium for growth. The mushroom folk and ghum bah themselves are flatly impossible, he says, and could never have arisen by chance. "Mobile fruiting bodies with bones and muscles? Please!" The cylinder structures, obviously artificial, probably remnants of the civilization that made this ecosystem. And now the rex, dino-rhino, and dino-torch, which he will take as further proof. And, I admit, it's all very convincing. But, dammit, I'm a zoologist. Puzzling out how to classify the animal branch of the tree of life is my passion, and that puzzle has no meaning if the leaves of that branch were arbitrarily crafted in some laboratory.
Tipton, the geologist, found an enormous egg while collecting a soil sample. The size of a football, cracked and obviously dead, with faded green spots. I look at it and turn it over in my hands as I lie awake at night at the expidition's camp site and ponder questions of evolution and intelligent design. The night before I sat down to log this journal entry I saw a meteorite, the most spectacular I ever saw. It trailed all the way past the horizon, like a rocketship hurtling through the night.
Feel free to edit out these personal bits when you file this report. I just had to record my thoughts somewhere.
I always feel slightly silly when the flavor text in the description takes up so much more screen real estate than the image itself. I justify it by saying that the accompanying story is just as much the point of the piece as the artwork itself.
All storytelling and lore aside, I've been getting back into my Mario redesign project lately. The rexes and goombas are over a year old, but the dino-torch and dino-rhino are more recent, and drawn in a new toned paper sketchbook that I made myself! I'm doing it as a fun side project between freelance work and school projects. Though goombas are from every Mario game, the others are originally and/or exclusively from Super Mario World. It was the first Mario game I played as a wee lad, so in my mind it's the "main" Mario game. If you're perceptive and as incredibly geeky as I am you may even know where on the map this story is set!
More to come soon.