To Boldly Go

The Hub

The Contact Team wander the Hub after their initial meeting with the oligarchs of the Hub. These merchant masters seem eager for a trade treaty with the Federation. They discuss what they know about the station and the people they are dealing with. It is clear they need to learn more.

Max Petrobras focuses on mapping and investigating the station. The others tag along. In a market area, they encounter a display of Sentient Snacks, small edible robots being sold to the local children. Intrigued, they purchase one.

Rochelle “Rho” Total and Steve Walmart break off to talk to the locals while Max continues to scan the station. Max is particularly intrigued by the composition of the warren nest of interconnected habitats and derelict ships that make up the old section of the Hub. Max finds one segment made from a repurposed prewar transport. Everything has been networked to the Central Administration system or Casy, the AI that is one of the Hub oligarchs. It tries to be helpful as Max navigates the mainly Space Gypsy constructed space station.

Rho leaves Steve at the bar and approaches a pair of Space Gypsies talking to an elderly oriental man. After making friends, she learns that the man’s name is Henry Wu, the clone of pre-war billionaire Henry Wu. He hails from New Beijing which apparently is full of such clones. He mentions that he has a cousin living in Ariadne, a nearby system dominated by radical feminists, including some cross sex clones of Henry Wu. Despite his odd background, rho is able to make friends with him and learns a bit about his “grand-children”.

Steve meanwhile orders a gin and tonic. Chatting with the bartender, Jack, he learns a bit about the powers that be. Aesir apparently is an exile or criminal from Midnight. Zhe has many contacts with the Mythweavers and the Ascension. Zhe facilitates information trade, which the basis for zher power.

The Reynolds clan led by Taiko Reynolds controls physical trade throughout the system. Taiko is over a 100 and isn’t likely to die anytime soon.

The last oligarch, Casy was once the property of Aesir but bought its freedom. With control of the Hub’s systems, Casy has the most physical power.

As he drinks his gin, a beautiful blond approaches him. He orders a second round for the both of them. Introducing herself as Ju Li, she easily seduces him. She orders them a third round but as Steve drinks it, he passes out.

Rho leaves her conversation to find Steve gone. When he fails to answer his communicator she calls the ship. The Ensign there confirms he hasn’t returned. She recalls seeing him with a blond and suspects trouble. Talking to the bartender, she confirms that he left with her. Glancing about she spots a service elevator that they likely used. Rho relays the information to Max who queries Casy as to Steve’s whereabouts. The AI pinpoints his location. The two hurry up to level 12 where Steve has been taken. The elevator up is slow however and the numerous doors slow them down.

Steve wakes to find himself on a bed with a blond haired man in a dark suit seated opposite him. CEO Atsu Samsung-Exogenisis introduces himself and explains that he was brought here for a private chat. The sinister suit warns Steve that the oligarchs of the Hub plan on breaching their contract with Samsung. He warns them not to get involved. He does make a passing mention to his ability to get Steve personnel such as Ju Li. Steve however stands up to him.

Shortly after Samsung leaves the others arrive and they discuss what happened. Retiring to the FSV Columbia, they do an examination of the Sentient Snack. The tiny person shaped food item cracks bad jokes and tries to entertainment. Dr. Albert Tzen-Babbage however finds it disgusting. He pins it down and does an examination. Steve rips off an arm and eats some of it, finding the flesh syrupy and sweet. Max and Babbage meanwhile locate its “brain”, a biodegradable CPU. Max analyzes the simple AI.

Later that evening they meet with the oligarchs in an opulent round room in the inner section of the Hub. Steve confronts them with Samsung’s information. Reynolds addresses it, explaining that the CEO provides their bioroid work and security force but has been jacking up prices whenever an opportunity arises. The Hub leaders want the Federation to cover their protection thus freeing them from his grip. They offer trade and information about the region. They want to keep their autonomy and freedom of trade (outside tariffs and restriction going into the Federation). In the end they make an initial agreement to work up a treaty for them to chose when their current contract with Samsung ends in 10 months. They plan to meet the next day.

Max decides to track down Samsung’s ship. Since she can’t find one docked at the station she sets the Columbia’s sensors to scan over night. She also configures their scanners to detect bioroids.. That morning she discovers two things. First there is a faint signature on the far side of the gas giant they are orbiting and second, the virus that infected the computers is back.

As Max tries to fight the virus, she finds that it is beaming data from the ship to a location in the Hub. Rho goes after that while Steve takes a shuttle to seek out Samsung.

At the location where the information is being sent, Rho finds a device hooked up to Hub’s systems. As she disconnects it, Ju Li attacks from the shadows. Rho easily dodges her attack, inflicting a nasty dent in the bioroid agent’s skull. Ju Li knocks her momentarily off balance but Rho recovers and defeats her. Her scanner is bloody but Ju Li won’t be threatening anyone anymore.

As Rho drags the corpse back to ship, Steve finds Samsung’s ship. The massive vessel also detect him so he hightails it. The Colombia may be able to easily handle it but the scout ship is very much outmatched.

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The Hub, Part II

As Rho lugs Ju Li’s body back to the FSV Columbia, the power goes out on the Hub. Stowing the body in a closet, Rho heads down to the core of the station looking for answers. She spots people fleeing a batch of Sentient Snakcs attacking people with small makeshift weapons.

