To Boldly Go

The Artifact, Part III

Rochelle “Rho” Total tries to contact Max Petrobras and Steve Walmart after the scan. Neither the team in the city nor the FSV Columbia responds.

Worried she confers with Saori Lu. The xeno-archaeologist is as confused as her. The child Fiona however seems distressed. She draws a series of pictures showing herself and Rho as well as all other people on the surface except for the team in the city within a circle. She then erases it. She draws it again and erases it again. Then she draws a pair of such diagrams but includes extra figures in one to represent the missing team members. She erases the circle without the team members, draws it again and erases it again.

Confused, Saori and Rho decide to go to Steve’s last known location within the alien city. As they approach it the expedition camp radios and alerts them to a powerful storm rapidly developing to the north. At its current rate of growth it will envelope the planet within an hour and bury them alive.

They press on and find that the weathered stone structures here are oddly less worn down. Saori remarks it is like they would have appears centuries ago…in an earlier scan.

The simulation ends.

In the real world Rho contacts Steve and Max after the scan. Max tells her that they were able to block it with some quick thinking. Max also relays instructions to base camp to set up similar field to block future scans. Contacting the Columbia, Captain G. W. Teregan informs them the albedo of the planet is rising. They also detect some interference in the upper atmosphere hindering their communications.

Rho decides to join the expedition to the city while Soari focuses her efforts on the dig site.
Once they arrive at the Artifact, Max changes the batteries in his scanner while Steve tries to create the symbol for open in front of one of the doors. The twisted space around the door unravels and an ancient metal doorway reveals itself. Max initiates some scans while the others invite Saori to join them.

Saori soon arrives with Tom Warner in tow. She informs them on her latest findings. Under 3.5 billion years of rock they found a layer of metal and plastics as well as numerous skeletons. The skeletal morphology was tubular but standing upright on two legs and arms. The bones are melted and radioactive.

Saori directs Tom to stay outside to serve as relay to base camp. The others find communication to the Columbia breaking up and the ensigns at base camp notify them of a storm brewing to the north. Steve directs the expedition to begin packing up.

The team enters the Artifact. The halls are dimly lit by the ambient glow of the internal nanites. The child Fiona tells Rho she is hungry and feeling sick. Rho carries her while Max diagnosis that she has a fever due to the activity of the nanites in her brain. He supposes they are wiring her up for language.

They soon learn that the Artifact is larger on the inside. Down the long hallway they find the path splits to the left and right. Steve asks the child for her opinion. She points right.

Farther down the right hall, they find a door on left wall with stairs opposite. The writing around the door indicates that it holds something valuable. Based on their grasp of the alien’s psychology however, they decide to go up instead, inferring that would be where the command center would be.

After a long set of stairs, they enter a large round room. An open circle in the center reveals a drop into utter blackness. A small control panel sits to one side glowing purple and red. Rho decides to toss a coin into the hole. Both she and Steve see flashes of light as the coin is torn apart at the nuclear level. Fiona’s progress continues as she begins to talk in a polygot of languages and begins remembering things that happened to Rho.

Max meanwhile approaches the controls and manages to activate them. The camp radios again, the communication broken up by static. The storm is approaching, they are moving to intercept them.

With 10 minutes left before they must leave, Max activates the interface. A cloud of nanites swarms around him, forming threads in the air. They then burrow through his helmet and into his brain painlessly. Max experiences a strange double vision of an infinite plain and the control room, as well as a sense that the Artifact is awaiting orders.

Max tells it to stop the storm. He sees a display of the planet. The storm slows and dissipates. The device creates an interface in the form of Dr. Twitter Morgan to communicate through. From it he learns the history of the race that built this device:

_Roughly 3 billion years ago, an intelligent race arose on the world of the Artifact. They progressed from hunting and gathering to farming to an industrial revolution. They harnessed the atom and survived the consequences. Despite stumbles along the way, ever greater technology led to increased prosperity. The solar system was explored. The asteroid belt was mined, removing the limitations of finite resources. They conquered gravity and the power of fusion. Limitless energy was theirs. They sent exploration ships across the galaxy.

But they found nothing to interest them, only barren worlds and a few primitive forms of life.

Their culture turned inward. Free of material needs, their society focused on skill and art. Centuries passed as their scientists conquered death and their inventors built a realm of virtual reality that removed the last of their restrictions.

Many were tempted by this virtual realm.

Society stratified between those who refused to use technology that would change what they were, those who became electrons and dwelled in a dream world, and those who lived the lives of seeming gods in the crystalline cities.

Millenia passed.

Then came the first Cataclysm. The old world was wiped out by a nearby supernova. Many in the dream world perished, erased as the system crashed. The survivors from the cities rebuilt better than before.

They secured a permanent power source, at least one that would last for tens of billions of years. They filled the skies with nanomachines to fulfill their every whim. They tied their systems together with redundancies and shielded the core of the system in the very fabric of space-time.

Thousands of years passed. Even godhood has its limits. Some retreated into the planetary computer system, others gave up the cities to satisfy their needs using the eternal fog.

They were immortal. That was their downfall.

After tens of millenia their minds could hold only so much, catalogue so much knowledge. Some sacrificed history for the present. Others chose to finally pass on. Those who stayed in the world slowly vanished as thousands of years turned to millions, picked off by ennui or disaster.

Those who had become virtual intelligence succumbed to similar issues as well as the slow decline cognition due to accumulated experiences.

In the end a collision with a small planetoid disrupted the systems for a few hundred thousand years. Though the system recovered, the survivors decided to pass on rather than linger in their mausoleum of a world.

The system continued. Maintaining the environment. Limiting radiation damage.

Millions of years became billions. The star aged and grew brighter. The planetary core cooled and hardened. The system compensated, raising the albedo by hiding the oceans. It rebuilt the city it was placed in again and again, though imperfectly and empty.

And waited for orders._

Max reviews the vast array of commands he could give the machine. It offers to reconsistute the crew of FSV Google. Max asks Steve, who decides against it. Instead he asks Max to restrict access to senior Federation staff such as himself, Max and higher ups. Max implements that, trying to use as little of the machine’s power as possible.

All of them wonder what this will mean for the Federation…

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The Artifact, Part II

While the others wait for the ensigns return with the child, Max Petrobras maps out the patterns across the surface of the artifact. He finds columns of writing, perhaps a symbolic language, as well as three doorways or docking ports.

Rochelle “Rho” Total decides to meet the returning ensigns. The child wrapped in a plastic tarp seems frightened and confused. She immediately latches onto Rho, refusing to let go. Dr. Babbage scans the child from nearby, reporting that she has a mixture of human and alien DNA. Steve and Rho try to talk to the child but she seems to have no knowledge of language. It is like she was just born or created. As expected there are nanites throughout her blood stream.

