Ghost Worlds and CTEs Condition in The Void Between | World Anvil

Ghost Worlds and CTEs

The Dangers of Terraforming

The Buildings stood like sentinels when they approached. Green grass blanketed the land, growing tall and soft. They ventured into what should have been the town square, but not a single resident was around to greet them. The metal structures were silent. The generators wern't running, the lights were all off, and even the water purifier stood still and without purpose.

"Where is everyone?" Oracle said as he reached up to remove his helmet, the atmosphere was breathable after all.
"Stop," Mouse replied, reaching out on instinct, then recoiling when their hands nearly touched. "We can't expose the environment to human biology, and vice versa, just because no one's around."

Oracle nodded. "Who built this place?"

"Not us," Mouse replied. She activated her implant, a process that took little more than a thought. Deposits of memory appeared and disappeared from her mind. "I can't find any mention of it. This must be a brand-new colony." She stopped to sift through old data, analyzing ship paths, projected projects, black sites, and terraforming logs. Her eyes lit up, as if remembering a long forgotten dream. "Got it. It was terraformed by the…" she paused shuddering as she tried to pronounce the name, "Tick, Tcklihtya? They're an avian species...carbon based. There should be over 100 colonists here."

Argus chimed in, speaking over the radio from the ship, "Maybe they're migratory."

Roadrunner joined the chatter on the mic, "No."
"Find something?" Mouse asked turning to see him shining a light through a window.

"Ghost World.." He replied. "It has to be."

Like the stars in stellar nurseries across the cosmos, we are destined to die. Our gene pools deplete, or we destroy ourselves before it can happen. Maybe someone else comes along and wipes us out. Regardless, we are destined to nourish the soil for the next species to exploit. As eons pass, we supply the fossil fuels they burn. It can't be stopped. Sometimes, terraforming a planet can interrupt this process. It can wake something up.   Even the most desolate world can hide something in a deep pocket beneath its surface, a tiny sliver of what lived before. This biome thrives where it is, but give it a better environment to flock to, and things can spiral out of control.   Stranger things can lurk on a distant world. Who knows how many creatures will rise to breathe the air you provide, expand in the new wilderness you build, or eat what you never intended to be eaten.

Focused query: Ghost worlds

Ghost worlds are a type of planet. They are a paradise, all things considered. The atmosphere is perfect for the species that created it, and the entire landscape is teaming with gorgeous views and complex life.   Colonies may litter the surface of the planet, but be warned. A ghost world is nothing but a death trap. Touch the surface without protection, and you're likely to meet the fate of its missing colonists.   Ghost worlds are so named because despite their beauty and against all reason, no one has bothered to colonize it. Those who tried will, thankfully, leave their bodies behind as a warning to any who seek to follow in their example.


A CTE, or Catastrophic Terraformation Event, occurs during the terraforming process of another planet. Life is not special. It isn't unique. Some species appear and go extinct at a constant rate. On a long enough timeline, the survival rate of any species will inevitably reach zero. Such is the way of life. Rinse and repeat.   Enormous effort goes into preventing CTEs. Drones scour the surface, dig as far down as they can go. They search every crevice, scour every ocean. The resources needed to terraform a planet are costly, and it would be a shame to waste.   It's easy to mark a planet as a bad candidate and move on. Smaller problems can be forcibly removed, but sometimes, something gets overlooked. Hundreds of colonists can end up dead for one reason or another. It happens enough to be considered an occupational hazard.


Any living organism, no matter how small, is a trigger for a CTE. Even detecting carbon monoxide in the atmosphere is a dead giveaway for carbon based species. To verify a terraforming candidate, the planet is studied vigorously. Stations will be built in orbit to analyze data and samples from the surface.   Diagnosing it is trickier. There is no guarantee a CTE will occur even with the presence of life. When humanity settled on Safeharbor, it did so with few problems, a small miracle considering we knew nothing of the dangers at the time. This is why the stations are placed. Any old planet can be altered. Finding the ones you want to change is not as important as finding the ones you don’t. It's a much longer list, by far.   CTEs are not only biological, however. Sometimes terraforming goes wrong on a mechanical level. Restarting the planet's core and creating a magnetic field can cause chaotic weather, tectonic activity, and other disastrous phenomena. These are just easier to account for and easier to handle. They are also a waiting game. Eventually these things will subside. A ghost world will be that way indefinitely.


