Cipher Volume

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In the uppermost reaches of the Bottlenose Nebula, separated from the Blowhole by only a few gas columns, exists a rough tetrahedron of ionized dust surrounding a less developed zone. Its thorough and arguably patterned scrambling effects on communications and optical observers has earned it the name, the Cipher Volume.


Characteristics

With the exception of two stars, the Cipher Volume remained unincorporated gas while most of the Nebula was busy developing habitable planets. The Volume has captured remnants of early star-making failures, composed primarily of hydrogen, helium, and swarms of dust.


Planets

The first star to coalesce inside the Cipher Volume was Regus, around which formed seven planets, chief among them Havar, which outsiders would later name Hiernon’s Jewel after the ingenious astrophysicist Arlan Hiernon of the Watchers Council. Havar was the homeworld of the Nerenith, the first civilization to reach out from the Cipher Volume…and, for hundreds of thousands of years, the last. The Nerenith successfully sent probes and settlers from the congested skies of home out of the Volume into the clarity of space, an experience that led to a flowering of artistic sentiment comparable to the Emergence Theory of First Contact where the contact was simply between sentience and the sky.

The second major Cipher Volume star developed two large planets that independently produced an active carbon cycle, though these two did not produce any sentient species within the observation window.

The Rescue of Hiernon’s Jewel

The Nerenith established settlements both inside and outside the Cipher Volume. In the latter days of the Nerenith homeworld, very shortly before its collapse, some communication escaped to at least the nearest colony, 52V-Prime. The contents of that message have been lost, but it led to a full-on mobilization on 52V as it outfitted a subluminal fleet to carry a relief cargo back to Nerenith.

Records exist of the fleet reaching the planet; however, evidence suggests that it turned back without taking on or releasing any supplies or personnel. For reasons that were never recorded, the rescue mission vanished as rapidly and decisively as it came, and Nerenith’s civilization collapsed.

Free Floaters

Where planetbound life had difficulty seeing or traveling through the Volume’s murky depths, the crystalline Starlifters moved with comfort inside the Cipher Volume, partaking of unbound gases all along the way. Their preference for double stars brought some to a permanent residence outside Stars CV-192 and CV-193, a yellow/green pair whose positioning offers a rare glimpse of the Blowhole itself. The Starlifters offer a rare glimpse of an intelligence that can thrive within the Volume’s messy environment.


The Vox and the Cipher

The Vox are a pair of rapidly rotating radio sources at the center of the Volume that serve to distort all radio activity passing through the area. The first signals beamed through the Volume by the Cerdian Generation Fleet were returned in changed yet tantalizingly regularly altered form: a classic Cipherism. The Vox has been known to return altered echoes of radio waves from hundreds of lightyears away.

Astronomical expert Ryken Bail V-Targiton was the first modern observer to note the link between the Vox and the nebula’s Blowhole, though that was far from the most controversial correlation Bail reported in the search for patterns in the cosmos.