Babbage asks to get a direct blood sample. Rho sensing the child sees her as a protector fakes being overpowered by the doctor. It works but the child is ready for him and bites him. He collects the saliva sample and Rho comforts the little girl.

Steve and Max take the accumulated knowledge of the alien language and attempt to translate the inscriptions. The symbols on the Artifact seem to be some sort of name and either warning or dedication. Steve tries to use what they learned to create a symbol for “hello” hoping for a response from the child.

She doesn’t react but the mist does.

The nanites thin out, exposing a cloud above which flashes with lights before displaying a serene blue sky with normal white clouds. Alien symbols flow across the “sky” in lines. The team records everything. The symbols glow in multiple colors and emit sound, indicating the aliens uses a combination of senses to communicate.

After an hour Saori Lu and her team arrives. They too are intrigued by the symbols and question the team about the cause. Steve again chooses to hide their involvement in triggering it. Instead he shares their findings about the symbols and the child. Saori takes careful notes while Steve pumps her for information. He learns she is an academic, more involved for the desire to reveal the secrets of this world than to profit from it.

The team begins to wonder where the child came from. Max sends out a probe to trace her path. It leads to the wreckage of the tower collapse that killed Ensign Maroon. The smaller debris has vanished and there are no signs of Maroon’s body among the rocks. However the probe does pick up Maroon’s transponder signal. The probe tracks it a few blocks to where she is huddled by a wall rocking back and forth.

The team moves to intercept her. Saori joins them, sending most of her team back to the dig. Both teams leave scanners to observe the Artifact. The sky dims and returns to normal.

Along the way there, Rho names the child Fiona. The others engage in some rapid texting. Babbage informs Steve that the time to save Roux is running out. He needs a pure sample of the nanovirus. Steve then asks Max to get a sample from one of the spheres. Max is understandably reluctant but agrees to the plan. Rho, once informed, advises more caution.

Steve tells Babbage and Max aloud to retrieve some fictional sensors. The rest of the team heads for Maroon with Saori.

They find her, helmet off, rocking back and forth. Dr. Twitter Morgan examines her. Maroon is suffering PTSD but physically she’s unharmed. Its the strain of dying that has affected her mind. As with the child she has nanites in blood. Twitter also informs them that the child shares her DNA and Maroon almost certainly was “restored” at the same time that the child was “born”. They decide to head back to their camps.

Elsewhere, Max and Babbage examine one of the spheres. Two meters across and floating a meter above the ground, it seems metallic with an eerie sheen. From the records of the FSV Google, Max knows that the earlier exploration touched the sphere and then attempted to take a core sample. He rigs a series of probes to replicate the experience safely.

Along the way he determines that the spheres are drawing power from the nanomachine fog and seems to be in direct communication with them. It also is relaying messages to the Artifact via gravity waves.

The setup ready, he sends in the probes, warning Steve just prior to pressing the execute button. One probe touches the sphere with a human tissue sample and then shoots it with a laser. A black cloud pours off the sphere and the second one captures some before shooting up into the air. The one left behind disintegrates upon contact with the cloud.

Max checks the sample remotely. It seems to be undifferentiated nanites. Babbage says this is exactly what he needs. Max also registers a change in the signals from the Artifact. The two head back to camp to work on their findings and samples.

Meanwhile Maroon is examined at Saori’s camp as the team discusses what has happened. Maroon and the child have their blood drawn. The wounds disappear almost instantly as the nanites fix them. After discussing all of their findings, Steve seduces Eman Chang and takes her back to his tent.

That evening Rho takes the child Fiona to her tent and unsuccessfully attempts to decontaminate her. Max meanwhile decodes the signals being emitted by the Artifact. They seems to be build orders of some sort. Three different objects are specified. Then he detect the proximity alarm being hacked.

Switching to video feed he sees Mercury Lu sneak into camp. He alerts Rho to the intruder, who looks out, sees who it is, and then decides to leave it to the ensigns. Mercury meanwhile tries to her bluff way into Steve’s tent.

Eventually the ensign rings Steve’s tent, explaining Mercury is here to see him. Steve tells him, “Tell her I’m not here.” He hears an argument break out as the ensign repeats his words verbatim.

Steve emerges from the tent to find Mercury wrenching the arm of one of the ensigns behind their back. She lets him go and addresses Steve. It seems Mecury wanted to make up. She hints she is reconsidering it.

Then the proximity alarm goes off again. Max detects a four legged predator with chameleon skin and some sort of sonic senses lurking at the edge of camp. Rho exits her tent upon hearing of it, gun drawn. Ignoring Mercury and Steve’s antics she finds the creature and subdues it with a stunner. During this Eman pokes her head out, causing Mercury to leave in a huff. Steve manages placate Eman and stay the night while Rho leaves the beast outside of Babbage’s tent.

That night Max picks up new signals, some sort of request for information. In the morning it is answered and a new set of signals go out. The timing coincides with the Columbia’s return from its survey of the asteroid field. Captain G. W. Teregan reports that no nanites were detected in the belt. Max also determines the build code for the hunting beast.

Eman Chang leaves in the morning with a guard of ensigns. Rho finds Fi playing with blocks but neglects to question where they came from. Babbage takes his samples and the alien beast back to the Columbia. A new shuttle is sent down.

Back at Saori’s camp, the team discuss their findings with her. Ever cautious Saori moves her own ship further away. She also relays that her team found two alien life forms: a large slug and a forest of strange trees. She supposes the Artifact is recreating native life that went extinct millions of years ago. Rho meanwhile talks to Tom Warner about the current events. He comments that things have been changing rapidly since the Federation arrived.

Steve and Max head into the city. As they travel a new signal is detected. A charge builds up in the atmosphere. Max shields them as everything in the city and its surroundings is scanned down to the molecular level. No one is harmed by the Artifact can now replicate everything except Max, Steve and a few ensigns.

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The Artifact

Three months into their mission the FSV Columbia arrives at the solar system harboring the Artifact. Initial scans show an old yellow star circled by ten worlds and an asteroid belt. The signal of a small ship is detected circling the fifth world of the system. Barely a fourth the size of the Columbia, it appears to be a lightly armed civilian craft.

Up on deck, Captain G. W. Teregan, Steve Walmart, and Rochelle “Rho” Total hail the vessel. They are greeted by a cheerful blond haired man calling himself Tom Warner.