Rho calls Max Petrobras on the Columbia. Max is attempting to triangulate a set of signals beamed from the center of the station just prior to the power down. He reads scattered com traffic throughout the station but main and secondary power has been cut. Max directs Rho to an alternate path.

Rho backs away as the snacks move towards her. Using her impressive strength, she manually seals a door behind her and retrieves Rho’s body. Max directs her towards an airlock.

Steve Walmart meanwhile is returning with the scout shuttle. Easily outpacing Samsung’s much larger vessel, he estimates they have at least a half hour before it arrives. Noticing station power is down, he calls Max who directs him to pick up Rho.

As approaches the station however, he collides with a body. Bringing the ship around he sees Taiko Reynolds in his suit and a hastily patched hole marked with dried blood. Steve sends Ensign Roux to retrieve the oligarch’s form. It is unclear if he is alive or dead.

Max meanwhile goes down to the cargo bay where he finds pallets of Sentient Snacks have escaped their packaging and are waiting by the door. He circumvents the safety protocols and vents hold to space.

Steve picks up Rho, straining the shuttles capacity with 4 people, a comatose Taiko, and a corpse. They quickly return to the Columbia. Dr. Twitter Morgan is waiting in the shuttle bay with a med team. They whisk Taiko away while the others lug Ju li’s corpse to Dr. Albert Tzen-Babbage’s lab. He is not happy about dissecting a corpse.

Max finally establishes communication to the Hub. The administrators there are working to bring back power and main systems. The Sentient Snacks have been mostly subdued. But the location of the oligarchs remains uncertain. Max heads over to help out.

Dr. Babbage soon reports back that Ju Li isn’t a robot and has no chips in her. She was just an artificially built person. Twitter informs Steve that Mr. Reynolds is awake. Mr. Walmart questions the injured oligarch but learns little. Taiko claims he was shot while surveying the area under construction. He never saw his attacker. He limped to the airlock and escaped into space.

At this point Samsung’s ship has approached the station. He radios the Columbia and makes it clear he is docking with the intent to help restore order. Rho heads out to intercept him.

Max meanwhile arrives at the central portion of the station as Casy is brought back online. With the AI’s help they pinpoint the remaining repairs to be made and track the final movements of Mr. Reynolds on the station. Unfortunately there are no camera shots of the attack. Max however is able to find a path of access codes used to open and close doors from the construction area to the central meeting room. All of these use Aesir’s registry. Again however there is no video footage, it has been erased. As Rho is directed to investigate Aesiir, Casy begins work on reconstructing the data.

Max takes a pair of technicians to fix one of the breaks to main power. While fixing the severed lines, a pair of Sentient Snacks appears. They make short work of the technicians, buying Max time to overcharge his scanner. He blows them up and then radios for additional help.

Rho meanwhile intercepts Samsung at the airlock. She find the CEO accompanied by another Ju Li as well as small army of bioroids. Samsung directs his minions to scour the ship for the defective products and then proceeds to Aesir’s room based on Max’s intelligence. Rho verbally spars with him, hinting that she thinks he is behind this.

At Aesir’s chambers they find the oligarch injured but alive. She claims the snacks attacked her as well be fore escaping out a vent. Rho assures that only the station med team gets access to Aesir.

Finally power and gravity are restored. The team returns to the Columbia. Rho wants to know what Babbage has found out and Max needs new gear. They run into Steve in the hall of the space vessel as a security team rushes past.

They learn that one of the snacks is on the loose, having escaped Captain G. W. Teregan‘s quarters. While Max uses the ship’s computers and his earlier scanner work to track it, the others head for the med bay. Max discovers they are right, the tiny killer is already inside the room with Twitter and Taiko.

Rho arrives first and spots the Sentient Snack. With perfect aim, she slices it in half, disarming it in the process. Placing it in a container they take the would-be assassin to Babbage to extract its chip.

Dr. Babbage is unhappy to see them but extracts the chip. With it, Max works out that they were modified after construction and how to turn them on and off.

Steve meanwhile contacts Samsung, attempting to get him to back off. Samsung claims not to know anything about the killer snacks. Steve meanwhile manages to convince him that they do not have Taiko. As things get more heated, Steve builds on his earlier lies to bluff that a pair of Federation ships are already en route. Samsung seeking to regain control over things, reveals that his ship carries an army of bioroids which he is prepared to use to take the Hub.

In the end, both sides back off. Samsung proposes they leave a token force on the station and discuss matters like civilized people. their respective ships will travel to the far side of the gas giant until the matter is resolved.

Both sides ready for their meeting with the surviving oligarchs. Mr. Reynolds remains hidden on the Columbia. Max looks over the reconstructed footage Casy has found. He figures that it has been falsified. It seems Casy is the real culprit.

During the meeting the Federation Team reveal their findings while watching everyone’s reactions. They reveal that Taiko was ambushed and presumed killed, that Aesir’s code was used to access the areas where Taiko was attacks and the message activating the attack. Oddly Casy and Samsung seem to agree with their description of the event in way that makes Steve think they believe it. Aesir seems to know something more.

Realizing somehting is up, he has Max scans the area. It seems Aesir is using pheromones to influence them, making them trust her. Max also detects that Samsung is a bioroid. Samsung laughs and points out that Aesir’s plan has backfired.

Eventually it comes out that she framed herself but in a way that would ultimately cast blame on Casy. Caught in her lies, she surrenders.

Afterwards Samsung leaves the system, washing his hands of the situation.

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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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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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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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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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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, 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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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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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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