Many in the galactic community hate the very idea of terraformation. They see an ethical problem in altering planets beyond their natural state. It’s not how nature intended it to be, so why change it?   Terraforming in general costs resources that usually come from somewhere else, further depriving that planet. Life on these worlds could die in the process, or thrive when they are best kept at bay.   Most species do not share this sentiment, humanity included. We see the universe as a canvas. We will paint what we so choose. It should be said that were awfully bad at it. We still have yet to figure out the minute details.
Mouse and Oracle rushed forward to look. The light passed through the glass, revealing numerous bodies at various stages of decomposition. Each body rested on a bed, save for some that looked like they died crawling to the door. The creatures had wings and long hooked beaks. Their bodies were coated in matted feathers, stained by blueish blood.

"Damn," Oracle said, resisting nausea.

"They came seeking a new life, and they ended up dying of an outbreak." Mouse said. "Argus start decontamination."


Author's Notes

Some research I did going into the article:

Archivist Trigger Commands
The Archivist is capable of responding to "queries." Using the following commands, one can request information, and The Archivist will respond.

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  • Focused Query: [insert topic here]
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Please Login in order to comment!
Dec 7, 2020 04:37 by Jacob Billings

This is an interesting take on a condition. I like the idea, and it seems to have interesting foundations in scientific theory.

Dec 7, 2020 04:47 by R. Dylon Elder

BAH! i forgot links and my notes! thanks for reminding me XD

Dec 7, 2020 06:22 by Tim Day

Love it... getting Serenity vibes, but way more interesting.

Dec 7, 2020 08:02 by Anna Katherina

This is wonderful! I don't think I've seen someone intentionally focus on what could go wrong during teraformation, and this is such a good take on it! Definitely gives you a lot of food for thought (and the fact that there are some people against teraforming is a nice touch to it).

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Dec 7, 2020 16:44

Welp, my crusade to D'artagnan is somewhat discouraged... but I shall press forth!   What are the chances that terraforming a planet will kill all the dangerous organisms that inhabit it before they kill you? What if you terraformed a planet just slightly hotter than you would normally do just to make sure nothing like this happens?

Dec 7, 2020 19:48 by R. Dylon Elder

That is definitely possible, but very difficult. Life finds a way and all that. In order to do that you accept the risk of making it impossible to live there for humanity as well, though another terraformation phase could be added to help that. The main issue is biomed. What if some of these critters thrive in heat. If you make it to cold, then vice versa. There's alot of ground to cover there. Definitely a good idea and something to expand the article though. Thanks very much!

Dec 7, 2020 23:31 by Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull

Add this to the list of nightmares I didn't know I had. This is a really fascinating concept, and one that I had never thought about before. I like your note that humans are really bad at terraforming.

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Dec 7, 2020 23:45 by R. Dylon Elder

Oh yes. Lots of mishaps can occur. It's quite a fascinating subject to research. Also yes. Humans are very bad.

Dec 9, 2020 02:23 by Grace Gittel Lewis

More unfortuante realities of sci-fi! I'm here for it! Also like that we're getting recurring quote characters again with this world!

Dec 20, 2020 08:10 by Diane Morrison

I like this concept very much -definitely would read this book. I have one small critique, and that is that it took the whole article to get to what a ghost world *is*. But overall, this is outstanding science fiction and I'm going to follow your world.

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga. Mother of Bunnies, Eater of Pickles, Friend of Nerds, First of her Name.
Dec 20, 2020 09:46 by R. Dylon Elder

0.0 thank you so much! I appreciate the high praise. I'll rework it a bit to clarify what a ghost world is sooner and expand a bit to make it less out of the blue. Thanks for catching that. i missed it entirely. XD

Jan 5, 2021 20:20 by Stormbril

This is such a cool idea, and very well written! I love thinking about things that might live deep within planets, being brought out by the terraforming process. Super cool!

Jan 5, 2021 23:31 by R. Dylon Elder

Why thank ya!

Mar 2, 2021 01:58 by Time Bender

The universe seems very unkind, but also very beautiful! But the outbreak that killed the avian creatures, oof... Scary stuff there! But very well-written, as always.

Mar 2, 2021 19:11 by R. Dylon Elder

It is unkind, sadly. Thank you very much! I appreciate the kind words. I wanted the world to have this crazy level of risk to just about everything. Even terraforming that goes well can end poorly.

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