The friendly New Earther shares some of the findings of the expedition. The team has located a city on the surface, situated around a mysterious egg shaped artifact. Also they apparently had some advanced warning of Columbia’s arrival from the expedition leader’s wife Mecury Lu who is now on the surface. He warns them that the team leader likes things run her way. As for himself, he and his partner Marija are due to rotate down in a few days. He seems eager to get to the exploring.

Max Petrobras is able to detect a powerful power source on the planet. Further scans pinpoint it in the “city”, a field of tall spires made from uncarved stone. The planet itself has an usually high albedo, due to reflective cloud cover and a surface of mostly bare rock. The atmosphere, while human breathable and shielded from cosmic rays, contains large amounts of complex carbon compounds.

But there are many anomalies. Only a few plants and one dying sea cover the surface. The asteroid belt has been strip mined. Upon orbiting the world, they conduct deeper scans revealing hidden oceans in vast and unnaturally carved out subterranean basins. The spires in the city are hollow and thousands of years old but seem grown rather than built.

Along the way they pick out the expedition camp between the sea and the “city”.

Taking full precautions, Steve has Max send a probe, the repurposed mine that Samsung sent after them, to the planet. It dives into the atmosphere and takes a sample. Along the way it determines that the carbon substance covers the atmosphere from the surface on up but is thickest near the surface and upper atmosphere. It seems to be protecting the atmosphere, maybe replenishing the oxygen levels.

But on the way back the onboard computer crashes. Max recovers it but the CPU acts erratically. They bring the probe on board in a sealed environment where Babbage can get the samples safely.

Upon opening it up, they find out the carbon contents appear to have condensed into dust. Babbage takes a sample to the lab while Max analyzes the probe piece by piece to determine the cause of the crash. He find the CPU and other bits have been replaced by the same carbon material. No residue of the material exists on the outer covering but inside portions of the probe have been partially replaced. Max plans a second series of tests.

A few hours later Babbage gives a presentation on his findings. The atmosphere is filled with advanced nanomachines, built mostly of carbon. The dust inside the probe was actually parts of the probe itself that had been replaced. Showing a closeup of the nanites, he shows how the CPU is now composed of the devices, replicating the functionality perfectly.

After the talk, Steve talks to Babbage about Ensign Roux and his uncle. He is concerned that they be unsaveable. Babbage confides that he can alert him when that becomes the case, regardless of Twitter’s concerns.

Rho meanwhile focuses on talking with Warner. She manages to learn more about the expedition’s findings as the two become more friendly. The team leader, Saori Lu, has uncovered layer upon layer of city beneath the current settlement. While no signs of the aliens have been uncovered, the structures are clearly designed by intelligent life forms, specifically the nanites they left behind. They theorize there is an original city, built by the aliens themselves deep below. He also chats with her about the complex life they have found in the sea, like strange alien fish.

Max’s second probe is a repurposed shuttle. It takes several trips to the planet, collecting samples of the atmosphere and exposing biological samples to it. He finds that given time to escape, the nanites will exit the collection device but if sealed in with biological samples they will infest them instead. The preference order seems to be stay on the planet, then infect living things, then replace hardware.

Taking a sample of the nanites, Max attempts to trigger a reaction from them. After beaming a signal, he sees the nanites form an antennae and emit a powerful signal to the planet for several seconds before burning out. Interestingly a few hours later the emissions from the artifact increase by 20%. Suspecting he can learn something, Max sets up an algorithm to decode the signal. At the same time Rho and Steve study the layout of settlement for strategic and academic purposes.

Finally with all probe options taken care of and with signs that as long as they don’t interfere with the atmosphere, it will bother them, they decide to send a team down. Led by Steve, the First Contact Team and a group of ensigns take a shuttle to the surface, establishing a camp between the city and the sea about a mile from the other expedition. They direct the Captain to take the Columbia and survey the asteroid belt for more signs of nanites.

After readying camp, the team treks to the expedition’s base. There they are greeted by Srivani Smith, a tall friendly woman who gently makes her dislike of capitalist clear as she guides them into the camp. Hoping to make some friends, Rho offers sugar and they are invited in for tea.

After going through the thorough decontamination procedures, Srivani shows them into a tent where they meet another pair of team members, Alex and Jixie. The group discusses the exploration of the planet but unfortunately none of them speak a language Max knows. He amuses himself scanning for nanites.

Then Saori Lu arrives. After swiftly and perfectly taking care of decontamination, she enters addressing them in flawless Chinese. She takes command and agrees to an exchange of information with Walmart. Interestingly for Max, he detects nanites in her system, nanites made by humans. They seem to be protecting her.

Meanwhile Steve shares most of the information they learned, holding back only the “successful” stimulation of the nanites. From her they learn the history of the city stretches back billions of years. Again and again, it has been destroyed by natural disasters and rebuilt by the nanite cloud and the Artifact.

The Artifact itself is an egg shaped device the size of a small building. Various metal spheres in the city are part of its computing systems. Saori’s team are currently digging down, seeking the original city. They are already through 3 billions years of rock back to when the core was molten and before the seas were sequestered.

She describes how the cloud of nanites seems to be generating an artificial magnetic field, maintaining the atmosphere and ozone layers, and moderating the climate. Though there are no signs of aliens who built this, their devices remain. The artifact itself seems powered by a captured black hole and deflects all attempts to get close.

Throughout her talk Saori remains cold to Steve, mocking their lack of progress. Mercury does not put in an appearance. Rho however ingratiates herself. Afterwards the team thanks her and heads back to camp to plan a trip to the city.

A few hours later they arrive in the city of granite spires. Each ruined tower seems built of a single piece of stone many thousands of years ago. Cracked and weathered, their internal crystalline structure is perfect and flawless.

Steve directs the team to explore one. Smooth passages wide up from the ground level to a second floor and on up to a third floor. That’s when it happens.

A pulse of energy erupts from the Artifact, causing an earthquake. The tower groans, cracks and begins to collapse. The team beats a hasty retreat but Ensign Maroon trips. Thousands of tons of stone falls down on top of the Ensign.

Recovering from the tragedy, the team decides to get a closer look at the Artifact. Approaching the central plaza where it is located, they look at the black egg shaped orb. Passive sensors pick intense gravitation distortion, neutrino emissions, and radiation. Active sensors tend to bend around the object revealing nothing. The power emanations have died back down but are different, on a new frequency.

They decide to survey it from a nearby tower, one more structurally sound than the last. While Max conducts his scans, Steve and Rho climb to the top and look out over the city.

Then they see a naked child running in ruins. Steve radios the ensigns to collect her.

Elsewhere Max maps out the pattern of gravitational distortions across the surface of the artifact. He detects clear lines across its surface, perhaps even engraved writing.

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The Derelict

After the upheavals on New Earth settle down, the team hears about a recently launched expedition to investigate the Artifact, a rumored alien ruin several star systems away. Steve Walmart urges the FSV Columbia to chase after them.

After leaving New Earth the Columbia passes through several systems uneventfully. The first jump takes them to Hermes, an impoverished mining system orbiting a red dwarf. The pass by, listening in on reports of bioroid revolts and social disorder as well as stories from a neighboring system called Persimmon. Supposedly this isolationist enclave are rumored to be clamping down on bioroid activity and shifting to an entirely AI workforce.

The next jump takes them to Steading, a small refueling and trading station orbiting a tiny red star. The extended family of former space gypsies who run the place tell them the expedition passed by recently. The next system over is Arcturus, a red giant with no real resources. The Artifact supposedly resides in the system after that.

They push on, past the edge of explored space.

Rho meanwhile feels a bit off. She visits Dr. Twitter Morgan in the new Med Bay. As the doctor analyzes her sickness, she gets worried. Rho has an alien virus, one that requires further study. she keeps Rho there while she consults with Dr. Albert Tzen-Babbage. Rho is left in the company of the partially constructed android torso for Lares 12.

Meanwhile the Columbia arrives at Arcturus. The blazing red giant fills the system with immense heat and radiation. But the Columbia’s sensors pick up a signal on an old Federation channel:

FSV Google: Lockdown Code Gamma, Medical Emergency Code 631

Max Petrobras conducts some further scans, revealing the wreck of the FSV Google, a Federation exploratory craft sent to the Kappa Sector 36 years ago. According to the records, the jump point for Kappa Sector was closed off, stranding the Google.

Lockdown Code Gamma means that mission files are all under executive seal. Only an Executive Officer of the Federation can unlock them and only in person. Medical Emergency Code 631 indicates a biological contagion of unknown origin.

The Columbia attempts to hail it but gets no response. Scans however reveal that the Google is intact with a working power plant but no gravity.

Rho meanwhile learns about the discovery of the Google and makes movements to get involved. Twitter gives her a shot to treat the symptoms but let her go. Analysis of the virus shows it can only effect a small percentage of humanity. The few crew members who share her particular genetic pattern have been confined to quarters.

Up on the bridge, Captain G. W. Teregan points out to Steve that regulations forbid bringing a Federation craft into such a hostile environment, especially given the risk of biological contamination. She will however allow a shuttle to be taken and she can ensure they will have enough time to investigate and retrieve any information on board.

A short time later, the First Contact Team meets in the briefing room. The captain outlines the available information, including the roster of people who were on board when the Google left. She points out Benjamin Roux and notes that his nephew Ensign Thomas Roux would like to be involved. Steve questions bringing him along but become convinced when his EVA experience is revealed. He does ask to talk to him beforehand.

Plans are made to bring the Columbia within 20 AU and then send the shuttle. They will rendezvous on the far side of the system near the jump point.

Max readies some devices for the trip and Rho focuses on getting well. Steve talks to Ensign roux and makes it clear they are not going to find anything nice over there. The Ensign seems determined though. Steve then asks him to help him with his own EVA training.

A couple hours later they take a transport shuttle to the Google. Along the way, Max detect a Space Gypsy craft attached to the hull. The Federation craft hails them and tries to dissuade the scavengers on board. The spacers however claim right to salvage, speaking a dialect that only Steve recognizes. Steve tries to keep them on the line but eventually they cut off.

They dock their shuttle at the empty shuttle port. The doors are sealed shut but Rho is able to force them open. Meanwhile Max interrogates the ship’s AI, Lori. The buggy AI resists her attempts to gain access to the ship, ultimately deleting herself from this section to protect her core code. Max is however able to determine that her mission is to keep the crew contained and everyone else out.

Once inside, Max releases some robotic scouts the size of Frisbees into the ship, which scan as they go.The first room is warm and dark, covered in dirty from which spring numerous mushrooms. Moving deeper they find sections filled with debris, wiring torn out of walls and hash marks scratched into steel. There is plenty of deliberate damage but very little scavenging.

Rho and Roux go on ahead taking pictures and looking for a way to the bridge or server room. Rho sees something for a second as she takes a picture. It was man shaped and quick.

Then something grabs Ensign Roux, dragging him into the darkness with a cutoff scream.

Rho is quickly joined by the others but the Ensign is gone. Scans show him alive but elsewhere on ship. After some searching they find a vent.

Max send one of the scouts down the long thin tube, barely wide enough for a person. It leads to a larger room and then to a room covered in dim monitors and scientific notes. Ensign Roux is on a table. Then something destroys the probe.

Babbage is particular excited about the displays. They showed signs of an alien life form. Max meanwhile hacks another part of Lori, trying to get another door open. Along the way he retrieves a list of the crew including when they died. 5 of them died at the same time with the others perishing over the course of a week. But Benjamin Roux is listed as still alive.

The next door hisses open, revealing a room strew with broken lab equipment and shards of glass. As the team moves forward a group of spacer enters. Their legs have been modified into a second set of arms. Both sets are armed with guns. As a tense standoff begins, Steve alludes to the ship being haunted. Max meanwhile arranges for a gentle breeze to push the glass shards closer to them. The team also notice that the spacers look somewhat ill. Fearful and outnumbered, the scavengers leave.

With that threat seen off, the team decides to go after Roux and his uncle. Rho leads the crawl through the vent.

Halfway down, something detaches from a wall and attacks her. Rho instinctively beats it off and the mutated thing that was Dr. Roux flies down the vent into some jagged metal. Then just as suddenly he is gone. Rho brushes herself off and continues on.

The next room is uninhabited, strewn with wreckage and little else. A room off of it reveals a large overgrown and mutated grow room;. another doorway leads to the med bay where Ensign Roux lies unconscious strapped to a table. On the walls and displays are copious notes on an alien disease. Babbage pours over them enthusiastically. but a slip of the tongue about Roux’s infection, leads Steve to ask how Rho Total could also be infected.

Then he realizes it. Babbage has never been scared of Rho’s disease. Because he made it. Rho threatens the doctor who reveals he was just getting back at her for mocking him. The bug is little more than a bio-engineered version of the common cold.

Max and an ensign meanwhile explore further, heading down a hallway to a locked door on the way to the server room. As Max hacks Lori one last time, a shadowy figure appears and crashes into the ensign, killing him instantly.

Max shouts for help and Rho springs into action, placing a well aimed shot into the mutated doctor. Steve then calls out to his humanity and convinces him to give up. Ben reveals he just want to go home. Twitter quietly says they will help and then sedates him. Carefully isolating him and Roux, they ferry the two back to the ship for decontamination. Babbage downloads the medical data and gets to work on a cure.

Max meanwhile gets the server room open. Steve gives his call sign and Lori removes the lock down. They learn the Google, after being stranded, continued its mission hoping to find its way back. Along the way it encountered the Artifact. The crew activated a defense mechanism and before they could escape 5 of the 12 man crew were dead including Captain Scott.

Acting Captain/Chief Corporate Officer Amelia Hasbro attempted to take the ship to safety but the contagion brought on board liquefied the crew one by one. Amelia triggered the warning before succumbing.

Unknown to her the Medical Officer, Benjamin Roux, survived. Using an experimental treatment on himself, he mutated the virus. Instead of liquefying him, it drove him mad and deformed him. In the decades since he has reorganized the systems and attempted to restart the ship. Lori has tried to stop him but is precluded from killing him. So he has slowly destroyed and fragmented it.

From the sensors the crew of the scavenger ship have already succumbed to the disease. They direct the Google to fly into the sun. Max makes a copy of the AI and they leave.

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New Earth, Part III

The first wave of PR campaigns begins with Samsung seeding rumors that the Federation is looking to control local copyright. While the First Contact Team counters this PR, they also begin to gather grassroots support for Bioroid rights. The Hite corporation advertises that Samsung’s products are defective chipping at the company’s armor.

Max Petrobras meanwhile focuses his time on hacking the digital copy of Samsung for weaknesses. He discovers the executive, while possessing incredible social skills, lacks more than a cursory grounding in scientific endeavors. Steve Walmart decides a debate is how they will trick him into downloading a virus that will then subvert his programming.

Steve accompanies Rochelle “Rho” Total to the meeting for the Bioroid Liberation Movement. Amid the enormous crowd they find Echo who leads them to Sand. Rho slips away while Steve chats with the civil rights leader. Sand tries to confirm the businessman supports the cause while Steve remains unimpressed with him in general. Steve lies and says he supports the movement and suggests the Federation crew begin wearing the movements symbol. Echo clues in that Steve is only using the movement for his own ends but keeps quiet for now.

Rho meanwhile finds Sea pumping up his fellow revolutionaries. She befriends Jordan, one of his followers, learning that Sea is pushing for the movement to seize the armory. She isn’t able to determine what he is really up to. Steve soon joins her though and quickly determines Sea is too polished. He is a traitor. He calls Max and has her check Sea’s records confirming that he is a plant by Samsung.

Steve challenges the revolutionary’s arguments. Sea responds by claiming Steve isn’t really here to help. Before Sea can ruin Steve’s standing with the movement, Steve reveals the truth. His allies turn on him and only Sand keeps him from being roughed up right there. Instead he is ejected from the organization. Rho talks to Jordan and convinces him to keep an eye on him.

The following week sees a viscous attack on the Hite Corporation and ICP by Samsung. It paints them feeble firms, licensing old products and generally useless. Their stocks and sales plummet. The Federation moves to the offensive using the fact that Samsung was the source of those old licenses. They also move public opinion, swaying the citizens slightly toward supporting bioroid freedom. The crippled Hite Corporation motivates the bioroids with a memetic campaign designed to make them more aggressive. The Bioroid Liberation Movement makes its own move, motivating the bioroid population to organize and agitate for freedom.

Echo meanwhile works on Steve, using her charms to bring him around to truly supporting the cause of bioroid freedom. Max digs deeper into Samsung’s mind, breaking down the neural pathways of the copy and engineering a virus to change him into a supporter of the bioroid cause. As he discovers mental weak points, he also fends off a hacking attempt by Samsung. Its unclear what he was after but it involved exterior systems.

The week leading up to the debate, sees Samsung and the Federation working to convince the smaller corporations to take a side on bioroid rights. The net effect is no movement. The the Bioroid Liberation Movement however convinces the citizens of New Earth to join them on the road to equality. The ICP is caught attempting to sabotage one of Samsung’s factories.

Max finishes hacking Samsung’s mind and seeds a virus in his database so that when he gets ready for the debate he will be brainwashed into supporting the Bioroid Liberation Movement and become its new leader.

As this goes on, the bioroid soldier they captured makes a daring escape. Rho is quickly alerted and informs the others allowing Max to pinpoint and lock him out of their systems. Trapped in the server room, Rho manages to defeat him handily. She ties him up well and throws him back in the brig.

As the debate approaches Steve couches Max on his speech. After a late night of research Max feels ready.

Steve and Samsung arrange the debate to be held in a large amphitheater. Rho scouts the sight lines and stations security at key locations. As Max finishing giving a highly articulate and convincing argument, she spots a figure atop the rafters. She fires and a figure wrestles with the gunman. It turns out it is Sea and Jordan, and the genuine revolutionary tosses the plant to his doom.

Samsung finishes download his skill set and finds his mind rewritten by the virus. He comes out on television as a bioroid himself and shuts down his factories to support bioroid rights. Then Steve takes the stage and announces that the Federation will dissolve the Hite Corporation and ICP for their ineptness and negligence. New Earth will become a Federation territory.

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New Earth, Part II

The First Contact Team discusses their next move. The plan is to use the Bioroid Liberation Movement to destabilize Samsung. But Rochelle “Rho” Total isn’t happy with either of Sand or Sea as leaders

Steve Walmart asks Max Petrobras how hard it would be to make a new bioroid leader. Max points out that while he can make the next batch of bioroids rebellious, he doesn’t have the option of selective teaching. He does come up with the idea of creating a virus to subvert Samsung himself, turning him into the seed of his own destruction. He heads off to discuss the possibility with Dr. Twitter Morgan.

She tells him that he would need Samsung’s mind to work on. The technophile hacks Samsung’s network again and uncovers his mental backup. Downloading a copy, he begins to dig into his memories. Max also initiates the program that will make the next batch of bioroids more capable of independent thought. The flaws in the conditioning are subtle and it may take some time for Samsung to uncover.

CEO Donald Hite contacts Steve with vital information. In the conference room at the Alpha City spaceport he reveals that Samsung is planning on buying gravity weapons at a station on the edge of the system. Steve informs the others and Rho applies herself by practicing against a simulation of Ju Li.

Steve meanwhile disguises himself, taking along Ensign Maroon. The two track down the merchant that sold them the original weapon. In a seedy bar, they talk to the scarred Space Gypsy and learn that the broker for the deal is Mecury Lu.

Forewarned Max and Rho take a stealth fighter to Pepsi Can Station accompanied by Ensigns Roux and Rust. Along the way they detect a suspicious shuttle. Max steers them out of sensor range and they arrive shortly after it.

Spoofing the station sensors, they dock on the opposite side as the shuttle where a battered Federation craft sits next to a Space Gypsy vessel. Max hacks the station systems to gain access to its cameras. He also learns that the Federation vessel is a stolen transport registered to a “nonexistent” base on the edge of the Sol system. It belongs to the Federation government.

Rho enters the station with the ensigns and runs into two large apes. The “Space Monkeys” open fire as Rho flees deeper into the station. The ensigns use the confusion to take out the two ape supremacists. One of the primates tries to raise an alarm but Max quickly silences it.

Rho sneaks into the foundry, finding Ju Li haggling with Mercury Lu. A gang of apes and bland bioroids glare at each other from behind them. Mercury is showing off schematics and pictures. Rho tells the ensigns to hang back while she locates the devices. Max runs a scan and detects the weapons. They are in the foundry tubes themselves.

Rho creeps into a strategic position and recovers a pair of devices. Conversing with Max, they identify one as a miniaturized gravity field generator. It is only mono-directional however. The other weapon however is a singularity rifle.

Rho takes aim and blasts Ju Li. Before she can twist out of the way, she is pulled into a pinprick black hole, killing her and punching a hole in one of the tubes. Then Rho tosses the other device into the midst of them and flees.

Unfortunately it lands face down and has no effect. The apes grab the device and follow Mercury Lu to the space dock. The station shudders as rockets flare to stop the station’s spin gravity. Max quickly counters the process and begins to direct the ensigns back to the shuttle.

The bioroid soldiers meanwhile chase after Rho. Dodging their fire she fires at one taking out him and the wall behind him. As the station starts decompressing she manages to make it back to the dock. The ensigns get on board the fighter while Rho atomizes another bioroid before leaving herself.

Max takes the vessel to a safe distance and targets the prototype black hole bomb he detected. The three other spacecraft detach from the station. Mercury Lu’s vessel flees as does the Samsung shuttle. The stolen Federation craft though heads straight for them.

Max detonates the bomb destroying the station and other weapons while Rho disables the weapons on the Federation craft. The apes attempt to ram them but are thwarted by the automatic anti-collision system.

Rho blows them up and they chase the Samsung shuttle. The bioroid soldier on board surrenders. The team take him prisoner and escort the shuttle back to the Columbia.

Back in Alpha City, Steve uses his disguise skills to get close to Samsung’s marketing people. He learns they are readying a PR attack on Hite and ICP as well as the Federation. He also uncovers evidence of a military force being readied to deal with the bioroid threat.

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New Earth

The trip to New Earth goes smoothly. The newly repaired FSV Columbia makes the jump from Midnight with no problems. They find themselves on the edge of a moderately settled system, rich in asteroid belts and with a crown jewel, a small blue world.

As they make their approach, they get increasing communications from New Earth. The Hite Corporation and ICP are eager to meet them. Max connects to their local internet once within orbit and hacks into Alpha City’s grid, gaining access to their cameras and databases. They learn about the planets massive bioroid operations as well its strange language. Rho studies up on it.

Babbage and Twitter decline to visit the planet. Babbage asks for a sample of the native life and the Doctor is disinclined to go with Steve and Echo. The team plus Echo and some ensigns descend to the planet.

At the starport they are greeted by [[:ceo-donald-hite | CEO Donald Hite] and a delegation from ICP. They usher them inside and present their desire of removing Samsung as the dominant player in New earth’s market. Language difficulties make the conversation difficult from both sides but their point is made. Rho also realizes that these delegates are practiced liars.

The delegation breaks up with a planned tour later in the day. Max rigs up a bioroid identifer for everyone. Rho uses the time to visit a local bar and learns the mood of the citizenry. While watching a news program about recent civil disobedience at a bioroid factory, someone bumps into her. It turns out to be a Helot series in a rain slick. He asks her to follow him outside.

Outside the bioroid informs her about the a resistance movement that wants to meet with the Federation. She is given an address to be at in 2 nights. Max overhears this over the comm, overriding the fugitive’s primitive jamming equipment.

In his searches Max hears about a local market at the starport. Steve and Echo join Max in investigating it. Much to Steve’s distaste they find lots of contraband being sold by Space Gypsies and other riffraff. Then they find a merchant demonstrating a weapon with no visible beam: a gravity gun.

Recognizing technology beyond Federation’s means and against every regulation, Max convinces Steve to buy it, to keep it out of the hands of others. They learn the weapon was sold to the Gypsy at Pepsi Can Station on the edge of system. Taking it back to their rooms, Max disassembles it and learns that it was built by the Federation. Steve is shocked.

The corporate delegation takes the team on a tour of Alpha City, focusing on the factories. They see bioroids being assembled and their R&D facilities. It is clear they are trying to impress them. Steve is not swayed and probes them about what is behind the bioroid freedom movement. Hite claims it was the result of a flaw in Samsung’s conditioning.

After the tour, the team returns to the columbia to discuss what they have learned. They decide to reveal the gravity weapon to Captain G. W. Teregan. She is unsurprised and when pressed ushers Steve and Max into a private chamber. She reveals that she has orders from Federation to use the secret weapons on level 27 against the Samsung Corporation if necessary. The weapons are black hole bombs, tools of mass destruction that rendered Mars uninhabitable. Max is intrigued but Steve and the Captain both hate the idea. Teregan agrees to keep them apprised of any further communications.

Afterwards Steve suggests using a disabled weapon as a tool against Samsung but Max shoots that plan down. For now they will look at using social manipulation against him.

Once they return to the planet, Steve takes a hard line with the delegation and forces them to accept his terms: the Federation will help them, but they will play by its rules. The black market will be shut down. Intellectual property will be exchanged. I this deal ceases to be advantageous, the Federation will abandon them.

Max meanwhile hacks Samsung’s systems. Security is tight but he breaks into their skill database and also sets up a tracker on the CEO himself. Max begins to plan how to sabotage the bioroids being built now. Each day tens of thousands are being made…

Rho attends the Bioroid Liberation Movement meeting along with Echo. There she meets the nonviolent but overly trusting Sand and his violent revolutionary of a rival, Sea. Rho questions Sea’s plans, pointing out the flaws in a violent approach. She also learns about the agonizingly slow leadership of the group. She leaves Echo with them, promising to discuss helping the movement with their influence with the others.

On the way back she runs into the Primate Liberation Army or “Space Monkeys” as she calls them. Rho flees and loses them at the starport. she then warns the others.

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Knives at Midnight, Part II

Dr. Twitter Morgan and Max Petrobras knock on the door to Steve Walmart‘s room. After a moment he opens it up. Echo 417 is standing beside him, a rumpled bed behind them. Max explains that they need Steve’s help to get Zeus to let them use Lares 12 in a mind emulation experiment. Meanwhile the two women have a frigid staring contest. Twitter’s voice fills with irritation.

Steve asks Echo to excuse them. She goes to the bathroom to freshen up. As the two finish briefing Steve (while leaving out the part where the device will destroy the subject’s brain), Rho shows up. They fill her in and discuss the situation. There is the matter of paying for property, both Lares and Echo, who Steve has agreed to help get free. Twitter worries that Lares may be close to death already. Rho and Steve seek out Zeus while Max and Twitter to check on Lares. Echo goes back to her work.

Max uses the ship’s systems to find Lares. he directs Twitter to him while he investigates a suspicious shipment that occurred a few hours ago. It seems two new Lares models boarded along with some wine. Filing this away he heads to Twitter’s chambers to set up the device.

Rho and Steve find Zeus in his library. The book are for show but Zeus is well read. Steve leads the bargaining. Zeus seems willing to sell his slaves, especially Lares as he is dying. He wants his prized koi back as well as the earth apple. Steve counters with the offer of the apple and a reproduction of a Van Gogh. The debate takes some time as Steve impress the paintings value on the Mythweaver.

Twitter burst in to say that Lares is dying. Zeus, absorbed in the debate, gives them Lares and uses Steve’s feelings for Echo against him. In the end however Steve convinces him of the deal.

The team assembles in Twitter’s chambers to help her upload Lares. The bioroid is near death. With no time to spare, she injects the nanites and processes his mind while Rho helps. Max oversees the digital reconstruction. Lares regains consciousness in the computer as his body dies. Steve calms the new mind as he adjusts to his new condition. Distracted by images from the ship’s bow and with the microphone off, Steve makes the security protocols for this new entity clear.

The team retires for the night. As Rho opens to the door to her room, she hears a noise within. She strikes out knocking a two headed dog aside. Pulling her combat knife, she stabs the raging beast. It lashes out with foaming jaws but she lops off one head. As it lies dying, servants and the rest of the team arrive. The servants identify it as the master’s favorite hound. Max detects evidence that it was drugged. she shows it to Zeus as he arrives. Checking the security footage, they find that two Lares models placed and drugged his pet. Zeus orders a search for them.

The rest of the night passes uneventfully. Max attemtps to trace the Lares models path back but loses them at Olympus station. Rho calls the Columbia to warn Captain G. W. Teregan. She learns that the ship has received visitors from the Federation.

At breakfast, the team and Zeus are joined by Xanthus and Myra. There has been no progress on finding the culprits. Xanthus suggests eliminating all of the Lares models just in case. The diners all begin to feel ill as the poison in their food takes effect. Suddenly two Lares models enter the room with knives.

Max and Rho jump to their feet while Steve slides unsteadily to the door. Rho and one assassin spar back and forth while the other chases after Steve. Max tips the balance by throwing a syringe of nanites to Rho. She injects him. He is instantly wracked by pain as the devices tear his brain apart cell by cell.

Twittter meanwhile doses the diners with an antitoxin before heading after Steve.

As Steve flees down the hall, the assassin shots at him. A fortuitous wave keeps it from hitting him but he is still grazed. Steve momentarily loses him when Max kills the lights throughout the ship. He then trips the first assassin while Rho goes to save Steve.

Zeus calls his six legged lynx to him and orders it to kill the assassins, Max warns it not to kill the dying assassin.

Rho, Steve, and the final assassin move in a distant hall seeking each other out in the darkness. Steve sets up an ambush, hiding behind a statue and calling the bioroid to him. Max suddenly directs the lights at the bioroid’s eyes. Even so the assassin manages to stab Steve severely. Steve topples a statue onto him while the lynx savages him. Steve dodges a final knife throw, bruising his skull at the same time. Rho finishes him off.

Twitter patches Steve up and Zeus thanks all involved for their help. Steve returns Zeus’s koi as a symbol of goodwill.

The team returns to the Columbia and learns that the Federation want them to proceed to New Earth to entreaty with Samsung and their competitors, the Hite Corporation and ICP (Interstellar Consumer Products).

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Knives at Midnight

The FSV Columbia pulls into Olympus Station, a massive orbital ring floating above the dark skies of Midnight. While Captain G. W. Teregan oversees the repairs, the others are invited to spend time on the planet’s surface on the opulent yacht of Zeus.

Dr. Albert Tzen-Babbage elects to stay on board, safely away from the viruses and alien germs. Rochelle “Rho” Total talks to the station’s inhabitants and learns a little bit about their host. Steve Walmart takes a more direct approach and has a long conversation with the man. He learns that the well off academic is honest and eager to put the best face forward fro his people.

As they prepare to leave, Dr. Twitter Morgan quickly retrieves her remaining things from storage, eager to leave the threat of the vacuum of space. Max Petrobras spends some time familiarizing himself with the computer systems of the Mythweavers. Steve picks out the most attractive ensigns to serve as the team’s entourage.

The team’s shuttle arrives at the massive ship without incident. Zeus is there to welcome them on board, accompanied by an entourage of friends and servants. He shows them around the well appointed public areas, including an internal garden with unique bioengineered animals. Zeus is particularly proud of the human faced koi that he created with fish and primate genes. He also shows them an elaborate dining hall and a mobile dock for the skiffs that his friends plan on racing later in the day.

Their host asks about the Federation and the group’s past exploits. Steve describes where he grew up, an asteroid owned by the Walmart corporation. He also indulges Zeus’s curiosity about Earth telling him about its current state and the wonderful apple pie.

Eventually Zeus shows them to their rooms so they can freshen up before meal time. Twitter begins to unpack her gear but Steve, realizing that she is still suffering from her near death experience, takes some time to talk to her. He helps her talk out her fears and puts her on the road to recovery.

Max meanwhile goes to examine the skiffs. He finds the best of the unclaimed vessels, being sure to place a monitoring device just in case. Rho also does some exploring. She talks a bit with the sickly looking servant Lares 12 who just reach his 30th year of service that day. She also talks to some of the other skiff racers and learns a bit about them including the bet between Xanthus and Ivanna.

At dinner the team and Zeus’s other guests are served by a vertible army of biorids, including Lares 12.. Max notices a bioroid girl paying particular attention to Steve. He also realizes that these Mythweavers don’t care at all about the help. Rho and Steve work together to intimidate the skiff racers with their own expertise. Steve makes a bet with Zeus, one of his koi against an earth apple. Their host agrees.

Rho attracts zeus’s attention and he asks her about her most dangerous adventure. She relates a run in with Space Monkeys on one of the moons of Saturn.

Steve questions Zeus about the minefield but he does not know why they were active. They were placed their as a deterrent after a war with some rogue AIs a century ago. They should have been disabled long ago. Steve asks about Samsung’s connection. Zeus reveals that his company is a major supplier for all things.

Max entertains the dinner crowd with some tales about Virginia as desert is brought out. As he concludes, Lares 12 collapses. The Mythweavers ignore it, but Twitter checks on him. The other servants eventually carry him away.

After their meal the team joins in the skiff race along with some ensigns. With Rho working the sails and Steve helping Max pilot they force the other teams to travel dangerously close to the rocky islands of the course. As they are forced to slow down, Max leads them to victory.

As the arrive at the finish line, they notice a powerful storm blowing in. The team races back to Zeus’s ship, battling the fierce winds and heavy waves. A lightning bolt strikes the ship creating a minor fire. As Rho puts it out, a heavy water surges over the deck swamping the boat. Even so with Max’s superior skill, the team manages to get to the cruise ship with no one injured.

Zeus congratulates them on their victory as some of the other teams are fished from the sea. Steve and rho slip away while Max soaks in to adulation.

Rho seeks out Lares 12, finding the dying servant in a tiny chamber deep in the ship. Lares has reached his expiration date. He like many of the servants is reluctant to speak out against their masters or be too familiar with their guests but Rho establishes bond with him. Lares accepts his fate but asks to be taken to the 2nd deck to see the view one last time. Rho obliges him. The Mythweavers are surprised at her faux pas and the servants still don’t know how to relate to her. Lares however is happy.

Steve meanwhile find the bioroid eyeing him. She introduces herself as Echo 417. she takes him to the garden where she proceeds to seduce him. They go to his chamber where she reveals that she wants to escape. Unlike the others she refuses to die a slave. Still tells Steve that Zeus is a callous slavemaster. Steve seems willing to help this enchanting woman.

As Max returns to his chambers, he finds Twitter setting up her devices. She asks him for his help. She explains she acquired some mind recording and emulation tools at the Hub. She says the technology came from farther outside the system, possibly New Earth or past New Beijing. The only downside is that the devices destroy the mind they are uploading. Max suggests testing the technique on the dying bioroid. Excited they go to convince Steve to help, only to find him occupied with Echo.

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Bottle Episode

The FSV Columbia reaches the jump point after two weeks at the Hub System. With a Federation frigate stationed for defense, the exploratory vessel makes the jump for Midnight.

The view from the server room shows carnage as several autonomous mines collide with the Columbia and explode immediately upon exiting the wormhole. Crew members are tossed to the floor as the disaster rips open the hull and starts fires throughout the vessel.

Max struggles to her seat as fires rage in the server room. Directing the crew out, she slips into her suit, seals the server room and vents the atmosphere into space.

Rho finds herself swept up with the crew leaving the Rec room as the level 27 bulkhead comes crashing down. Pressure alarms blare while she feels her eardrums popping from the declining air pressure. Heading with the others to a lower level, she find the pressure drop continuing. She nearly collides with Dr. Tzen-Babbage. The addled scientist was fleeing level 22 where a massive breach has vacced Med Bay. Taking command she directs Babbage and the others to get into space suits.

Steve’s head rings as he pulls himself off the cafeteria floor. Ensigns are running here and there around him. Collecting his wits, he directs some of them to open access to Hanger Bay 2, which has been sealed off by the automatic pressure doors. The rest of them he directs to the upper levels to secure the O2 and food generation areas.

As the tremors from the impacts quiet down, the team is able to establish communications with Captain Teregan. she and the command crew are desperately battling a fire on level 28. Reports come in as well of a fire with the second server room.

Steve’s team manages to open access to the depressurized hanger bay. The main doors hang open, blown free by an errant mine. Further decompression has been limited by the pressure doors.

No coms can be raised from either the Med Bay or Engineering.

Rho, now suited up, manages to reach level 22 and seals it off from the upper levels, slowing the atmosphere loss. A huge chunk of one wall of Med Bay has been torn out and there is no sign of Dr. Twitter Morgan. Peering through the gash, Rho sees the damage extends in a thing slice from level 22 up to level 26. She directs people down to the storage area on level 19 to get supplies of sealant gel.

Max meanwhile repressurizes the server room. Rebooting the systems, she is able to partially survey the ship. While the captain fights the spreading fire on the upper levels, the server fire has cut off all information about the lower levels. She remotely locks down the secondary server room and vents it. Unfortunately repressurizing and rebooting the server must be done manually. Max heads for Hanger Bay 3.

The crew meanwhile passes through the repaired server room to get the sealant gel. Returning to Rho, they apply it to the outer breach, focusing on the crack on levels 23 to 26. Rho surveys the damages from outside. She advises the captain to seal that section and vent it. She learns the flames have already spread to the top three levels.

Steve readies a shuttle. Along with a squad led by Ensign Roux, they head out, skimming along the Columbia’s blackened hull. As they do they spot a lone figure in the void flashing out an SOS. Steve flashes lights back to indicate that they saw them and then races for the engines. Some of the mines alter their flight path, drawn by the sudden movement.

At the engine, Steve finds another large hole. He sends the squad in and carefully plots a course to the drifting crew member. With daring and skill he reaches them without triggering the remaining mines. He finds a panicking Twitter, who he pulls on board. After comforting her, he heads back to the Hanger Bay.

Max flies by, taking an engineering team down to Hanger Bay 1, hoping to access the damaged server room. She directs some of the crew to check on Engineering but not to turn the engines on. The rest of them she leads to a fire in the Grow Room.

Captain Teregan finally manages to vent the bridge, giving up the upper level Grow Room for lost. She and the command crew evacuate to the lower levels in space suits. Rho reenters the ship and works on improving crew morale.

As Steve flies back to the ship, he gets a call from Ensign Roux. They found a live mine inside the engine room.

Several level up, Max activates the automatic fire extinguishers as well as the sprinkler systems for the Grow Room, bringing the fire under control. Leaving the mop up to the crew, she races down to Engineering to examine the mine.

The insignia of the Samsung corporation decorates the desk sized device. Four twitchy legs keep it stabilized in the wreckage. Carefully probing it, Max works out the IFF signal to keep it from detonating as she turns it off.

With a signal worked out to keep the mines at bay, the Columbia limps to Midnight.

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